Roman Provincial Coinage: A Brief Review

Roman provincial coinage is an area of study in which non-academics, especially avid collectors and dealers, can make real contributions to the study of the ancient Roman world. While many thousands of different provincial types or variants are known, new ones are still routinely being discovered.They offer a much wider range of imagery than the Roman Imperial issues, with reverses that touch upon religious, economic and social phenomenon, political events and foreign relations. The images used in this article are Roman provincial coins sold by Clio Ancient Art over the last several years.

Roman provincial coins, Antioch coin, Philip II, ancient coins, Tyche

Syria, Antioch, Bronze 29 mm of Philip II, AD 247-249, with turreted, draped & veiled bust of Tyche right, leaping ram above, star below. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

The Roman provincial coin issues dating between the late 1st Century BC and the end of the 3rd Century AD were initially struck in both the western and eastern portions of the Empire, from points as distant from one another as Rhesaina in the province of Mesopotamia to Emerita Augusta near the Atlantic coast of Hispania. But by the end of the 1st Century AD, provincial coinage had become an exclusively eastern phenomenon, with coins being struck at mints in southeastern Europe, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria/Palestine and Egypt.

Roman coins, ancient coins, Augustus, antiquities

Bronze 24 mm coin of Julia Traducta in Spain, with head of Augustus. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Most Roman provincial coins were issued in the name of individual cities or leagues of cities. A city could receive permission from the Roman Senate or the Emperor to issue coins, and these would mainly be used as small change, supplementing the official coinage of the Roman state apparatus struck at Rome and a few other Imperial mints. City coinages were nearly always bronze.

Other provincial coins were literally that: coins issued by a particular province, such as Syria or Egypt. These coins usually included silver issues of several values based on the Tetradrachm, as well as a range of bronze denominations. These currencies were intended to be sealed into their provinces, creating a closed economic system.

c_14_278_stitch

Egypt, Alexandria. Potin Tetradrachm of Diocletian, AD 284-305.

Victory (Nike) advancing right, holding wreath and palm branch. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Roman Syria, Roman Empire, Roman Coins, Ancient Coins

Syria, Antioch. Bronze 30 MM of Phillip I. 244-249 AD. Laureate and cuirassed bust of Phillip facing left holding spear and shield. Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

Both Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria had continuous histories of coin production in both bronze and silver, lasting from the time of Augustus until AD 298. The later Egyptian teradrachms were struck in an alloy called Potin, comprised of bronze, tin and lead. This alloy patinates in very particular ways during burial in the ground, resulting in some especially beautiful surfaces on the coins.

Provincial coins are an endless source of information and enjoyment. Because most were struck in bronze, even large and very well preserved examples sell for very reasonable prices, especially when compared to Imperial bronze coins of similar size and quality.

Roman Provincial, Nicopolis, Roman coins, ancient coins, Clio Ancient Art Antiquities

Moesia Inferior, Nicopolis Orichalcum 5 Assarion (28 mm) of Gordion III, AD 238-244 Reverse of Demeter standing, facing left, holding torch and ears of grain, VP CAB MODECTOV NIKOPOLEITWN PROC ICTR (in Greek). Photo Credit: Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

To learn more about Roman provincial coins, we recommend the following –

  • The Roman Provincial Coinage Initiative online. Organized through Oxford University, the site includes an excellent overview of Roman provincial coins and an extensive database with good, clear images (over 19,000!) and descriptions. http://rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/intro/
  • The Wildwinds ancient coin site online. Although Wildwinds combines Greek with Roman Provincial coins, they are easily distinguished through use of an alphabetical list of issuing authorities, a geographically ordered index and other tools for narrowing a search. http://wildwinds.com/coins/greece/i.html
Advertisements
Roman Glass, Korea, Roman Asian Trade, Roman artifacts, ancient glass

Distant Connections: Contact and Object Exchange Between Mediterranean and Far East Asian Civilizations in the First Few Centuries CE

Two news items appeared in the popular press during the second half of September, 2016 that addressed recent discoveries of possible East Asian migrants in a Roman period cemetery in London and Late Roman coins found in excavations of a Medieval castle on the Japanese island of Okinawa. While some aspects of the initial excavation reporting was misinterpreted in the popular press, these discoveries do fit into a larger pattern of exchange between the Mediterranean world and the Far East, including not only China but also Vietnam, Korea and Japan. In this brief article, I’d like to examine some of the inaccuracies in the recent news reporting and explore the implications of this surprisingly widespread pattern of exchange spanning distances of as much as 6,000 miles.

News outlets ran stories beginning on September 23 that attempted to summarize the results of a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, in which the authors had raised the possibility, based on a small sample of Roman period skeletons excavated in London (Roman Londinium), that a couple of the bodies might have had a far eastern origin. Unfortunately, popular reporting of scientific papers, and especially the often sensationalist headlines that result, tends to be misleading. Bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove promptly wrote an article for Forbes magazine in which she pointed out the limitations of the initial study and the ways in which the results had been misinterpreted. In her view, put simply, while contact between ancient China and the Mediterranean world certainly did occur, in the form of trade and even diplomatic missions, and that with further study it was quite possible that human remains from the Mediterranean might be found in east Asia and visa-versa, the rush to assume that limited evidence might suggest a Chinese origin for two skeletons in a small sample from Roman London was premature.

A few days later, a flurry of news stories appeared covering the finding of a small number of Roman bronze coins of the Constantinian Dynasty during excavations at the medieval Katsuren Castle on the Island of Okinawa. Initial reports in the Japan Times online and other news outlets showed images of a 17th Century Ottoman coin also found at the site, with a caption indicating it was Roman (see image below). The Japan Times corrected this error the next day with an updated photo and caption. But the initial error underscores the need for popular news outlets reporting on archaeological or other science stories to fully understand their material before publication, something that rarely occurs.

160927140450-04-ancient-roman-coins-exlarge-169

One of several 4th Century Roman bronze coins recovered in excavations on Okinawa. Photo Uruma City Board of Education, Okinawa Prefecture

The find on Okinawa is puzzling, given the difference in age between the coins themselves and the period in which the Castle was flourishing, a span of nearly a thousand years. A few possibilities present themselves: That the Castle has a much earlier origin than previously supposed and the coins have somehow been moved by burrowing animals out of their original context in earlier layers, to be found in the Medieval layers being excavated now. That the coins had been kept in the castle for centuries as exotic curiosities. That the coins had slowly traveled eastward over a period of centuries (less likely). That the coins had been part of the cargo of a ship wrecked on the Island’s coast and found by locals centuries later during a low tide or after a storm dislodged them from the buried wreckage. Perhaps future seasons of excavation at the Castle site will offer clues.

While the Okinawa find is unusual in that the Roman coins are so much earlier than the strata in which they were found, artifacts from the ancient Mediterranean world, from the later Hellenistic Period on through the Roman and Byzantine, are surprisingly common finds in east Asian contexts. The Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and China were not unknown to the later Hellenistic kingdoms or the Roman Empire. One literary source illustrates this in detail, while still leaving tantalizing questions. This is the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, a trade and maritime navigation manual probably written in the mid-1st Century AD by an unknown author, and surviving as a 10th Century Byzantine copy. The Erythraean Sea encompassed, to the ancient Greek speaking world, what we now know as the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. The work is so detailed that the trade routes and ports mentioned must have already been well known and frequently visited by the time the manuscript was written. It includes clear references to the Himyarite and Sabaean Kingdoms in southern Arabia, the ports of Bharuch in Northwest India and Kochi in Southwest India, and after rounding the tip of India, other ports that may be associated with the Ganges River Delta and beyond in what is now Bangladesh and Myanmar (Burma). These most distant locales are more difficult to pinpoint on a modern map due to their ancient place names being so obscure.

Of course, sea routes were not the only method of contact between these widely separated cultures. The famed Silk Route, which was actually a network of many routes through Central Asia, connected the Roman Empire with the Chinese Han Empire (205 BC – 220 AD). The vast Roman output of gold coinage through Indian intermediaries for Chinese silks and Indian and Southeast Asian spices is proof of the frequency and volume of this two way trade. Many hoards of Roman gold coins have been found in southern India. But perhaps the most spectacular evidence of the reciprocal nature of trade along this land route is the Begram Treasure from Afghanistan, found in a Kushan royal storehouse at the Begram site. Begram had been the capital of one of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdoms. By the time the treasures found in this warehouse were deposited, the site had become capital of the Kushan Empire. Found there were classical bronzes and Romano-Egyptian painted glass vessels, probably made in Alexandria in the first decades after Egypt was incorporated into the Roman Empire, alongside Han Chinese lacquer boxes and ivory carvings from India.

begram-roman-egyptian-enamelled-glass

Enamel painted glass tumbler, made in Roman Egypt in the 1st Century AD, part of the Begram Treasure found in Afghanistan. Photo: National Museum of Afghanistan

Finds of Roman antiquities still much farther east are surprisingly common. Han Dynasty Chinese tombs have turned up many examples of Roman gold, silver, bronze and glass artifacts. A particularly striking example, pictured below, is a large 2nd or early 3rd Century Roman gilt silver plate featuring a central image of Dionysus and his associated animal, a panther. This example was found by chance during construction work in Gansu Province, China.

dionysus_silver_plate_from_gansu_china_2nd-3rd_centuries_ad_640x480

Roman silver gilt Dionysiac plate, 2nd – early 3rd Century AD, found in Gansu Province, China.

The diffusion of blown and cast glass across what is now southern Russia and Northern China , which was highly valued by the semi-nomadic cultures of the Central Asian steppe and by far eastern cultures that had not yet adopted glass blowing,  helps explain the presence of Roman glass vessels in the Silla Dynasty royal tombs of Korea. Excavated in the early 1970s, Silla royal tomb number 98 held the remains of King Nae-Mool and his Queen. The Silla Kingdom was focused on the Southeastern part of the Korean Peninsula yet the tomb goods originated in the Roman and Sassanian Empires and parts of Central Asia. Among these was a glass ewer and several glass cups, all of typically Late Roman type. Their rarity and value to the Silla royalty may be judged by the fact that the damaged handle on the ewer, pictured below, had been repaired using gold wire. This finding was not unique. Several other examples of Roman and Sassanian glass, including an early Roman Millefiori glass cup now in the National Museum of Korea, have been found in Gyeongju tombs.

ps01001002007-003321-000-0001

Late Roman glass ewer, Circa 4th Century AD, found in a Silla Dynasty  royal tomb in Korea.

This article began with a report on Roman coins found on Okinawa and we end it with impressive finds of Roman period glass in Japan. Having spanned the entire Asian Continent with a breadcrumb trail of Roman and related antiquities, the journey ends facing the Pacific Ocean. In 2012, researchers excavating a 5th Century tomb near Kyoto found three Roman glass beads among the burial accessories. Chemical analysis confirmed their origin as Roman, with traces of natron in their makeup. More spectacularly, in November, 2014, Japanese archaeologists announced the recover of two ancient glass vessels, essentially intact, from a high status 5th Century tomb in Nara Prefecture. Chemical and stylistic analysis made clear that the elegant blue glass dish was from the Roman Empire, while the painted glass bowl originated in the Sassanian Empire, Rome’s great rival. Unlike the puzzling coin find on Okinawa, these objects seem to have been interred with their owner’s remains within decades of their manufacture. At the time, Japanese glass making technology was limited to small, opaque, bean shaped glass beads, so large colored and clear glass vessels of this type would have been highly prized, just as they were in China and Korea.

roman-glass

Roman glass dish found in a 5th Century royal tomb in Nara Prefecture, Japan. Photo: Tokyo National Museum.

 

roman-glass-in-japan

Sassanian (Persian) Empire, painted glass bowl, 5th Century. Found in the same tomb as the Roman glass dish above. Photo: Tokyo National Museum.

No doubt, rapid improvement in bioarchaeological techniques will soon permit the identification of human remains in seemingly unlikely places, such as the possible Asian remains in Roman London. Combined with continuing finds of material culture such as those listed here, it may be possible in the future to dispel the old notions of a lack of mobility and communications in the ancient world.

Apart from the news stories mentioned here, which are easily found via web search, here are links to Kristine Killgrove’s thoughtful, cautionary article in Forbeshttp://www.forbes.com/sites/kristinakillgrove/2016/09/23/chinese-skeletons-in-roman-britain-not-so-fast/#1c9329b9ef9b

And to the Roman glass vessels in the National Museum of Korea – https://www.museum.go.kr/site/eng/relic/search/view?relicId=4452

 

Clio Ancient Art Antiquities, Roman coins

This Week’s Featured Item: A Small Coin with a Big Story

This week’s featured object is a small bronze coin of the Roman Emperor Constantius II. That may not be a name that jumps out from the pages of history the way Roman Emperors like Augustus, Nero or Hadrian do but in his own way Constantius II was a remarkable ruler.

Born in what is now Serbia to Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, and the Empress Fausta, he was one of three sons, along with his brothers Constantine II and Constans. Constantine I elevated Constantius to the rank of Caesar in AD 324. While serving in this role Constantius fought against barbarian incursions along the Danube frontier and gained valuable experience that would serve him later.

constantius-ae3-antioch-obv

Upon the death of his father Constantine I, who by any measure was surely one of the most remarkable, energetic and dynamic figures in Roman history, the three sons met to divide the Roman domains among themselves as co-emperors. A purge had taken place upon Constantine’s death that included the murder of two male cousins whom Constantine had apparently intended to serve as co-rulers with his sons. Roman commentators place the blame for this purge squarely on Constantius but the bias in these sources makes this less than certain. Constantius’ share of the Empire included the Balkans and Greece, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Asia Minor (modern Turkey), while the European and North African provinces were governed by his brothers.

In the years that followed, Constantius demonstrated great vigor as both a military leader and an administrator. Clearly, the trust his late father Constantine had placed in him was justified. In addition to managing a long and bloody (though inconclusive) war against the resurgent Persian Empire in the east, he countered numerous barbarian thrusts into the west along the Rhine and Danube frontiers and put down multiple serious revolts led by usurper would-be emperors in Europe. At a time when the allegiance of the legions to the legitimate Emperor or a usurper was never a sure thing, the reverse legend on this coin – GLORIA EXERCITUS or Glory of the Army — conveyed the image of loyalty and stability. The mint mark visible on the bottom, reading SMANAI, refers to Antioch, then in the province of Syria (now in modern Turkey), where Constantius spent considerable time during his campaigns against the Persians.

Clio Ancient Art Antiquities, Roman coins

Bronze coin of Constantius II struck at Antioch

Constantius ruled as sole legitimate Emperor from AD 353 until his death in 361 but in total, from his elevation to the rank of Caesar in 324, he ruled for 29 years, making him one of the longest reigning Roman Emperors. He reigned in a troubled period of Roman history, one in which lesser men might have floundered. Whatever his shortcomings, he did hold the Empire together against many threats both internal and external. This tiny coin, worth very little in its day and still quite inexpensive today, as these were made in their countless thousands by the Imperial mints and a great many survive in excellent condition, tells part of that story.

bust-of-the-roman-emperor-constantius-ii

Marble portrait of Constantius II excavated in Syria and now in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology

For those interested in acquiring this objects it may be found in our Etsy store here –

https://www.etsy.com/listing/478001671/roman-empire-constantius-ii-ad-337-361?ref=shop_home_active_1

And our eBay store here –

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Empire-Constantius-II-Bronze-AE-3-of-Antioch-/131935182141?hash=item1eb7f31d3d:g:XagAAOSwFe5X1H1d

 

Object of the Week: A Tiny but Superb Roman Bronze Coin of Theodosius I

Clio’s featured object this week is a very small and inexpensive bronze coin dating from Late Antiquity; specifically the reign of Theodosius I (sometimes referred to as Theodosius the Great). The coin is in remarkably good condition with very clear imagery and text.

Before examining the context and significance of this coin, let’s review the details of the object itself. The obverse features a rather stylized pearl diademed, draped and cuirassed bust of Theodosius facing right, with a fairly standard Latin inscription: DN THEODO-SIVS PF AV is an abbreviated form of “Our Lord Theodosius, the dutiful, the fortunate, Augustus.”  The reverse features a winged figure of Victory advancing left, a military trophy over one shoulder, dragging a captive behind her, with another fairly standard late Roman Latin inscription: SALVS REI-PVBLICAE, roughly meaning “Health of the Republic.” In the left field is the early Christian symbol comprised of the Greek letters Chi and Rho, a monogram for Christ. A mintmark, beneath the ground line, shows the coin was struck at the Antioch mint. Antioch was capitol of the Roman province of Syria and is today in the territory  of Turkey.  The coin measures just 14 mm and weighs a mere 1.35 grams. Its pinkish color is sometimes referred to as a desert patina, indicating burial in dry soil with a high iron content.

il_570xN.908766345_s8vb

The Emperor in whose name this coin was struck was certainly one of the most determined and forceful men of action in Roman history. He could be diplomatic and conciliatory one day, brutal and unforgiving the next. Theodosius came to power following the disastrous defeat of a large Roman field army at the hands of a combined force of Visigoths and Alans, in the Province of Thrace in 378 AD. The Emperor Valens, along with two thirds of his army, perished, leaving only Gratian ruling in the West. Needing a co-ruler, he selected an officer from the province of Iberia (Spain), Flavius Theodosius, to rule in the East and deal with the Goths who were now marauding virtually unchecked through the Balkans.

Once in power, Theodosius decisively defeated two usurpers in the west and, after a grinding four year war with the Goths and their allies, came to a peace agreement that allowed them to settle within the Empire, provided they served as military allies when called. But he is perhaps best known to history for having made the final break with Rome’s ancient “pagan” religious past. In 391 he issued an edict forbidding pagan worship and closing all pagan temples. The dynastic line he founded would come to an end about fifty years later, marking the final split between the rapidly dissolving Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire, known to us today as the Byzantine Empire.

For an excellent study of this important Roman Emperor, as well as a thoughtful examination of the Battle of Hadrianopolis and its long term implications for the Western Roman Empire, we recommend the following work: Theodosius: The Empire at Bay by Gerard Friell and Stephen Williams, 1995, Yale University Press.

For those interested  acquiring this coin, it may be found on our Etsy site, here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/265233500/roman-empire-bronze-ae-4-of-theodosius-i?ref=shop_home_active_16  and on our eBay site here: http://m.ebay.com/itm/Roman-Empire-Bronze-AE-4-of-Theodosius-I-AD-383-392-Extremely-Fine-/131843167047?nav=SELLING_ACTIVE

FINE EGYPTIAN, HELLENISTIC AND ROMAN ANTIQUITIES AND ANCIENT COINS ADDED TO OUR WEBSITE

Customers. Friends and Fans:

We have updated the Clio Ancient Art with some very fine Egyptian, Hellenistic and Roman antiquities in faience, bronze, glass and ceramic, as well as Roman, Byzantine and medieval coins. The Egyptian and Hellenistic items in particular have an exceptional provenance. Here they are with links to each item –

Thank you for visiting our site. We can also be found on Etsy, Ebay and on Shopify via our Facebook page.

Best wishes,

Chris M. Maupin

Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities

Spectacular Late Roman Hoard from the Netherlands

Spectacular Late Roman Hoard from the Netherlands

Antiquities, Egypt, Looting

How Clio Ancient Art Deals with Illicit Traffickers and Uninformed Travelers

Years ago, when I first made the transition from merely collecting Mediterranean and related antiquities, to becoming a dealer in antiquities with a world wide clientele, I would never have imagined that I would so often be solicited by so many strange and misguided people. By e-mail, phone and post, I regularly receive messages from persons attempting to sell looted antiquities in violation of national and international laws, as well as those trying to sell fake, forged and fabricated “antiquities” to turn a quick profit.

In part because the illicit trafficking in looted antiquities is a serious concern, and in part because many of these solicitations are entertaining, I have decided to post here some examples of actual solicitations received by Clio Ancient Art. These have come mainly by e-mail, usually accompanied by digital images.

There are three general categories of messages:

1. Persons residing in antiquities-rich countries who have found or looted antiquities and are attempting to sell them to dealers in the US, UK or Europe, in violation of both their own national laws and international conventions governing the transfer of cultural property.

2. Persons who have created and are attempting to sell fake antiquities, either obvious copies of real ancient objects or composite fakes made from bits and pieces of real antiquities. Plenty of examples of both may be found on ebay.

3. Tourists or armed services personnel from the US who have acquired fake “antiquities” from local dealers or have found genuine ancient objects and unwittingly violated national laws by removing those objects from their source countries and bringing them to the US. This broad category also includes US citizens who have inherited genuine, replica or deliberately faked objects from family members who acquired them in good faith in antiquities source countries.

Below are just a few samples, as promised, of actual messages soliciting purchase of their objects, authentication, dating or assistance with selling their objects. Of course, all names have been removed, except in one case where an e-mail address has been left in, should anyone reading this blog also be solicited by these criminals. Part or all of the original message is in bold italics, while my response is in plain text.:

I have a beautiful stone axe head that I found on a hill above Athens, Greek. I checked the Greek and Cypriot museums and the one I have is better than theirs. It is apparently about 6,000 yrs. Old. I am wondering if there is a market for something like this  and if so how do I get an expert to manage the sale of it?

MY RESPONSE: I’m afraid the best advice I can offer is that you turn this object over to the nearest Greek Consulate or the Greek embassy. Having taken this object out of the country (Greece) is a violation of Greek laws that have been in place for many decades governing antiquities and the transfer of cultural property. You may not legally sell this object.

Dear sirs ,

Peace be upon you …,

We are an Egyptian Family from upper Egypt , while digging to build a new built we have found a 3 ancient Egyptian ( pharos ) Statues in their Coffin .

We knew that you are interested to buy the ancient Egyptian ( pharos ) statues to expand your collections , so we offer to sell these 3 statues to you .

I think that you should know that these matters are always very urgent as it is illegal to some extent .

Any way I am sure that you may not trust my e-mail , but also we are ready to prove to you by any means that we are right and telling the truth .

I am also respect all your rights to be sure that these 3 pieces are original & I will respect any procedure you may want to do to be sure from this matter , but again please put in your consideration that these matters are always very urgent , so we need your reply as fast as you can .

I want to tell you that their lengths are between 1.9 – 2.4 meters , they are big beautiful and very respectful statues , they are made from wood covered by a layer from gold .

Please , put in consideration that in case you accept to buy these 3 statues or any one of them , we can only give them to you in Egypt and you will bear their travelling to their final distention .

I also want to say that we have some videos for these statues , we can send them to you before we prepare the whole matter .

Again and again , please put in your consideration that these matter are always very urgent , top secret & trustful as it is illegal to some extent .

Hope you have understood the matter and trusted us , and please we need your reply so urgent either you accept or not .

Again please send us your reply either you accept or not .

And finally , Please accept our great respect .

Egyptian Family

Egyptian_family_2012@yahoo.com

MY RESPONSE: I must point out that if you found the items in question on Egyptian soil, you are illegally in possession of them. Egyptian law is very clear that antiquities and cultural artifacts found on Egyptian soil are the property of the State. Removing them from Egypt, or even possessing them, however innocently, is a violation of Egyptian law and a serious offense.

These are photos of the Greek bull I was given on Crete. I am sure it is Minoan or Mycenaen.

MY RESPONSE:

Thanks for sending the excellent photos of your bull. I can tell you with absolute certainty 
that this piece is not ancient. The casting technique is quite unlike anything that would have 
been used in Crete in either the Mycenaean or Classical periods. The piece is not bronze but 
slag metal that has been artificially patinated to resemble bronze. The overall style is something 
of a hybrid between Mycenaean bulls seen in Cretan art and later images of the early Classical period.

This may be something of a disappointment but really you should be relieved. If this piece had 
proven to be a genuine antiquity, you would have been obliged to hand it over to the Greek 
government at your nearest Greek Consulate or Embassy, in order to comply with international 
conventions governing the transfer of cultural property to which both the U.S. and Greece are parties. 
In addition, the transfer of antiquities illicitly excavated in the modern era from Greek soil to a 
foreign party is quite illegal in Greece. This is in contrast with the Greek antiquities available 
from a reputable antiquities dealer, which have long ownership histories predating modern laws 
governing ownership of such items. 
(I should point out here that the American couple who sent the images were indignant at my response, 
certain that I was wrong because the person who gave them this "antiquity" was a friend.)

My name is XXXX XXXX and I have found an ancient coin and only recently discovered what it was after several years. I uncovered what it was while brushing it off during a snow storm and some extra time at the house. I found it in southern Iraq in 2003 while fighting there. I un-earthed it in the sand and thought it was just a peice of weird metal. Being perplexed and in a hurry I shoved it in my back pocket and I have had it ever since. I have taken it to several coin specialist shops and to a collector of ancient coins all to no avail. I would be pleased if you could help me figure out what it is. It is in great condition and has the face of a ancient conquerer or commander. On the reverse is writing in some ancient language i haven’t been able to find it even on the internet but of course i am no expert. i have included some photos of the coin and think maybe it was from alexander the great time frame as no coin online resembles it quite like the alexander coins, but it has no direct match. Please contact me via email at
XXXXXXXXX@yahoo.com or by cell at XXX-XXX-XXXX if you happen to have any information on the origin or story behind this coin.

MY RESPONSE: Please be aware that  by leaving Iraq with this coin you have committed a crime. I understand that you did so unwittingly, but this is considered looting of another nation’s cultural heritage. A single coin (which is late Medieval Islamic and has very limited value) may not seem much but the principles involved remain the same. You should immediately contact the U.S. State Department and / or the Iraq Embassy and arrange to hand over this item. In good conscience, I will be obliged to contact both the U.S. State Department and the Iraq Embassy if you do not do so yourself.

Unlike most people, who either do not respond at all, are sure that I’m wrong about their treasures, or reply with obscenities, this person agreed to return the coin via the State Department.

It should be pointed out that when dealing with overseas contacts attempting to sell genuine, looted antiquities, I always inform them that that their contact information, including e-mail, and images of the objects in question, will be passed on to US Customs and to the embassy of the country from which the solicitation came, usually Egypt but sometimes Turkey, Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East, and occasionally Eastern Europe. Whether or not any governmental body has taken meaningful action on the basis of the information provided by me is unknown.

I hope in a future post to share with readers some of the bizarre, comical or sometimes convincing fakes, forgeries and reproductions that have come across our real or virtual desk.

The Museum of London: Roman Antiquities

The Museum of London offers, in my view, one of the most complete and satisfying museum experiences anywhere. Tracing the development of the greater London area from prehistory right through today, it offers not only extraordinary artifacts but art, interactive exhibits, dioramas, reconstructions and more to help the visitor understand London in any era. Indeed, I would recommend a visit to the Museum of London for any London visitor who wants to understand something of the development, character and geography of the City during their stay.

The Roman exhibits are remarkable, in that they make a very thorough attempt at reconstructing at least a glimpse of daily life in Roman London over its 300+ year history. This brief photo essay offers just a sample of exhibits I found to be of special interest during a 2012 visit.

ImageInscribed tombstone of a 3rd Century AD Roman centurion, found during reconstruction of St Martin’s Church, Ludgate Hill, in 1669. His clothing and the staff in his hand offer clues to his rank. The inscription reads: “To the spirits of the departed and to Vivius Marcianus of the 2nd Legion Augusta, Januaria Martina, his most devoted wife, set up this memorial.”

ImageImage

These 2 images are from a display of household wares in ceramic and glass, both Romano-British and imported from elsewhere in the Empire. In the lower image are several items, including ceramic oil lamps and parts of glass vessels, decorated with imagery related to gladiators and the arena.

Image

Part of a reconstructed Roman glass maker’s workshop that was excavated in London. Large amounts of recycled glass were broken up for melting down into molten glass, from which new glass vessels and objects were made.

Image

An example of the excellent educational exhibits in the Museum of London. This is an actual section of a Roman mosaic floor, mounted in a display where it can be touched by visitors.

Image

Reconstruction of a finely appointed room in a Roman home in London, based on excavations. The mosaic floor is original.

Image

A display or Roman jewelry, including brooches, rings and bracelets. Most are made of bronze and decorated in various techniques, including enameling, embossing, silvering, tinning or gilding.

Image

The 5 denominations of Roman coinage during the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD

Image

Roman gold coins of the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD, all found in London.

Image

3rd Century AD Roman limestone relief of 4 mother goddesses, found reused as building material in London. These deities may represent a merging of native or local British goddesses with deities from the traditional Roman pantheon.

Image

3rd Century AD limestone sculpture of a male figure and horse representing either Castor or Pollux (the Heavenly Twins), found near the Temple of Mithras in London.

Image

Excavations in 1999 at Spitalfields, London uncovered a Roman cemetery, including this stone sarcophagus containing a decorated lead coffin dating to the 4th Century.

Image

Inside the Spitalfields coffin was the skeleton of a young woman who died in her 20s. Tests revealed she may have come to England from southwestern Europe. Forensic studies resulted in this facial reconstruction.

Visit the Museum of London website at: http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/london-wall/

Visit Clio Ancient Art to see our selection of Roman Antiquities: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/c15_p1.html

Christian (and Pagan) Symbolism on Some Late Roman and Byzantine Coins

Although not all Christians celebrate Christmas Day on December 25 (some still use the Julian Calendar date corresponding to January 7), as we are, in  either case, a few days away from Christmas this seemed an appropriate time to examine a few ancient coins on our website that carry early Christian symbols, all created after the Roman Empire had adopted Christianity as the state religion.

We begin with a bronze Centenionalis of Aelia Flacilla (died AD 386), wife of the Emperor Theodosius I. The reverse of this fairly large medium value coin bears an image of the formerly Pagan personification of Victory seated and inscribing a shield with the “Chi-Rho” symbol that had been used by Constantine I, the first Emperor to adopt Christianity some 50 years earlier, as his standard at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

Image

Despite popular belief the Chi-Rho, formed by combining the Greek capital letters chi and rho to form the sound of the first two letters of Christ’s name,  has its roots in Paganism, having been used by much earlier Greek scribes as a means of indicating in the margins of a scroll or manuscript a key passage, abbreviating the Greek word “chreston” (good). This scarce coin is shown in its entirety below, with a link to it on our website.

Next is the reverse of a tiny bronze coin of Theodosius II, Emperor from AD 408-450, struck at Constantinople, which had long since replaced Rome itself as hub of the Empire. This is a very early instance of the cross or christogram appearing as the sole decorative device on the reverse of a coin.

ImageThere is no text to accompany the image, simply a laurel wreath surrounding it (the wreath again conveying much pre-Christian symbolism). The issuer of this coin, Theodosius II, is perhaps best known for 2 achievements: the Theodosian Code, a compilation of laws issued in the Empire since the time of Constantine I, and building the great land walls of Constantinople, which survived all siege attempts until the final Ottoman assault in 1453. Here is the coin again, showing both obverse and reverse, with a link.

Finally, we have a medieval coin of the Byzantine Empire (even at this stage, the Byzantines certainly thought of themselves as Romans), dating to AD 1185-1195, the reign of the Emperor Issac II Angelus, There is little to say about Issac II, other than he was the first of 3 consecutive incompetent rulers whose mismanagement resulted, just 20 years later, in Constantinople falling into the hands of western armies for 50 years, before liberation under dynamic new rulers who helped inspire the final flowering of Byzantine art and culture.

There is much to say about the coin. It is made from about 2.5% silver with the rest copper. These poor quality coins, usually very badly struck, were made in great numbers and are today quite affordable. Our example is fairly well struck with relatively clear images. The obverse depicts the Virgin seated and supporting the head of the infant Christ.

ImageUnlike Roman coins of the Christian era, Byzantine coins carry the Emperor’s image on the reverse, with purely Christian images or symbols on the obverse. In this case, the emperor is depicted facing, holding an elaborate ceremonial cross and ceremonial clothing rich in Christian symbolism. Here is the coin in its entirety with link.

All of these small objects are heavy with symbolism, both Christian and Pagan, and should remind us of how the images and ideas of so long ago have shaped our world today.

Ancient Classical Coins: Beauty and Diversity

Over the years Clio Ancient Art has sold a great many ancient coins.

While our focus has always been ancient artifacts and art of the Roman, Greek, Byzantine, Cypriot, Egyptian, Near Eastern civilizations, ancient coins are always popular with our customers.

In this Blog entry, which is admittedly as much for pure visual pleasure as for educational value, we offer a very small sample of images of coins we’ve sold in the past couple of years, including Greek, Roman Republic, Roman Provincial, Roman Imperial and Byzantine coins in silver and bronze, and a few from related cultures. It may surprise some readers to learn that many ancient coins like those shown here may be purchased for under $100 or even under $50.

To view our current selection of ancient coins go to: http://www.clioancientart.com/catalog/c18_p1.html

Enjoy…

Image

Greek Cities, Kallatis, Silver Octobol, 3rd Century BC

Image

Group of 3 Greek Silver & Bronze Coins, 4th-1st Century BCE

Image

Greek Cities, Boeotia, Thebes, Silver hemidrachm, 426-395 BC

Image

Silver Nomos of Hyria in Campania, 405-400 BCE

Image

Lokris Opuntia, Silver Quarter Stater, 369-338 BCE

Image

Group of 2 Silver Roman Republic Coins, 3rd-2nd Century BC

Image

Roman Republic Silver Denarius of M. Lucillius Rufusus, 101 BC

Image

Roman Republic. Silver Denarius of P. Crepusias. 82 BC

Image

Roman Empire, Bronze As of Domitian, AD 81-96

Image

Roman Empire, Silver Denarius of Severus Alexander, AD 222-235

Image

Roman Empire, Silver Denarius of Septimius Severus

Image

Silver Denarius of Julia Doman

Image

Roman Empire, Silver Denarius of Vespasian

Image

Group of 3 Roman Provincial Coins of Augustus from Spain

Image

Group of 3 Silver & Bronze Roman Provincial Coins

Image

Roman Empire.Silver Antoninianus of Phillip I. AD 244-249

Image

A Group of 4 Silver & Bronze Roman Imperial Coins

Image

Constantine I (The Great) AE3, AD 307-337

Image

Constantine I (The Great) Bronze Follis, AD 307-337

Image

Judean Kingdom Bronze Pruttah of Alexander Jannaeus

Image

2 Parthian & Sassanian Silver Coins, 2nd-4th Century CE

Image

Byzantine Empire, bronze Follis of Justinian I

Image

Byzantine Empire, Bronze Follis of Maurice Tiberius, AD 582-602