Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Interpreting the design of the geometric quarters of the Durotriges

We are always encouraged to specialise in numismatic collection and study. That can, however, lead to a blinkered approach in interpretation, albeit unintentional.

Durotriges geometric quarter stater

I will cite one particular example, the silver quarter staters of the Durotriges known as the “geometric type” (Mack 319, Van Ardsell 1242/29, Spink 368). An earlier similar type of quarter stater is also known in gold.

The reverse is described as zigzag pattern in the Spink catalogue, whilst the obverse is a crescent design. The explanation of the obverse design has been elaborated on by some writers. In the orientation it appears in the Spink catalogue the spined crescent has been interpreted as a boar. Others have chosen to rotate the crescent 180 degrees for it to become a boat with occupants, an invocation of the sun maiden and her brothers, the heavenly twins (Nash-Briggs, D; “Reading the image on Iron-Age coins:1 the sun boat and its passengers”, Chris Rudd list 104, 2009).
Macedon, tetradrachm, Babylon mint

All these interpretations are, I believe, incorrect. I believe that the type derives from the Macedonian tetradrachm and drachms of Alexander the Great and his successors with Alexander in the scalp of the Nemean lion on the obverse and Zeus seated on the reverse. 

Himyarite tetradrachm

A series of imitations of the type, of somewhat crude design, are known from Himyarites in Arabia Felix in the 1st century BC. Rotating the Spink illustration of the Durotriges coin 45 degrees anticlockwise gives you the lion's scalp the other feature form the prominent facial features, forehead, ear and/or chin etc. Rotating the reverse zigzag and you get the impression of the seated Zeus, to the right or left, even though on the Macedonian prototype it is always to the left. 

Himyarite drachm

Given that the Macedonian Apollo stater of Philip II was copied and degenerated in its westward progression there can be little doubt that the Herakles tetradrachm and drachm was also copied westwards and that its progression should stop in the Balkans with the Danubian Celts.

Danubian Celts tetradrachm

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

The provenance of an aureus of Allectus in the BM

When the late Dr Mead’s collection came up for auction in 1755 it did not include the “Oriuna” denarius of Carausius,  that had previously been given to the King of France. What it did have, however, was an aureus of Allectus, lot 110 and reproduced on the plate. The engraving of the coin is true to life showing distinctive flan imperfections, such as the partial border on the left of the reverse.  With such detail it was possible to verify, using Burnett’s paper on the coinage of Allectus (BNJ 1984) that the coin now resides in the British Museum collection.

By using the online catalogue to the BM collection we can get the accession number,  1864,1128.179, and note that the coin was acquired from Edward Wigan by gift in 1864. The online citation notes Mead as the possible source but, from the Mead engraving, that is not in doubt. Is it possible to trace more of the coins history? The answer is a resounding yes.

My original copy of the Mead catalogue is hand annotated with all the buyers names and prices. Lot 110, the aureus, fetched £21/5 and was bought by Lord Charles Cavendish. Cavendish was the youngest son of the 2nd Duke of Devonshire and the father of the scientist Henry Cavendish. 

The collection,  including the Allectus, passed through the family until 1844 when William Cavendish, 6th   Duke of Devonshire, sold the collection through Christies (lot 1239, £10/5). It may be at this time that Wigan purchased the coin.

The online BM record card for the Allectus contains another tantalising piece of information and that is that the Allectus was found at Silchester. This provenance is not in doubt to my mind as the details of the find are recorded in the personal notes of William Stukeley and mention that the ORIENS aureus ended up in the collection of Dr Mead. The entry reads as follows:

“22 December 1748. At the Royal Society. A long account of the old Roman city of Silchester, by Mr Ward, accompanied with a ground plot from an actual survey: and an intire (sic) flat Roman brick. The streets are very visible in the corn in the dry years, especially those two crossing each other from the four gates. He says there’s one place in the city called Silver Hill, remarkable for the many silver coyns (sic) found there, and some gold. One he gave to Dr Mead, of Allectus, finely preserved, reverse ORIENS AVG, exergue ML.”

Tuesday, 4 October 2022

A pomegranate privy mark on a coin of Side

In the early 1970s Konrad Kraft published a work on Roman civic coins that identified a number of cities that shared obverse dies. Although familiar with his ideas I have not had the opportunity to read this work. I am lucky enough though to have a modern continuation of his ideas, George Watson’s Connections, Communities and Coinage: The System of Coin Production in Southern Asia Minor, AD 218-276 (ANS, 2019).

Watson provides a detailed account of obverse mint styles, principally four, that suggest the centralised production of dies. He stays short of postulation centralised production and also recognising that the production of flans can be separate from the production of the dies.

He also suggests that the obverses were cut for specific cities and only as an “afterlife” were they used by other cities.



 Salonina,  Side,  11 assaria (revalued to 5 assaria)

Watson 1738

I am fortunate to have a coin struck from a very particular die from Side in Pamphylia that he cites in support of this (I won’t rehearse all the arguments here) . Its an 11 assaria piece of Salonina (countermarked on the obverse over the IA denomination mark with an E to revalue as a 5 assaria piece) that, although showing the stylistic traits of the central cutting style of Workshop A, shows a feature that can only associate it with Side. Above the bust of Salonina is a pomegranate, the badge of Side. This die, V135 in the catalogue, although coming from the central die source could only find a sensible use at Side.

Pomegranate detail from obverse

Tuesday, 9 August 2022

The owner of the Arras hoard, perhaps?

August 2022 is almost a century since the hoard of gold coins, medallions and other items was discovered. Although the 1922 Arras hoard (also known as the Beaurains hoard) is not from the time of Carausius, the contents contain numismatic items being through to 315AD, it is inextricably linked to the period. The find contained two aurei from the London mint, struck in the names of Carausius (Huvelin 19) and Maximianus (Huvelin 20), both from the series of coins know colloquially as the three emperors series. However, it is the five aurei piece of Constantius Chlorus from the Trier mint that showed his triumphant entry into London after the defeat of Allectus that the find is best known for.

The original ownership of the hoard needs to be commented on as there are some unusual features. Are we dealing here with the accumulated savings, bolstered by imperial donativa or gifts of a single individual or, perhaps a couple of individuals possibly with a familial connection?

The value of donativa "benchmarks" in the Arras hoard (A=aurei, S=solidi) 

From the data we have, reconstructed by Bastien and Metzger in 1977 and known to be incomplete due to theft and potentially the retention by the finders of at least one medallion, it becomes clear from a tabulation of the contents that the material has a western bias and linked to the rise of Constantius, yet declines in value in the reign of his son, Constantine the Great. Are we looking at the accumulated wealth of, say, father and son from their military careers, the reduction in benefits reflecting the son’s youth and lower rank? An alternative hypothesis is that what we have here is the accumulated wealth, boosted by donativa, of a single individual who is close to Maximianus, Constantius and the imperial entourage who retires and receives Constantinian donativa at a lower rate as a mark of ongoing respect for previous faithful service.

Finally can we append any name to an owner of at least part of this deposit? The answer is yes we can!

The largest known medallion in the find is a unique 9 aurei piece of Constantine I (reported as 10 aurei, RIC VI Trier 801) from AD 310. This piece, Bastien and Metzger 446, offered in the first of Sotheby's Nelson Bunker Hunt sales (19 June 1990, lot 156) clearly shows graffiti on both the obverse and reverse. When the same medallion was offered in the NAC sale of the Martin Schoyen collection (9 April 1996, Lot 406) the graffito on the left of the figure of Constantine on the reverse was read, anticlockwise, as VITALIANI P P O.

What is known of this individual, the praetorian prefect Vitalianus? Sadly nothing. The PLRE is silent on his career. It does allow us, at least, to attach one named individual to one piece in the find and, perhaps, reconstruct the career, through imperial gifts, of a high ranking individual in the western provinces during the late third and early fourth centuries AD. 

Sunday, 12 June 2022

Roman coin names - again

I want to return to something that at I've posted about before and that is what the Romans actually called their coins. The names we refer to them today are often a modern construct, yet we refer to them as if it is solid fact.

Today I want to consider the FEL TEMP REPARATIO coins instigated in AD 348.

The coin legend type was introduced, probably, in AD 348. It was initially produced in three sizes/denominations, the largest marked A contained c. 2.5% silver. The next size smaller, marked N, had a smaller proportion of silver, c. 1.5%, and the smallest unmarked pieces no detectable silver. It soon ended up as only a single denomination of reducing size and was eventually ceased around AD 359.

Modern collectors often group all the issues under the single heading of "cententionales", but this appears to be misguided given the documentary evidence available.



There is the law, posted on 12th February 349 AD (Codex Theodosius IX.21.6):

"We have learned that some metalworkers [flatuarii] purify the maiorina coins [maiorina pecunia] frequently and criminally, by separating the silver from the bronze. If any persons hereafter should be caught in this operation, let him know that he has committed a capital crime, and also those who own the house or land are to be punished by the delivery of their property to the largitiones [imperial largesses]."

It would thus appear from this edict that the Romans referred to the largest of the Fel Temp Reparatio pieces, that contained at lest a small proportion of silver, as a maiorina. 

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Some Gallienus coins from Antioch


One feature of he Moneta Imperii Romani (MIR) volume that covers Gallienus is the tabular catalogue arrangement that allows for bust variants not encountered by Goebl to be accommodated in the arrangement.

An example of that is this Antioch Gallienus. MIR 1655b from emission 13a, Sol.with globe rather than the whip. He noted just 3 examples with the radiate draped bust (MIR 1655a), but none with the radiate cuirassed bust.

I must get around to picking off the hard green deposit on the reverse.



Another coin of Gallienus from Antioch, this time from emission 13a, cf MIR 1641a. It shows a couple of interesting features with the obverse legend. 

First of all there is the common substitution of B for V in IVVENTVS, probably reflecting a dialectic influence. However, the die cutter made a real howler by replacing I with L at the start of the word.

Finally three Genius antoniniani of Gallienus from Antioch.

Top coin, curious, GENIV AVG, not listed in MIR but is noted as a footnote to 1630i with the legend error (emission 12).

Bottom left, GENIVS AVG, branch in exergue, emission 11, MIR 1630a.

Bottom right, GENIO AVG, branch in exergue, emission 11, MIR 1631a.

Saturday, 16 April 2022

The last Roman aes from Trier (well almost)


Sometimes the seemingly most mundane coins can give you a door into the history of the time. Indeed, when professor Grierson was asked about rarities in his vast collection of mediaeval European coins in the interview serialised in Spink Numismatic Circular in 1992 he commented that, whilst he owned some great rarities, it was the everyday coin that the person in the street was using that interested him most.

Take this small parcel of coins of the emperor Arcadius, all VICTORIA AVGGG pieces from the mint city of Trier in Germany and marked TR in the exergue.

The copper coinage at Trier was on a relatively small scale and was often completely absent after 355. The mint of Trier ceased production in 395 after an ephemeral copper issue in the name of Honorius and Arcadius with the reverse legend of VICTORIA AVGG, following the death of Valentinian I.
408-13 gold and silver issues in the names of Constantine III and Jovinus were struck. The last issues from the Trier mint were silver and copper in the name of Theodosius II and Valentinian III (425-50), closing for the last time around 430.

These VICTORIA AVGGG pieces, terminating in 394, are the last substantial copper issue from the mint.

Given the sporadic coin issues it is worth exploring the history of the area at that time and we learn that it is rather troubled.

Sometime after the death of Valentinian, the office of praefectus praetorio Galliarum was removed from Trier to Arles. It would be tempting to link this to the cessation of base metal coin at Trier in 395, but this is not necessarily the case.

In 401 Stilicho recalled troops from the Rhine, having already been partially depleted by Eugenius for his move against Valentinian, and this loss of military presence may mean the relocation of the praefectus. It could even be some five years or so later. 

In 406/7 there was an invasion of Vandals, Alani and Suebi. They crossed the frozen Rhine at Mainz 31 Dec 406, the people of Trier making a “last stand” in the amphitheatre, if the chronicler Fredegar is correct, in 407.

Grierson, P, and Mays, M; Catalogue of late Roman coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection (1992)
Pearce, J. W. E; Roman Imperial Coinage IX (1932)
Wightman, E. M; Roman Trier and the Treveri (1970)
Wightman, E. M; Gallia Belgica (1985)