there are coins of almost every country or period that do not easily
fit into exact classifications. Sometimes weights, denominations
or planchet sizes are mutant to the regular issues. At other times,
design or motif may be atypical. Although anathema to the compulsive
classificationist, these deviants do exert a special charm and challenge
to most numismatists.
issues of Roman Egypt are rather rich in odd and unusual coins.
We have already encountered in a previous chapter the rare billon
didrachms of Claudius. This denomination lay dormant till the joint
reigns of Aurelian and Vaballathus, at which time some experimentation
took place. The author has the single known specimen of a potin
didrachm of these emperors. The coin resembles the contemporary
tetradrachms, with the busts of the rulers on either side, but is
only 19 millimeters in diameter, weighs only 4.27 grammes, and has
the obverse and reverse dies rotated at 80 degrees to each other.
The edges appear to have been "rolled" at the mint, before striking.
This appears to have been something of a pattern issue that did
not meet with favor. The obverse die was salvaged, however, and
the author has a tetradrachm of Aurelian of normal characteristics,
with full size reverse die, but with an obverse struck from the
same reduced size die of the didrachm.
Domitianus, during his coinage reform, revived the denomination
for the last time. In addition to octadrachms (equated with antoniniani)
and tetradrachms, this emperor struck potin didrachms, all bearing
reverse types of Nike.
to the issues of Aurelian and Vaballathus, we find an illustration
of the reverse of one of their experimental coins at the top of
XLII. Bronze drachmas and half-drachmas appear to have been
struck, although there is some doubt as to the actual denominations
intended, as well as whether certain variants in size represent
even- a third value. All bronzes, however, have the same motifs.
On the obverses are busts vis-a-vis of the two rulers. The present
illustration, of a half-drachma, depicts the reverse type. We see
a laurel wreath enclosing the regnal dates of both emperors. All
bronze coins of the joint reigns are quite rare.
second coin illustrated at the top of Plate
XLII represents another deviation from normal coinage practices.
The bust of the empress Julia Mamaea is shown as it appears on a
tetradrachm of Severus Alexander. It will be immediately noted that
the style of the coin is more Roman than Alexandrian. The lettering
is finer, the coin edge is more rounded, and the art work more conventionalized
than on the regular tetradrachms. Moreover, the dies were rotated
to a 180 degree position. This coin is one of a series issued for
two or three years during Alexander's reign (along with the more
"normal" style) which seem to reflect the influence of officials
or workmen imported from the mint of Rome.
next two coins encountered on the plate are common tetradrachms
of regular style. Both, however, depict types that are difficult
to place in the categories described in previous chapters. The tetradrachm
of Pius shows the "wolf and twins" motif, referring to the mythological
founding of Rome. This was borrowed directly from the Roman coinage.
The coin of Marcus Aurelius shows two right hands clasped, in a
gesture of "homonoia." This too was adopted from the regular coinage
of Rome. The first motif is found from the reign of Pius and Aurelius
sporadically through that of Aurelian while the second occurs on
tetradrachms of Hadrian, Pius and Aurelius.
next encounter a drachma of Pius depicting Hermes seated on a rock,
holding a purse and a caduceus. This is an unpublished type. The
only other known coin showing Hermes seated was issued by Caracalla.
The latter piece, a drachma, varies considerably from the coin illustrated
XLII is completed by a controversial tetradrachm of Hadrian.
This extremely rare coin has a reverse type that has long been considered
as portraying the head of the deified Trajan. However, the lack
of the customary inscription for such types would contraindicate
this, as would the use of the lion skin headdress, rather than radiate
crown or laurel wreath. All Alexandrian coins honoring deceased
predecessors seem to have included names and titles. It seems more
probable that we have depicted here the head of Herakles-Harpokrates.
It is quite significant that the coin's date L H (year eight) falls
in the period during which many fresh Greco-Egyptian types were
first four illustrations of Plate
XLIII are of unusual treatments of Sarapis. The exact meanings
of the types are rather obscure. All are quite rare, and do not
seem to have met with any degree of favor.
drachma of Caracalla depicts the bust of Sarapis receiving a salute
from the emperor, who is standing in a quadriga. It is possible
that this type represents Caracalla's acceptance of Sarapis as an
imperial protector and patron of victory.
following illustration is of a drachma reverse of Antoninus Pius.
This unpublished coin shows Sarapis seated on a sacred ram of Ammon.
A much different type identified as "Sarapis Ammon" appears on coins
of Hadrian, and our present reverse may be a variant expression
of the same syncretism. The only other known instance of the present
type occurs on an extremely rare issue of Trajan. For reasons unknown
the edge of the author's coin was serrated in antiquity.
below the two reverses described above, will be found an illustration
of a drachma of Trajan which shows Sarapis seated between the standing
figures of Harpokrates and Hermanubis. This is an extremely rare
issue which seems to have occurred only under Trajan. Once again,
the objective seems to have been connected with efforts toward syncretism.
remaining Sarapis type depicts his bust above a human foot and lower
leg. This motif first occurs in Pius's last year, and is found on
rare coins of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus. The exact meaning is
not clear. It is interesting to note that the human foot and lower
leg, as an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph, has the meaning of "place"
or "position," as well as the alphabetical value of the letter "B".
There may or may not be a symbolic connection with the coin type.
final two illustrations of Plate
XLIII, as well as all of Plate
XLIV, are devoted to reverses of "nome" coins. The nomes
were administrative areas of Egypt. Existing since earliest dynastic
times, they were identified with the petty kingdoms and similar
political units which had existed before the unification of Egypt
by the first dynasty pharaohs. The nome system survived the many
dynastic changes, foreign invasions and the Ptolemaic rule, and
was continued with modifications by the Romans.
nome coins were in bronze, and were struck at the Alexandrian mint.
All were identified by Greek legends containing the names of the
specific nomes, or their abbreviations. The various motifs were
intended to represent the local deities or sacred animals. The mint
officials, however, apparently had little knowledge of many of the
local cults. As a result, few of the coins shed much light on contemporary
religion, and some must have appeared rather ridiculous or offensive
to the actual residents of several of the nomes. It should be noted
that these pieces were issued for general use, and were not intended
to circulate exclusively in the designated nome.
first group of these coins were issued by Domitian, in the half-drachma
denomination. Trajan, Hadrian and Pius continued the series, but
in drachma, obol and dichalkon values. A thorough study of the nome
issues would require a separate article in itself. The nine types
presented here were chosen for their general contribution to a survey
of Alexandrian coinage as a whole, or for their special interest,
and are not intended to be definitive.
two nome types which conclude Plate
XLIII show unusual representations of Isis. The first, of
the Nesytes nome, is unpublished. A drachma of Trajan, it depicts
Isis standing with head turned, regarding a small figure of an Apis
bull, which she holds in her right hand. The second, a drachma of
Pius, is of the Memphite nome. In this rare type, Isis stands before
a small Apis bull. She wears a vulture headdress, and holds a staff
and uraeus in either hand.
top three illustrations of Plate
XLIV are of obols of Hadrian. We first encounter a coin
of the Memphite nome which depicts Isis standing, holding a small
figure of Harpokrates on her outstretched hand, while her turned
head regards an uraeus, which rests on her other hand. The next
coin, of the Hermopolite nome, shows the bust of Thoth, with a diminutive
Ibis before it. Thoth, ancient Egyptian god of wisdom and knowledge,
is not encountered on the "regular" coinage. The remaining obol,
of the Arsinoite nome, depicts the head of a pharaoh, wearing royal
headdress, with uraeus and beard.
bronze drachma of Aurelius Caesar, representing the Heliopolite
nome, is next. Helios is shown radiate, holding a staff in his right
hand, while he regards the Mnevis bull held in his outstretched
left hand. This type is extremely rare.
Leontopolite nome is represented by a drachma of Pius. Horus is
depicted standing, with a scepter in his right hand, while his left
bears a small figure of a lion.
XLIV is completed by two unpublished drachmas of Trajan.
Issued for the Ombite nome, the first of these shows a youthful
male god, resting his left hand on a long staff, while in his right
he holds a crocodile. He is crowned with disk and horns. The second
coin appears to be the only known nome coin to depict two deities
and to represent (apparently) two nomes. The nude male figure, extending
a bust in his hand, is a standard type for the Arsinoite nome. The
standing figure of Sarapis, sacrificing over an altar, seems to
represent the Alexandrian nome. Legible parts of the inscription
seem to confirm the two words "nome" and "Arsinoite." The type may
have been intended to represent dependence of the nome upon the
officialdom of Alexandria, or perhaps to represent a "homonoia"
article has done little more than "scratch the surface" of the fascinating
subject of the Alexandrian coinage. The numismatist who wishes to
specialize in the series will find rich rewards. In addition to
the vast amount of knowledge that can be gained, there remains always
the possibility of discovering new types or varieties. So varied
was the coinage of Roman Egypt that a "complete" catalog will probably
never be written.