Roman Provinces & Corruption
Updated: Mar 29
Gate to the agora (assembly place) of ancient Kibyra I think it is only fair to offer caution that this thread wanders a bit far from the coin, from provincial Phrygia to ancient Rome, from the Roman republic to the Roman empire, from dies to governance, and over ~350 years. I don't attempt to offer any excuse for this - it's just the way the story happened.
A coin of Gordian III from Kibyra I've had a bit of writer's block recently, after a burst of effort to put my "Notes on Ancient Coins" site together. This coin has been sitting for a while waiting for a write-up - my latest coin of Asia Minor, a rare Roman Provincial both number of known specimens (11 in RPC, 5 in ACSearch) and condition...
Gordian III, Æ 22mm of Kibyra (or Cibyra), Phrygia, AD 238-244, 6.11g, 22mm Obv: A•K•M•AN•ΓOPΔIAN, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust to right Rev: ΚΙΒΥΡΑΤΩΝ, eagle standing facing on caduceus, head to left, wings spread Ref: RPC VII.1 665
This is a great coin in hand with a nice weight, and a good high relief strike, with a great portrait and the penguin-like eagle. With modern eyes, I have trouble seeing this eagle as a symbol of strength and power. Kibyra was know for ironwork and metallurgy - perhaps not surprising that they would mint nice coins. Although both spellings are used - I prefer Kibyra, if only because it better matches what I find on the coin, and it is more intuitive for me to see the pronunciation as "key-beer-ah" (or "key-boor-ah") vs. "Cibyra" which I see as "chi" or "see" - whether any of these pronunciation is what we would have heard in the streets of Kibyra is an open question for me.
Die-Sharing A recent article (2021) by G.C. Watson on die-sharing practices in Asia minor describes die-sharing between cities in Asia Minor peaking around the time Gordian III. Die sharing in Kibyra however was reduced at this time - the following map serving to both show where Kibyra is located and how it shared dies in an "East Caria" region. Watson describes:
"Stratonicea, Bargasa, Tabae, Eriza, Themiso-nium, Cibyra, and Laodicea ad Lycum all shared for the first time in the period 198–211, but none except Bargasa and Laodicea shared again until the reign of Philip (244–249 CE)." The article also raises the question of whether exchange of dies might have been between cities or facilitated by traveling workshops.
Watson, George Christopher. “The Development and Spread of Die Sharing in the Roman Provincial Coinage of Asia Minor.” American Journal of Archaeology, vol. 125, no. 1, 2021, pp. 123–142. Earthquakes
There is a video with aerial views of the archeological site on youtube. Kibyra was heavily damaged by an earthquake ~23 AD.[*] Tacitus references the city being afflicted by earthquakes during the reign of Tiberius: "Tiberius meanwhile, who did not relax his attention to business, and found solace in his work, occupied himself with the causes of citizens at Rome and with petitions from allies. Decrees of the Senate were passed at his proposal for relieving the cities of Cibyra and Ægium in Asia and Achaia, which had suffered from earthquakes, by a remission of three years' tribute" -Tacitus, The Annals, 4.13 Strabo writes of Kibyra: "It is said that the Cibyratae are descendants of the Lydians who took possession of Cabalis, and later of the neighboring Pisidians, who settled there and transferred the city to another site, a site very strongly fortified and about one hundred stadia in circuit. It grew strong through its good laws; and its villages extended alongside it from Pisidia and the neighboring Milyas as far as Lycia and the Peraea of the Rhodians." -Strabo, Geography, 13.4.17 (see the link for the full description and context) Lucius Cornelius Sulla? All coins seem to eventually link to the Roman republic and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Perhaps not surprising, in this case, Sulla as a contributor to abuse and corruption. The impact of political leaders lasts much longer than they do. Julius Caesar positioned himself as avenger of the Marians, rival to the Sullan faction in the 80s BC, three decades after Sulla's death, and abolished the restrictions, established by Sulla, on political careers of the sons of proscribed men.
Kibyra is mentioned by Cicero in his trial orations against Gaius Verres. Verres was elected quaestor, an auditor working in treasury, in 84 BC, when he was 30 years old. He was next a legatus under governor Dolabella in Cilicia. Legatus was a general or high ranking military leader who would be well paid with the spoils of battle. Verres turned on Dollabella in 78 BC, providing evidence in Dollabella's corruption trial, and subsequently became governor or Sicily. I won't recount the full story which you can find thoroughly and thoughtfully described as a Famous Trial. It is a tale, mostly known through Cicero, of a corrupt officials and Sulla's legislative impact is a factor. In 81 BC, one of Sulla's acts to restore the senatorial oligarchy reversed legislation of Gracchus that granted equites control over the judiciary. This meant that a provincial governor, like Verres, being tried for abuse of power or extortion, was now judged by a jury of other senators who might either be equally guilty of exploiting the provinces or at least wanting to have the same options to gain wealth for themselves. Cicero recounts a connection between art thieves Tlepolemus and Hiero in Kibyra who, fearing trial, brought art to Verres, a collector and connoisseur: "He has kept them (Tlepolemus and Hiero) with him ever since that time; and in the robberies he committed, and in the booty he acquired during his lieutenancy, he greatly availed himself of their assistance and their advice." - Cicero against Verres, 2.4.30
Epilogue Before the trial concluded, Verres fled to self-imposed exile in Massalia (today Marseilles) where he lived for twenty-seven years, having taken some of his plundered treasures with him. Mark Antony, as triumvir, had him executed in 43 BC in the end for not complying with a request to return some Corinthian vases. The same year, Mark Anthony, named Cicero an enemy of the state, and assassins killed Cicero on December 7, 43 BC. Cicero's decapitated head was displayed on the rostra in the Roman Forum. On that note, I will add this coin of Mark Antony in 42 BC, from the final years of the republic evolving into empire.
The Triumvirs, Mark Antony, 42 BC, AR Denarius, military mint traveling with Antony in Greece Obv: M ANTONI IMP, Mark Antony, bare head right Rev: VIR R.P.C. [tresVIRi Rei Publicae Constituendae which translates to "one of three men for the regulation of public matters"], facing head of Sol on disk within distyle temple Ref: Crawford 496/1
And to wrap up, Gordian III's grandfather (commonly referred to as Gordian I), was born 159 AD in Phrygia the region where this coin was minted, another link between coin, city and emperor.