• sulla80

Romans in Asia Minor & Cistophori

Updated: Jan 23

“The cistophorus, with its writhing serpents and over-elaborate ornamentation, is perhaps the ugliest coin in the Greek series. Collectors have tended to pass it by, and, maybe in consequence, it has not yet yielded to the historian all the nourishment which he might extract from it.”

-Robinson, E. (1954). CISTOPHORI IN THE NAME OF KING EUMENES. The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic Society, 14(44), 1-8.


I have posted a couple Cistophoric Tetradrachms before:

Why do I wander back to these "ugly" and uninteresting coins? Several reasons that include the Roman republican and Sulla connections, the concept of a "closed" monetary system, and stories of Asia minor-Roman integration (avoiding: Romanization which doesn't perhaps properly recognize that the Romans also became more Asian/Greek through these interactions). I've added a couple of additional types of this coin since these two notes.


Phrygia, Apameia

Here is one of the later Cistophori of Apameia (today southwestern Turkey). Apameia was founded by Seleucid ruler, Antiochus I (Soter) and named after his mother Apama.

Phrygia, Apameia, circa 88-67 BC. ΚΩΚΟY (Kokos), magistrate, AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm

Obv: Cista mystica with half-open lid, from which a serpent issues to left; all within an ivy wreath.

Rev: Two coiled serpents with heads erect; between them an ornamented bow-case with strap at r., usually containing a strung bow at I. AΠA (ethnic) with B above in left field; double-flute in right field; various Greek names between serpents' heads, as indicated.


Kleiner's article in Essays for Margaret Thompson on the Cistophori of Apameia provides a bit of additional information. The date range assigned to these coins is 88-67 BC with hoard evidence combined with Mithridates of Pontus giving money to restore the city as a reward for surrendering without a fight. As to Kokos (ΚΩΚΟY) the date range would suggest a relative by the same name associated with proconsular A P Pulcher 53-51 BC Cistophori. Another interesting note - Apameia is the only city to be associated with two different ethnics (the AΠA left of the snakes and bow case) and the B above the AΠA is because Kokos served two terms as magistrate (B for the second term - with consecutive terms confirmed with die matches).


Here's a local bronze coin from Apameia also signed ΚΩΚΟY (Kokos), magistrate - still a mystery for me whether this is the Kokos of my coin or the later one associated with A P Pulcher.

Phrygia, Apameia, circa 100-50 BC, AE, Kokos, magistrate

Obv: Bust of Athena right, wearing high-crested Corinthian helmet

Rev: Eagle alighting on basis with meander pattern, flanked by caps of the Dioskouroi; KΩKOY below

Ref: SNG Copenhagen 161-2; BMC 78-82

This next coin is an example of a "dated" Cistophoric tetradrachm from Ephesus (not far from Apameia also in southwestern Turkey). For more on this series see Kleiner 1972 ANS Museum Notes 18. Mine for CY=64 or AD 71/70.

1998 Jörg Müller article suggesting that the series should be split into two groups and the first group shifted by ~5 years later that dates propose by Sydney Noe.


Another relatively recent article from De Callataÿ, F. (2011) discusses the evidence of Roman involvement in the region and the minting of Cistophori. 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, 55-86.


Dated, Ionia, Ephesos

Attalus III of Pergamum, a close ally of Rome, bequeathed Pergamum to the Roman republic on his death in 133. These coins are dated from the formation of the province of Asia in 134/133 or perhaps more likely from the date of Attalus III's death and grant of "autonomy" to the city of Ephesus. Kleiner notes: "It is interesting that Ephesus is the only city to place provincial era dates on its cistophori, a decision which possibly reflects a readier acceptance of Roman rule than in the other Attalid cities."

Ionia, Ephesos, circa 180-67 BC, AR - early cistophoroi, Cistophoric Tetradrachm, CY ΞΔ = 71/70 BC

Obv: Serpent crawling out of cista mystica; all within ivy wreath

Rev: ΞΔ/EΦΕ, bow-case with two confronted serpents, krater above; to right flaming torch.

Size: 26 mm. 12,33

Ref: Kleiner, Dated 62, SNG Copenhagen 332-3


Sullan/Lucullus Era, Lydia, Tralles

This third example is from a third mint, Tralles or Tralleis, again in the same general region (southwestern Turkey) and particularly interesting to me for its connection with Lucius Cornelius Sulla, which explains the dating of this series. The magistrates name provides one clue (ΠTOΛ) but it helps to know that there are also variants of this coin with greek numerals (dates) from Β to Θ (or 2-8). The challenge - finding whether anyone has deciphered the range for these date - or determined whether they are not dates at all. Based on Kleiner's note, these are not dated by the end of Attlus III's reign and formation of a Roman province.



Lydia, Tralles, 85-77 BC, AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm, Dated Sullan Era first year (85/84 BC), Ptol- (ΠTOΛ), magistrate.

Obv: Cista mystica with serpent; all within ivy wreath

Rev: Bow case with serpents; (no date == first year) to left, ΠTOΛ above; to right, Dionysos standing right, holding thyrsos and mask of Selinos


Tralles was under Attalid rule from the time of the Treaty of Apameia, 188 BC,

"As to king Eumenes and his brothers, not content with the liberal provision made for them in their treaty with Antiochus, they [Rome] now assigned him in addition the Chersonese, Lysimacheia, and the castles on the borders of these districts, and such country as had been subject to Antiochus in Europe; and in Asia, Phrygia on the Hellespont, Great Phrygia, so much of Mysia as he had before subjugated, Lycaonia, Milyas, Lydia, Tralles, Ephesus, and Telmissus: all these they gave to Eumenes."

- Polybius, Histories 21.48


How are dates defined for these Tralles issues with ΠTOΛ: It took me a while to find an answer to this question. First I wondered, was there perhaps there a date when Tralles became "autonomous" during war with Aristonicus/Eumenes III? or later?


Could the use of Macedonian months at the Tralles mint as published in this article? I am not sure what to do with it:


"the initials, as transcribed by Kleiner and Noe, are ATT, 'AV', AA, AAI, ZAN, TTE, 'OA', YTT, and YTT above EN. It is not difficult to detect in them the Macedonian months Apellaios, Audnaios, Daisios..."

- ASHTON, R., & KINNS, P. (2003). Opuscula Anatolica II. The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-),163, 41-47. Cistophoric coins from Tralles with "Tyche holding a cornucopia":


Was there a "Sullan era"? I am not sure what is intended by "inaugurating a new era" in this reference and I would like to find the underlying paper:


Regling, Frankfurter Münzzeitung n.F. 3 (1932) 506-10, showed, on the basis of the Karacabey hoard (IGCH 1358), that Tralles continued cistophoric coinage after Sulla, inaugurating a new era in 85/84"

- Hegemony to Empire (1996)


Is there a known correlation between Ephesus dates and Tralles dates? Great information found in this Columbia thesis (2016) from Lucia Carbone, whose ANS articles I have read with interest. An interesting observation on these coins: "It is quite striking to notice how M. Aquilius’ road connected the six cities (Adramyteum, Pergamum, Sardis, Ephesus, Tralles and Laodicea) that are known as cistophoric mints and have also operated as conventus centers."


and she cites: CALLATAY, "L’Histoire des Guerres Mithridatiques vue par les Monnaies, Louvain-la-Neuve", 1997, p.178. This hoard, buried in ca.75 BC, enabled the chronological correlation between dated Ephesian cistophori (up to year 56) and the Tralles ΠΤΟΛ ones (up to year 9).


and...p 170-173, "Moreover, a fourth hoard, IGCH 1358, dated to 75 BC, enables us to determine the presence of a Sullan age in Tralles, and allows a precise dating of the ΠΤΟΛ issues to 85-77 BC, which corresponds roughly to Lucullus’ power in the province and to the exceptional issues caused by Sulla's command that taxes be paid in arrears, proving a further element of Roman involvement in the cistophoric issues."


and p.173, ΠΤΟΛ: The first issue with no dating, then Β to Θ, for a total of 8 issues. The presence of Lucullus is important for the cistophoric production of the cities of Asia and the end of the production of the cistophori of Ephesus is tightly linked to the end of ‘the Lucullus era’ in Asia (App. Mith. 12, 13.90; Dio 36.15.3; Plut. Vit. Luc. 35.3-8; Livy 98.9).


This article of Andrew Meadows on p.83 confirmed the source of the information: "Ephesus to year 56 (79/8 BC); Tralles to year 9 (probably 77/6 BC). For discussion the hoard and the likely era of Tralles see Leschhorn 1993: 208–212."


And with that we have sufficient evidence to place this coin from Tralles as 84/95 BC in the first year of the Sullan Era in Tralles, with Ptol- (ΠTOΛ), magistrate. All three coins from the time of the "Mithridatic" Wars between Rome and Mithridates VI of Pontus. The last one dated from the time of Sulla and connected to tax payments to Rome, make these very relevant coin for my Roman republican "Sulla" collection. Surprisingly information that has been available for many years on how to date these coins seems is not commonly used in auction listings.

21 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
Join my mailing list

© 2020 by Sulla80 created with Wix.com