Featured A mysterious provincial of the late republic

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by zadie, Jul 24, 2021.

  1. zadie

    zadie Well-Known Member

    I've always found this type very intriguing and when I found one whilst leisurely browsing biddr I just knew I had to get it. Lucky for me it was being offered in a budget auction and wasn't fully catalogued. I was thus able to get it relatively cheap. Couldn't be happier. Since it arrived, I've done a lot of reading and learning, having a blast while doing so! Hopefully this little write-up of mine does the type justice and can possibly ignite the interest of others. Enjoy!


    Provincial coins of the Republic. Gaius Sosius or Augustus (?) Æ (25 mm, 17.48 g). Uncertain mint in Asia Minor. Bust of a man right / Miscellaneous array of Roman political items. From left to right: Hasta, sella questoria, fiscus. Q below. RPC I 5409; AMNG II 29. (My example)

    This enigmatic bronze dates to the late Republic. We're not entirely sure where it was minted or for whom, leaving us to speculate on its origins. It belongs to a sequence of coins with shared characteristics that were minted in three denominations: RPC 5409 and 5410 are the heaviest, with an average weight of 19.02 g and 7.46 g respectively. They both feature the same design, a bust of an unknown man on the obverse and an assortment of Roman political items on the reverse. These are often associated with the Republican office of Questor. From left to right: A hasta, sella quaestoria and fiscus. These items were all used when collecting taxes out in the provinces. The Questor would be seated on the sella and use the fiscus (latin for basket) to store the collected taxes. The hasta (a spear essentially) would indicate that this questor held imperium, the roman authority to lead armies. Below them, a "Q" signifying the previously mentioned office of Questor.

    The third denomination, RPC 5411 stands out most of the three types, it features the same afformentioned bust of a man looking right but features a prow on the reverse. Below, a Q can be seen as with the previous types. It weighs on average 4.63 g.

    The man being depicted has been a mystery ever since the study of these coins was first conducted. Scholars have suggested that this is either Brutus, Julius Caesar, Octavian or the Syrian governor Gaius Sosius. Obviously these issues bear no name, so we will have to dig a little to make an educated guess on what is being depicted.

    Julius Caesar and Brutus were two early candidates, both having struck a variety of bronze issues in the east. The reverse showing political items highly resembles that of the questor Aesillas, who struck silver tetradrachms in Macedon during the late 90's to early 70's BC (HGC 3, 1110). The similiarities between the two have led some scholars to speculate that the series is Macedonian in origin. M. Grant, in his work From Imperium To Auctoritas, A Historical Study of Aes Coinage In The Roman Empire, 49 BC-AD 14, proposed that M. Acillus served as governor of Macedonia in 45/44 and struck coins with Caesar's portrait. This is only speculation however and no coins of these types have ever been found in Macedonia.

    Our third candidate is Gaius Sosius, a quaestor under Mark Antony in 39. He issued coins on the island of Zacynthus bearing the legend "C SOSIVS Q". These coins coincide with the dating of the series in question, to around 39 BC. Both issues including a Q to denote that the issuer was a questor.

    And finally, Octavian, who I personally believe is the strongest candidate to solve this mystery. The find data available to us supports the mint being somewhere in Asia Minor. Looking a bit further, there are coins attributed to the region of Cilicia that show remarkable stylistic similiarities to this type. These issues depict a bust of a man looking right, with the legend “PRINCEPS FELIX”, heavily suggesting the person is Augustus. The reverse legend of these types, “VE TER/ COLONIA / IVLIA II VIR“ and “COLONIA/IVLIA, II VIR VE TER” respectively, provides us with the name of a possible mint location (See RPC I 4082, 4083).

    RPC I 5409
    RPC 5409.jpg
    RPC I 5410

    RPC 5410.jpg
    RPC I 5411

    RPC 5411.jpg
    RPC I 4082

    RPC 4082.jpg
    RPC I 4083
    RPC 4083.jpg
  2. Avatar

    Guest User Guest

    to hide this ad.
  3. Agricantus

    Agricantus Allium aflatunense

    I want one! The type never jumped to my attention until you posted about it. I read a few blurbs from past sales, as well. Very intriguing coin!
    zadie likes this.
  4. zadie

    zadie Well-Known Member

    Really happy to hear this. I used to be that person who skipped the provincial section of every auction.. Nowadays I browse very slowly and look at every coin carefully ;) Now begins the process of completing a set of these!
  5. FrizzyAntoine

    FrizzyAntoine Well-Known Member

    Wow, what a lovely write-up! I must admit I often simply browse past the provincial section of any auction, but this coin might have me reconsidering now, especially since it's Republican. Congrats!
    LaCointessa and zadie like this.
  6. ominus1

    ominus1 When in Rome, do as the Romans do Supporter

    very enlightening ...:)
    zadie likes this.
  7. zadie

    zadie Well-Known Member

    Great to hear! Just make sure to not bid on any coins I want ;)

    Very happy that this is the case :happy: Thanks a ton!
    FrizzyAntoine and ominus1 like this.
  8. Ryan McVay

    Ryan McVay Supporter! Supporter

    To all those that replied. Please go back to ignoring provincial coins in the auctions! There's no fun in this area of collecting! Nothing to learn!
    All tongue in cheek, of course. I'm enjoying collecting Roman Provincial. While a lot of the coins don't have the best quality of metal surfaces and the art is not a high quality there is still a lot of interesting imagery on the coins!
  9. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    I don't delve too deeply into the meaning, history, etc associated with the imagery on my coins, I just want aesthetically pleasing examples of bust coins for the different emperors and other players in the stories. I certainly haven't shied away from provincial Tetradrachms, they can be relatively cheap in nice condition compared to proper Empire issues, and they are large compared to a Denarius or even As in most cases which I also like.

    As you say, they tend to be inferior in general quality and artistic talent, however, that is actually appealing to me in some cases. When I peruse through my collection, I often find that I spend more time staring at the provincials. They have character as compared to the others, and the bust portrayals can even have some comical value :)
  10. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Thank you for the great writeup, @zadie .
    LaCointessa, zadie and ominus1 like this.
  11. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Congrats @zadie, it seems we were both competing for the same coin. I won the second choice:
    Asia Minor, Uncertain, Octavian(?), circa 30 BC(?), Æ, (25mm, 21.31g, 12h)
    Obv: Bare head right
    Rev: Fiscus (the emperor's chest), sella quaestoria (magistrate's chair), and hasta (spear) on left side of coin; Q below.
    Ref: RPC I 5409
    Note: smoothing and cleaning marks

    As you mention the Macedonian tetradrachms of the Roman Quaestor, Aesillas. Here's the Tetradrachm for comparison:

    From RPC notes we can read some of the challenges to this visual link:
    - none of the OP coin have been found in Macedonia
    - two were purchased in Beirut, Lebanon, so they land on Syrian origin
    - the symbols are all associated with the rank of quaestor propraetore (Grant, M (1946) "From imperium to auctoritas", p.13) and are not only found in Macedonia

    One other interesting observation from RPC: 5409 is brass while 5410 is bronze

    Here are my notes on the competing views on who is on the obverse adding a link for Freilander to your excellent OP write-up (ex CT Saturday Night post):
    - "Princeps Felix" coinage from Cilicia (RPC 4082-4083) identified as Augustus have similar portrait style, possibly even same engraver
    - Freilander (1865) and several others including attributed the portrait to Brutus
    - Affoldi and other identified the portrait as Augustus
    - M. Grant "From imperium to auctoritas" & M. Price, "Coins of the Macedonians" identified the portrait as Caesar
    - RPC concludes Octavian/Augustus - aligned to "Princeps Felix" coins of Cilicia (RPC 4082-4083)

    and in the line of thought of @Ryan McVay, let me draw your attention to all of the cool Roman imperial coins....not much to see in the provinces.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2021
  12. Scipio

    Scipio Well-Known Member

    Very interesting @zadie ! RR provincial coins are intriguing and fascinating issues, and there is so few literature!
    LaCointessa and zadie like this.
  13. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter


    Roman Republic
    Macedon occupation / Koinon
    Alexander - flowing hair
    Club Coin chest Quaestor Chair wreath Aesillas Quaestor
    AR Tet
    Thessalonika Mint BCE 90-70

    This coin is a bit strange. It bears legends in two different languages. On the obverse Makedonon ("Of the Makedonians") is written in Greek letters while the reverse features the Latin word Aesillas - the Quester in Roman Macedonia.

    King Mithradates VI of Pontos started to establish an empire of its own in the east.
    When he attempted to conquer Cappadocia, he came into conflict with another ruler of the east, King Nicomedes IV of Bithynia. Nicomedes asked the Romans for help. The Romans wanted to increase their presence in Asia Minor. Yeah, Imerator / Dictabor Sulla saw his opportunity during the First Mithridatic War!

    The Romans had to secure supplies. Therefore the Via Egnatia (Roman road) through Thrace and to Asia needed to be secure. The Via Egnatia was arguably the most important strategic route connecting the West and the East.

    In the first century, a major part of the Via Egnatia crossed areas on which the belligerent tribes of Thrace had some influence. The Romans needed to ensure the Thracians as allies.

    The Romans were no dummies. They knew that they could just buy the Thracians support. So, they paid the Thracians for staying put and not to harrass the Roman Legions or their supply route. The Romans created the coins in such a way that they could be readily accepted by the Thracians. Since the time of their King Lysimachus, between 305 and 281 BC, the Thracians were used to circulating coins that bore the portrait of Alexander the Great. Therefore, the Romans depicted Alexander with flowing hair and the horn of Ammon.

    During the time of Aesillas the Via Egnatia allowed the Romans to transport troops, supplies, and money. Mithradates fate was sealed. In 63 BC, the Roman general Pompey cornered him during the Third Mithradatic War. Mithradates saw no other way than to take his own life. Placating the Thracians with payments in generally accepted Alexander coinage enabled troops and arms to freely move from Rome to Asia. The Romans became the unchallenged masters of Asia Minor.
  14. zadie

    zadie Well-Known Member

    Hahaha, good to meet you! Immediately after our little fight I felt I'd let things get a little out of hand with my bids, especially considering how the lot right after hammered for less than half. Looking back now I think we both got considerable deals. Yours is a great example, heavy weight, Q still preserved nicely and a very visible hasta. Congrats!

    Re: The possible linkage to the tetradrachms of Aesillas, I was very intrigued to read the "imperium" argument from Grant as I hadn't even considered that before. Expanding a little on what he wrote, one might find the issues of Lucius Julius Caesar interesting. He struck coins as propraetor of Macedonia in 94 BC, in the name and type of Aesillas. Thus providing us with an example of someone with imperium not deviating from the design previously issued by Aesillas, albeit as a praetor and not a quaestor. In the end though I feel an attribution to Macedonia is wholly unfounded, especially when considering the lack of finds there.
    LaCointessa and Sulla80 like this.
  15. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Good to meet you too - if it makes you feel better - I had the opposite thought - I should have bid more :) and I think we both got good deals. The other reason for my interest in the coin is this one in my collection with portraits of Julius Caesar and Octavian/Augustus.
    Macedon Thessalonica Augustus & Julius Caesar.jpg
    More on this coin in my notes: Not the Usual 12-Caesars

    I continue to search for a Aesillas Quaestor that is as nice as yours...

    All, more importantly....let me draw your attention to all of the cool Roman imperial coins....not much to see in the provinces.
    Last edited: Jul 30, 2021
  16. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Thank you. I was dumbfounded / gobsmacked when I acquired it.
    zadie and Sulla80 like this.
  17. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Still contemplating who this might be, but I am most influenced by RPC arguments for "Octavian/Augustus".

    Several CNG auction listing, share this note: "In our opinion, both sets of Cilician or Syrian issues portray Sosius, a leading general of Marc Antony. Sosius was quaestor (symbolized on this coinage with a Q and the symbols of the office) in 39 BC. The island of Zacynthus, a fleet station of Antony's, issued coins in the name of C SOSIVS Q (RPC 1290), C SOSIVS IMP (RPC 1291), C SOSIVS COS DESIG (RPC 1292), and C SOSIVS COS (RPC 1293). The first of these issues coincides with the dating of this coin. Note that both include the title "Q". Sosius was governor of Syria in 38 BC. Antony supported Herod the Great against his rival Antigonus, and Josephus describes how Sosius commanded the Roman forces in support of Herod's claim."

    Interesting to see that the wikipedia takes the side of "Gaius Sosius".

    More on Gaius Sosius and his coins from this 1930 article by F. Shipley:
    Shipley, Fr. W. (1930) : “C. Sosius, His Coins, His Triumph and His Temple of Apollo”, Washington University studies, N.S., 3, 73-87.

    While I find intriguing the idea that this coin is from Gaius Sosius - the similarity of the portrait to Augustus seems hard to ignore (and Gaius Sosius would have been on the Mark Antony side of that fight). I would also like to know if there is an example of a Quaestor putting his own portrait on a coin? It would also be useful to have more information on who @ CNG wrote this and how the coincidence of dating is supported.
    Kaleun96 and red_spork like this.
  18. LaCointessa

    LaCointessa Supporter! Supporter

    Thank you @zadie for your article and also @sulla and everyone else who contributed to this thread. I fell in love with Zadie's coins since this article was posted. I keep wandering back here to gaze upon these unusual coins. They look so cool. I enjoyed learning the meaning of what is depicted them. I was wondering what the Q was about. Thanks again.
    zadie likes this.
  19. zadie

    zadie Well-Known Member

    I said I would attempt to form a set of these coins and apparently I won this from Savoca today. I put in a pre-bid ages ago and forgot about it. Condition is not great but I am perfectly happy to get this for a 32 EUR hammer. I can honestly say that I've thoroughly enjoyed scouring all the different auctions for these coins. Finding one among the piles of other provincials made me very happy.

    This type is stylistically related to RPC I 5409 and names the person on the obverse as "PRINCEPS FELIX", heavily suggesting the person is Augustus.

    Provincial coins of Cilicia. Augustus (27 BC- 14 AD). Æ Semis (?). Struck in an uncertain colony in Cilicia. Head of Augustus right, PRINCEPS FELIX / Group of zebus pulling plow to left, COLONIA IVLIA / II VIR VE TER. 21 mm, 6,31 g. RPC 4083.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2021
  20. LaCointessa

    LaCointessa Supporter! Supporter

    Excellent! Congrats!
    zadie likes this.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page