By Lucia Carbone for American Numismatic Society (ANS) ……
Part 1 | Part 2
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The second day of the RACOM conference was dedicated to the coinages issued in the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire between the late third century BCE and the end of the reign of Augustus (Fig. 1).
Loyal to the main theme of the conference, i.e., the changes brought to local monetary systems in the Mediterranean by the Roman conquest, the papers of the second day of the conference tried to establish the existence (or not) of discontinuities (or not) between Greek coinages and the ones defined by François de Callataÿ as “Greek Coinages for the Romans”, which is to say coinages with Greek appearance (types, denominations and usually legends) issued in the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire and that could be linked to Roman activities such as military campaigns or specific trade-related needs.
The first paper of the day, delivered by Adrian Hillier, focused on methodological aspects of archaeometallurgy and discussed the research pursued by him and his team at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source (Fig. 2).
In her paper, Sophia Kremydi discussed the contribution of archaeometallurgy to the understanding of the monetary policies of the last Antigonids (Fig. 3). For what concerns the coinage of Philip V (the Antigonid king defeated by the Romans at Cynoscephalae in 197 BCE, metal composition evidenced the existence of two different phases of monetary emission.
The first one, characterized by 100% fineness and by a common bullion source was probably directly related to the exploitation of new mines, as the bullion looks very different from the one used by the previous Antigonids. On the other hand, the second phase of monetary production under Philip V was characterized by an accelerated rhythm of production, a drop in fineness to 94–97%, and by the use of various bullion sources, which could be perhaps linked to the preparations for the war against the Romans.
For what concerns the monetary production of Perseus (213/212–165 BCE), the analyses pursued by the RACOM team seem to suggest that the well-known reduction in weight standard of the tetradrachms issued during his reign was paired with a 100% fineness in silver tetradrachms (Fig. 4). This reduced weight issue was not produced out of a unique bullion source, but out of various sources, as could be expected from a 10-year preparation process for the war against the Romans. With the partial exception of a phase in Philip V’s monetary production, it thus seems that the coinage produced within the boundaries of Macedonia up to the First Mithridatic War was characterized by a fineness very close to or equivalent to 100%.
On the other hand, the coinage in the name of the quaestor Aesillas, issued between 90 and 75 BCE, had a much lower fineness, comprised between 95 and 72%, and was produced out of a bullion source different than the previous Macedonian issues (Fig. 5). The sudden change in fineness and in bullion source seems to suggest a direct intervention at the hands of the Romans in the production of this coinage.
In their paper focusing on the silver issues of the Achaean League, Catherine Grandjean and Maryse Blet-Lemarquand remarked that the uneven and variable quality of the coins issued by the different mints within the Achaean League brings new arguments to the hypothesis of the production of this coinage in a purely civic framework (Fig. 6). Federal authorities might have intervened in a final phase to check the final quality of the product, but the minting seems to have been done in an eminently civic context and not by a central mint.
As in the case of the Macedonian production, it seems that the Mithridatic Wars represented a watershed in the silver production of the Achaean League. Most of the final silver issues of the League, likely dated to 88–31 BCE by the KOINON project of the University of Tours, were produced out of bullion whose characteristics are very similar to the one used for first-century BCE Athenian silver coinage, suggesting that some super-regional power–quite possibly Rome–was involved in bullion provision.
Lucia Carbone discussed the fineness, weight standard, and bullion composition of second and first-century BCE cistophori. Building on the analysis of 63 cistophoric specimens performed by the RACOM team, she highlighted that Attalid and post-Attalid cistophori maintained a fineness close to 100% and a great variety in bullion provision up to 90 BCE, with no apparent discontinuity caused by the establishment of the Provincia Asia.
Hoard data and die studies suggest a heightened cistophoric production after 90 BCE, which was also paired with a drop in weight standard, as already noticed by Andrew Meadows in a recent article (download link). At the same time, the fineness plunged to an average of 93-94%, while there seems to be only one source of bullion for the entire cistophoric production of the province (Fig. 9).
It is all but certain that these changes in cistophoric production patterns were caused by the Mithridatic Wars and that a unified source of bullion could be linked to an intensified Roman presence in the area.
In a paper dedicated to silver civic issues in Asia Minor, Andrew Meadows noted that while there is extreme heterogeneity in the source of bullion for silver civic issues between the third and the first century BCE Asia Minor, it is possible to notice three main clusters: 1) Antiochus III’s “Reconquista”, which ended with his defeat at Apamea in 168 BCE; 2) the Mithridatic Wars; and 3) Civil Wars. RACOM data seem thus to suggest that civic silver production was a mostly local operation, as shown by the very diverse bullion composition, but that military campaigns were linked to a more homogeneous source of bullion (Fig. 10).
In spite of a very heterogenous source of bullion, civic silver issues of Asia Minor seem to have maintained a reasonably high fineness comprised between 100 and 90% throughout the first century BCE, with the important exception of the so-called “wreathed issues”, produced between 165 and 140 BCE (Fig. 11). In the case of these issues, the fineness drops between 80 and 75%, suggesting that these Attic standard tetradrachms had the same silver content as Attalid cistophori, whose fineness was close to 100%, as already noted in Carbone’s paper.
In a paper titled “The late eastern Hellenistic kingdoms: Pontus, Bithynia, Cappadocia and Parthia”, François de Callataÿ noted that the coinages produced in the Hellenistic kingdoms of Bithynia, Pontus, and Cappadocia maintained up to ca. 75 BCE a fineness above 95% (Fig. 12). This costly strategy could perhaps be explained by the necessity of attracting the best mercenary force. High percentages of lead in most of the coins issued by these kingdoms suggest that these coinages underwent a sweeping process of remelting, with very few exceptions (four out of 97 coins analyzed by the RACOM team), whose bullion could be traced to the Balkans.
Frédérique Duyrat remarked that IRAMAT and RACOM data suggest that two very different minting cultures were at play in the Levant between the third and the second century BCE, as silver coins issued in the north (especially in Aradus) were alloyed with high percentages of lead, while in the South silver was alloyed with copper, possibly related to a close relationship with Cyprus (Fig. 13). This monetary border moved southward in the second century BCE, thanks to the establishment of Aradus’ closed currency system between 150 and 135 BCE.
In the last paper of the conference, Julien Olivier and Thomas Faucher used a large sample of Ptolemaic coins analyzed by the IRAMAT (329 gold, silver, and bronze coins from the fourth century BCE to 31 BCE) and by the RACOM team (99 silver coins from 132/1 BCE to 32/31 BCE) to establish the reliability of both methods, as the results mostly overlap. They also show that for what concerns silver coinage, a new metallic stock was introduced in the mid-second century BCE, but that the homogeneity in bullion composition of the Ptolemaic silver coins after this date suggests a high incidence of remelting.
The homogeneity in bullion sources reached its highest peak during the reign of Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra VII (55/4–31 BCE), while in Imperial times a new diversity in bullion sources is noticeable, suggesting the arrival of new silver stock to Egypt. The picture of Late Ptolemaic monetary circulation pool drawn by the authors is unsurprisingly one of extreme closedness, where silver is constantly remelted. Only after Augustus was new silver stock introduced in the region.
In his final remarks, Andrew Burnett summed up the two-day conference by highlighting 1) the reliability of the results of the metallurgical analyses performed by the RACOM team, since the results mostly overlap with the ones of other teams, such as IRAMAT and the KOINON Project, and 2) how the results of these metallurgical analyses–though preliminary–confirm the picture already drawn by hoard data, i.e., the “connectedness” of the monetary systems in the Mediterranean region under Roman dominion.
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