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The Mystery Emperor

I am not expecting that most collectors look at this coin and say "Wow, that's a beautiful coin", I myself didn't have that reaction. I do see an intriguing coin and this is about a nice you can find in a 3rd century, billion (silver alloy, BI) stater from the Bosporus. The mystery of this coin is what attracted me.

Bosporus Kingdom

Some quick notes about the region over time. David McDonald's 2005 book on "History and Coinage of the Kingdom of Bosporos" from CNG is an excellent book for information on this region and the coins and the source for most of this post.

There were several major tribes were in the region and subdivisions even in these subdivisions:

  • The Greeks who first settled there in the 7th century or perhaps even earlier

  • The Cimmerians of Iranian origins who were there before the Greeks

  • Scythians who came from Iran in the 7th century BC

  • Sarmatian tribes who traded with the Bostporans but also fought against them at times

  • Sindoi, an agricultural tribe who readily assimilated with the Greeks

  • The Goths from Germany who weakened the Bosporan kingdom in the 3rd Century AD

  • and others

Some of the place names reflect the agricultural richness of the area: Panticapeum appears to come from "Panti Kapa" meaning "fish route" in the language of settlers from Iran. The name Bosporus which comes from Greek βοὸς πόρος meaning "cattle passage" (or perhaps "Ox-ford"). We hear today in the news of the grain from Ukraine - the region was a center of grain production thousands of years ago - the Athenians controlled this Nynphaeum in the 5th century BC as a source of grain for the city. Grain, salted fish, hides, slaves, gold and other exports came from this region. From the second century the Roman military maintained a military headquarters in Chersonesus after it was granted "freedom" in 145 BC by Rome.

This map (a detail from the larger map in the wikipedia) shows the Black Sea region circa 125 BC.

In the decades before this coin was issued (240's and 250's) the Goths weakened the kingdom - dominating the area around Lake Maeotis and wiping out the city of Tanais. The Romans were no help as they had their own challenges to deal with.

Meanwhile the Borani, the Goths, the Carpi, and the Urugundi, nations that dwell on the Ister, left no part of Italy or Illyricum unpillaged, but devasted all without any opposition. The Borani, indeed, attempted to pass over into Asia, which they easily effected by the aid of those that reside on the Bosphorus, who were induced more through fear than good-will to supply them with vessels, and to guide them in their passage.
- Zosimus, 1.31

Staters from Rhescuporis IV vary in silver content from 15-50% with an small number of the staters from 560 Bosporan Era or BE (the year of this coin and the 20th year of Rhescuporis' reign) issued in fine silver. My coin is not a fine silver rarity.

I have a small sub-collection of coins from Valerian, Gallienus & family - inspired by my first Roman coin, a sestertius of Valerian. The reason this coin was interesting to me is the mystery of the two emperors on the coin?

The Humiliation of Valerian by Shapur I, French 15th Century, Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

Valerian was captured by Shapur I in 260 and both of Gallienus' sons were dead: Valerian II died in Illyricum early in the year in 258 AD, perhaps of battle wounds or natural causes. Saloninus became Caesar later in the year 258 and was elevated to Augustus at approximately age 17 in 260 AD with the murdered along with praetorian prefect Silvanus within a few weeks or months by Postumus. So could it still be Valerian on this coin - in 263/4 AD, could this be evidence that he was still alive in the court of under Shapur I? Why only recognized in the Bosporos? As far as I know, this is the only coin that might show Valerian in 263/4,

Roman Provincial Coin, Kings of Bosporus, Rhescuporis IV (Circa AD 242/3-276/7), BI Stater (8g, 19mm,12h) dated BE 560 (AD 263/4)

Obv: BACIΛЄΩC PHCKOVΠOPIΔO., diademed and draped bust of Rhescuporis right; trident before

Rev: Laureate and draped busts vis-à-vis of Valerian I and Gallienus; pellet between, ΞΦ (date) below

Ref: MacDonald 619/1 We conclude with the mystery unsolved: who is this second emperor on the coin of Rhescuporis IV? Coins issued in Rome at this time are from Gallienus as sole emperor. It certainly seems odd that a coin would include the disgraced Valerian I with the emperor Gallienus - years after his capture. While the coin is usually listed in auctions as "vis-à-vis of Valerian I and Gallienus" - McDonald is less committed "busts of two emperors" and describes the coin as "puzzling".

By the next year (AΞΦ = 561 = AD 264/5)) - there was only 1 emperor on the reverse, Gallienus.

Roman Provincial, Kingdom of Bosporus, Rhescuporis IV, circa AD 242/3-276/7c BI Stater (20mm, 7.7g), dated BE 561 (AD 264/5)

Obv: BACIΛЄωC PHCKOVΠOPIΔO, diademed and draped bust of Rhescuporis right; trident to right

Rev: Laureate and draped bust of Gallienus right; I to right, AΞΦ (date) below.

Ref: MacDonald 620/3; Frolova p. 161 and plates XV-XVI ; Anokhin 712a

When I posted the coin above - I learned from contributor, "Severus Alexander", of this coin which I was pleased to acquire in a recent Leu auction.

Kings of Bosporos, Pharsanzes, AD 253/4-254/5, Stater (Billon, 19mm, 7.23g, 12h), BE 550 = 253/4

Obv: ΒΑCIΛЄⲰC ΦΑΡCANZOY, diademed head of Pharsanzes to right

Rev: ΝΦ Diademed and draped bust of Valerian I (or Gallienus) to right; to right, two pellets

Ref: MacDonald 627/2, Rare, roughness otherwise very fine.

"Pharsanzes" is only known from rare Bosporan coins issued in his name. They're all dated Bosporan year NΦ = 550 = 253/4. Pharsanzes appears to have been a usurper, possibly of Alan-Sarmatian origin, who brought a coalition of steppe/Gothic armies against the reigning monarch Rhescuporis V (Beydin 2016). This would explain the pattern of coin finds (predominating in Chernyakhov i.e. steppe/Gothic areas) as well as the archaeological record of barbarian incursions. As the fabric of the coins seems identical to those of Rhescuporis V, it seems is possible that the usurper took over mint (or mints) for a short time or as some speculate was a coruler for a short period. (Reference:

There are two varieties, one with a star (MacDonald 627/1) and the other with two pellets, like mine (627/2). These coins are usually described as picturing "either Valerian or Gallienus" or else just Valerian because he was the senior ruler. Both symbols also occur on coins of Rhescuporis IV/V but with no apparent correlation with senior/junior partner, so here we have a question of which emperor is depicted on this coin.


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