Faustina Friday – Rounded U in the Diphthongs Edition

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, May 20, 2022.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter


    TGIFF, everybody! Today I'm going to talk about an interesting linguistic feature on a coin from the Roman colony of Lystra in south Lycaonia. But first, here's a little background to put the coin in context.

    Lystra map.jpg
    From "Asia citerior," Auctore Henrico Kiepert Berolinensi. Geographische Verlagshandlung Dietrich Reimer (Ernst Vohsen) Berlin, Wilhemlstr. 29. (1903). David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

    Lystra was a Roman colony founded by Augustus in about 6 B.C., probably as a defensive outpost against the mountain tribes to the south and west. As such, it was Latin-speaking and would have had Roman soldiers garrisoned there as well as several Roman officials.[1] The official title of the city was Colonia Iulia Felix Gemina Lustra,[2] meaning "Lystra, fortunate twin Julian colony." This title is known from coin inscriptions and the inscription on a massive carved stone found in the ruins of the city.[3]

    The stone containing the inscription now stands in the Museum for Classical Antiquities in Konya (Iconium).[4]

    The inscription presumably refers to a temple, statue, or altar of Augustus. Much of what we know about the city is inferred from this inscription, which reads, DIVVM AVG COL IVL FELIX GEMINA LVSTRA CONSEGRAVIT D D. It is interpreted as "The Colonia Julia Felix Gemina Lystra consecrates the divine Augustus by order of the ducurions."[5] The designation Gemina ("twin") refers to the fact that the colony was founded simultaneously with the nearby colony, Antioch in Pisidia. Archaeologists have recovered a statue of Concordia sent by Lystra in the second century to its twin colony, Antioch.[6]

    Hans von Aulock's map of Roman colonies in Lycaonia and Pisidia.[7]

    The D D in the inscription stood for Decreto Decurionum, meaning "by decree of the ten members of the colony council," thus implying its form of local government.

    The colony is of modern interest because it was one of Paul's stops on his first missionary journey. See @Sulla80's interesting thread here on Coin Talk for more about this biblical connection.


    Okay, okay! Here's the coin!

    Faustina Jr Lystra Bucephalus.jpg
    Faustina II, AD 147-175.
    Roman provincial Æ 20.3 mm, 4.57 g, 5 h.
    Lycaonia, Lystra, c. 157-165.
    Obv: FAUSTINAE AUGVSTAE, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
    Rev: COL IVL LVSTRA, Fortuna/Tyche standing, left, wearing kalathos, holding rudder and cornucopia.
    Refs: RPC IV.3, 7267 (temporary); H. von Aulock, Chiron 2 (1972), 517, no. 1 (pl. 27, 14).

    You'll note the coin's inscription are in Latin, as expected for a Roman colony. The inscription is in the dative case, which is unexpected. In the imperial series, the dative case was only used for Faustina the Younger's inscriptions very early (AD 147 to 149 or 150) and very late (AD 174-175). I have posted about this phenomenon previously. The coin cannot date from the late 140s; Faustina did not adopt the hairstyle depicted until AD 155. However, in the imperial series anyway, she adopted a new hairstyle after the birth of her twins on 31 August 161. Moreover, her imperial coins continue to refer to her as the daughter of Antoninus Pius until AD 157. News of this may not have reached the provinces and outlying colonies for some time, and I date the coin to as late as AD 165, so the use of the dative in this middle period is a bit unusual. But this is a mere curiosity and of little importance for the field of linguistics as a whole.

    But there is a more interesting phenomenon here: Note the use of the rounded letter U at two places in the obverse inscription. Note also that the pointed letter V is also used in one place in the obverse inscription and in two places on the reverse inscription. I don't believe this is haphazard. I note that the rounded U is used in – and only in – the diphthong, AU.

    I don't mean to be presumptuous – because I haven't thoroughly reviewed the relevant literature – but this may be a new discovery in terms of Latin orthography. The current belief in linguistics seems to be that the rounded U was first introduced in the Middle Ages. Indeed, both the Wikipedia article on the letter U,[9] as well as the Dictionary.com article,[10] state as much. However, this coin's inscription proves that not only was the rounded letter U used in the Latin language as early as the mid-second century AD, but it also suggests that it was recognized and used as a distinct letter from the pointed V. It seems to have been purposely used to indicate the U was part of a diphthong. It would be interesting to study various Latin inscriptions and papyri from prior to the Middle Ages to see if it was used in other instances of AU, or with the other U-containing diphthongs, EU and UI.

    Does anybody know the name of some experts on Latin orthography or paleography to whom I might write and inquire about this issue?

    Post your coins of Lystra, coins that have a rounded U in the inscription, or anything you feel is relevant!



    1. Lewis, Peter, and Ron Bolden. The Pocket Guide to Saint Paul: Coins Encountered by the Apostle on His Travels. Wakefield Press, Australia, 2002, p. 84.

    2. Hill, G.F. A Catalog of the Greek Coins in the British Museum, Greek Coins of Lycaonia, Isauria, and Cilicia. British Museum, London, 1900, p. xxv. Also Lewis & Bolden, ibid.

    3. Morton, H. V. In the Steps of St. Paul. 5th ed., Methuen, 1949, p. 200.

    4. For this photo and interesting photos of the modern cite of Lystra, see Emerson, Cliff. "Lystra - Site in South-Central Turkey Where Paul Visited." Lystra - Site in South-Central Turkey Where Paul Visited, 5 Feb. 2014, https://western-turkey.blogspot.com/2014/02/lystra-site-in-s-turkey-where-paul.html.

    5. Lewis & Bolden, op. cit., p. 84.

    6. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Vol. 3, Eerdmans, 1995, p. 193.

    7. Aulock, Hans von. Münzen Und Städte Lykaoniens. Ernst Wasmuth, 1976.

    8. Lewis & Bolden, op. cit., p. 84.

    9. "U." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Apr. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.

    10. "When Did the Letter U Enter the Alphabet?" Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, 19 Jan. 2021, https://www.dictionary.com/e/theletteru/.
    Last edited: May 20, 2022
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  3. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    ...another educational and entertaining FF article & coin RC :)
    TheNickelGuy and Roman Collector like this.
  4. jb_depew

    jb_depew Well-Known Member

    Very interesting! I'm always impressed by your Faustina knowledge and collection. The presence of the rounded 'U' is intriguing and seems to be significant. Did you make that discovery after you bought the coin or before? If before, it's a great example of specialist knowledge enabling a great score that was no doubt overlooked by other collectors.
    Roman Collector likes this.
  5. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Before -- it was the primary reason I purchased the coin.
    Carl Wilmont and jb_depew like this.
  6. eparch

    eparch Well-Known Member

    Interesting find - well done

    I have found the Department of Coins and Medals at the British Museum helpful in the past
    Roman Collector likes this.
  7. Sulla80

    Sulla80 Well-Known Member

    A fun coin and writeup, @Roman Collector! I lean toward one die maker's bad handwriting as I couldn't find an Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius from Lystra with "AU"....will be very curious to hear what you find.
    Roman Collector likes this.
  8. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    That's a very strong counterargument. Thanks for doing the research!
    hotwheelsearl and Sulla80 like this.
  9. Sulla80

    Sulla80 Well-Known Member

    I can argue both ways - I would like my argument better if "U" and "V" didn't both show up on your coin :)
    Roman Collector likes this.
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