Roman Provincial Coins: a few examples

The Roman Provincial Coinage project was started in 1992; on its completion, it will result in 17 large volumes and the present website. It presents for the first time an account of the coins minted in the provinces of the empire and brings a totally new light on life in the Roman Empire. It is already the reference work on the subject. The coins struck in the provinces present an incredible variety of scenes and stories



The judgement of Paris

Zeus held a banquet in celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis. However, Eris, goddess of discord was not invited, so she offered a golden apple as a prize of beauty. Three goddesses claimed the apple: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. They asked Zeus to judge which of them was fairest and, reluctant to favour any claim himself, he declared that Paris, a Trojan shepherd-prince, would judge their cases.

The coin shows Paris and Hermes standing; above them, on the rocks, are Aphrodite, with Eros flying at her shoulder, Hera, and Athena; in front of the rocks you can make out Paris's sheep.


Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Buildings are often represented on provincial coins. But beware: don’t treat these images as ‘photos’ of ancient buildings or cities, since they are often stylised or abbreviated. Sometimes a coin will depict fewer columns than a temple really had (the temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world is a good example) and often the front colonnade will be ‘opened up’ to show the cult statue that would really have been hidden out of view inside the temple. Ancient copies of the cult statue of Artemis of Ephesus are now kept in the Ephesus Archaeological Museum (Turkey) but many other statues disappeared entirely and are known only though coins.  Full panoramic views of entire cities or their harbours also exist. Other buildings include triumphal arches, lighthouses (such as the pharos of Alexandria in Egypt) and temples.


Hero and Leander

Leander fell in love with Hero and would swim every night across the Hellespont to spend time with her. Hero would light a lamp at the top of her tower to guide his way. The mythological lovers were later to inspire a poem by Marlowe. The present coin was made in c. AD 178 in Abydus, a city of the Hellespont.


The origins of the Greek alphabet

Phoenicia (today Lebanon) was proud to have created the alphabet, an invention which quickly spread and changed the world. This coin was made in c. AD 247 in Tyre and shows the Phoenician hero Cadmus giving the alphabet on a tablet to a group of four Greeks. The inscription is in Latin and states that Tyre has the status of a Roman colony, but below the figures, there are inscriptions in Greek: ƐΛΛΗ (Έλληνες = the Greeks) and ΚΑΔΜΟϹ (the Phoenician Cadmus). Some coins of Tyre of the third century even bear inscriptions in Phoenician.


Noah’s ark

In the East, the myth of the flood was common to many civilisations. After Antiochus III transferred a Jewish population to Phrygia (nowadays West Turkey), something extremely interesting happened: the local myth of the flood and the biblical story so to speak 'merged', and the local hero of the flood was given the biblical name of Noah.

The coin shows two scenes: on the left, Noah and his wife are in the Ark, and a bird brings a branch (symbol of life on land); on the right, Noah and his wife are on land, grateful. On the Ark, it is possible to read in Greek letters: ΝΩƐ (Noah). The Ark itself is shown as a chest or box, its original meaning in Greek.

About 700 cities produced local coinage in the Roman Empire, from modern Portugal to Iraq. Please explore this coinage using the interactive map: