The coinage of the Roman Empire for the three and a half centuries following the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC is conventionally classified by scholars as either ‘Roman imperial coinage’ or as ‘Roman provincial coinage’. The imperial coinage was produced under imperial authority, mostly at Rome in the Antonine period, and circulated widely.
Types of provincial coinageThe provincial coinage is defined pragmatically as including all those coins which are not ‘imperial’ (i.e. those not listed in the publication Roman Imperial Coinage). In the past the term “Greek Imperial Coins” was also applied to this material. The coinage may be divided into four groups:
1. City coinages
Coins struck in the name of cities represent the most common type of provincial coinage. Except for a small number of silver issues, cities produced bronze coins, which circulated locally and provided the majority of small change in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. During the Julio-Claudian period civic bronze coins were also made in the West, in Spain, Gaul, Italy, Sardinia, Sicily, Africa Proconsularis, and Mauretania, but by the Antonine period civic coinage was an exclusively eastern phenomenon. Cities sometimes struck issues to celebrate ‘alliances’ with another city (or sometimes more than one).
Cities sometimes struck issues to celebrate ‘alliances’ with another city (or sometimes more than one). The Greek word for such alliances is homonoia (OMONOIA). The phenomenon of ‘alliance’ coinage was confined geographically to Thrace and Asia Minor. There were relatively few such issues during the Julio-Claudian and Flavian periods, the bulk of the material dating from the second and especially the third centuries AD. In total 87 cities issued ‘alliance’ coins, nearly 2,400 specimens of which are known today. The background for this widespread phenomenon was the intense rivalry between the cities of the East. ‘Alliances’ could be a means of settling disputes, but were also used to build coalitions in order to enhance a city’s status by aligning itself either with many cities or with particularly important ones. Thus ‘alliances’ formed part of civic ‘foreign policy’ and might have involved the exchange of delegates and joint celebrations and sacrifices.
In the Antonine period 25 cities produced nearly 140 ‘alliance’ coin types. It is possible to search the database for them by using the “Advanced search” and changing, under the section “Design & inscriptions”, the setting for “Alliance coin?:” from “Any” to “Yes”.
2. Coinages of provincial leagues (koina)
Coinages were issued in the name of a number of the koina (provincial or regional federations of cities) in the East. In the Roman period worship of the emperor lay at the heart of the function of koina, and their coins often depict a temple of the imperial cult. In other respects coins of provincial leagues resemble civic coins. In the Antonine period seven koina issued coins:
- Koinon of Crete
- Koinon of Thessaly
- Koinon of Macedonia
- Koinon of Lesbos
- Koinon of Ionia
- Koinon of Galatia
- Koinon of Pontus
3. ‘Provincial issues’
These coinages were struck for use in a single province, probably under Roman provincial or imperial control. The most important mints for this type of coinage were at Caesarea in Cappadocia, Antioch-on-the-Orontes in Syria, and Alexandria in Egypt. In some cases such ‘provincial’ coinages were actually struck at Rome, and sent to the province concerned. Provincial issues comprised silver coins, mostly drachms, didrachms, or tetradrachms, and accompanying bronze issues. A common feature of provincial issues is that they lack an ‘ethnic’ (an explicit reference to the people or place which produced them).
4. Coinage of client kings
In the Antonine period the only client kings to strike coinages were the Kings of Bosporus, which was centred on the straits between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, and the Kings of Edessa in Mesopotamia. The Bosporan kingdom struck (increasingly debased) gold and bronze coins, Edessa silver and bronze.
Civic coinage was one aspect of the self-administration of Greek-style cities in the Roman East. These cities were run by magistrates from local aristocracies which operated in a general framework set by Rome and overseen by provincial governors and ultimately the emperor. The absence of central ‘micromanagement’ must have left a considerable degree of freedom for cities and their elite ‘magistrates’ to choose when to strike coins and what to put on them.
Further Reading: P. Weiss in Howgego, Heuchert, and Burnett 2005
Production: the workshop system
In the majority of cases coins appear to have been struck at mints located in the cities named on the coinage, but from the later second century AD some degree of centralization or co-operation is apparent. The ‘workshop system’ was first described in detail by Kraft in relation to Asia Minor. He discovered many instances from the second and especially the third century AD where coins in the name of different cities were struck from the same obverse dies. He identified a number of ‘workshops’ which supplied groups of neighbouring cities for certain periods of time. The nature of these ‘workshops’ is not yet fully understood, especially whether they supplied dies or coins, how many individuals constituted a ‘workshop’ (just an individual die-cutter or an entire ‘mint’?), and to what degree the ‘workshops’ were stationary or itinerant. Research since Kraft’s pioneering study has produced evidence of die-links and stylistic similarities between the coinages of neighbouring cities in other parts of the Roman Empire, showing that the phenomenon was not confined to Asia Minor. The impact of the ‘workshops’ on civic coin design is not clear. The enormous variety in coin images and the existence of designs exclusive to particular cities show that the existence of workshops did not undermine the local relevance of coin designs, but it cannot be ruled out that the ‘workshops’ might have been responsible for some choices.
Further Reading: Kraft 1972