Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ancient Coin Post - A Claudian Copper of Colonia Philipi

Obverse: Victory facing left holding a wreath of victory and palm, on base.

Obverse Inscription: VIC AVG (Victoria Augusti - Victory of Augustus / the Emperor).

Reverse: 3 Praetorian Cohort Standards,

Inscription: COHOR PRAE COL PIIIL (Praetorian Cohort Philippi)

RPC (Roman Provincial Coinage) #1651

This is a copper Roman Provincial Coin, 18mm in diameter struck at Colonia Philipi, the Roman Colony founded at the location of the famous Battle of Philippi - the engagement between the members of the second triumvirate and the assassins of Julius Caesar,, Brutus and Cassius in 42 BC. The armies at the battle were estimated to be approximately 19 legions each.

After the battle, veterans of both sides were settled there, forming a colonia named Antonia Iulia Colonia Victrix Philippi.

After Octavian won the battle of Actium against Mark Anthony, and changed his name to Augustus, he changed the name of the colonia to Colonia Augusta Iulia Philippensis sometime after 27 BC, changing the name to end the association with Mark Anthony and to highlight his victory. Both members of the Praetorian Cohorts and Legion XXVIII were settled there.

The coin itself is pretty interesting. As a colonial issue, dates are often hard to pinpoint. The Roman Colonies and often many other cities of the east struck and continued to strike their own independent coinage or at least lesser value coinage (typically copper and bronze coins) for quite some time independent of the standard Roman issue. One author in a book on the Roman army hilariously identifies it as a sestertius which is pretty much impossible due to its size -- think dime (this coin) compared to a silver dollar (a sestertius) as a relative size comparison and then claim the dime is a silver dollar -- not so much.

Some catalogers placed it as being issued by Augustus. The editors of the RPC believe it was issued by Claudius or Nero, because at the time of Augustus the coins struck in Macedonia were bronze, not copper and under Claudius we do see copper coins being struck in Macedonia and at Philippi. I further believed it was struck in 42 AD by Claudius as a 100 year commemorative of the Battle of Philippi and an attempt by Claudius to honor the Praetorian Guards of his time, the same Praetorian Guards that helped assure his ascension to emperor of Rome after the death of Caligula. The Romans were very big on commemorating past notable events on their coinage and trying to link them to the time at the date of issuance of the coin. (I actually had an article published in a numismatic journal on this coin about this dating issue back when I was an undergrad, which was quite neat).

So an interesting coin, linked to history, commemorating a famous battle and the Praetorian Guard, and with a little mystery as to question of when it was actually minted.

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