Temples on Ancient Coins

CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series by Mike Markowitz …..
 

Temples were designed to house a statue of the deity and store votive offerings, and were not intended to provide accommodation for a congregation of worshippers (Adkins, 218).

Two of the most common circulating American coins depict buildings modeled on Greco-Roman temples: the Lincoln Memorial on the cent, and Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s elegant domed residence, on the nickel. Coinage is conservative! Temples of many different deities adorn the reverses of hundreds of ancient coin types, and collectors have eagerly sought the finest and most historic specimens for centuries. By one estimate, over a thousand different ancient buildings are depicted on coins, and, in many cases, the coins are the only evidence for how the structures appeared (Price and Trell, 11).

To understand descriptions of ancient temples found in coin catalogs, it’s helpful to know some terminology.

Temples are categorized by the number of columns visible on the front. A “tetrastyle” temple has four columns, a “hexastyle” has six, a “decastyle” has 10, and so on. The “pediment” is the triangular panel, often filled with sculpture, above the columns. An “architrave” is the main beam that rests across the top of the columns. A “lintel” is the beam above a doorway.

Egypt

Egypt, Alexandria. Dattari. Hadrian, 117-138 Drachm circa 134-135 (year 19), Æ 33mm., 25.67g. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust r. Rev Egyptian temple with pylons with a statue of Isis, holding scepter. RPC 6038.18 (this coin). Dattari-Savio Pl. 97, 1972 (this coin). Rare. Lovely brown tone, Good Very Fine. From the Dattari collection. Naville Numismatics Ltd. > Auction 38 11 March 2018, Lot: 388. Realized: 3,600 GBP (approx. 4,966 USD).

Egypt became a Roman province after the death of Queen Cleopatra in 30 BCE. Under Roman rule, Egypt maintained its own separate coinage, with Greek inscriptions and occasionally traditional Egyptian themes. An Egyptian-style temple, with an image of the goddess Isis between two tall tapered pylons, appears on a bronze drachma of Emperor Hadrian issued at Alexandria in 134-135 CE.

An example of this coin pedigreed to the famous Dattari collection[1] realized nearly $5,000 in a 2018 London auction[2].

Jupiter

Petillius Capitolinus. 41 BCE. AR Denarius (17mm, 3.76 g, 6h). Rome mint. Eagle with wings spread standing right on thunderbolt / Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. Classical Numismatic Group > Electronic Auction 477 23 September 2020, Lot: 401. Realized: 325 USD

The Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (“Jupiter Best and Greatest”) on Rome’s Capitoline Hill was one of the oldest and most important structures in the city. Over the centuries, it was repeatedly destroyed by fire and rebuilt[3]. The temple appears on the reverse of a denarius issued in 41 BCE by the moneyer Petilius Capitolinus[4]. The obverse bears Jupiter’s emblem: an eagle grasping a thunderbolt.

Vespasian, 69 – 79. Sestertius 76, Æ 27.68 g. Laureate head r. Rev. The temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus: Hexastyle temple within which, a statue of Jupiter seated facing flanked by statues of Juno and Minerva standing facing; on either side of the temple, a statue. The pediment is decorated with statues of the Capitoline Triad and other figures; the roof is surmounted by quadriga on top, and eagles on either side. In exergue, S C. C 492. RIC 886E. Numismatica Ars Classica > Auction 114 6 May 2019, Lot: 1472. Realized: 3,000 CHF (Approx. 2,948 USD).

More than a century later (76 CE), this temple appears in greater detail on the reverse of a large bronze sestertius of the emperor Vespasian. Between the central columns, we see a statue of Jupiter enthroned, flanked by standing figures of goddesses Juno and Minerva[5].

Mars

Augustus. 27 BCE – 14 CE. AR Cistophorus (28mm, 11.84 g, 12h). Pergamum mint. Struck circa 19-18 BCE. Bare head right / Temple of Mars Ultor: circular, domed, tetrastyle temple set on five-tiered base; a signum within. RIC I 507; Sutherland Group VIIγ, 565 (O63/R29); RPC I 2220; RSC 202; BMCRE 704 = BMCRR East 311; BN 989–91. Classical Numismatic Group > Auction 109 12 September 2018, Lot: 602. Realized: 2,100 USD

Mars Ultor (“Mars the Avenger”) was Rome’s war god, and his temple was a repository for the sacred standards (signa in Latin) lost by the legions of Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE and returned by the Parthians 33 years later. Emperor Augustus celebrated this diplomatic achievement on his coinage, including a large silver cistophorus issued at the Eastern city of Pergamum[6]. The reverse of the coin depicts the domed, circular temple with one of the standards visible between the central columns.

Concordia

TIBERIUS. 14-37 CE. Æ Sestertius (27.19 gm, 6h). Rome mint. Struck 35-36 CE. The Temple of Concordia: Concordia seated left on throne, holding patera and scepter, above altar within hexastyle façade set on the podium; entrance flanked by statues of Hercules and Mercury; pediment decorated with statues of Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, and Victories in acroteria; wings of transverse cella with windows behind; pediments decorated with statues / Legend around large S C. RIC I 61; BMCRE 116; Cohen 69. Classical Numismatic Group > Mail Bid Sale 69 8 June 2005, Lot: 1517. Realized: 1,750 USD

Designed and executed by the cleverest masters of the golden age, entirely built of white marble, profusely enriched with masterpieces of the Greek school, the Temple of Concord was one of the finest monuments in the valley of the Forum, and one of the richest museums of Rome (Lanciani, 286).

Concordia was the personification of social harmony – an important concept for Rome, which was often torn by bitter civil conflict. The large Temple of Concordia in the Roman forum was sometimes used for Senate meetings. The building was wider than its six-columned porch, flanked by statues of Mercury and Hercules; more statues adorned the roofline. The temple appears on a bronze sestertius of Tiberius issued in 35 or 36 CE[7].

Divus Augustus

Caligula Ӕ Sestertius. Rome, 39-40 CE. C•CAESAR•DIVI•AVG•PRON•AVG•P•M•TR•P•III•P•P, veiled and draped figure of Pietas, seated left, holding patera and resting arm on the small facing figure; PIETAS in exergue / Hexastyle garlanded temple surmounted by a quadriga, before which veiled and togate Caligula sacrifices with patera over garlanded altar; one attendant leads bull to the altar, a second holds patera; DIVO AVG and S-C across fields. RIC 44; C. 10; † (pl. 28, 9); BN 104; Hill, Monuments p. 20, no.18. 27.35g, 36mm, 6h. Roma Numismatics Ltd > Auction XVII 28 March 2019, Lot: 712. Realized: 4,000 GBP (approx. 5,277 USD).

Following his death in 14 CE, the Senate declared Augustus to be a god. A temple devoted to his cult was built on the site of his home on the Palatine Hill. It was finally completed in 37 CE, during the reign of Caligula. Draped with a festive garland, it appears as the background to a scene of ritual sacrifice, on the reverse of a magnificent sestertius issued in 39 or 40[8]. The inscription is DIVO AVG (“to Augustus the God.) and the large letters S C (“by Decree of the Senate”) were, by this time a meaningless formula, since the Senate had little power over the coinage.

Diana

CLAUDIUS (41-54). Cistophorus. Ephesus. Obv: TI CLAVD CAES AVG. Bare head left. Rev: DIAN – EPHE. Tetrastyle temple, with decorated pediment and containing facing statue of Artemis Ephesia, with supports. Numismatik Naumann (formerly Gitbud & Naumann) > Auction 70, 7 October 2018, Lot: 388. Realized: 1,200 EUR (Approx: 1,381 USD).

The enormous Temple of Artemis (Diana to the Romans) at Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world[9]. Like many ancient structures, it was destroyed and rebuilt repeatedly. The third and final version of the temple appears on the reverse of a cistophorus of Ephesus struck in the name of Claudius (ruled 41- 54 CE)[10]. The temple front is depicted with four Ionic columns bracketing an image of the goddess, although the actual front had nine columns. Ancient die engravers often simplified the representation of architecture.

Vesta

Titus, as Caesar, AV Aureus. Rome, 73 CE. T CAES IMP VESP CEN, laureate bust right / VESTA, tetrastyle circular Temple of Vesta, a statue of Vesta standing within, holding sceptre, two statues flanking outside. RIC 557; C. 347; BMCRE -; Calicó 794 (this coin). 7.28g, 20mm, 1h. From the Boscoreale hoard of 1895. Roma Numismatics Ltd > Auction XX 29 October 2020, Lot: 575. Realized: 38,000 GBP (Approx. 49,039 USD).

The small round Temple of Vesta near the Roman forum housed a sacred fire tended by the Vestal Virgins, young women from elite families living under a strict vow of chastity. The temple was burned down and rebuilt at least six times during its long history, and it appears on many Roman coins; notably, a gold aureus of Titus struck in 73 CE. An example pedigreed to the 1895 Boscoreale hoard (buried in the eruption of Vesuvius) brought over $49,000 in a recent London auction[11].

Heliopolis

SYRIA, Coele-Syria. Heliopolis. Septimius Severus. 193-211 CE. Æ 25mm (10.40 g, 12h). Laureate and cuirassed bust right / Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus right, viewed from aerial perspective. SNG München 1031; cf. SNG Copenhagen 429; cf. Price & Trell p. 158. Classical Numismatic Group > Mail Bid Sale 75, 23 May 2007, Lot: 846. Realized: 1,075 USD.

Heliopolis (“City of the Sun”), now Baalbek in modern Lebanon, was a center for worship of local Semitic deities that Romans identified with Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, and Bacchus. A vast temple complex constructed during the first century CE is depicted on coins from the time of Nerva (ruled 96-98 CE) down to Gallienus (r. 253-268 CE.)

The Temple of Jupiter Heliopolitanus was the largest Greco-Roman temple ever built; the massive limestone blocks in its platform are among the heaviest ever quarried–over 800 tons each. The decastyle (“ten-columned”) temple appears on a bronze coin of Septimius Severus (ruled 193-211) in a remarkable “isometric” perspective view, as if seen from above[12]. Damaged by earthquakes in antiquity, the temple was looted for its stones; eight of its great Corinthian columns were transported to Constantinople in 532 CE by Emperor Justinian I for the construction of the church of Hagia Sophia.

Byblos

Macrinus. 217-218 CE. AE 29-31, 16.49g. (11h). Phoenicia, Byblos. Obv: AVT KAI MA – KPINOC CEB Laureate, cuirassed bust r., seen from the front. Rx: IEPAC above, BVB / LOV* below, Temple with court attached to its rear; five steps lead to the front of the temple, within which an altar is seen; five steps lead to a side-entrance to the court, within which is a large cone surrounded by a fence. BM 38. Sear 2963. Price/Trell fig. 271. Pleasant red and green patination. Gemini, LLC > Auction IX 9 January 2012, Lot: 510. Realized: 6,500 USD.

Byblos (today Jubayl, Lebanon) is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. A very ancient (2800 BCE) temple of the city’s patron goddess Baalat Gebal[13] (identified by the Greeks as Atargatis or Aphrodite) may be the one depicted on a local coin[14] from the brief reign of Macrinus (217- 218 CE). The Greek inscription IEPAC BΥBΛOΥ proclaims “of Holy Byblos”. The image of the goddess is a tall, conical stone or baetyl within a columned courtyard behind the temple building. “It is the most fantastic piece of architecture ever used as a likeness of a deity (Tameanko, 209).”

Perinthus

Caracalla (198-211 CE). AE 41 mm medallion (36.48 gm) of Thrace, Perinthus. two temples facing each other at ¾ perspective angle, prize urns above. Heritage World Coin Auctions > New York Signature Sale 3012 2 January 2011, Lot: 24719. Realized: 7,000 USD.

The port of Perinthus on the Sea of Marmara was founded by Greek colonists from Samos around 599 BCE. During the reign of Septimius Severus it earned the coveted title of neokoros. A “neocorate” city was granted that status by the Roman Senate as a reward for building a temple to the emperor or establishing a cult dedicated to members of the imperial family.

A pair of facing temples honoring the brotherly love of the emperor’s sons, Caracalla and Geta, appear in perspective on a large bronze medallion[15]. In 211 CE, Caracalla had his brother stabbed to death in their mother’s arms.

Elagabal

 

Uranius Antoninus Æ32 of Emesa, Seleucis and Pieria. Dated SE 565 = 253/4 CE. AVTOK C OVΛΠ ANTѠNЄINOC CЄ, laureate bust right, wearing paludamentum and cuirass / ЄMICѠN KOΛΩN, hexastyle temple of Elagabal at Emesa containing the conical stone of Elagabal shaded by two parasols; crescent in pediment, ЄΞΦ (date) in exergue. BMC 24; Baldus 38-42; R. Delbrueck, ‘Uranius of Emesa,’ NC 1948, Series I, 2; SNG Hunterian 3174. 24.03g, 32mm, 1h. Roma Numismatics Ltd > Auction XVI 26 September 2018, Lot: 489. Realized: 11,000 GBP  (Approx. 14,479 USD).

Elagabal was a Semitic sun-god worshipped at the Syrian city of Emesa (now Homs) in the form of a conical black meteorite. The stone was said to bear the image of an eagle on one side. Emperor Elagabalus (ruled 218-222), who was a hereditary high priest of this cult, brought the stone to Rome and installed it in a temple on the Palatine Hill. After his murder, the Romans sent it back. During the chaotic third century, an obscure usurper, Uranius Antoninus, known mainly from his rare coinage, depicted the stone in its temple on coins struck at Emesa where he briefly held power, c. 253-254 CE[16].

Samos

ISLANDS off IONIA, Samos. Valerian I. 253-260 CE. Æ 27mm (8.69 gm). Laureate and draped bust right / Tetrastyle temple with an arch above cultus statue of Samian Hera standing, facing. SNG von Aulock 2329 (same dies); SNG Copenhagen 1796 var. (reverse legend placement). Classical Numismatic Group > Electronic Auction 58, 12 February 2003. Lot: 88. Realized: 180 USD

The Aegean island of Samos boasted a great temple to the goddess Hera[17] destroyed and rebuilt several times. The cult image of the goddess was moved from the never-finished third temple to a small nearby temple in Roman imperial times. It appears on a series of Samian coins, such as an issue from the reign of Emperor Valerian (ruled 253-260 CE)[18]. On the coin, the statue stands in an elegant arched niche flanked by spiral-fluted columns.

The great temple was demolished during the middle ages, but one column was left standing as a navigational landmark for sailors.

Jerusalem

JUDAEA, Bar Kochba Revolt. 132-135 CE. AR Sela – Tetradrachm (25mm, 14.79 g, 11h). Undated issue, attributed to year 3 (134/5 CE). Façade of the Temple at Jerusalem; showbread table within, wavy line above, “Shim’on” (in Hebrew) at sides / Bundle of lulav; etrog to left, “For the Freedom of Jerusalem” (in Hebrew) around. Mildenberg 91 (O17/R70); Meshorer 269 (same obv. die as illustration); Hendin 1413 (same obv. die as illustration). Classical Numismatic Group > Auction 103 14 September 2016, Lot: 380. Realized: 7,000 USD.

Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is the most revered and contested 37 acres on Earth. The First Temple built by King Solomon was destroyed by Babylonian invaders in 587 BCE. The Second Temple, completed in 516 BCE, was extensively rebuilt, c. 20 – 10 BCE, by King Herod. Destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, it is commemorated on coins issued by Jewish rebels against Roman rule (the “Bar Kochba War”, 132 to 135 CE).

The engravers of the Bar Kochba shekels portraying the Temple had probably never seen the building. Burnt out and razed to the ground, not even one stone remained upon another. Few survivors of the First War were still alive and they would be over 70 years old with only dim childhood memories of its appearance. With faulty recollections, but with some knowledge of what the great temples in the Roman empire looked like, the coin artists produced their idea of a close approximation of the Second Temple… (Tameanko, 49)

There are several variations in the image on the coin. On one variety, a wavy line above the columns is thought to represent a golden grapevine that adorned the temple front[19]. An arched shape outline in dots between the central columns is variously interpreted as the showbread table[20], the Ark of the Covenant (which was never present in the Second Temple), a cabinet containing Torah scrolls, or simply the door of the Temple.

Collecting Temples

On the CoinArchives Pro database, which records over 1.8 million ancient coin auction items, a simple search for the word “temple” produced 22,772 hits! These are overwhelmingly Roman and “Greek Imperial” issues (coins of Greek-speaking cities under Roman rule). Buildings very rarely appear on archaic or classic-era Greek coins.

Two professors of architecture who were avid collectors, more than a century apart, have written significant books about buildings on ancient coins. One being the British Thomas Leverton Donaldson (1795-1885), and the other being the Canadian Marvin Tameanko (1934-2016). Both were gifted illustrators, and their books are enriched by many coin drawings. Another reference often cited in catalog listings is Price and Trell (1977).

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Notes

[1] Giovanni Dattari (1853-1923) was a collector and dealer in Egyptian antiquities. He assembled a collection of 25,000 coins and published a 1901 catalog of Alexandrian coins that is still cited as a standard reference.

[2] Naville Numismatics Auctionn 38, March 11, 2018, Lot 388. Realized £3,600 (about $4,966 USD; estimate £400).

[3] It is surprising to read how often ancient stone buildings were destroyed by fire until we remember that the roof beams were invariably made of wood.

[4] CNG Electronic Auction 477, September 23, 2020, Lot 401. Realized $325 USD (estimate $300).

[5] NAC Auction 114, May 6, 2019, Lot 1472. Realized CHF 3,000 (about $2,948 USD; estimate CHF 3,000).

[6] CNG Auction 109, September 12, 2018, Lot 602. Realized $2,100 USD (estimate $2,000).

[7] CNG Mail Bid Sale 69, June 8, 2005, Lot 1517. Realized $1,750 USD (estimate $1,000).

[8] Roma Numismatics Auction 17, March 29, 2019, Lot 712. Realized £4,000 (about $5,277 USD; estimate £5,000).

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Artemis#Third_phase

[10] Numismatic Naumann Auction 70, October 7, 2018, Lot 388. Realized €1,200 (about $1,381 USD; estimate €500).

[11] Roma Numismatics Auction XX, October 29, 2020, Lot 575. Realized £38,000 (about $49,039 USD; estimate £20,000).

[12] CNG Mail Bid Sale 75, May 23, 2007, Lot 846. Realized $1,075 USD (estimate $300).

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_of_Baalat_Gebal

[14] Gemini Auction IX, January 9, 2012, Lot 510. Realized $6,500 USD (estimate $3,000).

[15] Heritage New York Sale, January 2, 2011, Lot 24719. Realized $7,000 USD (estimate $7-8,000).

[16] Roma Numismatics Auction XVI, September 26, 2018, Lot 489. Realized £11,000 (about $14,479 USD; estimate £5,000).

[17] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heraion_of_Samos

[18] CNG Electronic Auction 58, February 12, 2003, Lot 88. Realized $180 USD (estimate $300).

[19] CNG Auction 103, September 14, 2016, Lot 380. Realized $7,000 USD (estimate $5,000).

[20] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Showbread
 

References

Adkins, Lesley, and Roy Adkins. Dictionary of Roman Religion. New York (1996)

Donaldson, Thomas. Architectura Numismatica: Ancient Architecture on Greek and Roman Coins. Chicago (1965 reprint of 1859 edition)

Drew-Bear, Thomas. “Representations of Temples on the Greek Imperial Coinage.” American Numismatic Society Museum Notes 19 (1974)

Hendin, David. Guide to Biblical Coins, 5th edition. New York (2010)

Lanciani, Rodolfo. The Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome. (1967 reprint of 1897 edition)

Price, Martin J. and Bluma Trell. Coins and Their Cities: Architecture on the Ancient Coins of Greece, Rome and Palestine. London (1977)

Rowan, Clare. “Becoming Jupiter: Severus Alexander, The Temple of Jupiter Ultor, and Jovian Iconography on Roman Imperial Coinage.” American Journal of Numismatics 21 (2009)

Tahberer, Bekircan and Ilter Uzel. “The Temples of Asklepios on Ancient Coins.” The Celator 21 (2007)

Tameanko, Marvin. Monumental Coins: Buildings and Structures on Ancient Coins. Iola, WI (1999)

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markowitz The Coinage of CarthageMike Markowitz is “Second Consul” of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst, who writes for StrategyPage and Defense Media Network. He designed the game Alexandros, which won the 1991 Charles Roberts Award for “Best Pre-WWII Wargame”. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. He has worked as a technical writer, editor and trainer for a variety of aerospace and defense firms. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.
 

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