Philip II Bronzes of Marcianopolis

From the Same / Different series

My daughter teaches Kindergarten. This was probably a good choice for someone who stands 5'0" and considers Dr. Seuss her favorite author. Kindergarten isn't the same as it was when I was there in 1951. Today's 5 year olds are expected to learn reading writing and arithmetic and some other concepts that they will need to compete successfully when they enter First Grade.

In some ways this site is like Kindergarten for future numismatists. To aid in our future numismatic studies, we must learn to look at coins with a critical eye far more than required to assign a letter grade and a catalog number. A beginning concept in Kindergarten is Same / Different. In this series (to be expanded irregularly in future updates), we will examine pairs or groups of coins and discuss how they are the same and how they are different. Without too much effort, you should be able to find some that I have not mentioned. Perhaps the process of looking and comparing will bring up questions that will require further research. Any question whose answer suggests even more questions was time well spent. I hope some of you will find this basic exercise interesting and worthwhile.

Philip II Bronzes of Marcianopolis

At any particular time in history there seems to be a 'hot spot' somewhere on earth with more than an average share of trouble. Currently this would seem to be the Middle East; in the first half of the Third Century AD the 'hotspot' was Marcianopolis and the surrounding areas of Moesia. Troubles appeared in the form of Roman usurpers and barbarian groups (Goths and others) that crossed the Danube into the area to pillage the province. Marcianopolis itself was the site of a long siege and was saved from total destruction only with great effort.

All this activity in the region resulted in a need for vast numbers of coins. Silver was brought in from outside mints (Rome Syria, etc.) but bronze was minted locally. In 1929 a hoard of 80,000 silver denarii and antoniniani buried in the time of Trajan Decius was found at Marcianopolis (now Reka Devnia); that is a story I will tell on some other day. Recently, almost every dealer of ancient coins recently has offered a great selection of bronze coins from Marcianopolis. Huge hoards from the region have flooded the market making what, not long ago, were rarely seen type into common items. Most common and interesting are the 5 assaria denomination coins ('E' in reverse field) showing a pair of Imperial portraits on the obverse. Usually these were an Emperor and his wife or another relative but several types are known showing a young ruler paired with a bust of the god Serapis. Originally a god of Egypt under the Ptolomies, worship of Serapis spread around the Empire during the Severan period. Our subjects for comparison are two 27mm bronze coins showing Philip II and Serapis and make up the last of the twin portrait coins of Moesia.


On the ascension of his father in 244 AD, Philip II was named Caesar. In time for the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Rome, he was made co-Augustus in 247 AD. His coins of Marcianopolis are at least as common as those of his father illustrating the importance that Philip I placed on founding a dynasty. It was not to be. Philip II was killed shortly after his father by soldiers who preferred the adult Trajan Decius to the then 12 year old boy Emperor. Portraits exaggerate the maturity of Philip II but he is distinguishable from his father by his lack of a beard and softer features. The example above shows Philip II as Caesar (244-247 AD) while the one below was issued after his elevation to Augustus (247-249 AD). The distinction is made clear by the addition of the letters AVG at the end of the obverse legend (in exergue). The Augustus coin below must have been issued very early in the joint reign since the siege of Marcianopolis soon brought an end to the coinage of the city.

The reverse of the coin above shows Aesclepius, the god of healing, holding his serpent entwined staff which is still the symbol of the healing arts. The unfortunately placed flan crack and uneven strike point out the fact that this series is frequently not well struck. The coin shows little wear but the portrait of Philip and torso of Aesclepius show little detail. Serapis fared much better. The reverse legend is most interesting in the manner chosen to include more letters than would fit around the edge. After naming the official responsible for the issue ('under Prastina Messallinus'), the city name required completion in the right field ending in the ligate WN (inset) previously seen when we looked at the Nicaean coin of Severus Alexander. Other examples of this series use other 'creative' methods of making space for long legends.

The coin below avoids the crowding problem by omitting the name of the legate leaving only the city name. The reverse type is the goddess Tyche which is the equivalent of the Roman Fortuna (Good Luck). Note that Tyche wears a tall headdress similar to that of Serapis on the obverse. She carries a cornucopia and holds a rudder to steer the course of fate.


Many Greek Imperial cities smoothed the blanks for coins before striking by grinding the flat surfaces on a wheel. Poorly struck coins sometimes show circular marks that were not erased by striking. commonly coins will show the remainder of a pit caused by a holding pin that held the coin blank for grinding. The coin above shows this particularly well on the reverse. Clearly the coin rotated on the pin leaving a central point and raised ridge. The high relief of the torso of Tyche failed to erase this pit as completely as did the obverse die. Some blanks were turned more than others; some, like the reverse of the top coin, barely at all. Patina or dirt frequently fills the 'centration mark' (as on the obverse here) and some truly foolish people have filled the hole thinking they were repairing a fault on the coin. These pits are NOT faults but an important part of the minting process used by this mint (and many others). The turning was intended to smooth the flat surfaces, not to round the edges. The two pits on a coin need not line up exactly or be similar in depth or placement since each side was turned separately. It is rare to find one as clear and detailed as the reverse (Tyche) shown here.

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith