After wandering a bit into medieval Islamic coins and the Mongol khans of the 13th and 14th century, I inevitably return to 1st century BCE Rome and two silver coins. This first coin with an unusually fresh reverse die, and a wildly off-center obverse strike, is a token from the The First Mithridatic War with Roman armies led by Sulla against Mithridates VI of Pontus.
Roman ruins in Apamiea, Syria (CC: image under copyright and limited use license from Shutterstock).
Seleucus I Nikator, one of Alexander the Great's generals and the founder of the Seleucid empire, named the city after Apameia, his wife and daughter of Spitamenes, the ruler of Bactria. The city of Apameia suffered several destructive earthquakes over time. The image above shows the modern ruins of the city that was rebuilt after an earthquake in 115 AD by emperor Trajan. My coin today dates to an earlier rebuilding of the city in the 1st century BC.
This graph shows a picture of earthquake activity in modern Syria from AD 1995-2004. Apameia is roughly where I've placed the blue pin on the map. The activity today is described as moderate.
Image shared under CC BY 4.0 Creative Commons License
Phrygia, Apameia, AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm, circa 88-76 BC (the end date, based on this type being present in the Mihalic hoard), Phainippos, magistrate
Obv: Cista mystica with half-open lid, from which a serpent issues to l.;
all within an ivy wreath.
Rev: Two coiled serpents with heads erect; between them an ornamented
bow-case with strap at right, with a strung bow at left, ΑΠΑ
in left field; an aolus (double-flute) in right field; ΦAINIΠΠOY in two lijed between between serpents' heads.
Ref: Kleiner (Apameia) XIII
The mint at Apameia issued coins until late second century (until 133 BC) and then did not issue cistorphoric tetradrachms until the series that includes this coin. There was a gap of 45 years.
What prompted the issue of this coin?
Kleiner connects to the campaigns of Mithridates to free Asia minor from the Romans. As he approached Apameia the city surrendered, and was liberated from Rome without a fight. Apameia was heavily damaged by an earthquake at the start of the 1st century BC. Mithridates awarded the town 100 talents for the rebuilding of the city. These coins were likely struck for projects funded by Mithridates for the rebuilding of Apameia.
"...among the other cities, Apameia was often shaken by earthquakes before the expedition of King Mithridates, who, when he went over to that country and saw that the city was in ruins, gave a hundred talents for its restoration; and it is said that the same thing took place in the time of Alexander."
Minting ceases in Apameia at the end of the Third Mithridatic war. Lucius Licinius Lucullus defeated Tigranes in the Third Mithridatic War in 69 BC and initially restored Seleucid rule under Antiochus XIII. However with continuing instability in the region, Pompey annexed the city for Rome in 64/3 BC. Although Kleiner proposed that the gift of 100 talents might have been reward to Apameia for surrendering to him quickly and without conflict in 88 BC, recent hoard evidence presented by Lucia Carbone provides evidence that minting of these coins pre-dates this event.
This coin also seems to show some evidence of overstrike: see field on the obverse. There are a few known identifiable overstrikes on coins of Roman Macedonia (First Meris) and Thasos (see Callataÿ, More than it would seem).
The second coin issued by Sulla's son Faustus about a decade later.
The Roman Republic, Faustus Cornelius Sulla, AR Denarius 56
Obv: FEELIX, diademed bust of Hercules right, wearing lion-skin, border of dots.
Rev: FAVSTVS, Diana in biga right, holding reins in left hand and lituus in right hand; above head, crescent; above and below horses, stars, border of dots.
Ref: Babelon Cornelia 60, Sydenham 881a, Crawford 426/2
Who is on the obverse of this coin? A somewhat obsolete ANS note in from 1964 by Lydia H. Lenahan provides an interesting review of who weighed in and why that is summarized in this table:
We can add Crawford in RRC (1974) who assigned Hercules. Crawford also notes that the lituus in the hands of Diana refers to Faustus having been Augur in 57 BC, and a family tradition of attachment to Diana.
"It was while Sulla was ascending Mount Tifata that he had encountered Gaius Norbanus. After his victory over him he paid a vow of gratitude to Diana, to whom that region is sacred, and consecrated to the goddess the waters renowned for their salubrity and water to heal, as well as all the lands in the vicinity. The record of this pleasing act of piety is witnessed to this day by an inscription on the door of the temple, and a bronze tablet within the edifice."
-Velleius Paterculus, The Roman History, II.25
In Rome a custom existed during this time of dedicating a 10th of one's gains from a successful business venture to Hercules. The same principle applies to military gains.
"On consecrating the tenth of all his substance to Hercules, Sulla feasted the people sumptuously, and his provision for them was so much beyond what was needed that great quantities of meats were daily cast into the river, and wine was drunk that was forty years old and upwards."
-Plutarch, Lives, Sulla, XXXV.1
Hercules also associated with military triumphs:
"Various circumstances prove, that the art of making statues was commonly practiced in Italy at an early period. The statue in the Forum Boarium is said to have been consecrated to Hercules by Evander; it is called the triumphal Hercules, and, on the occasion of triumphal processions, is arrayed in triumphal vestments. "
-Pliny, Natural History, 34.16
The reference to Hercules could also bring to mind the games that Faustus put on in 60 BC in honor of his father, Sulla. (Note: for an excellent resource on dates of Roman events see Attalus.org)
About this same time Faustus, the son of Sulla, gave a gladiatorial contest in memory of his father and entertained the people brilliantly, furnishing them with baths and oil gratis.
- Dio, Roman History, XXXVII.51.4
References (in addition to those linked above)
Lenaghan, L. H. (1964). HERCULES-MELQART ON A COIN OF FAUSTUS SULLA. Museum Notes (American Numismatic Society), 11, 131–149.
Marinescu, Constantin A. “A First-Century BC Hoard of Late Cistophori.” The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-) 155 (1995): 325–32.
Fred S. Kleiner, 'The Late Cistophori of Apameia', in O. Morkholm and N. M. Waggoner, eds., Greek Numismatics and Archaeology , Essays in Honor of Margaret Thompson (Wetteren, 1979), pp. 119-30.
Kleiner, Fred S. “THE DATED CISTOPHORI OF EPHESUS.” Museum Notes (American Numismatic Society) 18 (1972): 17–32.
Crawford, Roman Republican Coins, 1974
Lucia Carbone, 2020, Hidden Power: Late Cistophoric Production and the Organization of Provincia Asia (128–89 BC), ANS
Callataÿ, François de. “More Than It Would Seem: The Use of Coinage by the Romans in Late Hellenistic Asia Minor (133-63 BC).” American Journal of Numismatics (1989-) 23 (2011): 55–86.
Joseph Hilarius von Eckhel, Doctrina numorum veterum: Moneta Romanorum, vol V, 1795
Alan Taylor, February 4, 2016, The Atlantic, The Looting of Syria's archaeological Treasures
Abdul-Wahed, Mohamad Khir & Ibrahim, Al-Tahhan. (2010). Preliminary outlining of the seismological active zones in Syria. Annals of Geophysics. 53. 1-9. DOI: 10.4401/ag-4683.