Featured Ancient: Nabataea, Rabbel II, AR Sela (drachm)

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by John Anthony, Aug 1, 2014.

  1. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    In the sixth year of Rabbel's reign (75/76 CE), the queen Gamilat first appears on the sela'im. These coins are of the same type as the previous issues, with the bust of the king on the obverse, the queen on the reverse. The inscriptions read "Rabbel the king, king of the Nabataeans, year x", and "Gamilat his sister, queen of the Nabataeans." The term "sister" was a title in the Nabataean royal court, and does not necessarily imply Gamilat was Rabbel's biological sister, although the possibility is not ruled out.

    Nabataean silver coinage experienced a gradual debasement throughout the reigns of Aretas IV, Malichus II, and Rabbel II, with these last issues containing as little as 30-40% silver. These coins are the "blacks" referred to in six Greek papyri discovered at Naḥal Ḥever, in which various sums of money are expressed as such, e.g., "one black and thirty lepta" or "710 blacks of silver." The term "black" was a pejorative Roman moniker for these sela'im. It may have referred to the color of the coins, as billon is apt to darken more so than silver of higher fineness. However, David Goldenberg has recently proposed that the epithet refers to the earliest drachms of Provincia Arabia, which were overstruck on Nabataean sela'im, i.e., the image of Rabbel was "blackened out" by the portrait of Trajan.

    The low fineness of these coins certainly illustrates the work of normal inflationary dynamics, but by no means suggests that the Nabataean economy was floundering. Under the rule of Rabbel II, the Nabataean population expanded and thrived. The frankincense trade continued to prosper the nation, and the agricultural industry grew vigorously in response to the increasing demands of sedantarisation. Petra was a flourishing modern capitol. It is instructive to note that when the Romans acquired the Nabataean Kingdom, their first provincial drachms were simply struck over the sela'im. Despite their low silver content, they were evidently acceptable to the needs of commerce.

    Sela'im of Rabbel/Gamilat were minted from RY 6 (75/76 CE) to RY 32 (101/102 CE), a period of approximately 27 years. They are found in abundance, but are rather carelessly made. The engraving style exhibits thick, coarse lines, and the coins are frequently struck off-center, always on tight flans. The inscriptions are consistently compromised in one way or another. (Of the 20 specimens sold by CNG, only 3 have readable dates.)

    Nabataean Kingdom: Rabbel II, 70-106 CE
    AR Sela, 16mm, 3.45g; Petra mint, RY 22 (91/92 CE).
    Obv.: Laureate and draped bust of Rabbel II right; around, inscription,
    22 רבאל מלכא מלך - נבטו שׂנת (Rabbel the king, king of the Nabataeans, Year 22).
    Rev.: Veiled and draped bust of Gamilat right; around, inscription,
    גמלתּ אחתה מלכת נבטו (Gamilat his sister, queen of the Nabataeans).
    Reference: Meshorer 154.

    Last edited: Aug 1, 2014
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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Nice writeup and a really cool coin. I like this one.
    John Anthony likes this.
  4. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Very cool!
    John Anthony likes this.
  5. stevex6

    stevex6 Random Mayhem

    I agree => that's a very cool new addition, JA ... man, you and your stinkin' Nabataeans, eh?

    => good on ya, brother!!
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2014
    John Anthony likes this.
  6. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    That's a great find, JA! Congratulations :)
    John Anthony likes this.
  7. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Great write up and really interesting coin. Thanks, John.
    John Anthony likes this.
  8. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    nabatean silver...cool coin JA.

    pm sent by the way.
    John Anthony likes this.
  9. askea

    askea Active Member

    Nice coin John! I haven't collected any Nabataean silver yet but they are certainly on my list. So which of Trajan's coins were overstruck on these issues?
  10. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    This is earliest type of Trajan drachm from Bostra, with Arabia standing, a camel at her feet. Several sources report finding these overstruck on the Nabataean coins, but I haven't been able to hunt down any pics. I would very much like to at least see one of these examples, so I constantly scour the available offerings, but I've come up empty-handed so far.

    (vcoins, Roma)

    I do own a later drachm of Trajan, but these were evidently all struck on blank flans - no overstruck pieces of this type exist, at least to my knowledge.


    However, not all Nabataean drachms were overstruck or melted down after the assimilation of the kingdom by the Romans. In fact, stratigraphic data show they continued to circulate well into the 2nd-century. There was a certain confidence in the money that was slow to change. (Bowsher, J. 2007. Monetary Interchange in Nabataean Petra. The World Of The Nabataeans. pp. 337-343.)
    Bing, Johndakerftw and stevex6 like this.
  11. askea

    askea Active Member

    So if these were being overstruck at Bostra, would that indicate that the Petra mint had been moved there by Rabbel? According to some sources, he did spend most of his time there.
  12. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    It's one of those "facts" that gets regurgitated on the internet so often that people assume its veracity. There's actually very little to support the idea.

    "There is no reason to assume a decline of Petra or in Nabataea during the reign of Rabbel II as Petra flourished as city. The thesis of the transfer is based mainly upon a single Nabataean inscription, later Roman coin finds and the assumption that Bostra was the capital of the new Provincia Arabia. A Nabataean inscription from Imtan of A.D. 92/93 was read as saying Dushara is ‘the god of our lord who is in Bosra’. Other inscriptions indicate that the formula is related to the god who is in Bosra, not to the king." (Wenning, R. 2007. The Nabataeans in History. The World Of The Nabataeans, Vol. II. p. 40.)

    Any notion that Rabbel moved the capitol (or mint) to Bosra, or even lived there at all, is pure speculation. The Romans made Bosra the capitol of Provincia Arabia, but that made perfect sense as they already had plenty of garrisons in the area. But even as the Romans were minting provincial coins in Bosra, the Petra mint continued issuing a series of semi-autonomous bronzes, and eventually some provincial coins of later Caesars. There is no evidence that the mint at Petra ceased production during the transition from kingdom to province.
  13. askea

    askea Active Member

    So where did we get the idea that Rome overstruck these silvers at Bostra?
  14. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    Avraham Negev, “Notes on Some Trajanic Drachms from the Mampsis Hoard,” Jahrbüch fur Numismatik und Geldgeschichte 21 (1971) 115-120.

    The Mampsis Hoard had 10,000 silver coins (!!) of which about 2000 were the Trajanic Arabia types. Negev reports that "some of these were struck over Nabataean sela'im."

    Here's a general overview of the find, but no pics of the overstruck sela'im.


    I would very much like to see pictures of these supposed overstrikes.
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  15. Eng

    Eng Senior Eng

    Great write up Big John, your coin is awesome too!!, the silver Nabateaen coin's that i have seen have a yellow/green patina, soil or area that they are found???
    John Anthony likes this.
  16. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    I've seen them too, and they can be quite colorful. I have no idea how they came by that toning, but I'm more interested in clear dates than color. The dated silvers of Rabbel II are the truly uncommon ones.
  17. askea

    askea Active Member

  18. askea

    askea Active Member

    Oops sorry. It's getting late in the day
  19. mlov43

    mlov43 주화 수집가

    Nice background info on the coins. You always get me going on a google search for these "ancient" places. Now I'm off to Nabataea.

    Are the coins you post here at CT always from your own collection?
  20. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    Yes, they are, unless otherwise indicated. I appreciate your scholarly pages on Korean coins as well - they are extremely well-done.
  21. mlov43

    mlov43 주화 수집가

    Oh, and I found out that there was no "Nabataea", just Nabataeans. An "Ethno-linguistic"(?) group of people that were scattered all over northern Arabia and the Southern Levant. Many of their stone relics are in Syria, which makes me wonder what will happen to those treasures when ISIS gets their hands on them. Those guys seem not to like anything, even Islamic relics.
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