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.

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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
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Object of the Week: A Superb Byzantine Pottery Oil Lamp

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Many of the ancient oil lamps we offer at Clio Ancient Art are Byzantine, mainly from the Levant (what is now southern Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel / Palestine). Unlike Roman hard fired ceramic red slip lamps of earlier centuries, Byzantine lamps tend to be made from low fired pottery and their designs often reflect early Christian symbolism. Our object of the week is the superb Byzantine pottery oil lamp shown above.

This object dates to the 6th or beginning of the 7th Century AD, just before the advent of Islam in the region. It was probably made in that part of modern Israel / Palestine that is often referred to as Samaria. It measures just under 4 inches in length and remarkably well preserved, with very crisp surfaces. It is formed of slightly pinkish buff clay and rests on a flat base. The upper surfaces are decorated in relief with alternating groups of vertical lines and stylized bunches of grapes inside circles. It has a small saddle shaped handle and more grape motifs on the nozzle and wick hole, which also has slight indications of carbon black from use.

On lamps of this type the large circular discus typical of earlier Roman lamps that had served as a kind of “canvas” for decorative images is gone. The decoration here is focused on the shoulders of the lamp. This rule applies to several classes of low fired pottery lamps produced during the very late Roman period, throughout the Byzantine period and into the early Islamic period in the Levantine region. The well preserved surface decoration on this example includes bunches of grapes, an early Christian motif suggesting rebirth. The same motif was widely used earlier in Roman iconography in association with Dionysus, the god of wine.

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This lamp comes from a very large private collection assembled by a United Nations peacekeeping officer serving in Jerusalem in the mid-1960s. At the outset of the 1967 war, the collection was crated up and shipped to the United States, where his surviving relatives only opened the crates in 2012.

If you are interested in acquiring this object, which is modestly priced, you may find it on our eBay shop here (new tab or window) – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Superb-Byzantine-Pottery-Oil-Lamp-/131818636494?hash=item1eb100c4ce:g:rEQAAOxy69JTAkNE

Or on our Etsy shop here (new tab or window) – https://www.etsy.com/listing/265229854/byzantine-pottery-oil-lamp-6th-7th?ref=shop_home_active_18

There are a number of excellent online and print resources for ancient oil lamps, and especially for Levantine examples of this period. In print, we recommend: Rosenthal and Sivan, Ancient Lamps in the Schloessinger Collection, Jerusalem, 1978 (this is an older work and some issues pertaining to exact dates and locations of manufacture are still debated but overall still an excellent reference). Online, we recommend the RomQ Reference Collection (opens in a new tab or window): http://www.romulus2.com/lamps/index.shtml

 

Greek bronze, ancient Greek art, British Museum

Greek Antiquities in the British Museum, London

The recent decision by The British Museum to send a single sculpture from the famed Parthenon Marbles (or Elgin Marbles) on loan briefly to the Hermitage in Russia, causing outrage in Greece, has once again drawn attention to issues of cultural heritage relating to antiquities. Whatever the merits of the arguments put forward by those demanding the return of the marbles to Greece and those arguing for their continued care in The British Museum – and both sides have many valid points – there can be no doubt that the Museum has been a vital source of knowledge, stewardship and inspiration for those with an interest in classical antiquity, in a way that perhaps no other institution in the world has. Visitors to London may drop in at the Museum free of charge, as millions do annually (6,701,000 in 2013) and this writer has on more than one occasion, to marvel at the most exquisite works of antiquity from all over the globe, thoughtfully presented in a secure and pleasant environment.

The current tempest over the brief loan to the Hermitage seems a good opportunity for a broader review of the British Museum’s ancient Greek holdings. Every medium and material is presented in their displays, including sculpture in stone and bronze, ceramics and terracotta, glass and organic materials. The collections reflect the broad sweep over time and geography of Greek influence in the broader Mediterranean world. In this brief photo essay, I have entirely left out the Parthenon marbles and have selected 15 images that are personal favorites and I hope capture a sense of the complexity of ancient Greek art. I have focused only on Greek art from the Archaic through Hellenistic periods and have incorporated works not only from Athens and other important centers in Greece itself but also in regional styles from Greek communities in Asia Minor, North Africa and southern Italy.

All images are original and should be credited to Clio Ancient Art and Antiquities.

 

Knidos, East Greek Sculpture, Greek antiquities, ancient Greek art
7 Ton marble lion from a Greek monumental tomb at Knidos (now in SW Turkey). The lion once stood atop the tomb, overlooking the sea approach to Knidos. The marble used is Pentellic and was brought from near Athens. The now hollow eyes were once filled with glass or metal to reflect the light. There is debate among scholars as to the age of the tomb, which survived only in fragments when uncovered in 1858; some attribute it to about 350 BC while another school of thought puts it in the middle Hellenistic period.  Now residing in the interior court of the British Museum.
A-2 Forepart of a monumental horse from the chariot group once surmounting the Masoleum
Forepart of a monumental marble horse from the chariot group that once surmounted the podium of the famed Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Circa 350 BC. This and a few other fragments in the British Museum, along with some in a small museum near the site, are all that remain of the sculpture that once adorned the Mausoleum. pilfering of usable stone blocks in antiquity and in the middle ages by local inhabitants and invaders, and burning of the marble to make lime plaster, as well as earthquakes, all left the great building shattered. Excavations in the 1960s showed that the burial chamber below ground had itself been looted in antiquity.
Nereid Monument, Lykian tombs, Xanthos, East Greek sculpture, ancient Greek art, British Museum
The Nereid Monument, finest of the Lykian tombs found at Xanthos, in what is now SW Turkey. Dated to about 390-380 BC, it is named for the statues of the Nereids, daughters of the sea god Nereus, between its columns. It reflects strong influences from both Greece and Persia. It is the first example of a temple-tomb in the region, the greatest of which would be the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, British Museum, Greek sculpture, Greek antiquities, ancient Greek art
Marble column drum carved in high relief, from the second Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, circa 330 BC. The lost site of the Temple was rediscovered after a long search in 1869 and many fragments, that would no doubt otherwise have been used by local people as construction material or burnt for lime, were sent to the British Museum.
Tanagra figurines,  terracotta figurines, Greek terracottas, Greek antiquities, ancient Greek art, British Museum
Tanagra terracotta figurines (named for the first find-spot of this type of figurine), some with polychromy remaining on the surfaces. All 3rd and 2nd Century BC. See the descriptive labels for details of each.
Marble tombstone Athens, Athens 425-400 BC, Athenian sculpture, ancient Greek sculpture, Greek antiquitiesm ancient Greek art, British Museum
Marble tombstone of a woman who died leaving her child in the care of a nurse. Athens, 425-400 BC
Artemis Bendis, Piraeus, Athenian sculpture, ancient Greek art, British Museum
Marble votive relief dedicated to the goddess Artemis Bendis. Found at Piraeus, the ancient and modern port of Athens. Bendis was a Thracian goddess, similar to the Greek Artemis, whose cult was introduced to Athens around 430 BC. She is shown here on a larger scale than her mortal worshipers, who may be athletes participating in a torch relay in her honor. This piece dates to about 375 BC.
Greek black figure pottery, Greek red figure pottery, British Museum, Panathenaic prize amphora, ancient Greek athletics
The red figure and earlier black figure pottery shown here are all prize amphorae. Filled with the finest olive oil, these were given to winning athletes in regional or civic competitions. They often depict the type of event for which they were given, such as foot races or chariot races. Mainly late 6th and 5th Century BC.
White ground jug made in Athens, Athenian pottery, Greek vases, British Museum
A white ground jug made in Athens in the early 5th Century BC. The woman is depicted holding a distaff in one hand while she uses the other to separate the fibers that will be spun into thread. White ground vessels are far less common than the typical black figure and red figure pottery of classical Athens. This is one of the finest Attic white ground vases I have ever seen, on account of its excellent preservation and fine line drawing.
Bronze head of a North African, Temple of Apollo at Cyrene Libya, Greek bronze sculpture, British Museum
A stunningly realistic cast bronze head of a North African man, possibly a native Libyan. From the Temple of Apollo at Cyrene, Libya, about 300 BC. It was found with fragments of bronze horses, suggesting it may have been part of a monumental equestrian group. The separately made lips were originally covered in copper sheet, the pupils of the eyes made of glass, the whites of the eyes from magnesium carbonate. The eyelashes were also separately cast and attached.
Apotheosis of Homer, temple in honor of Homer at Alexandria, Ptolemaic sculpture
Apotheosis of Homer. From a temple in honor of Homer at Alexandria, Egypt. Marble, later 3rd Century BC. Reading and reciting Homer was an essential part of Greek education and he was honored as a god in the Hellenistic period. A superb and complex example of early Ptolemaic sculpture, this fragment comes from a temple erected by Ptolemy IV Philopater and his Queen, Arsinoe III. They are shown in the bottom left corner behand the seated Homer. An altar is placed before Homer and worshipers come in procession. Other figures on the sculpture include key characters from the Iliad and Oddysey, his 2 great epics, and the 9 Muses.
native Italic Askos, Greek colony of Canosa, Greek South Italian pottery, Magna Graecia, British Museum
An elaborate pottery askos of native Italic form from the Greek colony of Canosa, Italy, 270-200 BC. In addition to the separately made figures attached, much of the original polychromy has survived. Painted in pink are 2 marine horses flying over a brown sea, while 3 figures of Nike are attached to the false spouts and handles and the foreparts of 2 horses to the wall of the vessel. Relief images of Medusa and a dancing Maenad also enhance the vessel.
Greek terracotta figurines, Magna Gaecia, Greek colonies, British Museum
Terracotta figurines from Magna Gaecia (the western Greek colonies), 3rd and 2nd Century BC. See the labels beneath each for details.
Red figure vases, Greek colonies of south Italy, Gnathian ware
A variety of red figure vases with applied white and red on a glossy black slip. Known as Gnathian Ware, these were produced in great numbers in the Greek colonies of South Italy. These examples date to about 350-320 BC.
East Mediterranean Hellenistic glass bowls, ancient Greek glass, mosaic glass bowls
East Mediterranean Hellenistic glass bowls made by slumping a round blank of hot glass over a negative form and applying canes and / or chips of contrasting glass until they fused. Despite being expensive to produce, these were widespread in the Mediterranean world. They were eventually replaced by the introduction of less expensive blown glass in the early Roman period. These date to between 125 and 50 BC.

VIDEO – “Amazons: Warrior Women in Myth, Art and History”

Adrienne Mayor, Research Scholar, Stanford University Classics Department, reveals surprising details and new insights about the lives of flesh-and-blood women of the Eurasian steppes who were mythologized as Amazons: http://youtu.be/dD58YEj71Ow