THE AUSPEX DIES FOR SEPTIMIUS AND THEIR UNSIGNED COUNTERPARTS AT NICOPOLIS AD ISTRUM
A PROVISIONAL STUDY
Pollenius Auspex was the first governor of Moesia Inferior, separate from Thrace, to issue coins with signed reverse dies. He belonged to a family for whom public service was the rule (A. Stein, 1940, pp. 82–84, and Dio Cassius, LXXVII, 3-4). In his introduction to Moesia Inferior, AMNG I, 1, p. 81, Behrendt Pick knew his coinage only at Nicopolis; by the time Pick wrote the introduction to Marcianopolis, though the earlier pages were already in stereotype, he knew not only Auspex dies at the Marcianopolis mint but that the coin he had obtained for Gotha had the same die used for Gentianus, thus established as his successor (Pick, no. 543, p. 198, is that coin):
At Marcianopolis a seated Zeus and an Apollo of the Apollo Lykeios type are now known with that same obverse die. In his introduction to Nicopolis ad Istrum, Pick could report that the continuity from Auspex to Gentianus was guaranteed here, too (see below, 2Gentianus). In the century since Pick, Arthur Stein, for whom an early article is noted by Pick, p. 331, note 3, filled out what is known of Auspex and both earlier and later members of his family, and both Pick’s work and Stein’s summation for the legates of Moesia Inferior (1940) remain valuable, indeed indispensable, today.
The number and variety of known coins, however, has nearly doubled, and though it is very difficult to obtain images of all the dies Pick already knew, while new ones continue to appear, it is possible for Nicopolis, where the minting activity for Auspex was much richer, to draw up a worthwhile summary.
•This preliminary report is fitly dedicated to P. G. Burbules, who found several of the coins critical to bringing it into focus and, more recently, has patiently read the drafts of its text.
•Arthur Stein, Die Legaten von Moesien, Budapest, 1940, pp. 82–84.
•E. Cary’s translation, in the Loeb Classical Library, of Dio’s account of the witty Auspex is witty enough, but with not quite Dio’s bite. We should be glad to have equally vivid comments on the other governors.
•Behrendt Pick, Die Münzen Nord-Griechenlands, Berlin, 1898 (rept. Forni), I, 1, Dacien und Moesien.
•N. Hristova and G. Jekov, Marcianopolis, Blagoevgrad, 2006, pp. 22, 27, 33, 40, the last being the Tyche, the first that Pick found (see their Index, p.239).
N.B.: The coins shown at nos. 2221 and 2534, in the English edition of Varbanov, Greek Imperial Coins, vol. I, which I have not yet seen, are reported by Curtis Clay to be relevant to this article.
The Obverse Dies.
At least three obverse dies (that I have examined firsthand) are used with signed reverse dies.
Obverse 1. AVKAI SEP | SEVÊROS PER.
This die is distinguished for its compact and coherent construction as well as for the cameo-like rounded surfaces of its relief.
Obverse 2. AV KAI LOV SEPT• | SEVÊROS PER. With a longer head and greater emphasis on linear detail, this elegant die is the one that, as Pick noticed, continued in use for Gentianus (thus his successor), at least with the River-god reverse of Pick 1266 (see 2Gentianus below).
Obverse 3. Possibly AV KAI L SEPT | SE [VÊROS PER]. The restored legend is largely from Pick 1261, but this specimen clearly has SEPT, so that the Bucharest specimens give little warrant for the L or the PER, apart from there being space enough. Besides, Pick specifies a bust with armor and a cloak (as also for no. 1258), and a similar obverse, with L SEP for a head is recorded for the unknown no. 1259. So far as legible, this die might be the model for Obverse 6.
The Obverse Dies used with Unsigned Reverse Die
Obverse 4. AVT KAI SEP | SEVÊROS. Of the three obverse dies used with unsigned reverse dies, and resembling them, Obverse 4 is most closely dependent on Obverse 1, and may be as early, but the head is less compact, less firmly constructed, and less rounded in rendering relief (notice especially the broad, flat temporal area).
Obverse 5. AV KAI L SE | P SEVÊROS. The legend and longer proportions show that this is not the same as Obverse 4.
Obverse 6. AV KAI L SE | SEVÊROS. The portrait is more linear and distorted and flattened, and the legend differs. The legend begins well below the neck, as on Obverse 4, but the broad, flat neck, the exaggerated brow ridge, the bumpy forehead, and the curves at the lower edge of the neck distinguish it.
Obverse 7. AVT KAI L SE | SEVÊROS PER (the PER, however, not read by Pick). Not closely related to the foregoing, this portrait die , however, might be the work of an artless survivor of some of Commodus’s coinage.
The obverse dies used with anonymous reverse dies are tied to Auspex- signed issues not only by their portraits but by their having corresponding reverse dies: the Zeus seated to l., the Capitoline-type (“Pudica”) Aphrodite, the River God reclining to l., the triad of Asklepios, Telesphoros, and Hygieia, and the Eagle on a thunderbolt, wings spread (with the head in opposite directions). One of the anonymous reverses is the earliest Severan Apollo Sauroktonos, and, both signed and unsigned, Septimius has an Aphrodite earlier than Julia Domna has one.
THE SIGNED REVERSE DIES AS PAIRED
With Obverse 1, the Auspex die par excellence, I have personal knowledge of the following reverse dies:
1a. Herakles, frontal, weight on his l. leg, resting on his club in his l. hand, head to r., lion-skin over his r. forearm, holding bow. This is the type of the Hercules Defensor reverse in Rome and, apart from the bow, the Hercules of the Di Auspices coins, very probably representing those statues at Leptis Magna. It even may have appealed to Pollenius Auspex in that connection.
1b. Aphrodite, in the pose commonly called ‘pudica’, of the Capitoline Venus type. There may have been a local statue of this type, since it is more commonly used with empresses, but. in a family where the empress shares the emperor’s lions and has a Haimos mountain of her own, his having the earliest Moesian Aphrodite may be less remarkable. Commodus, besides, had one at Anchialos.
1c. Nike with raised wings, to l., leaning on a pillar (it may have a vegetal capital, so should not be a stele), with a palm in the crook of her left arm and holding a wreath in her extended right hand. This is the earliest instance of this striking type, which looks like the representation of a bronze statue (the anonymous small coppers of Septimius with it are possibly as early). At Nicopolis, every emperor through Macrinus has this reverse, usually issued by each succeeding governor.
1d. Nike with raised wings, running on tiptoe (not floating) to l., holding wreath in her outstretched r. hand and palm in her l. With both movement and a sense of gravity, this Nike is exceptional. Another die of the same type is used with Obv. 2.
1e. River god, reclining to l., holding horn in his raised r. and leaning on his left elbow, on an overturned source-vase from which water flows. Of the single specimen, on the market a century ago, Pick, no. 1260, said that he held reeds, but this one does seem to have a horn (cf. the Antonine river god at Topiros).
Since there is a seated Zeus to l. for this obv. legend (Pick 1252) as well as an eagle with folded wings (Pick 1262, from which he completed the legend for e), it is likely that they also have Obv. 1.
With Obverse 2, the Auspex die used with a Gentianus-signed reverse on Pick 1266 (see, too, his note on p. 357: an Auspex die was taken over for Gentianus also at Marcianopolis), I know the following reverse types, recommencing with a, so that additions can be made:
2a. Demeter, stg. l, veiled, leaning on staged (pine-needle?) long torch, aflame. Demeter with a patera is not unexampled.
2b. The Pergamene triad, l. to r., of Hygieia, Telesphoros, and Asklepios, head facing l., with Telesphoros in a short garment, bareheaded, with his arms free. These details distinguish it from the dies of Commodus, the anonymous one for Septimius, and that signed by Gentianus.
2c. Nike with raised wings, as on 1d, but running not quite on tiptoe and holding the wreath a little higher in her outstretched r. hand. It is 2c that corresponds exactly to Pick 1265.
2d. Eagle with spread wings on thunderbolt, head to r., holding wreath in its beak. This frontal eagle is exceptionally elegant.
2Gentianus. Finally, the coin with its reverse signed by Gentianus but with the very worn obverse die of Auspex’s Pick 1263, is Pick 1266, a river god.
With Obv. 3, unless the specimen known to me, which is worn and corroded on the obverse, proves to be the same die as Obv. 2 (at no. 1261, Pick relied on two specimens in Bucharest, both from the same dies, which have a different legend and are busts in armor), I know only:
3a. The Emperor laureate and in armor and his paludamentum hanging behind his shoulders, spear in his r. hand, parazonium in his l., his r. foot on the shoulder of a kneeling Barbarian (in a Phrygian bonnet); Pick says it’s his r. foot, but on the known specimen it seems to be his left. The listing, Pick 1261, is with a bust in armor obverse.
Judging only from the legend (and this also with a bust in armor obverse), the river god no. 1258, reclining to r. and with the functions of the l. and r. hands also reversed, is used with the same obverse as the Emperor reverse at Bucharest, and so may be '3b'. Cf.also the coins in the English edition of Varbanov, Greek Imperial Coins.
THE UNSIGNED REVERSE DIES AS PAIRED
With Obv. 4, without the matching signed coin, 1b, we might confuse the anonymous one, though both legends are longer on the signed coin, and both the Aphrodite and the portrait are less coherently put together (the broad, flat forehead on the anonymous coin’s portrait is remarkable). The double-struck coin (see 5b below) may use the same reverse as:
4a. Aphrodite, in the pose commonly called ‘pudica’, of the Capitoline Venus type. As on the Great Prototype, the Cnidia, her clothing, implying a bath, is draped over something.
With Obv. 5, one reverse is certain, the other (double-struck) highly likely:
5a. River god, recalling those of Commodus, reclining to l., holding a horn from which water flows (it looks more like cloth!), leaning his elbow on a bit of Nature (rock or tree trunk) and resting his head in his l. hand. The shoulder is disjointed. Water seems also to flow below, but there is no source-vase. Courtesy Vladimir Chichkov
5b. Capitoline-type Aphrodite, like 4a and probably from the same reverse die, but so double-struck, as indeed the portrait head is, that the legends are only partly restorable. The void below the edge of the neck, the alignment of the letters of KAI L behind the head, and the lower face agree with Obv. 5.
With Obv. 6, the first recognized of the alternative dies, those used with anonymous reverses, we have one listed by Pick and one by now well known:
6a. Apollo, nude, standing slightly to l., pouring from patera in his r. hand over burning altar and holding a bow in his l. hand. This is Pick 1340, though it is the next obv. die here that is “ganz abweichend”.
6b. Apollo Sauroktonos, variant with long laurel twig in his right hand, the arm drawn back at shoulder height, to strike a very long lizard (but it has feet) at knee height on a slender tree. Four specimens of this once unique coin are now known to me, all from the same pair of dies; Doug Smith's is still the best, but here is another.
With Obv. 7, plainly not related to the primary Auspex dies, 1-2, but to those made for tetrassaria of Commodus, with an extreme bulge at the top of the forehead, the eye set very near the bridge of the nose, an ear shaped like a guitar pick, and highly irregular letter forms , we have:
7a. The Pergamene triad of Asklepios, frontal, with a frontal face, Telesphoros, frontal in a short garment that leaves his arms free, and Hygieia, with a snake made of knobs (as on Late Roman Bronze Coins) eating from a dish held in her r. hand. This is AMNG I, 1, no. 1342 (“var.”, because Pick lists an obv. die without PER at the end, so with a legend like 6a), and Taf. XVII, 8, the obv. known to me from Lanz Aukt 112, 615.
7b. Zeus seated to l., holding patera (?), leaning on tall scepter in his l. This unsigned reverse may correspond to the signed reverse of no. 1252.
7c. Eagle on thunderbolt, only a little more rustic than that of the signed reverse, no. 1263—feathers more ruffled—and with its head to l. holding the wreath in its beak.
No one should be surprised if further correspondences appear, not to mention the rest of the coins Pick knew, to fill out the parallel lists.
Tentative General Observations
These coins issued for Septimius at Nicopolis ad Istrum set the pattern for those of succeeding governors of Moesia Inferior, at least through the reign of Macrinus. Without depending in any obvious way on older mints and, on the whole, avoiding the nearly gross style of much of Commodus’s coinage here, and without the tentative awkwardness of the first Auspex issues from Marcianopolis, they set a standard as well as suggest a repertory for succeeding governors’ coinage at Nicopolis, bearing in mind that Caracalla, evidently, is not yet Caesar, at least not at first, and that Julia Domna’s and her elder son’s earliest looking coins at Nicopolis ad Istrum are small coppers.
The practice of ‘signing’ only a few leading die-pairs, since the best engraved reverse dies are the signed ones, and these are used with the most refined and flattering obverse dies, 1 and 2 (above), seems to be simply a continuation of Antonine practice (as observed elsewhere in the case of the Apollo Sauroktonos coins of Antoninus Pius, only one die-pair, Pick, AMNG I, 1, no. 1225, being signed by Zeno). As in that case, the reverse type of the signed coin seems to be repeated on the unsigned parallel series. For that reason, one might hope to see not only Aphrodite (in the pose of the Capitoline type), which we have, but also Apollo Sauroktonos signed by Auspex with one of the primary obverse dies, probably 1 like the Aphrodite and the Herakles, and Herakles, unsigned, with one of the secondary dies, perhaps likewise with 6. This is not a foregone conclusion; it is not even wishful thinking; it is only an expectation based on the perceived pattern. Not only may it not have been done, but caches of any such coins may not surface in our lifetimes, if ever.
Should it really be the case (as the changes in coinage from one governor to the next do suggest to me) that the governor of Moesia Inferior had, if he was interested, some direct responsibility for the coinage, it would seem that Auspex was ambitious in this respect and had a well formed idea of what should be produced. Someone certainly had; it is easy to take for granted the apparent program in Severan coinage at Nicopolis, but without this Auspex coinage, it might not have taken shape very quickly or it might have become something quite different from what it was, not only at Nicopolis but perhaps at Marcianopolis, too.
These observations, like the rest of this article, are provisional; each previously unseen coin affects the still incomplete puzzle.
List of coins used to illustrate the die-links (placed here to encourage concentrating on images above).
With these, the reverse legend on the specimen illustrated is given (obverse legends are given with their dies, above; some of these are based on additional examples as well as the one shown).
1a. Æ27. Rev., Herakles stg., head turned r., leaning on his club in his r., with the Nemean lion's skin over his l. forearm and holding a bow in his l. hand. VPA POL AVS[PIKOS NIK]OPOLI PROS IS. Pick, AMNG I, 1, no. 1257.
1b. Æ 28 10.56g axis 1:30h Rev., Capitoline Aphrodite type. Not known to Pick. VPA POL AVSPIKOS NIKOPOL PROS IS].
1c. Æ27/28. Rev., Nike, with spread wings, stg. l., holding out a wreath in her r. hand, a long palm in the crook of her left arm, the left elbow resting on a stele (so Pick; here it could be any pillar). VPA POL AVSPIKOS'NIK(tip of palm)POLI PROS IS. Pick, AMNG I, 1, p. 355, no. 1254.
1d. Æ27 10.90g axis 2:00. Rev., Nike with wings spread running to l., ribboned wreath in her exteneded r. hand, palm in the crook of her left arm. [VPA POL AV]SPIKOS N IKOPO PROS I (the palm frond interrupts between N and IK). Pick, AMNG I, 1, p. 355, no. 1255.
1e. 270906Æ27NadISSevRiverAuspexDSCN3678.jpg VPA POL AVSPIKOS NIKOPO PROS ISTR.
2a. Æ27 12,11g Nicopolis ad Istrum. Rev., Demeter, veiled. long himation hanging from her shoulders, stg. l., resting on a burning tall torch, so that she is Demeter; abrasive marks at l. have removed her r. hand as well as whatever it held (a patera as on CC's example). Neither a Hera nor a Demeter is listed by Pick for Auspex or Gentianus. [VPA POL AVSPEKOS] NI | K | OPOLITON PROS IS[TROmega.
2b. Æ28 11.74g axis 8h Nicopolis ad Istrum. Rev., Telesphoros, dressed Epidauros style, between Hygieia facing r. and Asklpeios, frontal, facing l. (his snake staff under his r. arm). VPA [PO]L AV[S]PEKOS N[IKOPOLITON]--the traces are unclear--and in exergue PROS IST[R]. Pick, AMNG I, 1, p. 356, no. 1256, Taf. XVII, 10.
2c. Æ27 10.13g axis 6h. Rev., Nike with wings spread running to l., ribboned wreath in her extended r. hand, palm in the crook of her l. arm. VPA POL AVSPIKOS NIKO | POLITÔN PROS I (the I probable). This is a variant (but a superior one) of AMNG I, 1, 1255. It has the LOV SEPT• obverse legend of the enthroned Hades-Serapis (1253) , the Eagle (1263), the Hygieia (1256) and Gentianus’s River (1266).
2d. AE 27/8 Nicopolis ad Istrum Issued by Pollenius Auspex. Septimius Severus, laureate, head to r. [AV] KAI LOV SEPT. | .SEVEROS PER (the die that Gentianus will use on Pick, no. 1266). Rev., Eagle, wings spread, on thunderbolt, stg. facing, the head with wreath in beak to r. VPA POL AVSPEKOS NIKOPOLI[T]ON PROS ISTROmega. Pick AMNG I, 1, p. 357, no. 1263.
2Gentianus. 030806Æ26NadISSevRiverGentianDSCN3590.jpg Pick, AMNG I, 1, no. 1266.
3a. (cc)090207Æ26NadISSevIpseAusp-iiDSCN3944.jpg. Legend incomplete. Courtesy Curtis Clay.
4a. Æ 28 11.44g Anonymous issue. Rev. Captitoline-type Aphrodite facing, with (evidently) drapery over her loutrophoros exactly as on the Capitoline copy itself (the bowknot hairdo and the ponderation and the closed composition are decisive for identification). Not in Pick, AMNG I, 1; not noted elsewhere. NIKOPOLIT | ON PROS ISTRO (no sign of sigma in exergue).
5a. Priv. coll. (St. Petersburg, FL) . Anonymous issue. Rev., river or mountain god reclining to l., his head leaning on his l. hand (the l. elbow supported on something), holding in his lifted and extended r. perhaps a horn with flowing water, and the wavy line below him may represent a stream flowing by. NIKOPOLITON P(?) and in exergue ROS IST or PROS IST, with PR ligature. Coll. Vladimir Chichkov, by kind permission.
5b. Æ 27 Nicopolis ad Istrum. Anonymous issue. Rev. Aphrodite, Captitoline type, standing frontal with drapery over a support at r. From traces and from another example, the bowknot hair with single tresses falling to shoulders on either side of the neck are perfectly clear.
6a. 021006NadISSevApolloAnonPick1340,DSCN3694.jpg As Pick AMNG I, 1, 1340, Taf. XV, 7.
6b. Æ25 11.81g axis ~12h. Anonymous issue. Rev. Variant Apollo Sauroktonos, holding laurel twig instead of arrow or dart. NEIKOPO | LI | TÔN PR[OS ISTRON].
7b. Æ27 axis 11:30h Anonymous issue. Rev., Zeus enthroned with patera in his r. and leaning on scepter in his r. Seriously defective flan preparation; the scrap metal that seems to be used may have been struck before. NEIKOPOL | PROS IS(faint) TRÔ. An idiosyncratic unsigned version of, evidently, Pick 1252.
7c. Æ25 12.33g axis 6h Anonymous issue. Rev., Eagle stg. on thunderbolt, wings spread, head to left, holding wreath. NEIKOPOLITÔN PROS ISTR and in center bottom of exergue •. Similar to Pick 1262, but to left and anonymous and smaller.
Patricia Lawrence 19 June 2007
I add here a link to an eagle-reverse coin that can be compared with the foregoing: Septimius Severus Gentianus Eagle