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Capitolia Heliopolitana

The Capitolia were games (held every 4 years) established by Domitian in 86 AD in Rome.

"In 86 AD, emperor Domitian organized the first Capitolia, games in honour of Jupiter Capitolinus, the most important Roman god. They were held every four years in May-June, always in the year after the Olympic games, and included athletic contests, horse races and musical contests."
-AncientOlympics: The Capitolia

Suetonius describes Domitian founding the Capitolia in Rome:

"He [Domitian] also established a quinquennial contest in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus of a threefold character, comprising music, riding, and gymnastics, and with considerably more prizes than are awarded nowadays. For there were competitions in prose declamation​ both in Greek and in Latin; and in addition to those of the lyre-players, between choruses of such players and in the lyre alone, without singing; while in the stadium there were races even between maidens. He presided at the competitions in half-boots,​ clad in a purple toga in the Greek fashion, and wearing upon his head a golden crown with figures of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, while by his side sat the priest of Jupiter and the college of the Flaviales,​ similarly dressed, except that their crowns bore his image as well.
-Suetonius, Domitian IV.4

Heliopolitan Capitolia

My coin of interest today documents a set of games in Heliopolis that are also named Capitolia, after those in Rome. These games were not held before the time of Septimius Severus and it seems likely that Septimius Severus would have approved the Capitolia games in the Colonia Iulia Augusta Felix Heliopolis after the Roman grant of the ius Italicum (rights aligned with those of people living in the Italian peninsula) to Heliopolis.

"Greek games were not held at Heliopolis before Septimius Severus. The creation of a local contest most probably followed the grant of the ius Italicum to the Syrian town. The competitions were modeled on the Roman Capitolia, and closely linked to the cult of the Heliopolitan triad, especially Mercury’s."
- Julien Aliquot, Heliopolitan Capitolia

The abbreviated legend on the back of this coin referes to the "CERtamina SACra CAPitolia OECumenica ISElastica HELiopolitana" (translating as the “Sacred Capitoline Ecumenical Iselastic Games of Heliopolis”). "Ecumenical" a reference to the games being inclusive of the whole world - a bit like the modern use of "World" in baseball's "World Series" - the "World" could be a fairly narrow region of competitors.


Here is a reference to this coin from a 1718 catalog of Roman Imperial Coins:


"On third-century coins of other cities references to festivals are commonplace. It is assumed that coins celebrate only the more prestigious "sacred" games. rather than local ones. and faulty though it is. the evidence does point to a considerable increase in the number of cities holding such festivals from the late second and third centuries. In other words, the rise in civic festivals appears to correspond to the decline in building activity."
- Kevin Butcher (2003), "Roman Syria and the Near East", J. Paul Getty Museum, p.229

The Coin

Syria, Coele-Syria, Heliopolis, Valerian I, AD 253-260, Æ (26mm, 13.42g, 5h).

Obv: IMP CAES P LIC VALERANVS PP AVG, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right

Rev: COL IVL AVG FEL around, CER SAC / CAP OEC / ISE HEL above and below, prize urn containing two palms.

Ref: RPC 63828; Sawaya : 848-50 (D111/R300) listed as Valerian II but regarded by RPC as Valerian I; SNG Copenhagen 439.


Die Matches and Retouched Dies

There is an interesting observation from Sawaya on the obverse die of this coin (D111) - that it was retouched three times. (1-D111a) the front of the hair of Valerian is re-engraved in four segments (2-D111b) the laurel and the top of the hair are re-engraved in small segments, while the sleeve right of the breastplate is re-engraved in vertical lines; (3-D111c) the ribbons behind Valerian's head are re-engraved, and the paludamentum and the right sleeve of the breastplate are re-engraved in horizontal lines.


I struggle to accept a 3 times retouched die and I wonder if any of thesecoins (Sawaya D111a,b,c) are coins that were merely tooled. My theory is challenged by the existence of 2 coins for D111c.


I think my coin looks closest to D111 with the reverse (R300) a certain die match.

"Many cities throughout the eastern portion of the Roman Empire periodically held smaller versions of the four Iselastic Games of Greece (so called because victors in the ceremonies were granted iselasticum, the right to reenter their native cities in triumph following the games) – the Pythian, Olympian, Isthmian, and Nemean. Like the Greek originals, these smaller versions included a number of athletic contests, as well as music and poetry competitions. Often such events were associated with important civic cults of each city. At Heliopolis (modern Baalbek), the site of a massive temple complex dedicated to Jupiter-Zeus-Baal-Hadad, Venus-Aphrodite-Astarte, and Bacchus-Dionysus, these games were known as the Certamina Sacra Capitolia Oecumenica Iselastica Heliopolitana (the “Sacred Capitoline Ecumenical Iselastic Games of Heliopolis”)."
-CNG eAuction 455 Lot#237 30-Oct-2019

Here's a coin with an older looking Valerian from Heliopolis. This one with only one not mentioning the Capiloline games.

Coele Syria, Heliopolis. Valerian I. AD 253-260. Æ (25mm, 11.85g, 6h)

Obv: Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, seen from behind

Rev: Agonistic urn containing two palm branches, set on table with four legs

Ref: Sawaya 675-8 (D105/R248);


This is a coin from from the reign of Volusian, co-emperor with and son of Trebonnianus Gallus (predecessor of Valerian). It celebrates Olympia Sebasmia games in honor of the emperors.

Syria, Coele-Syria, Damascus, Volusian, AD 251-253, AE25 (25.4 mm, 7.85g, 7h)

Obv: IMP GALLO VOLOSSIANO AVG, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right

Rev: COL DAMAS METRO, agonistic urn containing cypress, inscribed OΛYMΠIA/ CЄBACMIA


Additional References:

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