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XXI

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AN ESSAY ON THE DIES OF COINS SIGNED BY TERTULLUS AT NICOPOLIS AD ISTRUM

I. The earliest Tertullus issues


Frontispiece. For its place, see below.

Preface

Wishing to present these coins discursively rather than in any tabular form, concentrating on the portraits and reverse types, and to keep the digital files as simple as possible, I am relegating to the end a catalogue list, with documentation and accurate recording of the legends on the specimens used here, together with their weights and measures. Such presentation also permits considerations and questions where conclusions would be premature.

Beginning with Auspex, and continuing with Gentianus, the obverse dies used with signed reverses at the Nicopolis mint are much more artistically pretentious than those of Marcianopolis, comparable rather in this respect with those of Philippopolis, a richer, larger, older city. The third of the governors of Moesia Inferior as such (the governors of all Thrace signed coins of Antonine Nicopolis) was Ovinius Tertullus, for whom we have much data but little real knowledge apart from the coins. Though Gentianus’s primary portrait die for Nicopolis is very fine, Tertullus used only the Nicopolis mint and was the first to issue signed tetrassaria for Julia Domna; it also fell to him in AD 198 to celebrate Caracalla as Augustus and his brother Geta as Caesar.1

The primary Septimius obverse dies of Auspex and Gentianus with an early Tertullus

The Septimius portrait most closely related to those following Auspex and Gentianus

The image of the Haimos range as a rustic youth in kothornoi (but not the theatrical kind) to protect his shins, with a hunting spear, no more than a bit of drapery across his lap, in rocky terrain, with at least a bear beside him (Aurelius Gallus will give him a leaping deer as well) was not newly created, or newly adapted to coinage, at this time; Gentianus had issued one already for Septimius.
 
The Gentianus Haimos (photo courtesy ctr)
 

I am confident that Pick was right: this reverse die, if not original with the die engraver (but it is more pictorial than Pella’s), derives from a painting at Nicopolis. Pick knew only Julia Domna’s signed by Tertullus; we now have that of Septimius to go with it. Hereafter, through Elagabalus, Haimos reverses seem to be obligatory for every ruler for whom the Nicopolis mint was used. It is surprising, perhaps, that Caracalla has none, so far. The gesture that Sir Kenneth Clark intuitively called ‘passive’ and the crossed legs are body language that we are not confident in reading, but Haimos and Pella have convinced me that they are non-urbane, postures that perhaps would not pass in Theophrastus’s Athens. Tertullus’s engraver, indeed, adds the apron and uncrosses the legs. Note, too, the peculiarity (not unique here, however) of writing ep’ istrô rather than pros istron. Here we may note that, particularly in the brow and nose, the unique Tertullus die for Domna is very probably by the same engraver as this one of Septimius.2 
 
The Tertullus Haimos

Whereas Pick had only Domna’s Haimos, he had only Septimius’s Nike Driving a Quadriga.
For this issue, too, we now have both. The portrait dies are the same (for Domna, of course, there is only one), but the termination of the ethnic in pros istron shows that the alternative of epi followed by the dative is just that.
 
Septimius and Domna with Nike in Quadriga

While a Tertullus coin for Domna, however, must always have this one refined and winning obverse die, and its pairing with the Gentianus-like portrait of Septimius (note also the small and careful letter forms in the legends) shows that it is early in Tertullus’s tenure, its pairing with different portrait styles for Septimius leaves the latter in need of other comparanda, even with a reverse giving us another epi ethnic.
 
Domna and Septimius with Iconic Hera

With her back mantle spread out flat, with the stiff profile of her head and body, with scepter, veiled head, and patera, this curious image almost certainly is intended as Hera, but as an archaic cult image of Hera (though not so age-old as some venerable xoanon). The legend of the reverse die—not only its preposition but its small, neatly space letters—resembles that of the Haimos reverse with which we began.
The portrait of Septimius, with a fold of his military cloak wrapped close to his neck and pinned, with his round head and vigorous expression, recalled some of the portraits used in Thrace with reverse dies signed by Statilius Barbarus, such as this one (perhaps representing Thrakia in her own landscape) of Philippopolis:
Sta. Barbarus issue for Septimius at Philippopolis

Certainly the Barbarus portraits are not identical to the Tertullus ones, but their more naturally wavy laurel ties (not as if lifted by wind or electrified) and the heavier forms of the head are more than accidentally similar, and the larger and rather emphatically mannered letter forms also are comparable with some on Tertullus coins at Nicopolis.3

More with ep’ Istrô ethnics

Before attempting to determine more closely the relationship between the tenure in office of Barbarus in Thrace and Tertullus in Moesia Inferior, we may consider the coin shown as a Frontispiece to this web page and the best preserved Tertullus Domna known to me. Both have Tyche as a reverse, and Domna’s is Pick’s no. 1451 (Varbanov 2005, no. 2093) but it is Septimius’s Tyche that is genuinely statuesque, and it is his coin that has the most perfectly punctuated legends. His portrait die is evidently that of the Haimos and Quadriga, above, but only the Tyche preserves both the obverse and the reverse legends completely, each slightly more conscientious than usual: AVT•KAI•L•SEPTI• SEVÊROS•PER• (a point even after the abbreviation of Pertinax) and VPA•OOVINI•TERTULL OV•NIKOPOLI•EP•ISTRÔ (only the ‘legs’ of the omega survive, but, even when small and cramped, the points are all present). When a Provincial coin is so well struck and so well preserved, it is tempting not to look beyond the fine portrait and the relaxed contrapposto and convincing drapery of the Tyche. Domna’s Tyche is not quite its equal,4 but they do look like coins issued as a pair, and both use epi. By the way, the Domna portrait seems to anticipate in all the pairs so far considered the convention of a smaller scale for the empress’s head and bust, a principle most thoroughly applied in the mosaics of their retinues for Justinian and Theodora in the choir of S. Vitale at Ravenna. Also, the Septimius bust, in particular, helps us to make sense of the conventions used in the bust with drapery over armor, as seen from behind, on the coins of Macrinus only two decades later. Some accident, however, has altered the expression of the eye on the Septimius portrait. Other Tyche reverses signed by Tertullus do not occur with this Domna die and are rather different. Here Domna’s Tyche is merely more commonplace in style.
 
Septimius and Domna with corresponding Tyche reverse dies
 

Another Domna, not known by Pick, exists in a ‘ghost’, barely VG so far as condition goes but sufficient for description. Unlike the Tyche, which was practically unpublished as Pick 1451, the Hermes coin is not in Varbanov, Engl. edition. For the Hermes with a Rooster (much finer than the one for Septimius and Caracalla), VPA OOVIN and EP ISTRÔ (in the exergue), together with Domna’s portrait die, guarantee the identification. The graceful anatomy of the Hermes, also, is sufficiently preserved to distinguish it from later ones. The design of the reverse is related to that of the Tyche.
 
The Tertullus Domna with a Hermes and Rooster

 
In this preliminary essay, I would also call attention to a River coin in another collection that has the same obverse die as the 'statuesque Tyche', the Haimos, and the Nike with Quadriga:
The River God reverse at left, by association with the obverse die most closely related to that of
Gentianus, will be the first of Tertullus's River reverses.

The Eagle with Folded Wings, regardant, holding wreath to left (Pick 1452)

The damage to Domna’s eagle, where an area of the design is lost, may have been to the die, since the shape of the eagle is shown on the Gentianus coin. The Domna shown here preserves the reverse legend that Pick and Tacchella had to work out between them; as on the last, it has OOVINI, not just OOV; the Septimius and Domna reverse are the same die, but the Septimius portrait is not one of the above and seems to be a worn die, while this eagle reverse (not in Pick or Varbanov for Septimius) has been listed only for Domna. The sharp and straight edge of the wing on these emphasizes the eagle’s power in flight.
 
Eagle Regardant: Pick 1452 for Julia, Septimius (rev. die match), Pick 1270 for Septimius, and Gentianus's as their antetype



 
All of the preceding seem certainly earlier than the first coins for Caracalla at Nicopolis ad Istrum as Augustus.

1. The evidence for the dating of the first three governors (apart from perhaps his brother) of Moesia Inferior can be found in Arthur Stein, Die Legaten von Moesien, Budapest, 1940, pp. 84–85, with citation of their primary publications and commentary, and, transcribed in full, in some cases with further citations in Dilyana Boteva, Lower Moesia and Thrace in the Roman Imperial System (A.D. 193–217/8), Sofia, 1997. I follow Stein’s more cautious approach to dating, though for Tertullus the monumental inscriptions (the earliest from the summer of AD 198 and the last from AD 201; we have an inscription naming Gallus in AD 202) are quite secure. We have more primary chronology for him than for any other governor. For Auspex we only have the single date AD 195, and for Gentianus, for all the elegance of the coins he issued, we only can be certain that he followed Auspex and necessarily must be placed before Tertullus.

2. Doubtless some smaller coins, especially the 3 assaria of brass, the module usually specific to empresses and Caesars, such as her Aphrodite, have a portrait extremely similar to the sole large die with reverses signed by Tertullus, and the 3 assaria for Caracalla are die-linked to it. These (a) show Caracalla still as Caesar but not so childish as on the earliest looking coppers, and (b) should be datable either to the term in office of Gentianus or to the beginning of Tertullus’s term, before July of 198. In a final essay in this series, I shall try to align the small coins with the larger, signed ones.

3. Boteva, op. cit., pp. 332, in fact, aligns Barbarus with Gentianus or “197/8”. But making the terms in Thrace and Moesia Inferior always begin and end simultaneously seems a little rigid, especially for a governor who, like Gentianus, not only shared pre-existing Auspex dies but also is so apparently continuous with Tertullus and has so few dies of his own, though of the highest quality. After all, a man might sicken or quarrel or whatever, and be suddenly out of office. In any case, the resemblance of some Barbarus obverses, not this one alone, is more than accidentally similar to some issued by Tertullus.
4. Domna's Tyche is of the principal variety on coins of Moesia Inferior. For the statuesque Tyche on this one of Septimius we might compare Tychai at Tomis, but this one, while just as particular, seems likely to have had a unique prototype, of artistic rather than iconographical significance.