Claudius Attalus, Governor of Thrace

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Jul 8, 2020.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear friends of Nikopolis ad Istrum!

    Most people of us know that the governor of Thrace under Commodus was Caecilius Servilianus. This was at the time when Moesia inferior was not yet an independent province. It only became so under Septimius Severus. But only few know that there was another governor who minted coins for Nikopolis ad Istrum at the beginning of Commodus' reign: Claudius Attalus. They are very rare. He is known from coins of Pautalia too. Here is a beautiful one from my collection.

    The Coin:
    Moesia inferior, Nikopolis ad Istrum, Commodus, AD 177-192
    AE 30, 15.01g, 29.46mm, 210°
    struck under governor Claudius Attalus (184/85, Curtis Clay)
    Bust, cuirassed, laureate, r.
    Zeus, wearing himation, std. l., holding sceptre in l. hand and patera in r.
    hand; l. before him the eagle
    Ref.: a) not in AMNG
    b) Varbanov 4302 corr. (this coin, but put to Nikopolis ad Mestum in error);
    c) Moushmov 891 cf. (only rev. depiction)
    d) Hristova/Hoeft/Jekov (2020) No. (plate coin)
    VF, extremely rare (R9), not published in major works, only 2 ex. known
    Pat Lawrence: Precious, wonderful coin! What shall I say? Commodus' best coin at Nikopolis. Letter forms on reverse that also suggest a kind of die-engraving that suddenly blossoms about a decade later. Wonderful, wonderful coin.
    Curtis Clay: A fine and very interesting coin, which I would love to have in my own collection!

    Attalus bears on his coin the title HΓE standing for HΓEMONEVONTOC. That's the Genitivus of HΓEMONEVΩN and means '[serving as] legatus Augusti pro praetore', in distinction from the more frequent title VΠ for YΠATEVONTOC, meaning '[serving as] legatus consularis'. The legatus Augusti pro praetore was governing in order of the ruling emperor, who by his imperium proconsulare was the nominal governor, a Roman province and had the command over its military forces. This office was part of the senatorial cursus honorum and was executed by former praetores or consules (in the case of more than one legion standing in this province). And never call them "magistrate", which was only a high city officer and not the representative of the emperor!

    On provincial coins we regularly find the names of the issuing magistrates and legates. I was interested in these names from the beginning because we get - beside the names of the emperors - an intimate insight into the administration of the Roman Empire. Sadly only few is known about these high officials if not inscriptions and other archaeological finds or citations in ancient literature supply us with more information. Here we have the piece of luck, that Attalus is mentioned by Cassius Dio!

    Cassius Dio, Epitome liber LXXX:
    In Arabia he (i.e. Avitus) put to death Pica Caerianus, who was in charge of that province, because he had not immediately declared his allegiance to the new ruler; and in Cyprus, Claudius Attalus, because he had once offended Comazon. Attalus had once been governor of Thrace, had been expelled from the senate by Severus during the war with Niger, but had been restored to it by Tarautas, and had at this time been assigned by the lot to Cyprus. He had incurred Comazon's ill will by having once sent him to the galleys for some wrong-doing of which he was guilty while serving in Thrace. Yet this Comazon, in spite of having such a character and a name derived from mimes and buffoonery, now commanded the Pretorians, though he had been tried in no position of responsibility or command whatever, except that over the camp; and he obtained the rank of consul and later actually became consul, and also city prefect, and that not once only, but even a second and a third time -- a thing that had never before happened in the case of anybody else; hence this will be counted as one of the greatest violations of precedent.


    (1) Avitus = Name of Elagabal (Avitus Bassianus)
    (2) Tarautas = Opprobious name, usually used by Cassius Dio to name Antoninus (Caracalla). Actually Tarautas was an abhorrent and bloodthursty Gladiator.

    Arthur Stein, Römische Reichsbeamte der Provinz Thracia, Sarajevo, 1920:
    Arthur Stein didn't know any coins from Attalus from Nikopolis. Attalus was known as governor of Pautalia with the legend HΓE KΛ ATTAΛOV under Commodus. Commodus is here named M(arcus); the slightly bearded (by chance) portrait can't be turned in account because of its volatility. But the coincidence of our literary tradition brings with it that we learned something about Attalus and his governship in Thrace from Dio Cassius (LXXX 3, 5; 4, 3). He later seems to have participated like Asellius Aemilianus in the raising of Pescennius Niger against Septimius Severus. But he doesn't seem to have risk so much like that because the victorious ruler was content with kicking him out off the Senate At this time he possibly could have been legate of Thrace and has accepted the occupation of Byzantium by Niger or at least not hindered (cp. de Ceuleneer 1874). Under Caracalla he was admitted again to the Senate and received by drawing lots for the proconsularic provinces even Cyprus. As proconsul of Cyprus he was killed on command of Elagabal by the influence of Elagabal's almighty favourite (Valerius) Comazon (Eutychianus). This was an act of revenge of Comazon, who under Attalus' governship in Thrace has been served in the army and has been displaced for punishment to the ship-soldiers because of a delict.

    Regarding the later career of Claudius Attalus who - even though by special reasons - not before 26 years after Commodus' death became proconsul of Cyprus, his government of Thrace comes into consideration only for the last years of Commodus (the portait on coins is not decisively, see above). If Ceuleneers suggestion is right then he has survived even the rulership of this Emperor.

    (1) Cassius Dio, Römische Geschichte
    (2) A. de Ceuleneer, Essai sur la Vie et le Regne de Septime Severe, Liege 1874
    (3) Arthur Stein, Römische Reichsbeamte der Provinz Thrakien, Sarajevo 1920
    (4) Arthur Stein, Die Legaten von Moesien, Budapest 194ß
    (5) Hristova/Hoeft/Jekov, The Coinage of Nicopolis ad Istrum, Blagoevgrad 2020
    (6) Der kleine Pauly

    Best regards
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  3. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    Great write up as always @Jochen1! Great coin as well. Thanks!
  4. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    If all those references to 'Comazon' are to the same person, he lasted a long time by standards of the day. Septimius killed many people who were even slightly attached to Pescennius. Surviving Caracalla and Elagabalus would have been a feat of note as well.
    furryfrog02 likes this.
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