Coins of Roman Egypt
Greek Dates


The representations of the emperor and of other members of the imperial house are of much less significance on the Alexandrian coinage than on the regular Roman coinage. For one thing, the Alexandrian mint engravers rarely saw the emperor or family member, and had to depend on a "stock" bust, shipped from Rome, for a portraiture model. For another thing, the imperial reverse types of Alexandria were only infrequently connected with specific historical events. In view of the status of Egypt as a personal dependency of the Roman emperor, there did not exist the need for the use of imperial types for propaganda purposes. This was in contrast with their common use in such manner on the coinage struck for the rest of the empire. In consideration of the above facts, this chapter will make no attempt to develop a comprehensive study of imperial reverse types, but will rather confine itself to the illustration of characteristic major motifs.

Portraits of various empresses appear as reverses, rather commonly, to the end of Severus Alexander's reign. The majority, however, also are found as obverse types with names and titles. Plate XXIX illustrates the busts of four empresses who appear only on coin reverses. Antonia is a common type for the tetradrachms of Claudius, as is :Faustina Sr. for the tetradrachms of Pius. The busts of Octavia and Poppaea are found on Nero's coins of the same denomination, and are not uncommon. Poppaea's bust does not appear on the regular Roman coinage.

Plate XXIX is completed by reverses of two coins which are decidedly atypical in the Alexandrian series. The first shows the bust of Vaballathus as it appears on a tetradrachm issued during the short period that he was recognized as co-ruler by Aurelian, whose bust occupies the obverse. The only other instance in which co-emperors shared opposite sides of an Alexandrian coin was during the reign of Diocletian. The second unusual type depicts the busts of Claudius's three children, Britannicus, Antonia and Octavia, above cornucopias in saltire. This motif is found only on the extremely rare billon didrachms of Claudius.

Plate XXX illustrates four examples of seated figures, two of which represent empresses, while two are of emperors. The types of the two empresses are quite homogeneous and are intended to portray them in the guise of Demeter. It will be noted that both Domitia, on the extremely rare diobol of Domitian, and Sabina, on a common tetradrachm with her own obverse, are represented seated on a low throne, holding corn ears and a long scepter.

The tetradrachm of Nero which portrays the radiate emperor seated on a low throne seems to be without special historical significance, as does that of Pius, which shows the emperor seated upon a dais, with a soldier nearby. This last type seems to be a random imitation of the Roman "Liberalitas" motif.

The final two types of Plate XXX are found on fairly common tetradrachms. That of Claudius represents Messalina standing, with attributes of both Demeter and the Roman Fecunditas. The reverse type of the coin of Pius depicts Faustina Jr. as Eusebia sacrificing by an altar.

Plate XXXI is devoted to various representations of the emperor. A half drachma of Hadrian shows him standing in a toga, sacrificing over an altar. The following reverse, from a tetradrachm of Commodus, depicts an unusual representation of the emperor dressed in the robes of a priest of Sarapis. Commodus is sacrificing upon an altar to Sarapis, whose bust is seen resting on a short column. This Egyptianized imperial type does not seem to represent any specific historical event.

The next reverse is from a half drachma of Antinous and depicts this emperor's favorite in the guise of Hermes on horseback. The rather rare group of bronzes issued to commemorate Antinous form a unique departure from the normal Alexandrian mintage. The present reverse is from an unpublished variety, but gives a clear illustration of the general type.

The following two tetradrachms portray two common varieties of the emperor on horseback. That of Probus depicts a type encountered sporadically from the time of Pius on, and is rare only for Probus, for whom not more than three specimens of the type are known. The reverse of Aurelian's coin shows the mounted emperor spearing an enemy. This type became rather common after its introduction by Marcus Aurelius. In its use by Aurelian, it probably has direct reference to the emperor's overthrow of the Palmyran forces in Egypt.

The final type of Plate XXXI depicts a diobol of Hadrian which portrays the emperor seated on a galley. This coin is clearly connected with the emperor's visit to Egypt, being dated LIE (year 15), the date of his arrival in that country.

The various reverses shown on Plate XXXII depict the emperor standing in company with some other figure, human or divine. The two tetradrachms of the top row illustrate imperial groups; that of Marcus Aurelius shows the co-emperors clasping hands; that of Julia Paula is quite similar, except that her own standing figure replaces that of the co-emperor. No special significance seems to be attached to either type, other than the hint of "homonoia" within the imperial family.

The next two types are clearly identified with Hadrian's visit to Egypt. His tetradrachm reverse shows him receiving a tribute of corn ears from the standing figure of Alexandria, while his drachma reverse depicts Alexandria kissing his outstretched hand in welcome, The date on both coins, of course, is year 15.

The third row illustrates two "victory" types. The tetradrachm of Commodus shows the emperor being crowned by Nike. This type is found for most emperors from Hadrian to Elagabalus and does not seem to have specific connotations. On the other hand, the drachma of Trajan which shows the emperor standing above a kneeling king, apparently refers to his Armenian victories. This latter coin is quite rare.

All coin types found on Plate XXXIII represent drachma reverses. The first two depict the emperor with Sarapis. That of Hadrian shows the two figures standing by a temple, and undoubtedly refers to the completion of a new building of that type in Alexandria. Dated in year 17, the coin allows for a normal period of construction for a building that could have been inspired by Hadrian's visit two years earlier. The other reverse, from a coin of Caracalla, depicts Sarapis in the act of crowning the emperor. This latter type occurs only in the reigns of Trajan and Caracalla, but does not seem to have historical significance. It is quite rare.

The remaining four imperial types all portray the emperor in some kind of chariot and may be considered generalized "victory" types. The two reverses of Hadrian show the emperor in quadrigas, one of which is drawn by horses, the other by elephants. Both representations are quite common and are encountered under other rulers of the period. The reverse of the coin of Domitian, which depicts the emperor in a biga of centaurs, is less common but also occurs on coins of Trajan and Hadrian. Of particular interest is the small figure of Nike, which is extended by one centaur toward the emperor. The final type, which shows the emperor in a biga of Tritons, is found only on coins of Trajan. The present example represents an unpublished variety of this rare type.



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