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Regionalism in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor

 | 
Hugh Elton
, 
Gary Reger

Regionalism in the Coinage of Asia Minor

William E. Metcalf

Texte intégral

1In the first three centuries of our era the currency system of the Mediterranean was the largest and most stable the world had ever known. That system, devised in 23 BC included a series of denominations in four metals, fixed in relationship to one another. It survived in recognizable form for three centuries, finally perishing in early AD 293. From one end of the Mediterranean to the other – even Egypt, which was formally outside the system until the reform of Diocletian – we can find accounts kept, sums denominated, and hoards deposited in good Roman currency: aurei, denarii, sestertii and their fractions. But anyone who has ventured beyond the pages of Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum or Roman Imperial Coinage knows that there was more to the picture than this. Alongside the denarius system were hundreds of coinages, struck by different authorities and primarily in base metal, that allowed the denarial mints to restrict their activity principally to the west.

2Western local coinages had been suppressed already by the time of Nero, but in the eastern provinces an increasingly vital tradition of local coinages reached its zenith in the third century. It both was a component, and for us a reflection, of the local pride in institutions and eagerness for self-promotion that subsisted at both a local and a regional level. The broad phenomenon is mirrored in other kinds of sources, from Dio Chrysostom to Pliny to Dio Cassius, the senatorial historian from Nicomedia: even as more of the local gentry assimilated and became vital to the social and economic fabric of the empire at large – in short, became Romans – they continued to proclaim their hellenism with vigor, as much in their coins as in their inscriptions, their monuments and their literature.

  • 1 Harl 1987. The magnificent Sylloge of his collection, the most significant portion of which compri (...)

3The numismatic tenor of the times has been explored, for the third century, by Kenneth Harl, who drew upon more technical numismatic studies of the likes of Hans von Aulock and Konrad Kraft in drawing a picture of a local populace that at once asserted its individual character and its participation in empire through its coinage1.

4The typical “Greek imperial” may include a portrait of the emperor on its obverse, but almost always refers to local religion, history or culture on its reverse and may promote the interests of the issuers as well. An example of the former is provided by a substantial copper coin of Abydus portraying the story of Hero and Leander (fig. 1); a conspicuous example of self promotion by a past master is provided by a coin of Smyrna, on which Polemo the Sophist has placed his name as “dedicator” (fig. 2). Sometimes even the imperial portrait is omitted, as βουλή (fig. 3, Phrygian Hierapolis) or ιερὰ σύνκλητός (fig. 4, Smyrna) even θεòν σύνκλητον (fig. 5, Nakrasa).

  • 2 On these distinctions see RPC, I, 1992, 620. For the excavations see Waagé 1952.

5Often coinages had regional rather than strictly local character. An example comes from Antioch, where alongside “civic bronzes” found in abundance in the excavations both “provincial” coins, with S C on the reverse, and “archieratic” coins (for want of a better term) were produced in the early first century (figs. 6-7)2.

6It is usually taken to be this gigantic variety of specie that is referred to in the wellknown passage from Dio Cassius, where Maecenas, in a speech whose dramatic date is 27 BC, urges the master of the Roman world to standardize weights and measures and impose uniform currency throughout his realm. We know, and of course Dio knew, that if the advice was ever given it was ignored: in fact whatever the precise date of Dio’s composition, it was during the heyday of local currencies. Under Septimius Severus no less than 350 authorities are known to have issued coins, though the work of Kraft has shown that for Asia (broadly speaking, the Roman province by that name) the number of actual mints or coin factories was considerably smaller.

7The Roman tolerance of such diversity was characteristic of their attitude toward provincial affairs. This apparent indifference led the authors of Roman Provincial Coinage to write, in their first volume:

  • 3 RPC, I, 1992, 53-54.

For the most part, city coinage did take its natural course, and local currency systems, such as the ‘closed’ areas of Egypt and Syria, continued unaltered. There were a number of cases of change or intervention, but these were generally restricted to specific instances and problems, even though cumulatively they contributed to the transformation of the coinage3.

  • 4 The modern treatment is Kleiner 1972.
  • 5 For Augustus and the attribution to Pergamum, see Sutherland et al. 1970, followed at RPC, I, 1992 (...)

8These remarks pertain to the Julio-Claudian period, but they fairly characterize the longer view. In so far as possible, the Romans had, from the beginning, left in place those currencies which functioned; a typical case is the cistophori, introduced by the Attalids ca. 175 BC and a thriving coinage when Attalos III willed his kingdom to the Romans (fig. 8)4. The coinage continues virtually without a break and reaches its greatest volume in the first century, when finally Roman proconsuls begin to make their presence known by adding their names to the familiar ugly types (fig. 9). Antonius, to whom Asia fell, put a Roman face on the coinage (and in one case two faces, his and Octavia’s; fig. 10) in a massive issue, but the Romanization of the coinage was not complete until Augustus struck large issues bearing images that make reference to himself and are little more than big denarii. The ambivalence of the Augustan system is illustrated by the simultaneous production, almost undoubtedly at Pergamon in 19 BC, of old-standard cistophori alongside his new aurei and denarii (fig. 11)5.

  • 6 For the later cistophori see RPC, I, 1992, no 2221-2225; Metcalf 1980 and 1988.

9But the denomination remained the same, in spite of what seems to have been an uncomfortable relationship with the denarius. It was produced sporadically through the first century in quantities so small they almost seem symbolic; but the whole coinage was renewed (through overstriking) by Hadrian, and finally died out only under Septimius Severus6.

10The cistophori are only one of many provincial coinages which seem to follow a pattern. My purpose in here is to illustrate that pattern; to contrast it with the prevailing view of the provincial copper coinage; and to show that it is more than an example of Roman laissez-faire with respect to provincial arrangements.

11First, the material, which may be summarized as follows. I cite first the non-Anatolian material, by way of parallel.

  • 7 The standard catalogue is Dattari 1901; the largest publication of a single collection is Milne 19 (...)

12Egypt: a virtually continuous coinage, based loosely on the Ptolemaic system but compatible with the Roman; originates under Augustus, achieves its standard form under Nero, continues through AD 2967.

  • 8 Levy 1993, supplementing and modifying the interpretation of Meshorer 1982, 8-9; Meshorer 1984.

13Phoenicia: continuous coinage from Tyre through Vespasian, based on the earlier Tyrian shekel; apparently later issues as well in Roman idiom (figs. 12-13)8.

14Cyrenaica: hemidrachms produced in the second consulship of Trajan (AD 98-99) (fig. 14).

  • 9 At Antioch in the reign of Philip I there are two sets of tetradrachms on which the legends ANTIOX (...)

15Syria: tetradrachms through Vespasian, intermittently thereafter until Septimius Severus, almost all (apparently) produced at Antioch. The system was extended to Cyprus under Vespasian and to Phoenicia under Caracalla, when about 40 mints produced coins here and in Judaea, Mesopotamia and Cyprus. Tetradrachms again appear Gordian III to Trebonianus Gallus, including some under Philip I marked “MON VRB”, convincingly attributed to Rome (fig. 15), while others were unmarked and yet others bore the mint name ANTIOXIA (fig. 16)9.

  • 10 Svoronos 1890, pl. 23-24; see Walker 1977, 65-66.

16Crete: drachms (equivalent to denarii) under Trajan (fig. 17)10.

  • 11 Metcalf 1975.

17Arabia: drachms and probably tridrachms under Trajan, AD 112-115 (fig. 18)11.

18In the Anatolian peninsula itself: Asia (provincia): cistophori as already noted (above, n. 6).

  • 12 For the Hadrianic issues see Nordbø 1988.

19Pontus: drachms, drachms, didrachms and tridrachms of Hadrian (fig. 19) and Antoninus12.

  • 13 Metcalf 1980, 130-143.

20Bithynia: cistophori under Hadrian only13.

  • 14 Walker 1976, 56-57; Walker 1977, 86-90; Walker 1978, 81-82.

21Cilicia: tetradrachms, then smaller denominations, from Tarsus (fig. 20), sporadically from Augustus through Macrinus; Aegeae, Hadrian; Seleucia ad Calycadnum, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius14.

22Lycia: hemidrachms under Claudius, drachms under Domitian, Nerva, and Trajan (fig. 21).

  • 15 The old standard, very unreliable now, is Sydenham 1978, a reprint of the 1933 original with a sup (...)

23Cappadocia: silver through Nero, then on a drachm standard (in which the didrachm was the principal denomination produced) under every emperor through Caracalla, including Pescennius Niger but omitting Pertinax15.

24I omit such oddments as strikings at Mopsus under Hadrian and Antoninus Pius and those of Aurelius and Verus at Edessa.

25First we should note the variety of these coins. While all of them look like denarii – the drachm is usually compatible with it by weight, and it would be easy to confuse the two in circulation – the multiple denominations vary, both in weight and in fineness, from province to province.

  • 16 On movement of coin see Duncan-Jones 1994, 172-179, and 1996 (against widespread movement of coin) (...)
  • 17 See first Negev 1971. If proof of the eastern Mediterranean origin of the Arabian drachms were nee (...)

26A second point is related. While all were of roughly similar silver content, and it can be shown that coins eventually moved from west to east and vice-versa, all of these denominations are rare in western hoards and only once, to my knowledge, are found with each other16. The point can be made by illustration, at the risk of some circularity. The Arabian mint of Trajan was “discovered” solely because its types have a peculiar circulation pattern that separates them dramatically from other coins of Caesarea in Cappadocia. Once that is noticed, the existence of the mint is easily demonstrable on other technical grounds: different die axis, subtly different style, and the like, and (most convincingly) overstriking on earlier Nabataean drachms17.

  • 18 Att., 2.6.2 (early 59 BC); Att., 11.1.2; the 2.2 million sestertii (in cistophoro) were the procee (...)
  • 19 Ket. 13.11. “If a man married a woman in the Land of Israel and divorced her in the Land of Israel (...)

27Now the known hoards from Anatolia are not very numerous, and most are ill-documented; they are summarized in the Table below. But the pattern of hoarding (insofar as we can extract one) suggests exclusive preference for single currencies. When mixing occurs, it is only with denarii, rarely with other provincial coinages, however nominally compatible. This, if anything, is “regionalism” in coinage. It bears out documentary evidence, widely scattered in time and space, that suggests how difficult it was to convert these coins for denarii or for each other: Cicero’s letter to Atticus asking him to deal with the exchange of cistophori (some of which probably bore his own name! – fig. 10), that were on their face easily convertible for three denarii each18, and a rather obscure treatment in the Mishnah in which the Rabbinical schools differ on the specie to be employed in repaying a dowry in the event of divorce when the spouses have moved from one province to another19.

28Now these coins operate not only independently of each other, but for the most part independently of the cities where they were produced. That is, it is only rarely possible to link up either the pattern of issue or the style of the engraving with that in use at the local mints. The stylistic question is easiest to illustrate from two pairs of coins that ought to look much more alike than they do: a cistophorus and a local striking from Ephesos under Hadrian (figs. 22-23), and a Cappadocian didrachm and a contemporary copper piece bearing the image of Lucius Verus (figs. 24-25). Even where the employment of local minters might have seemed obvious, there is no evidence for it.

  • 20 See Price 1984, 173-174. On the expression α της μενες, Robert 1960a, 1967b, 53-54; Levy 1987, 54 (...)

29In spite of Simon Price’s view of control emanating from the center, to which I once subscribed, copper coins indicating any kind of appeal to Rome are rare and in their own way indicate the priority of local initiative20. If the copper operated so independently of the silver, it is a priori likely that provincial silver was subject to some form of central control, as many numismatists have been disposed to believe and have stated, without a shred of real evidence. That evidence is now forthcoming.

  • 21 For the details see Metcalf 1996, 48-49 (Vespasian), 51 (Domitian), 59-60 (Trajan), 66-71 (M. Aure (...)

30An ironclad case has to do with Cappadocia, where die links tie a whole series of silver to Roman mintage under both Vespasian and Trajan, and where it is likely that the whole massive striking of didrachms for M. Aurelius and L. Verus, associated by David Walker with L. Verus’ campaign against the Parthians, were in fact produced at Rome and exported to the province. The coins of Cappadocia normally bore Greek legends, but the later issue of Trajan displays a die link to a Latin obverse that must be the product of Rome (figs. 26-27), and the coinage of Vespasian displays consistent variation in style and die axis that two mints must be involved: Rome (fig. 28) and Caesarea (fig. 29)21.

31There have long been other cases as well. I focus on two reigns, those of Domitian and of Trajan, though the case can be made elsewhere too. In the last years of Domitian there is a spurt of activity in provincial silver coinage: cistophori in small quantities, drachms from Lycia (fig. 30), didrachms from Cappadocia (fig. 31), tetradrachms from Antioch (fig. 32) – all in an obverse style similar enough that Alfred Bellinger talked of a “pan-imperial” style. That was great news for the art historians, but not very shrewd numismatics; and I think that what were are looking at – demonstrably in the case of the Caesarean coinage – is the production of dies and very probably of coins at Rome.

  • 22 Weder 1977 suggests connection of the Arabian coinage with Rome and/or Antioch. I am more inclined (...)

32Similarly for Trajan. Here the Roman origin of at least part of the issue is demonstrable through die links, and while not all production was concentrated at Rome the scale of involvement was larger. At the annexation of Arabia, for example, there was no hesitation in opening a mint to eliminate the coinage of the Nabataeans (fig. 18); its style has been compared to that of Antioch (fig. 33)22, but is also broadly similar to that observed in Crete (fig. 17).

33Whether or not the mint of Rome produced any of these coinages, their existence reflects more than simple tolerance of local tradition. We have to ask ourselves why Rome actively encouraged the continued circulation of different denominations. But we already have the key to the answer: they did not easily move beyond their provincial borders. Provision of silver from Rome thus became a means of controlling and correcting regional disparity in silver currency caused by chronic trade imbalance.

  • 23 Mitchell 1993, 1.247-250, 256-257.
  • 24 A different sort of question (and a surprising one even in the present context) is raised by the c (...)

34Stephen Mitchell has already come at this problem another way – by observing shortages of cash in Anatolia as early as the first century BC, and noting that one answer was the commutation of taxes from cash to kind, for which there is substantial evidence23. But the periodic striking of coin on provincial standards, as well as the actual provision of coin from Rome, gives a whole new dimension to regionalism in the coinage of Asia24.

35The intent was clearly to put money into circulation there and to insure the functioning of a cash economy. In the long run this could not prevent the flow of silver beyond the eastern limes, which explains the prominence of Cappadocian coins in particular in many parts of what used to be the Soviet Union; but the hoards from within the empire, with their homogeneous character, are striking proof of the success of the system.

  • 25 See for example Finley 1985, 196, criticizing the view of Lo Cascio 1981. Finley seems to have tho (...)
  • 26 It goes without saying that there is no direct evidence, apart from the coins, for this analysis, (...)

36This argument may cause surprise. Part of the explanation lies in the numismatic community. Until the 1970s the eastern silver was poorly understood. Much of it was misattributed (mainly to Caesarea and Antioch), and no picture of provincial silver currency would have been sufficiently accurate to encourage the inquiry. But the other obstacle lies in the prejudices of modern historians. The Romans, indeed the ancients in general, are seen as wholly unanalytical and economically naive25. In fact it is most modern economic discussion that is naive with respect to the Romans. But Rome had acquired, and elected to maintain, at least two closed currency systems, the cistophoric and the Ptolemaic; both were effectively confined to their regions of origin and did not mingle with others. The promotion of regional currency systems, under observation and sometimes intervention from Rome, ought to be viewed in part as an attempt to replicate their success26.

37Note: I have been unable to take account of M. G. Abramzon, “The Gerzeul Hoard of Coins of Caesareaof Cappadocia (in the Museum of Abkhazia)”, RN, 159 (1993), 243, 256.

Imperial hoards containing provincial silver.
1 Olcay in Sutherland et al. 1970, 1-11. 2. Milik & Seyring 1958. 3. Milik & Seyrig 1958. 4. Weber 1932. 5. Mattingly 1932, 238-239. 6. Svoronos 1907. 7. Baldwin 1927. 8. Ivaschenko 1931. 9. Metcalf 1996. Negen 1971; Rosenthal-Heginbottom 1980. 11. Hamburger 1954. 12. Dundus 1979, 25-106. 13. Metcalf 1975; Weder 1977. 14. Dundua 1979, 107-178.

Notes

1 Harl 1987. The magnificent Sylloge of his collection, the most significant portion of which comprised Greek coins of the Roman period, should not obscure von Aulock’s own contributions, notably his series von Aulock 1976, 1977-1979, and 1980-1987. The fundamental work was done by Kraft 1972.

2 On these distinctions see RPC, I, 1992, 620. For the excavations see Waagé 1952.

3 RPC, I, 1992, 53-54.

4 The modern treatment is Kleiner 1972.

5 For Augustus and the attribution to Pergamum, see Sutherland et al. 1970, followed at RPC, I, 1992, no 2216-2220.

6 For the later cistophori see RPC, I, 1992, no 2221-2225; Metcalf 1980 and 1988.

7 The standard catalogue is Dattari 1901; the largest publication of a single collection is Milne 1971.

8 Levy 1993, supplementing and modifying the interpretation of Meshorer 1982, 8-9; Meshorer 1984.

9 At Antioch in the reign of Philip I there are two sets of tetradrachms on which the legends ANTIOXIA and MON VRB appear respectively; these are in other respects two treatments of the same motif and circulated side by side in Syria. Baldus 1969.

10 Svoronos 1890, pl. 23-24; see Walker 1977, 65-66.

11 Metcalf 1975.

12 For the Hadrianic issues see Nordbø 1988.

13 Metcalf 1980, 130-143.

14 Walker 1976, 56-57; Walker 1977, 86-90; Walker 1978, 81-82.

15 The old standard, very unreliable now, is Sydenham 1978, a reprint of the 1933 original with a supplement by A. G. Malloy. For the later silver see Metcalf 1996; and Bland 1991.

16 On movement of coin see Duncan-Jones 1994, 172-179, and 1996 (against widespread movement of coin); for the contrary view Howgego 1996. Both are concerned solely with denarii and antoniniani.

17 See first Negev 1971. If proof of the eastern Mediterranean origin of the Arabian drachms were needed it comes from the fact that they are frequently overstruck by the small silver of Bar Kokhba: see Mildenberg 1985, no 17.8, 23.14, 34.25, etc. Table I is an expanded version of that presented in Metcalf 1975, 94.

18 Att., 2.6.2 (early 59 BC); Att., 11.1.2; the 2.2 million sestertii (in cistophoro) were the proceeds of Cicero’s proconsulate, which (Fam., 5.20.9) he had deposited among the publicani in Ephesus. Here he suggests that Atticus protect his credit permutatione huius pecuniae, which Shakleton-Bailey translates as “by a bill of credit”.

19 Ket. 13.11. “If a man married a woman in the Land of Israel and divorced her in the Land of Israel he must pay [her ketubah] in the coinage of the Land of Israel. If he married a woman in the Land of Israel and divorced her in Kappadokia, he must pay her in the coinage of the land of Israel. If he married a woman in Kappadokia and divorced her in the Land of Israel, he must pay her in the coinage of the Land of Israel. Rabban Simon b. Gamaliel says: he may pay her in the coinage of Kappadokia. If her married a woman in Kappadokia and divorced her in Kappadokia he must pay her in the coinage of Kappadokia”. Danby 1933, 263-264.

20 See Price 1984, 173-174. On the expression α της μενες, Robert 1960a, 1967b, 53-54; Levy 1987, 54 following Mommsen 1865-1875, 339. RPC, I, 1992, 2 gives only Ankyra (no 3111-3113) as having used the formula during the Julio-Claudian period.

21 For the details see Metcalf 1996, 48-49 (Vespasian), 51 (Domitian), 59-60 (Trajan), 66-71 (M. Aurelius and L. Verus).

22 Weder 1977 suggests connection of the Arabian coinage with Rome and/or Antioch. I am more inclined to accept the attribution of the later Arabian issues to Rome than those of tr. p. xvi-xviii, since these are found overstruck on Nabataean drachms; but the whole problem of provincial minting connections deserves more rigorous attention.

23 Mitchell 1993, 1.247-250, 256-257.

24 A different sort of question (and a surprising one even in the present context) is raised by the consignment of batches of coin to the western provinces. See Walker 1988, 289 (for the transportation of coins struck at Antioch to Britain), 290-291 (for the shipment of BRITANNIA asses struck at Rome to the island). It is becoming clear that coins traditionally assigned to Rome actually had different circulation patterns.

25 See for example Finley 1985, 196, criticizing the view of Lo Cascio 1981. Finley seems to have thought that occasional shortages of coin implied that the Romans were unconcerned to make available adequate means of exchange.

26 It goes without saying that there is no direct evidence, apart from the coins, for this analysis, but a particularly strong case can be made outside the geographical limits imposed here.

Table des illustrations

Légende Imperial hoards containing provincial silver.1 Olcay in Sutherland et al. 1970, 1-11. 2. Milik & Seyring 1958. 3. Milik & Seyrig 1958. 4. Weber 1932. 5. Mattingly 1932, 238-239. 6. Svoronos 1907. 7. Baldwin 1927. 8. Ivaschenko 1931. 9. Metcalf 1996. Negen 1971; Rosenthal-Heginbottom 1980. 11. Hamburger 1954. 12. Dundus 1979, 25-106. 13. Metcalf 1975; Weder 1977. 14. Dundua 1979, 107-178.
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Coins and Medals, Yale University Art Gallery

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