Welcome to the fifth edition in our series of blog posts written by our Finds Advisers for ancient coins, Dr. Sam Moorhead and Dr. Andrew Brown. In this series they are exploring some of the many (many) ancient coins from the PAS database.
The Roman Provinces – Part 1
The reverses of Roman coins, particularly in the first few centuries AD, depict a vast range of types and themes that often reveal really quite significant detail with respect to the Roman
world. This could be anything from simple celebratory, votive legends proclaiming an emperor’s anniversary to depictions of the physical or divine elements of the Roman world, the celebration of a significant victory, or more complex and nuanced representations of Roman politics and society. In all cases, there is generally a motivation or a reason behind the choice of reverse type. After all, coinage by its very nature could potentially travel vast distances and cross the hands of many individuals, so the messages contained on the coins were equally important.
A good example of this is in the depiction and personification of the provinces that made up the Roman world. The presence of imagery relating to one or other province on Roman coinage was a clever tool (and piece of propaganda!) used by the emperor to demonstrate his connection to the wider empire and highlight, for example, his base of power or support.
Individual provinces (or geographical areas of Roman administrative control, for example Gallia as a combined entity rather than its individual administrative components) are depicted in female form in contrast to, for example, rivers or seas that are male. When personified, they often carry or are surrounded by attributes that identify them and are specific to their landscape or origins (see below). While many Roman coins that depict the provinces have reverse legends that name them (e.g. Britannia as shown above), even on very worn coins the
presence of a female figure with attributes that are identifiable to a specific province allow us to reach a closer identification.
The most significant series of coins that relate specifically to the provinces were issued in Rome by Hadrian (AD 117-138) and Antoninus Pius (AD 138-161). Hadrian’s ‘province’ series towards the end of his reign (RIC II pp. 374-378, 445-467)1 provides a good starting point that demonstrates four ways the provinces were depicted on Roman coinage:
Coins of Antoninus Pius have similar province types, but include a ‘crown’ series in AD 139 with the province usually carrying a wreath or crown (Fig. 2). This is in reference to Antoninus’ halving of the aurum coronarium (‘crown-gold’), a gold tax levied against the provinces on the emperor’s accession to power.
What the province types demonstrate are imperial policy and perhaps propaganda, essentially the links between the emperor and his provinces, his visits to the provinces, and his restoration of them within the empire, all often linked to specific historic events. Sometimes this would have been to demonstrate or acknowledge support from a particular province – we have seen this already to some extent with the coinage of Galba that reference Hispania – but in the case of Hadrian, for example, it also relates to his travels around the empire!
t has to be remembered that these personifications appear on the coin issues of other emperors too, not solely those of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius. Female figures with attributes for their specific province are present from the Republican period onward and, while largely focussed on the imperial coinages of the 1st-2nd centuries AD, there are some later examples into the 4th century.
We often see seated or captive figures that speak to Rome’s subjugation or defeat of a region, often with the word CAPTA (‘captured’), and sometimes these again represent the personification of the captured province.
I was curious to see how often coins with depictions of the Roman provinces appeared through the PAS. Of course, it is likely that those closer to home will be far more prevalent – notably coins depicting Britannia – and for some emperors, like Hadrian, there are more extensive coinages that depict the provinces in various forms.
Britannia, as we might expect, is clearly out in front. It is interesting though how many coins depicting Africa, Arabia and Armenia find their way to Britain, with notable peaks in the Trajanic and Hadrianic periods. The challenge now is to see if we can refine the data on the PAS database to identify these more thoroughly.
The Roman Provinces – Part 2
In this section we are continuing the we are looking at the provinces of Dacia through to Italia and the various attributes or adjuncts that identify the province personified.
One thing that has become clear when looking at the material on the PAS is that there are more types than I first thought there might be, but also that there are some surprising peaks for some regions and corresponding lack of types that depict provinces relatively close to Britannia. This may well be due to a combination of factors, for example large numbers struck for one or other emperor or to commemorate specific events (e.g. Trajan’s Dacian series or the Judaea coinage of the Flavian period, see below for both of these). There are also a large number of bronze issues that are extremely difficult to identify given their preservation. These clearly fall into the province types, but it is not entirely clear which province they represent! More work is clearly needed to resolve some of these on the database, but hopefully these might be more easily identified in the future with the main types outlined here.
Trajan’s campaigns in the early 2nd century resulted in Dacia
becoming a Roman province by AD 106 and with Trajan taking
the title Dacicus. She is depicted first on coins of Trajan as a
standing female figure usually holding a standard or vexillum
and a curved sword, a ‘falx’. The standard she holds on coins of
Trajan Decius has an animal head, as below .
This is described as an ass’s head in RIC (e.g. RIC IV.3, p. 114), although Mattingly calls it as a dragon-standard (BMCRE IV, p. lxxix) – a draco with wolflike head perhaps adopted by Roman cavalry from the Dacians or Sarmatians after Trajan’s conquest of Dacia (the Dacian cavalry are depicted carrying dracos on Trajan’s column) – and certainly at least for the Antonine coinages, if not also those of Decius, this appears more likely.
Coins depicting Dacia are extensive for Trajan, very often depicting her in mourning, such as the example below. There is some difficulty separating Trajan’s examples on the PAS as many types depict a Dacian rather than Dacia herself as a captive. This needs more work to go through all of his examples (of which there are many!). At present, I have been able to identify 39 examples with Dacia – 10 denarii, 13 sestertii, 11 dupondii, and 5 asses.
The clearest depiction of Dacia as a province with Trajan is towards the end of his reign where bronze coins are issued that depict her seated on a rock with two children, one holding
corn the other grapes. There are at least seven coins of this type included in the figures for Trajan above, comprising a mix of sestertii, dupondii, and asses, the majority of which are typically quite poorly preserved. There is an excellent piece in the British Museum collection (pictured below) that gives a good idea of the type though.
There is one possible sestertius and one dupondius of Hadrian, with two possible sestertii of Antoninus Pius on the PAS, but these are very poorly preserved and remain uncertain. The second largest group depicting Dacia are for Trajan Decius, who adopted the name Trajan upon becoming emperor in honour of Trajan himself. There are 13 radiates of Decius on the PAS depicting Dacia standing holding a standard, as well as two radiates of Aurelian with similar type.
Gaul became a Roman province after Caesar’s Gallic wars in 51 BC. The province was divided into various administrative districts – we saw the three Galliae on the coinage of Galba – but with Hadrian’s province coinage it is treated as the single entity
of Gallia who also appears on ADVENTVS and RESTITVTOR types as a robed, kneeling figure. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly given Britain’s proximity to Gaul, there are only 8 PAS examples, two sestertii and six denarii, such as the example below.
Gallia appears on 3rd century bronze coinage, notably radiates and sestertii of Postumus (AD 260-269) following his establishment of the breakaway Gallic Empire, however these are rare on the PAS. There are seemingly no examples of Postumus that I have found to date, although there is at least one of Gallienus that alludes to his victories in Gaul over the Germanic tribes after AD 256 (see the example below).
Germania (comprised of Germania Superior and Germania Inferior) was a landscape of regular conflict and campaigning during the Roman period. Partially conquered by Caesar during his campaigns in Gaul, it was not until Augustus that provincial status was afforded. Even then, there were some serious setbacks,
most notably in 9 AD when three Roman legions were annihilated in the Teutoburg forest. Over the following centuries the Romans established a frontier, the limes, along the Rhine and Danube rivers but with regular conflict with the Germanic populations. This war-like aspect is depicted in Germania herself who usually appears on Roman coinage bearing a spear and shield. She appears on coinage from at least the reign of Domitian, typically in defeat or as a captive (Fig. 14) following his advance into the region in AD 83 and stabilisation of the frontier. I have been able to find just one very worn possible PAS denarius and one sestertius of Domitian, the latter showing GERMANIA CAPTA, but no coins of Trajan. The type appears most commonly for Hadrian, with at least 6 denarii recorded through the PAS, like the example below.
The province of Hispania appears early on Roman coinage, with Republican denarii (serratus) of A. Postumius Albinus in 81 BC
(Fig. 18) that depict a veiled head of Hispania on the obverse, like the example below.
There are at least eight PAS coins of this type. When personified, she is depicted carrying an olive branch and accompanied by a rabbit. This is most clearly demonstrated on the coin types of Hadrian’s province series, as well as his adventus and restitutor types.
In a previous blog, we saw how Galba recognised his origins and support in Hispania after he was declared emperor. Four denarii of Galba are recorded through the PAS depicting Hispania with round shield, spear, corn ears and poppy.
Bronze coinage is often quite problematic in general when very worn and there are several PAS coins that could have Hispania reverse types, but they are too worn to be confident one way or the other. We lack a clear restitutor coin like this example from the British Museum, but there is a good example of a very worn province sestertius (see the example below) from Kent where the start of the legend is just visible, as is the rabbit! We have no example of Hispania later than Hadrian so far on the PAS database, but she does appear for Antoninus Pius and in a wonderful aureus of Laelian.
Italia appears on Roman coinage as a very distinct entity separate from Rome herself. A Republican issue of Q. Fufius Calenus and P. Mucius Scaevola of 70 BC depicts Rome and Italia clasping hands with a cornucopiae between them, perhaps alluding to increased harmony between the two entities (see the example below).
There are at least four denarii of this type on the PAS to date. The cornucopia becomes one of the attributes associated with Italia
in her depictions during the imperial period, along with a sceptre. There are six denarii of Hadrian and one possible sestertius that depict Italia standing holding sceptre and cornucopiae recorded through the PAS.
With Antoninus Pius, Italia is usually depicted seated on a globe holding sceptre and cornucopiae (Fig. 28: BM coin R.13620), the type continuing through the Antonine period and into the Severan period. Sestertii of this type appear relatively frequently on the PAS, although I am sure there are likely to be others that I have not yet found. For Antoninus there are at least 4 sestertii and 3 denarii, for Marcus Aurelius 3 sestertii and for Commodus 4 sestertii and one as. Denarii struck by Caracalla also depict Italia seated, but there appear to be no PAS examples, nor for that matter for earlier coins of Trajan.
Judaea did not come under Roman control until the Augustan period, but depictions of the province personified only appear in the Flavian period. Tensions between Rome and the Jewish populations in Jerusalem in particular prompted rebellion in the city (not helped by the Roman plundering of the Second Temple) and the first of three major conflicts between Rome and the Jewish populations – the First Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73). In AD 70 Roman forces broke through the defences of Jerusalem,
destroying the Temple, the spoils used to fund the construction of the colosseum.
Coins of the Flavian period depict Judaea captured (CAPTA) or defeated (DEVICTA) and they are numerous on the PAS – approximately 50 denarii are recorded as well as one aureus
of Vespasian (below) and c.15 bronze denominations. She is often depicted with a palm tree. There are no Hadrianic types that I can find on the PAS database.
In the previous section, we saw how the various attributes associated with a province can help to identify coins recorded through the PAS. Carrying on that theme, it is clear that these small pieces of evidence on reverse types in particular can prove essential in differentiating one coin type from another – perhaps the clearest example of that in this edition is the rabbit on the Hispania coin (it is there, I promise you!). As with the last batch of provinces, it is also apparent that some are better represented than others, probably largely a result of the volumes of material issued by some rulers or the number of types struck representing specific events. But I was surprised by how few PAS coins depict Gallia and Germania, provinces that are comparatively close to home, even if the coins would have to travel some distance from Rome to get here. This is perhaps best represented by combining the material from this and the last edition in Table 1, where
Britannia remains well out in front, but there are notable contributions from elsewhere too.
The peaks for provinces like Arabia, Dacia, and Judaea I’m sure to some degree reflect the volume of material originally produced
commemorating key historical events like Trajan’s Dacian campaigns, for which there are many different types. In contrast, there are far fewer types in general for provinces like Germania, for example, and so we might as a result expect fewer coins.
The Roman Provinces – Part 3
It is worth remembering that the ‘province’ depicted isn’t always in the strictest sense the administrative area under Roman control. As will become apparent in one or two examples in this edition, sometimes it is more a notional sense of a region, people, or landscape – a good example of this is Scythia, which essentially covers the Greek settlements of the northern Black Sea coastline. We have already seen this to some degree in the last two editions in province coins that effectively combine more than one administrative district, such as Gallia. What the coins of these series do demonstrate though, in the Hadrianic and
Antonine period in particular, is a growing sense of empire, it’s extent, diversity, and connectivity. In the Antonine crown series this perhaps also brings stronger indications of loyalty and tribute to the central power in Rome (see BMCRE IV, pp. lxxix-lxxx). Although there are references to the provinces in later issues into the 3rd and even 4th centuries, as we have already seen with, for example, Africa, overt depictions like those on the 2nd century coinages are much less common and indeed rare on the PAS.
Two key points come from looking at the material recorded through the PAS for coin types that depict the provinces. Firstly, there really are quite a range of types and regions represented. I have been able so far to identify over 600 examples, although I suspect that this number may change (and potentially considerably) as there are likely to be others not fully identified amongst the PAS material. Secondly, there is much work still to do in refining the PAS dataset to fully categorise all of these types! The types of Hadrian and Antoninus Pius in particular are relatively neatly contained in short issues within their respective reigns and the attributes or adjuncts that identify the provinces are often quite clearly defined. This should allow us to present a clearer picture of what is contained within the PAS material but requires a further, more detailed examination of the dataset, particularly at the large numbers of very worn early Roman bronze issues.
Amongst the province types listed for Hadrian are coins that depict Nilus, the personification of the River Nile (see RIC II, nos. 308-311, 861-870). This issue is slightly different to the majority of province types in that, as a river, Nilus is depicted in male form and representing the landscape of the Nile might perhaps fit better for the purposes of our Coin Relief editions alongside other personifications of rivers and seas (for example the Danube or Tiber). It is worth illustrating this type briefly here though as the principle of how the river is depicted is the same as for the provinces. In this case we see a reclining male figure surrounded by the attributes that define him – a hippopotamus, crocodile, and sphinx, holding a cornucopiae and reed. If the personification on the coin you are recording therefore appears to be male rather than female, it is worth checking that it isn’t one of the rivers! Nilus does appear on the PAS database – there are at least 10 examples that I have found so far, such as the example below.
The territory of Macedonia was incorporated as a Roman province following a series of conflicts that culminated in Roman victory during the Third (171-168 BC) and Fourth Macedonian Wars (150-148 BC). On the adventus and restitutor types of Hadrian, she appears wearing a traditional Macedonian kausia (flat hat), short tunic, and carries a whip. There are currently no examples of these types that I can find on the PAS.
As a client kingdom of the Roman empire, Mauretania, covering parts of Morocco and Algeria, became a province under Claudius
I in AD 44. In Hadrian’s coinage, the province is depicted wearing a short tunic, sometimes with an elephant headdress, carrying a vexillum, corn ears, or javelins, and, most importantly, in the province series is depicting leading a horse either left or right. There are two very worn sestertii of this type on the PAS. Although coins depicting Mauretania were also struck in Antoninus Pius’ crown series, depicting the province holding a crown, there appear to be no PAS examples.
Moesia, located in the Balkans between Serbia and the Ukraine, became a Roman province by the reign of Augustus. She holds a bow and quiver, appearing only in the adventus series for Hadrian. There are no PAS coins that I can find of this rare type.
Noricum, incorporated first as a client kingdom under Augustus then as a province with Claudius I, was a frontier province covering modern Austria. Coins depicting the province are hugely rare, appearing as an adventus type for Hadrian as a helmeted female figure holding a standard. There are no PAS examples of this type yet and in fact there appear to be no coins in the British Museum collection either.
It is with Lucius Aelius as proconsul to Pannonia under Hadrian that the first depictions of the province of Pannonia appear. On Aelius’ bronze coinage she is depicted standing left holding a vexillum and gathering up her drapery with her left hand. Three examples of this type are recorded through the PAS, such as the example below.
Under Trajan Decius radiates were struck with Pannonia as a single, standing figure, veiled and holding a standard, but also as two female figures, the two Pannoniae. The province had been divided into two regions, Pannonia Superior and Pannonia Inferior by Trajan during his Dacian campaigns and in the coinage of Decius both components appear to be depicted. There are nine radiates of Decius with reverse type of the two Pannoniae on the PAS, including the example below.
After several centuries of political posturing and rivalry, Trajan’s eastern campaigns from AD 114 that resulted in the incorporation of Armenia and Mesopotamia into the Roman empire also led to
the capture of the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon. Rather than annex Parthia he instead installed Parthamaspates as a client
king in AD 116. Trajan’s coinage reflects this capture of Parthia – notably in an aureus recorded through the PAS and several sestertii (seven PAS examples) that depict Parthamaspates as a supplicant to Trajan being crowned by the emperor.
It was not until Antoninus Pius that the coinage depicts Parthia herself, although by this time Rome had withdrawn from the east with client kings established in provinces like Armenia – she was not so much a province proper as a friendly client kingdom. On Pius’ bronze coinage Parthia is depicted holding a crown as well as a bow and quiver (which is also visible next to the seated Parthian’s on the aureus above). There is just one possible example of this type (CORN-02F005) that I have found so far on the PAS.
Following Antoninus Pius’ death, Lucius Verus campaigned in the Roman-Parthian War (AD 161-166) and Ctesiphon was again subject to Roman capture in AD 165. It is from this period that several PAS coins originate (at least 6 possible sestertii, one possible dupondius, and 5 denarii) depicting Parthia (or at least a captive Parthian) seated, often beneath a trophy but notably with the bow and quiver that are attributes of Parthia herself.
Not officially a Roman province until AD 198, Phoenicia as a region on the coastline of Syria appears in Antoninus Pius’ crown
series of AD 139. She is depicted holding a crown and with both a palm tree behind her and a ship’s prow reflecting her seafaring
origins. There appear to be no examples of this type yet on the PAS.
Phrygia became a Roman province in 133 BC and remained a single entity before being divided into two provinces by Diocletian. There are no examples of Phrygia personified on
the PAS, but she is represented on the adventus and restitutor types of Hadrian as a draped figure wearing a Phrygian cap and holding a pedum (a shepherd’s crook).
In Antoninus’ crown series the Greek cities of the northern Black Sea coastline are represented broadly as ‘Scythia’. This is a good example of both Hadrian and Antoninus’ coinages not strictly reflecting a specific province, region, or people, but rather a broad and perhaps slightly notional sense of that part of the Roman empire. She is depicted wearing a short tunic and mural crown, holding a crown and parazonium. There are no clear examples of this type on the PAS.
Sicily was Rome’s first province outside Italy, annexed following her victory in the First Punic War (264-241 BC) with Carthage. She is distinctive in that on her head she has a triskeles, the three-legged symbol of Sicily (and also the Isle of Man!), and carries corn ears or a poppy(?). Examples are known for both Hadrian
and Antoninus Pius, but to date there are no PAS examples. Look out for her and also for Hadrian’s medusa head type for Sicily (or perhaps don’t look too closely!).
Syria was a Roman province from 64 BC, annexed during the Third Mithridatic War. It served as a strategic location from which the Roman legions could engage with the east. The army in Syria is highlighted in Hadrian’s exercitus coinage but with Antoninus Pius Syria appears holding a crown and cornucopiae, with the personification of a swimming River Orontes (who appears alongside the Tyche of Antioch in Roman art and coinage) at her feet (Fig. 27: BM coin R.13412). There appear to be no PAS examples yet depicting this type.
Some more missing types…!
There are some provinces that appear very rarely in both Hadrian and Antoninus Pius’ coinages, some of which do not appear as personifications but are apparent in, for example,
Hadrian’s exercitus types. It is worth collating some of these here in case they appear during recording on the database – the best references for all of these types are RIC II (for Hadrian) and RIC III (for Antoninus Pius). These provinces are: Achaeae, Nicomedia, Raetia and Thracia. None of these rare types are present in the PAS dataset as far as I can tell at present, although there could be some hiding, particularly amongst the early bronze coinages.
The province types on Roman coinage provide an interesting glimpse at ideas of empire, identity, diversity, and sometimes politics, propaganda, and tribute! Their appearance in several instances reflect specific events in Roman history, commemorating conquest or victory for example in the case of Trajan’s Dacian issues. They are also surprisingly numerous on the PAS database. The table below highlights the rough numbers that I have been able to identify to date, some 603 coins.
Although Britannia issues are by far the largest group, which is perhaps to be expected given the batches of coins that seem to have been shipped directly to Britain from the mint in Rome, it is surprising how many of the other provinces are also represented. For some, like Dacia, long periods of interaction and conflict meant that she is depicted on numerous issues of more than one
emperor and so we might expect a larger volume of material. In contrast, others are very rare or missing – notably provinces like Germania and Gallia are quite underrepresented in the PAS data.
It is possible these figure may be refined by a more complete audit of the records already on the database and I’m sure more will appear in the future!