Sacred Apollo (anonymous civic coinage part I)

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by David@PCC, May 4, 2019.

  1. David@PCC

    David@PCC Well-Known Member

    I set the bar high when trying to solve this coin mystery and I would like to think I did solve it or at least a few parts of it. I am talking about a set of coins from three roman mints that were never fully vetted and cause debate to this day. Many numismatists from Johan van Heesch to Andreas Alföldi, and many many others tried to crack this nut. I am grateful for their research.
    When setting out on my research I put on my engineering hat and attempted to fit theories to facts and not the other way around. I started with a clean slate which forced me to learn a lot about the transition between imperial and provincial coinage, which I think is important to solving this. I am splitting this research into four parts from a group that was formerly grouped into one larger group under the guise of persecution. Only part I and II are finished, III and IV will come much later. I started with the group from Antioch because it interested me the most, has the most information available, is the easiest group to enter as far as availability, and it has more 'types' than the others. If you want the water downed quick version keep reading, or visit my new educational site where all photos are references are available I also plan on publishing part I results in KOINON.


    Prior to the coinage reform of Diocletian, Roman coins struck in the 'provinces' were controlled by each city and there were literally hundreds of these mints. That last provincial mints to close would be in the final years of the 3rd century AD. Immediately after his reform there were approximately 16 imperial mints that were allowed to produce coinage, but that number changed as time passed. Three are of particular interest to the 'persecution' series of coins, those being Antioch, Nicomedia, and Alexandria. Any coinage allowed to be struck under it's own authority of the city are considered to be 'civic', and account for most of the mints prior to Diocletian's monetary reform. The coins discussed here were originally attributed to the reign of Julian II due to his renewed persecution of Christians in the 4th century, but that attribution has been challenged and mostly discarded. The more recent hypotheses are that these coins were minted during the reign of Maximinus II Daia for propaganda reasons against Christians and to aid in their persecution, which would make these the last of the civic coins. Four coins are listed here in no particular order, but are grouped so based on the similarities of their reverses and are labeled series I.

    Series I​
    This series is grouped together because all of the reverses show Apollo facing left holding a lyre and patera.

    Type A
    Mint: Antioch
    Obvs: GENIO ANTIOCHENI, Tyche of Antioch facing; river god Orontes swimming below.
    Revs: APOLLONI SANCTO, Apollo standing left holding lyre and patera. I in right field, SMA in ex.
    AE 15x16mm, 1.64g
    Ref: Vagi 2954; Van Heesch 3; McAlee 170j
    Note: Ten officinae are known for this issue (A-I).

    Type B
    Mint: Antioch
    Obvs: Draped veiled and turreted bust right of Tyche of Antioch.
    Revs: Apollo standing left holding lyre and patera.
    AE 17mm, 1.34g
    Ref: Vagi 2957; Van Heesch 5

    Type C
    Mint: Antioch
    Obvs: GENIO CIVITATIS, Draped veiled and turreted bust right of Tyche of Antioch.
    Revs: APOLLONI SANCTO, Apollo standing left holding lyre and patera. B in right field, SMA in ex.
    AE 16mm, 2.02g
    Ref: Vagi 2956; Van Heesch 4; McAlee 172
    Note: Only officina B are known for this issue.

    Type D
    Mint: Antioch
    Obvs: GENIO ANTIOCHENI, Draped veiled and turreted bust right of Tyche of Antioch.
    Revs: APOLLONI SANCTO, Apollo standing left holding lyre and patera. ε in right field, SMA in ex.
    AE 15x17mm, 1.50g
    Ref: Vagi -; Van Heesch -; McAlee 172a
    Note: Only officina ε are known for this issue.

    Dating from Control Marks​

    From members on this very site I gained the knowledge to be able to accurately date this series which can be extrapolated from the control marks found on the reverse on type A. Officina (workshop) 9 gives clues to the date range in which this series was minted. Only officina 9 replaces the θ (9th Greek number) with ε (5) above Δ (4). This was done due to the superstitious nature of theta being a symbol of death in Greek and Latin. ε and Δ combine to form 9 without using the traditional symbol for 9. I was only able to find this particular vertical arrangement of the control in use at Antioch from May 310 till May 313 AD. I did not look past the reign of Maximinus II as the mint marks after his reign do not match what is found in series I, an example would be SMANTA instead of SMA. Logically these later issues should be excluded for that reason and well as the controls that appear in different fields of the coin. Officina 9 occurs in the right field of type A which should be distinguished separately from earlier as well as later officina 9's which place the ε and Δ on opposite fields of each other. Roman coins were very specific and had particular reasons as to the placement of mint marks and controls. There is ample room on either field for a single control and therefore it is my opinion that type A's workshop 9 should be exclusive to the earlier and later versions.

    Series I mintmark​

    Of great debate has been the mint mark of Series I, it uses SMA instead of the more customary ANT (though some misspellings exist). It has been proposed that SMA should stand for sacra moneta antioch. SM or sacra moneta was used on base metal coinage at other mints at the time but it is also found on precious metal issues from Antioch as well. It should also be noted that SMA was used on base metal coins from Antioch, but after the dates proposed here and with the workshop appended.
    Other than Series I, no other base metal coins were struck during the reigns of Diocletian through Maximinus II at Antioch using SM. According to RIC VI, SM was used on gold issues made from special bullion supplies. That is why I theorize that SMA actually stands for signata moneta Antioch, or 'money struck at Antioch'. The reason why SMA was used instead of ANT, may be that Maximinus II was residing in Antioch at the time of striking.

    Purpose for Minting​

    One of the biggest questions about these coins is why were they made? Current theories are that these were struck to promote propaganda against Christianity and to aid in their persecution. While persecutions of Christians were taking place during this period I do not believe this is the reason for the striking of series I. Staying in the range of 310 to 313 AD from the use of workshop 9, there is no evidence I can find to link series I directly to reasons of persecution. Another reason could be for the building or repair of temples in Antioch, but I could not find instances of coins minted specifically for the purpose of building temples in Roman history. That would have been done with existing currency, such as by taxation and would not have a reference to the temple being built on the coin itself. Another event common in the 4th century which I believe is responsible for the production of series I, is for the use in festivals. This is not a new phenomenon as festival of Isis coins/tokens were already being used as early as the reign of Diocletian.

    If series I lacked controls and a mint mark, I believe they would already be classified as festival tokens. But why were coins minted specifically for a festival instead of using existing coinage. Bronze coins would be specially minted during shortages due to a sudden movement of the military or a local festival. Bronze coinage was designed to facilitate retail transactions by the use of small change in a specific area, any sudden enlargement of the local population would create an additional demand for more small change. The population of Antioch at the time was believed to be 200,000 to 300,000. The small amount of series I know which probably number less than 1,000, and certainly are less than 5,000, would easily be absorbed by a population of this size. The vast majority of these belonging to type A.

    Series I has two primary designs, one being the Tyche of Antioch, and the other sacred Apollo. The obverse represents the people, city, and protector of Antioch. Tyche was the goddess of fortune and protector of the town. On type A there is a swimmer below her feet representing the river Orontes on which the town was founded. Tyche also holds wheat stalks that symbolize the city's prosperity. The reverse of all series I's are shared by a robed Apollo facing left holding a lyre and patera. It is my opinion that the obverse links Antioch to it's past by proudly displaying the Tyche of Antioch, and the reverse represents the festival of the day. Antioch had many festivals in the early 4th century, and appears to be quite the party town. But one particular festival comes to mind when representing Apollo and the need to produce extra coinage for change and commerce, and that would be the festival of Apollo at Daphne in conjunction with the Olympics of 312 AD. Daphne was a suburb of Antioch and pleasure resort/residential area for Antioch’s upper classes. It also contained the shrine of Daphne which housed a colossal cult statue of Apollo made by the artist Bryaxis in the 4th century BC. It is widely believed that this Tetradrachm from Antiochus IV shows the statue as it would have looked around 166 BC.

    Tetradrachm of Antiochus IV 166 BC

    The significance of that rare Tetradrachm is two fold. First it shows an image very similar to the reverse of series I coins, and second it has a precedence of being struck to celebrate not only the Panhellenic festival celebrated in the sanctuary of Apollo at Daphne but also coincided with the Olympics of 166 BC. Assuming the attribution to the Tetradrachm of Antiochus IV is correct, it does not take a huge leap of faith to accept that the Romans of the the early 4th century AD would replicate a coin to commemorate such an occasion. Many sources place either the original statue or a rebuilt replica in Daphne during the reign of Maximinus II, and the festival of Apollo was also celebrated at this time. Olympic games were restored under Caracalla in 212 AD, and occurred every 4 years. That would place the only Olympic event during the reign of Maximinus II as Augustus in the East as well as fit within the three year window given by workshop 9 to be 312 AD. More confirmation that the Olympics occurred during this year, is a source that names Maximinus II as Alytarch (an important official presiding over the games) in the year 312. Another source shows him to reside in Antioch during the summer of 312 as well.

    Die Matching​

    To futher link all of series I to the same date(s), I did a die comparison with type A (workshop 5 as seen above), type B, and type D. On all three of those I was able to find die links to the same reverse die, indicating they were made relatively at the same time. Below is an overly I made showing the three are indeed from the same die. In fact @dougsmit own officina 5 is a reverse die match for my type D!

    These reverse die matches show types A, B, and D were all minted contemporaneously. Further all type B's and D's share the same obverse die as well as can be see seen on this overlay.

    It is clear from the shared dies that all of series I are closely linked and that they were most likely minted in a short time span, especially types B and D which are only known from one die each. I did not find any die links to type C with any other types, but it should be noted all type C's come from the same obverse and reverse dies.

    Series I denomination​

    Another question would be what denomination is series I as they do not fit the measurements for a standard 'follis' at the time. The size (13 to 17mm) and weight (1.0 to 2.0 grams) of this series is similar to that of half or quarter folles. Both quarter and half folles can range from 1 to 2 grams or more and an exact distinction is blurred between the two.
    The ranges seen in series I could put it into either the half of quarter follis category. Since an exact denomination can not be pinned down I will simply call series I an AE fraction.


    Form workshop 9 control marks we can determine that series I was minted within a 3 year period following 310 AD. We can further narrow down the date to the summer of 312 AD from contemporaneous sources and a legacy that was done since the time of Antiochus IV of festivals and Olympics at Daphne. The reason Series I was minted is because it was at a time when a surplus of bronze coinage was needed during a well known festival in conjunction with the Olympics. Further, die links show all series I are closely linked and minted relatively close in time to each other, with 3 types coming from only one die each.

    Stay tuned for part II
    Any and all comments and series I examples are welcome.
    Last edited: May 4, 2019
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  3. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    That's fascinating and well-argued! I look forward to part II!
    David@PCC likes this.
  4. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

  5. Justin Lee

    Justin Lee I learn by doing Supporter

    Very interesting work, David! I too can't wait for Part II!

    Here are my two Type A's, including one from the "Death" workshop 9:

    Anonymous Pagan “Persecution” Issue
    Time of Maximinus II Daia, 310-313 AD
    AE 1/4 Follis, Struck 312 AD, Antioch Mint
    : GENIO AN-TIOCHENI, Tyche seated facing on rock, river-god Orontes swimming below.
    Reverse: APOLLONI SANCTO, Apollo standing facing, pouring libation from patera and holding lyre, Є / Δ in field right.
    Exergue: SMA
    References: McAlee 170i, Vagi 2954
    Size: 16mm, 1.11g
    Notes: This coin is from the 9th workshop, but rather than use Θ (theta), which is Greek for nine, the engraver used delta (Greek for 4) and epsilon (Greek for 5) which add up to nine. Theta was the first letter of the word death in Greek and was considered by some to also be the symbol of death, so it was best to avoid using it.


    Anonymous Pagan “Persecution” Issue
    Time of Maximinus II Daia, 310-313 AD
    AE 1/4 Follis, Struck 312 AD, Antioch Mint
    : GENIO AN-TIOCHENI, Tyche seated facing on rock, river-god Orontes swimming below.
    Reverse: APOLLONI SANCTO, Apollo standing facing, pouring libation from patera and holding lyre, H in field right.
    Exergue: SMA
    References: McAlee 170, Vagi 2954
    Size: 16mm, 1.7g
  6. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Great article, with a lot of food for thought. I don't collect this series (yet), but am looking forward to reading your next writeups.
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  7. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I missed this thread series, too, and I was even mentioned in it. I have posted mine here many times but have nothing added recently. I still lack the E officina of the Zeus type but have not been willing to pay the price asked. The fact that these are not in RIC does not mean they are rare.

    My Apollo 9 is the highest grade of my coins. I love the detail on Apollo's robe. ru3850b02202lg.JPG
    The SANSTO version from workshop B is just an error. I have not seen another.

    I have no explanation for why some but not all shop 5 coins reverse the mintmark to AMS. Mine is a dog. How many dies show this? For that matter, has anyone counted dies for either of the common types?
    Last edited: May 23, 2019
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  8. David@PCC

    David@PCC Well-Known Member

    Part II can be found here for when these posts become separated. Jupiters are common but less so in nice condition, and very scare compared to FTR's or other LRB's.
    It would seem workshops 2 and 9 have some explaining to do. For not only their misspellings but also why are they are the only 2 to deviate from the usual facing Tyche obverse.

    I assume you will not be pursuing
    the mintmark/officinaless variant. I've only seen one of those!
    Screenshot_20190523-222807_HTML Viewer.jpg

    I have not counted dies, but it is easy to find matches within the series further illustrating these were minted in a smaller time period.
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