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The Votive Deposit in Field 49

Updated: Sep 16


As I was updating this post, written earlier this year, I stumbled on a 2014 blog entry with a photo that seems to be the two votive deposits mentioned in this entry! [see also: Univ. Wisconsin article, and Sardis Expedition site] The coin of interest is a Roman provincial coin that led me to this monograph by Jane DeRose Evans in “COINS FROM THE EXCAVATIONS AT SARDIS: THEIR ARCHAEOLOGICAL AND ECONOMIC CONTEXTS, COINS FROM THE 1973 TO 2013 EXCAVATIONS”, a worthwhile read at the intersection of numismatics and archeology. I enjoyed the readable descriptions of challenges and methods to establish context for coins e.g.

  • Circulation: how fast, how many, how far and how long

  • Date of coins, artifacts or strata

  • Purpose of local and imperial coins

  • Source mints: where, when, and how they operated

  • Find types: primary, secondary, tertiary as deposited coins move from initial location

First, where is Sardis?

What caught my attention in the monograph was section 3.3.1 under the title that I used for this post, “The Votive Deposit in Field 49”. The author describes finds from an area that held moderately wealthy homes in the 1st century AD. Below the floor of one room of a home was a “ritual deposit” or “votive”:


“The intact vessels of the deposit consisted of a pair of identical, locally-made bowls, one of which was flipped over and placed on top of the other. Inside the bowl was found a complete eggshell, pierced by a small hole in order to empty its contents; one bronze nail; one long bronze needle; two badly-corroded iron implements that appear to feature decoration, one of which was stuck to a small white pebble; and a coin, giving a terminus post quem of 65 AD to the entire deposit” -Jane DeRose Evans


Why was this odd collection of objects placed beneath the floor? Similar deposits from an early 20th century excavation, and a second find about a meter away at the same site, suggest that this is a ritual offering to “to protect the new structure and those who lived there from malevolent forces”. This region in Asia Minor has a lot of seismic activity, and Emmanuela Guidaboni catalogs major earthquakes in the region in AD 17, 23, 47, 53, and 60. These are the big ones - in an area where minor earthquakes are much more common. Tacitus describes the one in AD 17:


In the same year, twelve important cities of Asia collapsed in an earthquake, the time being night, so that the havoc was the less foreseen and the more devastating. Even the usual resource in these catastrophes, a rush to open ground, was unavailing, as the fugitives were swallowed up in yawning chasms. Accounts are given of huge mountains sinking, of former plains seen heaved aloft, of fires flashing out amid the ruin. -Tacitus, Annals 2.47


Earthquakes may have been one of the malevolent forces against which the votive was protection for a new house and family members.


Is there a coin any time soon? The coin that is described in this votive is nearly the same type as my recently purchased coin from Sardis – same magistrate, same city, same time period, same Zeus reverse, similar flan, different obverse. This is the coin, with Nero on the obverse, RPC 3007, and mine a similar coin with the Senate on the obverse in place of Nero (and for its purpose - Zeus was certainly the more useful side of the coin).

Lydia, Sardis (aka Silandos), Pseudo-autonomous, Time of Nero (54-68), Ae, Ti. Kl. Mnaseas, strategos.

Obv: ΘЄON CVNKΛHTON, draped youthful bust of the Senate right

Rev: ЄΠΙ ΤΙ ΜΝΑCЄΟΥ CΑΡΔΙΑΝΩΝ (retrograde), Zeus standing left, holding eagle and scepter

Size: 4.16 g, 20 mm

Ref:RPC 3008; BMC 62


This coin is described as “pseudo-autonomous” which raises the question of “what is pseudo-autonomous?”. As an answer, I like this 1985 paper by Ann Johnston, which after a careful assessment, concludes unceremoniously:


“The conclusions from these investigations are therefore unavoidably negative: the "pseudo-autonomous" Greek Imperials are no different from any other Greek Imperials and their types have nothing to do with autonomy. It would be better if they were referred to simply as "coins without imperial heads" until a handy descriptive term is formulated. The ultimate moral of the tale is surely a good one for numismatists to keep in mind: there is not necessarily a deep significance lurking behind every coin type.” - Ann Johnston


Some of the evidence that she presents behind this includes:

  • The Senate type is found exclusively (with one exception noted) in the Province of Asia, a province administered by the Senate in the imperial period from 133 B.C. when the Pergamene kingdom was willed to Rome

  • The autonomous issues were not apparently treated at all differently in circulation, they have been found outside their own cities and were counter-marked elsewhere

  • The geographical distribution of the "pseudo-autonomous" issues is roughly that of all Greek Imperials

  • For any category of coins with imperial portrait one can find other examples without

  • Smyrna is called out as unusual for striking exclusively autonomous issues and certain unchanging autonomous types over a period of 100 to 150 years (and potential value in pseudo-autonomous dies being reusable even with changing emperors)

Jane DeRose Evans comments similarly in her monograph, citing several more recent sources:


“where the lack of emperors’ portraits on the coins were considered a measure of autonomy for the city (hence, “pseudo-autonomous coins” for those without Imperial portraits), this no longer seems a valid distinction; it does not appear that the city needed permission from the emperor to mint.” - Jane DeRose Evans


Here’s another coin of Lydia with the bust of the Senate from a bit later (again pseudo-anonymous) and from Apollonis, which was 300 stadia (very roughly 50km) from Sardis:

Lydia, Apollonis, Pseudo-autonomous issue circa AD 69-92, Flavian era, Bronze Æ

Obv: ΑΠΟΛΛΟΝΙΔЄΩΝ, Draped bust of Apollo right.

Rev: ΙЄΡΑ CVNKΛHTOC Draped bust of the Senate right.

Size: 15 mm, 2.15g

Ref: RPC 952A


I am now on the hunt for a couple of locally-made bowls, an eggshell, a bronze nail, a bronze needle, a couple of decorated iron implements and a small white pebble - if it worked for earthquakes, maybe it works for other malevolent forces…

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