Coins of Roman Egypt
Greek Dates


With one or two exceptions, the coin motifs treated in this chapter will be those representing the fruits of man's labor. At the one extreme, we will have massive temple pylons and a vast lighthouse, while at the other will appear simple corn baskets and wreaths. These reverse types are not confined to any one or two denominations, but will be commonly found on coins of all sizes and values.

Plate XXXIV, in its first three illustrations, features varying representations of altars. The first coin reverse depicts a flaming altar, as it appears on a memorial tetradrachm of Carus. This was struck posthumously by his sons, in connection with the consecration of "Divus Carus," and was the only such memorial coin issued throughout the history of the Alexandrian mint during Roman times. The basic motif is borrowed from the regular imperial coinage. The two following drachma reverses show varying "altar of Caesareum" types. The first is an unpublished variety by Faustina, Jr., which depicts the altar with four columns, between which is a standing figure. This is a not uncommon form for the altar, although several of the minor details differ from other specimens. The drachma of Pius shows an altar with six columns, and omits the standing figure. Other common varieties (not illustrated here) may show a six column altar with a standing figure or a four-column altar without. There are so many variations in the representations of this type, that it is uncertain whether or not such an altar actually existed.

The remaining three illustrations of Plate XXXIV are of galleys. The first, from a drachma of Trajan, shows a divine barge bearing the seated figure of Sarapis. Isis Pharia stands before him, holding a bellying sail, while Demeter stands immediately behind him. It was customary in Egypt, from earliest dynastic times, to place actual images of the gods upon barks of various types, for religious processions and special ceremonies. The two remaining galley types are from tetradrachms. The coin of Nero shows a galley under sail. The accompanying inscription suggests that it was issued in expectation of a voyage to Egypt by the emperor. The type of Commodus depicts a galley sailing past the Pharos of Alexandria. Although historical confirmation is lacking, its purpose may also have been to mark a projected imperial visit.

We find on Plate XXXV a group of buildings. The first illustration, from a half-drachma of Hadrian, is of the Pharos of Alexandria. This lighthouse, on a small island at the outer edge of the harbor, has been considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The coins appear to portray it accurately and consistently. (Compare details of the Pharos as it appears on the present coin with its appearance on the tetradrachm of Commodus on Plate XXXIV). This famous lighthouse was a favorite reverse type on half-drachmas, from Domitian to Marcus Aurelius.

The temple of Tyche, as represented on a drachma of Pius, gives a general impression of the many temples of divinities that occur on the bronze drachmas. Little would be gained by an attempt to depict the many minor varieties of such buildings, since all are merely conventionalized versions of a general type, rather than actual representations of specific structures. All varieties depict the temples in the Greek form, either distyle or tetrastyle. The statue of the god or goddess within is usually shown standing or seated. Used as early as Domitian, the temple types become quite popular under the adoptive emperors, but disappear midway in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. The temple of Tyche has been presented here as the sole example because of the unusual interest that is attached to the honoring of a personification with a temple.

The two drachmas in the center part of Plate XXXV, both of Hadrian, illustrate purely Egyptian architecture. The massive pylon was the standard entrance or gateway to almost all Egyptian temples. Two varieties are shown here, both of which may represent actual temple fronts. The first is a very rare variety. It depicts a narrow central doorway flanked on either side by pairs of flag-staff holders, above which are single apertures, somewhat larger at the bottom than at the top. A statue of Isis, with scepter in left hand, rests above the doorway, and a garland hangs from its base. The second coin, an unpublished variety, shows a pylon with a much broader doorway, with pairs of apertures above the flag-staff holders, and with the scepter in Isis' right hand.

Plate XXXV is completed by representations of the temple of Mars Ultor and an arch of triumph. The first of these types is found only on bronze 80 drachma coins of Augustus, and was probably copied from some of his Asiatic issues. The 80 drachmas denomination was found only during the earlier years of Augustus, and was soon replaced by the diobol. The arch of triumph pictured here is from a very rare tetradrachm of Domitian. It appears again, from time to time, on the coinage of Trajan and on a few pieces of Hadrian, but is never common. There does not seem to have been any actual arch in Alexandria to which the type referred.

The top row of Plate XXXVI is composed of tetradrachm reverses that portray two common wreath types. The billon coin of Marcus Aurelius depicts a laurel wreath enclosing the date LI (year 10). This type is fairly common for tetradrachms of Marcus Aurelius, Aurelian, and Diocletian. The illustrated coin of Gallienus shows a similar laurel wreath, which in this case encloses an inscription. This arrangement occurs originally in the time of Augustus, and is found sporadically thereafter to the time of Diocletian.

The remaining types of Plate XXXVI depict varying representations of a modius. The obol of Hadrian shows the modius between two torches. This type is frequently encountered on obols from the reign of Augustus to that of Pius. A drachma of Trajan places the modius on a column, which is supported by two serpents. A somewhat similar type occurs on drachmas of Hadrian, but specimens of both emperors are quite scarce. Two additional drachmas of Trajan, forming the bottom row of the plate, give arrangements of unusual interest. The first type shows the modius upon a cart drawn by two oxen. A priest ( ? ) acts as driver, and may be seen just behind the animals. This coin is unpublished, and seems to be the only representation of a modius known for Trajan's twelfth year. The second type depicts the modius in a quadriga, with a driver to the front of the vehicle, and an attendant at the rear, who appears to be steadying the sacred object.

Plate XXXVII illustrates a miscellaneous group of artifacts and inanimate objects. Two types of crowns are shown as they appear on the tiny dichalka. The crown of Isis, composed of plumes, disk and horns, is from the reverse of a coin of Hadrian, as is the Hemhem crown of Harpokrates. These crowns appear on the scarce dichalka of Trajan and Hadrian only, except for a few known instances of the Isis crown on coins of the same denomination attributed to Augustus and to Domitian.

The next illustration is of a caduceus between corn ears, as the type occurs on a diobol of Claudius. The caduceus first appears on diobols of Claudius and Nero, but then disappears till Hadrian's reign, at which time it was revived by him and his two successors. A few obols of Claudius show a hand holding a caduceus, and scarce dichalka of Trajan and Hadrian depict an upright caduceus.

We next find an obol of Claudius which features a hand holding corn ears and poppies. This type is found only on obols of Claudius, although a very rare obol issue of Hadrian shows two hands grasping what may be corn ears.

On the bottom row, we encounter an obol of Hadrian which depicts two cornucopias in saltire. Cornucopias were introduced by Augustus on diobols, obols and dichalka, but then disappear from the coinage except for obols of Hadrian and for a few scattered dichalka.

The final type of Plate XXXVII depicts a trophy, with two bound captives seated at its foot, as depicted on a tetradrachm of Severus Alexander. A trophy first appears on coins of Trajan, if one excepts an issue of rare dichalka of Nero, and persists through the reign of Gallienus. Many variations occur in the number and type of arms which compose the trophy, as well as in the number and arrangement of captives, when represented. It is difficult to identify the specific victories to which the trophies may pertain, except for an issue of Marcus Aurelius, which bears the Greek legend for "Armenia."



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