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A "Sullan Era" Tetradrachm

This note will start with a drachm from Cappadocia, a key point of conflict between the Roman republic and the Kingdom of Pontus. There are some interesting coins that testify to the interference of Mithridates VI in the rule of Cappadocia. For these coins, I will refer to my earlier note: A Father's Support. My coin of interest today is a tetradrachm associated with Sulla and the end of First Mithridatic War (89–85 BCE).


Before we get to this tetradrachm, I will start at the beginning of the 1st century BCE. Plutarch reports the advice that Marius gave to Mithridates on a visit to Asia Minor circa 99 BCE. Marius, the six-time consul of Rome, and Sulla would eventually clash over the honor of leading legions against King Mithridates.


""O King, either strive to be stronger than Rome, or do her bidding without a word." This speech startled the king, who had often heard the Roman speech, but then for the first time in all its boldness."

-Plutarch, Life of Marius, 33.3


Ariobarzanes I, "Friend to the Romans"

The coins of Ariobarzanes declare that he is ΦIΛOPΩMAIOY ("Philoromaios") or "Friend to the Romans". He owed his ascension to the throne to the senate, which saw through the deceptions of Mithridates of Pontus and Nicomedes III of Bithynia and supported Ariobarzanes as King of Cappadocia in 96 BCE.


"But the senate, perceiving the ambitious designs of the two kings, who were seizing the dominions of others on false pretenses, took away Cappadocia from Mithridates, and, to console him, Paphlagonia from Nicomedes; and that it might not prove an offense to the kings, that any thing should be taken from them and given to others, both people were offered their liberty. But the Cappadocians declined the favour, saying that “their nation could not subsist without a king.” Ariobarzanes was in consequence appointed their king by the senate."

- Justin, Epitome, XXXVIII 2.3

Kings of Cappadocia, Ariobarzanes I, 96-63 BCE, AR Drachm, dated Regnal Year 2 (95/4 BC)

Obv: Diademed head right

Rev: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΦIΛOPΩMAIOY APIOBAPZANOY, Athena Nikephoros standing left; Θ/M monogram in inner left field, E in inner right, B (date, year 2) in exergue

Ref: Simonetta, Coins 4a


Sulla Restores Ariobarzanes

Around the time that this coin was minted, Mithridates, having failed in this attempt to gain control of Cappadocia, turned East to Tigranes II as an ally. Tigranes married Mithridates' daughter Cleopatra and then invaded Cappadocia. Rome responded in 94 BCE and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, as a praetor, was charged by the senate with restoring Ariobarzanes to the throne. It was during this visit to Asia Minor that Sulla encountered the Parthians for the first time (see: Sulla in Cappadocia: First Meeting with Parthia).


Tigranes II and Mithridates quickly retreated with Sulla's arrival and Ariobarzanes was briefly reinstated. However Sulla left the conflict unresolved.

Shepherd, W. (1911) Asia Minor under the Greeks and Romans

Within about a year of Sulla leaving the province, Mithridates chased Ariobarzanes out again (~91 BCE). This time the senate did not respond; with larger problems of the Social War in Italy. Mithridates, emboldened, took Bithynia.


The Romans Provoke War

By early 90, the Romans, having resolved their Social War and extended citizenship to Italians, were again paying attention to the challenge of Mithridates. They sent Manlius Aquilius, consul of 101 BCE, to support Gaius Cassius, governor of Asia, in restoring the two kings. Mithridates again retreated, until Nicomedes IV, prompted by the Romans, invaded Paphlagonia.


For a greatly condensed version of the what happened next: Mithridates came back with vengeance and ordered the slaughter of all Romans and Italians, children and slaves, with estimates of 80,000 Romans killed to 150,000 referenced by Plutarch (Lives, Sulla). This slaughter brought the battle between Sulla and Marius for the right to lead the Roman armies against Mithridates. Sulla prevailed and headed to Asia Minor. While Sulla was away, his rivals, Marius and Cinna took power and declared Sulla an enemy of Rome. Sulla negotiated a treaty with Mithridates in which he paid tribute to Rome and remained a king and "Friend of Rome".


"Mithridates was to renounce Asia and Paphlagonia, restore Bithynia to Nicomedes and Cappadocia to Ariobarzanes, pay down to the Romans two thousand talents, and give them seventy bronze-armoured ships with their proper equipment; Sulla, on his part, was to confirm Mithridates in the rest of his dominions, and get him voted an ally of the Romans."

- Plutarch, The Life of Sulla 22.5


The Aftermath and a Tetradrachm

"Sulla now laid a public fine upon Asia of twenty thousand talents, and utterly ruined individual families by the insolent outrages of the soldiers quartered on them. For orders were given that the host should give his guest four tetradrachms every day, and furnish him, and as many friends as he might wish to invite, with a supper; and that a military tribune should receive fifty drachmas a day, and two suits of clothing, one to wear when he was at home, and another when he went abroad."

- Plutarch, The Life of Sulla 25.2


Lucius Licinius Lucullus remained in Asia to manage the region and was an able administrator.


"After peace had been made, Mithridates sailed away into the Euxine, and Sulla laid a contribution of twenty thousand talents upon Asia. Lucullus was commissioned to collect this money and re-coin it, and the cities of Asia felt it to be no slight assuagement of Sulla's severity when Lucullus showed himself not only honest and just, but even mild in the performance of a task so oppressive and disagreeable."

- Plutarch, The Life of Lucullus, 4.1


"Lucullus, however, was not only beloved by the peoples whom he had benefited, nay, other provinces also longed to have him set over them, and felicitated those whose good fortune it was to have such a governor."

- Plutarch, The Life of Lucullus, 20.1


At last, we get to the coin: it may look like one of many cistophoric tetradrachms. These much maligned coins have been described as the ugliest coins in the Greek series. To add insult to injury, auction houses usually do not explain the dating of these coins.

"Vedute antiche e moderne le più interessanti della città di Roma", Rome, 1820, published by V. Monaldini, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This coin has a date on it based on a "Sullan era" (so the auction listing of 133-67 could be much more specific) and it is from Tralleis in Lydia, Asia Minor (modern Aydın, Turkey). This is a challenging coin to find with good style and a fully visible year (Γ == third year of the Sullan era). When this coin was issued, 83/82 BCE, Sulla was headed back to Rome to confront his rivals at the Battle of the Colline Gate on Kalends (1st) of November 82 BCE.

Lydia, Tralles, 85-76 BC, AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm, dated Sullan Era, third year (83/82 BCE), Ptol- (ΠTOΛ), magistrate. Obv: Cista mystica with serpent; all within ivy wreath Rev: Bow case with serpents; (Γ == third year) to left, ΠTOΛ above; to right, Dionysos standing right, holding thyrsos and two flowers. The timing of this Sullan era in Tralleis corresponds to Lucullus’ power in the province and the need for coins to meet financial penalties imposed on the province by Sulla at the end of the First Mithridatic War. For more information on the dating of these coins & additional references, see this note: Romans in Asia Minor & Cistophori.


Examining closely the series of coins in Ephesus, De Callataÿ links this next coin with Lucullus and this description in Plutarch's Life of Lucullus and the end of Lucullus' campaigns against Pontus:


"Lucullus, after filling Asia full of law and order, and full of peace, did not neglect the things which minister to pleasure and win favour, but during his stay at Ephesus gratified the cities with processions and triumphal festivals and contests of athletes and gladiators. And the cities, in response, celebrated festivals which they called Lucullea, to do honour to the man, and bestowed upon him what is sweeter than honour, their genuine good-will."

-Plutarch, Life of Lucullus, 23.1-2


A change of the iconography in the years 70/69-68/7 BC (years 55-57 of the Ephesian era). The coins of these years have multiple symbols used in each year : a

thyrsus, a palm and a grain ear, always presented between two cornucopias. He concludes that these were likely to be connected with the processions and festivals of of Lucullus in Ephesus to celebrate the return of peace. The timing coincides well and this period was also a high peak of production before the mint was closed in 68/7 until 59/8 BC.

Ionia, Ephesos, AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm, Dated CY 67 = 68/7 BC

Obv: Serpent emerging from cista mystica; all within ivy wreath

Rev: Two serpents entwined around bow and bowcase; ΞZ (date) above EΦE to left, lit torch to right, palm between two cornucopiae above


I'll conclude this note with another coin from Ariobarzanes, from nearly the same time, regnal year 13 (84/3 BC). He is still ΦΙΛΟΡΩΜΑΙΟΥ ("Friend to the Romans"). The conflict between Rome and Mithridates was already reignited by the time the Tetradrachm was issued.

Kings of Cappadocia, Ariobarzanes I Philoromaios, 96-63 BC, AR Drachm, dated RY 13 (84/3 BC)

Obv: Diademed head right

Rev: AΣIΛEΩΣ ΦIΛOPΩMAIOY APIOBAPZANOY, Athena standing left holding Nike, spear and shield; monogram left, M right, IΓ in exergue

Ref: Simonetta 11


References

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