Thrace and Moesia Popular Coins form the Roman Provincial Series
Today's collectors (like myself) of inexpensive coins are presented with a good selection of bronzes from the Roman Provinces of Thrace, Upper Moesia and Lower Moesia (roughly: Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia). Commonly found from the time of the late Antonines through Philip, these coins currently are reaching the market in huge numbers. While no more interesting than many other sections of the Roman Provincial coinage, the extreme likelihood that beginning collectors will have the opportunity to obtain a few of these coins makes this page a desirable addition to this site. This can not pretend to be a comprehensive reference or even a representative sampling of the types known from this region. Instead we will show a few coins and discuss a few points that might prove beneficial to a new collector. There are hundreds (perhaps thousands?) of varieties making up this series. It is extremely unlikely that any of the visitors of this page will have coins identical to those shown here but it is hoped that the information given here somehow will assist in the reading and understanding of other coins. As on so many other pages on this site, we will attempt to shed light on a much bigger picture by discussing a few almost random examples. Coins shown here are neither the most interesting nor the most common; neither the finest or the worst. They are simply what was available in my file of photos to illustrate a few points worth making.
Our first coin is a 24mm bronze (AE 24) of Augusta Traiana, Thrace. It earns first place on this page for being the simplest. The obverse is a portrait bust of a ruler (here Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus) encircled by a Greek legend which translates the Latin legend then current at Rome. In this case even the typical legend break DO-MNA is preserved. The Latin title abbreviation AVG (Augusta) is translated to the Greek CEB (Sebaste). The reverse shows a god (here Nemesis) surrounded by the name of the city Augusta Traiana (AVGOVCTHC TPAIANHC). This reverse legend is a significant difference separating Provincials from Imperial coins. Extremely few Provincial coins bear a legend identifying what is shown on the coin. Relatively few reverses show titles of the ruler. The coins were intended for circulation only in the region where they were issued so the information as to where the coin was legal tender was of prime importance. Coins of Thrace and Moesia offer a particularly rich variety of reverses. Many gods and personifications are shown. In some cases we can recognize the pose as copying famous statues and many others probably represent lost works of art. This page shows a few of the most common but no one need be concerned (or overjoyed) if their coins are types not shown here or in any of the commonly available literature. There are hundreds of them!
Our second example, an AE28 of Maximinus I from Anchialus, Thrace, further illustrates the point that the obverse legends translated the legends used at Rome. We read AVT MAXIMEINOC EVCEBHC AVG with underlined letters shown ligate (joined in groups). The Roman legend of the day was IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG. AVT (Autokrator) translates the Roman IMPerator. On this coin AVGustus is maintained rather than translated into the Greek Sebastos. While not known for consistency on any matter, this one point was particularly a problem for cities of this region. Some regularly used CEB, some AVG and some alternated back and forth between the two. EVCEBHC (Eusebes) fully spells out the Greek for PIVS which was fully spelled out on the Roman issues. The reverse shows a standing figure of Ares (a statue? - the pose is not known to me). The legend OVLPIANWN AGXIALEWN is in the genitive plural crediting the coin as a product "of the Ulpian Anchialans". This genitive use is considerably more common than other forms of reverse legend. Cities founded following the military activities in the area under Trajan were known as 'Ulpian' in honor of the Emperor's family name. Commonly seen, besides Anchialus, are Ulpian Pautalia and Ulpian Serdica.
Another coin of Anchialus, an AE27 of Septimius Severus, illustrates the other (much less common) option for reverse legends in this series. The attribute of the city 'Ulpian' was dropped in favor of naming the provincial governor, legate or or other official under whose authority the coin was issued. While seen on this Thracian issue, this practice will be shown to be more common in Moesia. The reverse legend reads HG CT BAPBAPOV AGXIALEWN or 'of the Anchialans during the time of legate Statius Barbarus'. HG abbreviates the legate's title Hgemoneuontos. The reverse type shows the gates of the city. The fact that this coin is from early in the reign is suggested by the portrait style and obverse legend (more easily seen on the coin than on my poor photo) ending in P abbreviating Pertinax which was used by Septimius only during the first five years of his reign.
Our next example, an AE31 of Elagabalus from Philippopolis, Thrace, illustrates several points that have been made elsewhere on this site. Coins of Elagabalus are often confused with coins of Caracalla. My page on the Roman Imperial issues gives some rules to assist in making this separation. Provincials are not quite so cut and dried but rely to a greater degree on the portraits. As a general rule, Elagabalus was shown as an youth but not a child. He does not appear to be particularly handsome or athletic. Caracalla issued coins over a much longer period so any issues with the portrait of a child or a twenty-something adult will be Caracalla. By the time he was a teen, Caracalla was often portrayed as a fit soldier with strength both physical and 'attitude'. Elagabalus often has a blank stare; Caracalla a scowl. I regret I can not give a set of ironclad rules for separating these Provincial issues. The reverse of this example shows Apollo which has been discussed on a separate page. The reverse legend MHTPOPOLEOCFILIPPOPOLEWC NEWKOPOV advertises Philippopolis as a Metropolis (mother-city or capital). Neocourate (ending the legend) also was discussed on a separate page and will not be repeated here. Another subject not being repeated here are the pits or centration dimples seen in the center of each of our examples. Each of our Thracian coins shown here shows a distinctive green patina often found on coins of this region. Soil conditions of the region seem to be correct to produce beautiful coins but, unfortunately, many of these issues are sent to market stripped of this natural coating.
Our previous examples all show Greek legends but some Provincial coins were issued in Latin. Cities with status as Roman Colonies were founded to provide homes for retired soldiers. The occupants were Roman citizens with privileges exceeding other Provincials. Coins of these Colonies bear Latin legends certainly including COL as indication of this special status. Our example is an AE24 of Julia Mamaea from the Colony of Deultum, Thrace. The reverse shows (again one of many types) Artemis. The reverse legend COL FL PAC DEVLT (Colonia Flavia Pacensis Deultum). Flavia (after the family name of Vespasian, Titus and Domitian) recalls that the Colony was founded by Vespasian's retirees.
Another coin of a Colony moves our discussion from Thrace to the Province of Upper Moesia. The commonly seen coin of this region (indeed, one of the most commonly seen Provincial coins!) is from the Colony of Viminacium. Founded as a Colony in 238-9 AD, the reverses of these coins are dated to the year of the city by AN and a numeral in exergue. Our example AE29 of Philip I shows ANV or 244 AD, the first year of Philip's reign. Note the portrait on this example bears more resemblence to Gordian III that to Philip. Later coins from this mint corrected this problem. This common type begins with Gordian III and ends with Gallienus. Another example of this type (a Herennia Etruscilla) was shown as part of my Vocabulary series. As time passed the diameter of the coins was reduced gradually. In the earlier periods, a half denomination was issued with radiate crown on the Emperor. It is probably not incorrect to think of these coins as local sestertii and dupondii but most collectors will continue to catalog them using the AE+ diameter scale. The reverse shows a standing personification of Moesia flanked by a bull and a lion. These animals represent the two legions (VII and IIII) that settled there. The Latin reverse legend PMS COL VIM expands to Provincia Moesia Superior Colonia Viminacium. Superior in this case is not a claim of relative merit of the two provinces but simply a statement of the fact that Upper Moesia was upstream and Lower Moesia (Moesia Inferior) downstream. We will now take this discussion down the Danube to Moesia Inferior where several cities produced a huge array of very interesting coins for our enjoyment.
Most striking of the Moesian coins are the many types showing two portraits face to face (vis-a-vis). The two could be husband and wife, mother and son or, as here, father and son. Our example AE28 of Marcianopolis, Moesia Inferior, shows Macrinus and his son Diadumenian. Two portraits required expanded legends. This was handled in several ways including this unusual triple line exergue stack completing what was begun around the edge: K M OPPEL ANTWNEINOC /// AV K OPPEL /// CHVH MAK /// PEINOC. This reverses the usual order placing the senior person's legend encircling the portraits. This, combined with the reverse type showing Liberalitas suggests the coin was issued in honor of Diadumenian being named Caesar. VP PONTIANOV at the left side identifies the coin as issued under legate Pontianus (one of three governors who served in Moesia during the short reign of Macrinus). The VP abbreviates the Moesian legate title Upateuontos. The right side of the legend reads MAPKIANOPOLI continued in exergue TWN 'of the Marcianopolitans'. Such irregular legend breaks were common on these coins. Perhaps long term visitors will remember a coin of Philip II where the legend was completed in a stack of letters in the field. It seems that all that was important was getting the legends on the die. Where on the die was secondary! In the field of our example is a numeral E (5) giving the denomination in assaria. This mark regularly accompanies the dual portraits suggesting that the two characteristics together were intended to distinguish the 5 assaria denomination coins.
It was pointed out that I had omitted the coins of Tomis which were valued at 4 1/2 assaria (marked D<) and 1 1/2 assaria (A< ?). When I began this page, I had no idea that these denominations existed. That is what I like about doing this page. I have met so very many really fine people willing to help with my numismatic education. A quick search of online auctions turned up two examples of the 4 1/2 assaria in less than a week. One of these is illustrated in this paragraph. The dual busts show Gordian III and Tranquillina and would seem to be a normal 5 assaria coin were it not for the Greek numerals in the reverse field. D at the left is clearly a 4. At the right is < (inset) taken to mean 1/2. We have seen a similar fraction used in the Constantinian period as part of the 12 1/2 denarii of account mark XII<. Why the mint at Tomis issued this denomination is unknown to me but I might hazzard a guess that it was convenient in making change when converting silver denarii into the local bronzes. Moneychangers would buy and sell denarii at slightly different rates. For example, a denarius might be bought at 16 assaria and sold for 18 (or four of these 4 1/2 coins). I simply can not tell you why they were issued but would love to hear from anyone having a reasonable explanation for the Tomis fractions.
An AE28 dual portrait coin of Gordian III before his marriage to Tranquillina illustrates that the mint would not allow an Emperor not having family to stop the issue of the favored dual portrait type. Filling in here is a bust of the god Serapis. This deity also served similar duty on coins of Philip II (also lacking a wife and for some reason not paired with his father). The obverse legend is short M ANT GORDIANOC continued in exergue AVG. The reverse showing Cybele enthroned between twin lions reads VP MHNOFILOV MAPKIANOPOL continued in exergue ITWN. Menophilius was legate of Moesia during the early part of Gordian III's reign. Again, E in field identifies this coin as a 5 assaria.
Still another dual portrait coin from Marcianopolis is this AE28 of Caracalla and his mother Julia Domna. The obverse legend in this case was crowded into the encircling area rather than using the 'continued in exergue' style described above. It is interesting that the title AVGOVCTOC (Augustus) was spelled out completely rather than being abbreviated AVG (AVG) making the long legend a better fit. The reverse attempted to do this same thing but space ran out with two letters left so WN was placed in the fields one letter on each side of the bust of Serapis. Again the legend included the name of the legate. In this case we see KVNTILIANOV (Quintillianus). Other coins of this type show Serapis facing right but this die was cut backwards. The denomination letter E also was cut retrograde but the rest of the legend is normal. Remember: Anything goes on these coins! Collectors should be neither concerned nor thrilled if coins are found with minor variations from catalogued examples.
The other city of Lower Moesia that issued very large numbers of coins was Nicopolis on the Istros (also called Nicopolis ad Istrum). Unlike Marcianopolis, the large denomination from Nicopolis used a single portrait. While the weights of these two issues are similar, it is believed that the unmarked large coins of Nicopolis are 4 assaria denominations. Nicopolis is particularly well known for its wide variety of interesting reverses copying statuary types. Our first example is an AE27 of Diadumenian Caesar showing Aphrodite with a dolphin on the reverse. The obverse legend K M OPPEL ANTWNI DIADOVMENIANOC abbreviates the title Caesar with the initial letter K. The reverse VP AGRIPPA NIKOPOLEITWN PROCIC continued in exergue TIW names the legate Agrippa. The legate names can be of great use separating issues of the three teenage rulers when the obverse legend is illegible. While this coin is clearly identified by the obverse, many examples from this region will lack such clarity and benefit from this additional information dating the coin. While there is no denomination mark, the 12.7g weight of this coin and single portrait suggest a 4 assaria piece.
Legate names used on coins of Moesian cities provide a certain way to separate Caracalla from Elagabalus. Our illustration shows two coins issued by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (admittedly abbreviated and spelled a bit differently). On the left we see an issue under the authority of legate Aurelius Gallus while the coin on the right dates to the term of Julius Antonius Seleucus. Referring to a chart of legates on Moesian coins like the one posted on the website of Akropolis Ancient Coins tells us that Gallus served in the Joint Reign of Septimius and Caracalla while Seleucus held office under Elagabalus. To be truthful, we also could assign the coin on the left to Caracalla since the portrait is a bit younger than possible for Elagabalus who is shown in a rather nicer than average portrait on the coin on the right. The differences in spelling and abbreviations are not consistent on these issues and can not be used separate the rulers. The legate inscriptions, however, are infallible on coins where they are named.
Two smaller (1 assarion) coins illustrate not only their denominations but that 'anything goes' applies equally to Nicopolis. On the left is an AE18 of Caracalla with obverse legend M AVP ANTWNINO retrograde reading (with bottoms of letters outward) from the lower left clockwise to the lower right. The reverse legend NIKOPOLIT PROCIC reads normally with bottoms of letters inward. The reverse type is a snake rising from an altar. On the right an AE18 of Septimius Severus with Priapus has normal obverse but is retrograde on the reverse with bottoms of letters inward reading counterclockwise from the lower right. These are two strange coins among the hundreds of varieties of one assaria from this city. At this point we will examine the question of denominations.
Bronze coins of the region appear to have been issued in denominations ranging from one to five assaria. The assarion was approximately the equivalent of the older denomination the hemiobol or 1/12th of a silver drachm. Allowing the drachm as 3/4 a denarius, we can approximate the value of a Roman as but it is important to recall that the local bronze coinage was a token issue with value nowhere except the region of its issue. Whatever the theoretical value, it is most likely that the number of assaria one could purchase with a denarius varied with market pressures and was probably much larger than 16. No city issued all five of these denominations at one time. Our illustration shows coins of three cities. Note that weight standards on these few examples are not correctly proportioned but we must allow for wear, different standards between cities and variability within an issue. Many coins that are not marked with a denomination numeral are not certainly attributed but it seems likely that the largest coins were separated by the dual portraits on the 5 assaria and single busts on the 4 assaria. This is a subject that could use further investigation.
This discussion will conclude with my favorite coin from the region under discussion. It is an AE18 assarion of Geta from Nicopolis. The photo also appears on my page on Apollo but I could not post this page without repeating it here. The following is an edited copy my previous comments:
Geta - Nicopolis ad Istrum, Moesia Inferior - 18 mm Bronze - c.200 AD Apollo Sauroktonos (Lizard slayer) - copy of statute by Praxiteles
The coin shown above clearly depicts a statue of the Greek sculptor Praxiteles known today by several copies that survived antiquity to represent the lost original. 'Apollo Sauroktonos' shows a boy sneaking up on a lizard on a tree trunk. The young god (exactly how we are to know this is the young Apollo rather than a generic boy still eludes me) is posed in a graceful forward leaning manner as he prepares to dart the lizard. (Again I need to be shown the dart to relieve my skeptic nature which asks if his intent was to kill or to catch the creature in hand.) This 18mm coin of Nicopolis ad Istrum dates to the early days of Geta as Caesar (c198-200 AD). The lizard is somewhat enlarged on the coin (red arrow on inset points to the head) compared to the full size statue but the pose of Apollo is unmistakable. The statue is described in Pliny making the identification of the work more certain than is the case with many works of Greek sculpture. Some read the intent of Praxiteles here to show young Apollo practicing the skills he would later use when confronting the greater reptile Python. I see a pastoral scene of what must have been normal life for Greek boys for millennia. It is a wonderful statue but why was it shown on coins at Nicopolis? Did, perhaps, the city obtain a copy of the Praxiteles for the city 'museum'? Did, only a step less likely, the original work end up there? Certainly either would be a matter of civic pride sufficient to generate an issue of coins. We can prove nothing; only speculate. I only hope the type commemorates the love of the statue rather than its melting to provide the metal for the coinage. Large bronze original sculptures survived antiquity only through sheer luck. Many that survive come from shipwrecks which saved them from the melting pot of later barbarians. We will probably never know what happened to the original Sauroktonos. The Louvre is fortunate to have its marble copy; I am lucky to have this little coin.
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(c) 2001Doug Smith