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Just Make it Fit!


Ruins of Nicopolis ad Istrum - public domain image via wikimedia commons.


Novius Rufus was a legate (hypateon) or praeses (hegemon) of Nicopolis ad Istrum during the reign of Elagabalus 218-222. On this coin it is clear that the die maker struggled to squeeze the whole legend onto the coin. You can imagine the mintmaster shrugging his shoulders and offering, "He (Nobius Rufus) wants his whole name on the coin, just make it fit!" "VΠ NOBIOV POVΦOV NIKOΠOΛITΩN ΠΡOC ICTPON", the die maker grumbles a bit and starts with the VΠ and working his way around the coin, and then runs out of space - so he uses the fields - dropping one letter P, "no one will really notice anyway" he grumbles.

Nicopolis ad Istrum literally a "city of Victory on the Istrum (Danube) River". For a town to be "ad Istrum" didn't require it to be literally on the river. In this case it was about 50km from the Danube. However, the territory controlled by Nicopolis probably did reach as far as the Danube. Border stones from the time of Hadrian that reference the limits of Nicopolis have been found at Novae/Svistov, a Roman fortress along the Danube. The name also differentiated it from another Nicopolis further south, ad Nestum. It was the portrait of Elagabalus that drew me to this coin as well as wandering legend.

Moesia Inferior, Nicopolis ad Istrum, Elagabalus, AD 218-222. Æ 25mm (9.60 g), Novius Rufus, consular legate

Obv: [AV K ]M AVP A[NTΩNEINOC], Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right, seen from behind

Translation: AUT(okrator) K(aisar) M(arcos) AUR(elios) Antoneinos

Rev: VΠ NOBIOV POVΦOV NIKOΠOΛΙTΩN Π[P]OC ICTPON, Zeus standing left, holding patera and scepter

Translation: Under Novius Rufus of (the people of) Nicopolis on the river Istrum (the Danube)

Ref: Varbanov 4098 (variant) rarity R3

Elagabalus (Reconstruction) Image source: Panagiotis Constantinou, CC BY-SA 4.0, via worldhistory.org, 5-Mar-2021


Nikopolis ad Istrum was established by Trajan after he conquered the Dacians and was settled by Thacians and migrants from Asia minor (today Nikyup in Bulgaria - see google maps linked below).

Decabalus, the last Dacian king depicted on Trajan's column committing suicide to avoid Roman capture in 106 AD. (Image source: Harpeam, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

After defeating Decebalus, Trajan reorganized the provinces of the Lower Danube, creating the new province of Dacia, and adding a large area to Lower Moesia. In Thrace, he changed the system of government to self-administering communities. As there were cities only on the Aegean and Black Sea shores, Trajan established ten new cities in Thrace between AD 106 and 114, organized as Greek poleis. The Greek model was a pragmatic choice to leverage the existing traditions of the area and with a scarcity of Romans living in the region.


References - in addition to those linked directly inline

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