• sulla80

From Lycia to the US Constitution

Updated: Sep 12

On 21-Feb-1787, The provisional government of the United States, established under the Articles of Confederation, agreed to a resolution to establish a Constitutional Convention:


“Resolved that in the opinion of Congress it is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several states be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government & the preservation of the Union.” -Report of Proceedings in Congress


The Constitutional Convention

(Public Domain Image) Howard Chandler Christy's Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States


The Convention began deliberations on May 25, 1787, and came to an agreement on the new Constitution which was signed on Tuesday, September 17,1787. The constitution was not agreed without concerns. Benjamin Franklin described it this way:

“I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus, I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.” -Benjamin Franklin, Madison Debates


The Federalist Papers

With the signing at the convention, the work was not done, the Constitution still required ratification by all of the states, and this was not guaranteed. Alexander Hamilton, to explain and defend the Constitution, wrote a series of essays with James Madison and John Jay. He published these essays in the New York City newspapers under the pseudonym “Publius”, after Publius Valerius Publicola from 560-503 BC, one of four aristocrats credited with overthrowing the monarchy and establishing the Roman Republic. Today we know these essays as the Federalist Papers.


In the Federalist papers, the Lycian league is used as a model for federated and representative democracy. Here are two quotes before getting to ancient coins, both from the Federalist papers:


In the Lycian confederacy, which consisted of 23 cities or republics, the largest were entitled to three votes in the Common Council, those of the middle class to two, and the smallest to one. The Common Council had the appointment of all the judges and magistrates of the respective Cities. This is certainly the most delicate species of interference in their normal administration; for if there be anything that seems exclusively appropriate to the local jurisdictions, it is the appointment of their own officers. Yet Montesquieu, speaking of this association says: “Were I to give a model of an excellent Confederate Republic, it would be that of Lycia”. -Hamilton, the Federalist Papers


Both the Lycian League and Achaean League are mentioned in other letters - here's one more:

In the Achaean league, it is probable that the federal head had a degree and species of power which gave it a considerable likeness to the government framed by the convention. The Lycian Confederacy, as far as its principles and form are transmitted, must have borne still greater analogy to it. -Madison, The Federalist Papers


Sorry for the long preamble, you may be wondering where are the coins? I thought the context would be useful before sharing two.


Lycian Hemidrachms


Finally, the coins – from the Lycian League, Masicytus a mountainous region in Lycia west of Pamphylia on the southern Mediterranean shores of modern Turkey. The mint city is presumed to be Myra. Troxell, “Coinage of the Lycian League” is available online and has a wealth of additional information on the region and the coins. According to Troxell, the latest possible start (terminus ante quem) of the Lycean League is 167 BC.


Because all roads seem to lead to Sulla, I will add another side note. Masicytus appears to be the name of a district created during Sulla's time as Roman dictator, around 81 BC, to facilitate payment of "contributions" to Rome by "free" Lycia perhaps. These districts are thought to be similar to districts created after the First Mithridatic War for tributes to be paid by Asia in 84 BC. Myra, likely the main city of the Masicytus district, was one of two important port cities in Lycia. Patara is the main city of the other major coin producing district, Cragus.

Lycian League, Masicytes, circa 48-20 BC, AR hemidrachm, Period IV, Series 4

Obv: Laureate head of Apollo right; Λ-Y below

Rev: M-A, cithara (lyre); filleted palm frond in left field, all within incuse square

Size: 16mm, 1.92 g

Ref: RPC I 3305; Troxell107

Lycian League, Masicytes, circa 48-20 BC, AR hemidrachm, Period IV, Series 4

Size: 16mm, 1.78g

Obv: Head of Apollo right, wearing taenia

Rev: ΛΥΚΙΩΝ, cithara (lyre); M-A/Σ-I across fields, all within incuse square

Ref:Troxell103


From Troxell, the hemidrachms of Period IV may have been struck for the crews of ships sailing from Myra during the Roman Civil War. After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Brutus invaded Lycia. Brutus issued denarii (Crawford 501/1 and 503/1) which are similar to coins of Lycia. Troxell writes, “There can be little doubt that this issue of Brutus and Lycian hemidrachm Period IV, Series 2 are connected in some way.” Although the region was under Roman control, it was not until AD 43, that Rome annexed the region and later Vespasian merged regions to create the province of Lycia et Pamphylia.


Back to 1787 and the US Constitution: although five states ratified quickly, others struggled. Only after an agreement to enact amendments was reached, did they agree to ratify the new Constitution. The new Constitution took effect March 4, 1789, and September 25, 1789, 12 amendments were adopted and, eventually, 10 were ratified by the states in 1791. Rhode Island was the last to ratify the Constitution in May 29, 1790.

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