The Silphion plant

KYRENAICA, Koinon. Circa 250-246 BC. Ć (22mm, 9.78 g, 12h).
Obv: Head of Zeus-Ammon right, wearing tainia.
Rev: Silphion plant.
reference - SNG Copenhagen 1276; BMC 15

The Silphion plant was the wunder drug of antiquity. Its resin was used for flavoring, contraception, headaches, as an aphrodisiac, and more. It is said to have gone extinct around the time of the reign of Nero. Silphion was the primary resource and export of the province of Kyrene. It is hard to believe that as the silphion harvest decreased drastically that some form of conservation measures were not enacted. You might also think that somewhere in the desert of Libya there are silphion seeds buried or that a merchant ship at the bottom of the mediterranean still preserves the DNA of silphion cargo. Given the amazing properties of the plant the pharmaceutical industry should have interest. The PR associated with the resurrection of the miracle plant would bring in billions. Some scholars believe that Silphion did not go extinct, rather it is the present day Ferula tingitana. There are similarities to the depictions on coins, but tingitana does not have opposing petioles (leaf stalks). I propose a reality show entitled "in search of Silphion". They would have great locations and would probably have a better chance of locating it than they do for Bigfoot. One last note on this plant is its supposed connection to the heart symbol. Smaller denomination coins of Kyrene depict the seed of the plant which has the form of our traditional valentine heart. The ancients truly loved this plant.
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Trajan 98 -117 CE
Obv: IMPTRAIANO AVG.GER.DAC.P.M.TR.P.COS.VI P.P His laureated head right; drapery over left shoulder.
Rx: S.P.Q.R.OPTIMO PRINCIPI/ALIM ITAL in exergue; Annona or Abundantia standing facing, her head left holding cornucopia, child at her feet
references - Sear 975, Cohen 9

The Alimenta was a welfare program for poor children and Orphans. Credit for designing the program is usually attributed to Nerva, but it was increased and formally organized under Trajan. In a strange twist of parallel evolution, the Chinese emperor Wang Mang instituted a similar reform several decades earlier. The Alimenta was funded from several sources. Probably, money from the Dacian Wars was used to initially underwrite the program; however, the long-term existence of the program was insured through 5% interest paid by wealthy landowners on loans and estate taxes. Philanthropy was also encouraged and contributed to the total funding.

Under Alimenta, Boys of freemen received 16 sesterces monthly, girls received 12, while children borne out of wedlock received a bit less.1 The Alimenta was supplemented with a special young girls foundation initiated by Antoninus Pius in honor of his deceased wife faustina. Municipal magistrates administered the alimentary funds and in turn were supervised by imperial clerks who had the status of knights.

The denarius pictured above is a wonderful piece of art and propaganda. The personification of Abundance points left to the future with the young child holding his left hand over his stomach. A very historic and moving issue. Variants of the reverse image have Abundance holding the child's hand and the two figures looking directly at each other.


Leukippos - Founder of Metapontion

LUCANIA, Metapontion. Circa 330 BC. AR Nomos (7.79 grams. 21 mm)
Obv: Bearded head of Leukippos to right, wearing Corinthian helmet; behind, lionís head right.
Rev: barley ear, club above leaf.
reference - SNG ANS 432ff; HN III, 1575; Johnston B2.2 ff
The obverse of this Nomos depicts Metapontion's founder, Leukippos. The Corinthian helmet and beard are indicative of his role as strategos or military leader, still the highest rank in the Greek army today. The beard is intended to portray the wisdom and venerable nature of the leader (Much like Marcus Aurelius), thus making him the perfect "founding father". Leukippos was from the Magna Graecian city of Sybaris not far from Metapontium to the southwest. Stabo cites the legend of Leukippos winning the site of Metapontion through trickery from its neighbor and subsequent rival Taras (Strabo, Geography 6, 265). I could find no other references to this "trickery". These staters were issued in great numbers toward the end of the fourth century. It is possible that this series is related to the campaign of Alexander the Molossian (uncle of Alexander the great), who was invited by Taras to help defend the local Greek cities from the non-Greek tribes of the interior. What better time to remind the citizens of Metapontion of their roots than while occupied by a foreign force. The reverse of the coin depicts an ear of barley. Metapontion was located on one of the most fertile plains of Italy and its agricultural producst were the source of much of the city's wealth .

Star & Crescent Coins

The Moon and Stars!

The star and crescent symbols have a long history in art, astronomy, astrology, and numismatics. On coins of the Roman era, the depiction of these symbols would seem to indicate celestial arrangements of the planets. There are never more than seven stars depicted, which would account for all of the "roaming" objects in the heavens (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars. Jupiter, and Saturn). Almost all of the appearances of the star/cresent motif occurred during the reigns of Hadrian, Commodus, Septimus Severus, Caracalla, Geta, and Percennius Niger. The Severan dynasty was particularly taken (obsessed) by astrology. The provincial coins of Septimus Severus seem to be centered at Nikopolis. Interestingly, all 5 of the visible planets were aligned in the night sky just recently. Furthermore, the grouping of these coins in the latter part of the 2nd century may have significance. Computer models have suggested that two eclipses, one annular the other total, occurred in the northern hemisphere in 186 CE. This would place it in the reign of Commodus. Two eclipses in the same year (July 4, and Dec. 28) would have been exceedingly rare and noteworthy especially with the Annular eclipse occurring almost at the new year (the July 4, eclipse was total). All of the emperors mentioned above ruled within 19 years of each other. Whether the purpose of the crescent/star motif is related to eclipses (in which planets become visible by day), lunar or planetary conjunctions of the Plaeidies (7 sisters) and/or other planets, or simple repesentation of Roman cosmology may never be known for sure. The coin with Zeus on the obverse and a leaping ram on the reverse represents a planetary conjunction in the constellation Aries. According to Michael Molnar, the now famous "Star of Bethlehem" coin supposedly depicts Jupiter's occultation of Aries twice in April 6, BCE. A later coin from Antioch with a similar theme - Tyche on obverse with Venus(?) occulting the moon in Aries. Another famous depiction of a planetary conjunction is Julian II's two stars in Tarus reverse. Celestial objects depicted on coins makes for a very interesting focus for collecting.
The last two coins are from the Middle East. The Parthian coin of Orodes II depicts two stars and the crescent moon. Other coins of his have one star with the crescent while others do not have the crescent. The final coin is from the Artuqid dynasty and dates from the 12th century. The two figures on the obverse represent the Sun and Mercury. Other Artuqid coins have personifications of different combinations of planets and/or the sun. For more information on Astronomical representations on coins visit my site and Marshall Faintich's site on Symbolic Messengers.

Via Traiana

Trajan, AR denarius, (3.69g)

Obv: IMP TRAIANO AVG GER DAC P M TR P COS V P P Laureate bust right, drapery on far shoulder
Rev: S P Q R OPTIMO PRI; Via Trajana reclining left, holding wheel, head turned, VIA TRAIANA in exergue.
Struck 114-117 CE; Reference - reference - RIC II 266.

Feats of engineering and architecture are depicted on Roman coins and are a favorite among collectors. Arches, aqueducts, buildings, bridges and even roads make their way onto Roman coins. The saying, "All roads lead to Rome" was pretty much true as the Romans ended up with a system containing over 53,000 miles of Roads. Fourteen different viae radiated from Rome. This Trajan denarius commemorates the constuction of the Via traiana, an extension of the Appian Way in southern Italy. The depiction of the personification of the highway is reminiscient of the art nouveau posters of the 20s and 30s advertising motor cars. The Via Traiana connected 3 major towns on the Adriatic to the Via Appia for direct access to Rome. For more information on Roman coins with architectural and engineering reverses, obtain a Copy of Monumental Coins by Marvin Tameanko - Krause Publishing. A great read and beautifully illustrated. This coffee table-sized book is now selling for under $10!
For an internet site on Roman Road construction, visit Adam Pawluk's site.

First large scale minting of coins in Europe: Aegina

Aegina, 457-431 BCE, AR stater; 18mm, 12.34 grams
Obv: land tortoise with segmented shell.
Rev: large incuse square, skew design.
reference - Sear 2600
ex - CNG; ex - Ephesus Coins
Aegina staters are compact and thick. The have the feel of an early coin. This one is a bit off center as if the die was struck a glancing blow causing metal to flow to the unstruck side. That side is much thicker than the struck end and can be seen in some of the images below. You can also get an idea of the metal flow around the turtle in some of the close ups. Aegina was a major port and power just prior to Athens' RISE. Barclay Head gives the date for first minting of Aegina coins at 700 BC, but he obviously was a little early as the accepted date now tend to be about 600. Aegina lies in the Saronic gulf only 15 km south of Piraeus the port of Athens so competition was inevitable. The Sea Turtle was used in various forms for almost 150 years until its conquest by Athens in the middle of the 5th century BCE. When rule was returned to the island by Lysander around 400 BCE the land tortoise, as on this coin, was featured - as if the islanders were resolved to not being a major maritime power.

Antoninus Pius. 138-161 AD. AR Denarius (3.06 gm)

Obv: ANTONINVS AVG PIVS P P, laureate head right.
Rev: TEMPLVM DIV AVG REST, COS IIII in exergue, octastyle temple of Divus Augustus.
References -RIC II 143; BMCRE 549; RSC 809.

This is a coin I obtained for under $15 on ebay which has considerable historical significance. No Trace remains today of this temple to the deified Augustus and Livia. It was built by Tiberius or as a joint effort of Tiberius and Livia. According to Suetonius, Tiberius did not finish the temple, and it was completed by Caligula. Tacitus, however, says that Tiberius finished the temple, but for some reason did not dedicate it agreeing in this with Dio. In this temple were statues of Augustus, of Livia set up by Claudius, and probably of other deified emperors [Platner, 1929]. It was destroyed by fire at some time before 79 A.D., but restored, probably by Domitian, who seems to have constructed a shrine of his patron goddess, Minerva as an adjunct to it [Most likely it was struck by lightning In 69 A.D.]. A considerable restoration was carried out by Antoninus Pius, whose coins, like the one above, show an octastyle building with Corinthian capitals, and two statues, presumably of Augustus and Livia, in the cella. The last reference to the temple is in 248 AD. Pliny refers to one painting in the temple, that of Hyacinthus by Nicias of Athens, which was placed there by Tiberius [Plin. NH xxxv.131]. The temple illustrated on the coins of Antonius Pius presents the viewer with great detail. The quadriga on top and the relief in the pediment feature Augustus. The figure on the left eave of the roof represents Romulus and Aeneas is on the right leading his family through the flames of Troy [CNG, 2002]. Two statues of Victory flank the steps.

In Latin literature this temple is called templum Augusti or divi Augusti, except in Martial and Suetonius, where it is templum novum, a name which was evidently given to the building upon completion, as it occurs in the Acta Arvalia from 36 A.D. In connection with the temple, Tiberius seems to have erected a library, BIBLIOTHECA TEMPLI NOVI or TEMPLI AUGUSTI and subsequently Caligula was to build his famous bridge to connect the Palatine and Capitoline hills over this temple. Its location is thereby indicated as somewhere on the north-west side of the Palatine, below the domus Tiberiana. Of the construction of the original temple before the restoration by Antoninus, we know nothing from ancient sources other than coins, although a hexastyle temple of Augustus is represented on bronze coins of Tiberius of 34-36 A.D.

For more information on Roman coins with architectural and engineering reverses, obtain a Copy of Monumental Coins by Marvin Tameanko - Krause Publishing. A great read and beautifully illustrated. This coffee table-sized book is now selling for under $10!

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