Featured Hadrian: Benefactor of Africa

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Curtisimo, Sep 21, 2019.

  1. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish)

    I was very excited to add this “travel series” coin of Hadrian to my Nerva-Anotonine collection in silver that I have been working on the last couple of years. Of the travel themed coins of Hadrian I have always preferred the types that show the province being referenced as a lone personification with the name as the legend.

    Roman Empire
    Hadrian (AD 117 – 138)
    AR Denarius, Rome mint, struck ca. AD 134 – 138
    Dia.: 17 mm
    Wt.: 2.98 g
    Obv.: HADRIANVS AVG COS III PP; Laureate head right
    Rev.: AFRICA; Africa with elephant headdress reclining left, holding scorpion and cornucopia, basket of grain at feet
    Ex L. Rose Collection

    Hadrian’s accomplishments in Africa
    Hadrian’s travel series coins were struck all together near the end of his reign while he was living in Tivoli at his magnificent villa there. The coins are probably meant to reference the accomplishments he made during his travels. He is well known to have invested heavily in the regional traditions as well as the infrastructure of the places he visited. His completion of the Temple of Zues in Athens and the construction of Hadrian’s Wall in Britannia are two of the most famous examples.

    One of the construction projects that Hadrian initiated in Africa that is still extant is a series of stone walls that were constructed along the southern border of the province. These walls may have been built to regulate the movement of nomadic tribes and as a deterrent against raiding so that previously marginal land could be more confidently used for agriculture. Considering that North Africa had overtaken Egypt as the primary supplier of grain to the city of Rome maximizing the agricultural output of the region was a major imperial concern.

    Here is an interesting video from the BBC that talks about Hadrian’s southern wall.

    Personification of Africa
    The reverse of this coin shows a reclining Africa wearing an elephant headdress while holding a scorpion and cornucopia with a grain basket at her feet. The cornucopia and grain basket are easy to identify as symbols of Africa’s fertility (i.e. grain supply) and the scorpion as a distinctive native species. It should be noted that all the attributes of the provinces on Hadrian’s travel coins are shown in a positive, even celebratory, light.

    When I started researching this coin I assumed that the iconography of the province would be purely Roman. However, it seems that the iconography might predate the Roman period as evidenced by some coins of Numidian kings depicting Africa with an elephant headdress (perhaps iconographically related to the early tetradrachms of Ptolemy I?). Houghtalin proposes that the iconography of Africa personified may have been developed in North Africa and introduced to the Romans in 80 BC during Pompey the Great’s triumph [1].

    In any case, the iconography was well established by the time of Hadrian. In fact, there are several similar depictions of Africa that were found at or near Pompeii dating from before AD 79. For example;

    Queen Dido looks toward Africa while Aeneas’s ship approaches in the distance.

    Gilded silver dish showing Africa with cornucopia, elephant headdress and animals. Some believe this dish to be a portrait of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VIII’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene II.

    References on Hadrian’s Travel Series
    A comprehensive(?) list of all of Hadrian’s travel types

    A write up on Hadrian’s travels by NGC

    [1] Houghtalin, L., The Personifications of the Roman Provinces; Byrn Mawr College, 1993

    Please feel free to post any comments or thoughts. Also please post your coins of Hadrian! Travel or not.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2019
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  3. Plumbata

    Plumbata Well-Known Member

    Lovely example of an interesting type, the toning is awesome too and would be a clear declaration of age to someone who didn't even know that ancient coins existed.

    Seeing "AFRICA" on an ancient coin is almost uncanny, I can't think of any other with such direct continuity of spelling and meaning in English as on this type, which adds to the coolness factor in my opinion.
  4. dadams

    dadams Well-Known Member

    Great coin and writeup! Below is a Hadrian not in the series but eventually I'd like to get an AEGYPTOS:
    Roman Provincial Egypt. Hadrian, 117-138 AD. Billon Tetradrachm.
    Mint of Alexandria, Egypt, struck AD 135/136 AD.
    Obv: ΑVΤ ΚΑΙC ΤΡΑΙΑΝ ΑΔΡΙΑΝΟC CΕΒ - Laurate and bearded bust of Hadrian facing left.
    Rev: Nilus reclining on crocodile holding reed in right hand and cornucopiae in left; regnal year LK (year 20) in upper left field.
    23.5mm, 13.36g, 12h
  5. TIF

    TIF Always learning.

    Nice writeup, Curtis!

    @dadams, excellent tet!

    I have the two most common coins of Hadrian's "travel series" denarii:

    HADRIAN. CE 117-138
    AR Denarius. 18 mm, 3.53 gm. struck CE 134-138, Rome
    Obv: HADRIANVS AVG COS III P P, laureate head right
    Rev: AFRICA, Africa with elephant skin headdress, reclining on rock, holding scorpion and cornucopia, basket of fruit before her
    Ref: RIC II 299

    AR Denarius. 18 mm, 2.95 gm. struck CE 134-138, Rome
    Obv: HADRIANVS AVG COS III P P, bare head right
    Rev: AEGYPTOS; Aegyptos reclining left holding sistrum; ibis standing right at feet
    Ref: RIC II 297

    Not an Imperial but akin to the OP topic-- the personification of Alexandria kissing Hadrian's hand:

    Hadrian drachm / personification of Alexandria, wearing elephant skin head dress, kissing the hand of Hadrian. 35 mm, 24.8 gm. Emmett 964.15
    Spaniard, Alegandron, PeteB and 14 others like this.
  6. jamesicus

    jamesicus Well-Known Member

    Curtisimo likes this.
  7. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana

    Excellent coin and writeup, Curtis. I've long been a fan of Hadrian's travel series. Like you, I prefer those with the province personification depicted on its own. AFRICA was the first one I ever bought. It really deserves a new pic...

    Hadrian africa c400.jpg

    Of the silver issues, I'm missing ALEXANDRIA (and am jealous of @dougsmit's), but here are the others I have. I'd love to collect the bronzes as well, but many of them are very rare, and for some reason, often in terrible condition.

    Lot - Hadrian Aegyptos.jpg

    Hadrian - Travel Germania.jpg

    Hadrian - Travel Italia new.jpg

    Hadrian - Travel Asia.jpg

    Hadrian - Travel Nilus 193.jpg

    Hadrian Hispania.jpg
    Spaniard, Alegandron, PeteB and 13 others like this.
  8. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Well-Known Member

    Denarius of Hadrian RIC 299 Obv Head left bare. Rv Africa reclining left 136 A.D. 3.40 grms 19 mm hadriand70.png
  9. Marsman

    Marsman Well-Known Member

    Beautiful coins !
    It’s hard to find nice coins from Hadrian’s travel series. And they are quite expensive.
    This is one of my travel coins. It’s my favourite reverse with croc and hippo :)


    Hadrian, denarius.
    Travel series issue.
    3,01 g.
    Obv. HADRIANVS AVG COS III P P, laureate head right.
    Rev. NILVS, Nilus reclining right on urn, holding cornucopiae, hippopotamus standing left, crocodile left below.
    RIC II 310; RSC 991.

    For those who can’t find the animals :)

  10. thejewk

    thejewk Well-Known Member

    Great coin and write up. I hope to add a travel series denarius to my collection next year.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  11. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

  12. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    Here's my only travel series of Hadrian:

    Hadrian, AD 117-138.
    Roman AR denarius, 2.98 g, 17.7 mm, 7 h.
    Rome, AD 138.
    Obv: HADRIANVS AVG COS III P P, laureate head, right.
    Rev: AEGYPTOS, Egypt reclining left, holding sistrum and leaning on basket, around which a snake coils. Ibis on left, facing right.
    Refs: RIC 296, BMCRE 801-804, RCV 3456, Strack 294.
    Nathan401, Spaniard, thejewk and 9 others like this.
  13. IdesOfMarch01

    IdesOfMarch01 Well-Known Member

    Hadrian's coins, and his travel series specifically, enticed me to branch out from my 12 Caesars collection (or are they a "side collection" as was discussed in a recent thread?).

    H3 - Hadrian AE sestertius Africa scorpion.jpg

    HADRIAN 117 - 138 A.D.
    AE Sestertius (25.62 g.) Rome ca. 134 - 138 A.D. RIC 840
    HADRIANVS AVG COS III P P Laureate head of Hadrian r. Rev. Africa, draped, wearing elephant-skin headdress, recl. L, r. hand holding scorpion, cornucopia behind

    H6 - Hadrian AV aureus Africa scorpion.jpg

    HADRIAN 117 - 138 A.D.
    AV Aureus (7.20 g.) Rome ca. 134 - 138 A.D. RIC II 374
    HADRIANVS AVG COS III P P Bare-headed bust l. Rev. Africa, draped, wearing elephant-skin headdress, recl. L., holding cornucopiae and scorpion in r. hand;
    Nathan401, Shea19, Spaniard and 12 others like this.
  14. jamesicus

    jamesicus Well-Known Member

    My goodness those are spectacular coins IOM!
    Curtisimo likes this.
  15. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status

    Great coin Curtisimo! Excellent strike, wonderful toning and thanks for the well done write up ta boot.
    Like RC, I only have one type of the travel series (though accidently won 2 of them and keep meaning to do a giveaway for the superfluous coin).
    It probably was an awful reminder to Hadrian but a neat coin to have:
  16. GerardV

    GerardV Well-Known Member

    This type of topic/issue is why ancient coin collecting beats moderns!
    Curtisimo and dadams like this.
  17. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Well-Known Member

    Hadrian denarius RIC 305 Obv Head right bare. Rv. Hispania reclining left 135 A.D. 3.45 grms 19mm hadriand40.JPG
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  18. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish)

    Thanks for all the kind words and for sharing all of your fantastic Hadrian coins.

    I am not as familiar with provincial types so I was very interested to see your fantastic example of the personified Nile, @dadams . Very cool.

    I figured I might as well share a couple of relevant(ish) photos related to Hadrian and his travels from my own wanderings over the years.


    As mentioned in the OP, Hadrian was responsible for completing the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Athens that was started by the Tyrants Hippias and Hypparchos around ca. 520 BC... it only took 638 years to finish :eek:. It was the largest temple in Greece when it was completed. I have seen it in person and the scale of the extant standing columns is mind blowing.

    Here is a photo I took while in Athens a few years ago. There are only 15 of the original 104 columns still standing.

    This is known as Hadrian's Arch and is near the Temple of Olympian Zues. Apparently, it was part of the complex of buildings that Hadrian had built around the completed temple. The Acropolis is in the background.

    Here is a photo that was taken in October of 1839 that shows the Temple of Zues, Hadrian's Arch and the Acropolis. Look how sparsely populated Athens was at this time (around 20 years after independence from the Ottomans). This is one of the most densely built up parts of Athens today.


    Of course there is the obligatory photos of Hadrian's Villa. It is an unbelievably great place to visit and has been almost deserted both of the times I've been there. I highly recommend it.

    Hadrian was known to have recreated places from his travels in his villa. The center photo below was intended to reference the Nile landscape near the Egyptian town of Canopus east of Alexandria. Does anyone know if any of the buildings were modeled on places in Africa? My research hasn't turned up any such references.




    Finally just for fun here are a couple of Hadrian related photos from Rome.

    The Pons Aelius (now called the Ponte Sant'Angelo) is a bridge that Hadrian had constructed that leads to his Mausoleum. So as a bridge engineer I am finding an excuse to shoehorn this in here... love this bridge.

    This is the room inside Hadrian's Mausoleum that his ashes were actually laid to rest in. I don't think anyone knows what happened to them but I imagine that barbarians may have been involved with ensuring the Tiber River was Hadrian's final resting place :(.

    A model of what Hadrian's Mausoleum looked like in antiquity.

    His mausoleum later became a palace for the popes. This is a Renaissance painting of Hadrian in the rooms above where his ashes would have been. Hadrian was a popular emperor during the Renaissance.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2019
  19. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    Sorry, this is a drawing. Photography had been invented in 1839 and the technology of that day required very long exposures and only that year was the discovery of a practical way to fix the images so they did not continue to darken with exposure to light.

    I'm not sure when the first photos of Greece were made but they are very rare before c.1870. There are some great shots of Egypt from the 1850's but most of the really early things are from England and France.
    Curtisimo likes this.
  20. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish)

    It is an engraving based on a daguerreotype photograph taken by Pierre-Gustave Joly de Lotbinière in October, 1839.

    It along with several other photographs of the Parthenon were made into engravings for a publication in 1841. Unfortunately the engravings survive in better shape than the original photos (if they survive at all?).

    However, many photos of Athens from the end of the 1830s and mostly the early 1840s are extant. Such as this one of the Acropolis from 1842.

    The first landscape photo was taken in 1826 (rural France).

    In 1838 this famous photo of Paris is the earliest to include people. The street was very busy but the gentleman having his shoe shined and the person doing the shining were still long enough to have their image captured.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2019
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