• sulla80

Ancient Ships

Updated: Sep 9

There are a few Roman republican coins with images of ships on them, here's one:

C. Fonteius, 114-113 BC, AR denarius, 3.82g, Rome mint

Obv: Laureate, janiform head of Fons (or Fontus); E to left, * [mark of value] to right

Rev: Galley left with three rowers, gubernator at stern

Ref: Crawford 290/1; Sydenham 555; Fonteia 1


Two words associated with ancient ships are the main focus of my post today: the first is "acrostolium" as a word for prow decorations researching this coin of Hadrian:

Hadrian, AD 117-138, AR Denarius, Rome mint circa AD 124-128

Obv: HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS, head of Hadrian, laureate, right

Rev: COS III, Neptune standing left, foot on prow, holding acrostolium and trident

Ref: RIC II, Part 3 (second edition) Hadrian 788


For naming of parts of the ship, the "Navis" section of W. Smith is a good place for orientation, however acrostolium doesn't show up.

The second word is similar, "aplustre". This is a small AE coin, 10x12mm 1.15g that caught my attention with the odd looking plant on the reverse.


This isn't the most beautiful ancient coin, and at 1.12g it is small. However, it is an interesting attribution challenge. To start I did a search in Coryssa with a weight range (0.5-2.0g) and "Tyche" and found a few coins and one close to this one helped narrow down region and reverse description. This site then gave some additional help.


Phoenicia, Arados 142 - 146 BC

AE 12x10mm 1.15g, Hemichalkous

Obv: Turreted head of Tyche right, chignon & braided ponytail, palm frond behind.

Rev: Aphlaston (Aplustre), Phoenician letters in left field, Aradian era date right


Arados is small island in Northern Phoenicia, 2.5km off the coast from modern Tartus, Syria. Arados was supplier of goods and naval equipment to the Seleucids and a semi-autonomous republic. This coin from a time period where the Seleucid empire was in decline and Arados expanded its territory. Arados gave help to Pompey against Caesar and Antony in the Roman civil wars and eventually in 38 BC submitted to the Roman Empire (Duyrat).


What I initially saw as a branch or plant is an aplustre or aphlaston - ornamental construct on the stern of a Greek ship.


"The stern was, like the prow, adorned in various ways, but especially with the image of the tutelary deity of the vessel (tutela). In some representations a kind of roof is formed over the head of the steersman, and the upper part of the stern frequently has an elegant ornament called aplustre, and in Greek ἄφλαστον, which constituted the highest part of the poop.

- William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.


The aplustre is described as a symbol of naval prowess and could be taken as a trophy in a naval victory.

To identify the date on this coin, the table above is a useful reference: "Numerical Notation: A Comparative History" by Stephen Chrisomalis. Using this guide, reading my coin right to left - I think my coin is 113 (147-146 BC) or 114 (146-145 BC) - not sure how many 1's run off to the left. It gets complicated because there are apparently more than twenty variants for the numbers 20 and 100 (a few shown in the table above).



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