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Münzbild und Gemeinschaft: Die Prägungen der römischen Kolonien in Kleinasien

Münzbild und Gemeinschaft: Die Prägungen der römischen Kolonien in Kleinasien

By Axel Filges (Frankfurther Archäologische Schriften 29). Pp. xii + 404, figs. 558, CD-ROM  1. Habelt Verlag, Bonn 2015. €99. ISBN 978-3-7749-3947-9 (cloth).

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Roman provincial coinage, once neglected by Hellenists and Romanists alike in favor of state-sanctioned coins, has attracted immense scholarly attention over the past three decades or so. The imagery on the reverses of provincial coins was fundamentally different from that of the imperial coinage at Rome. Imperial coin design pertained to grand historical events and the ideals or qualities possessed by the emperor, while provincial coin design trumpeted local civic identity. The flavor of that identity was, however, dictated by certain circumstances such as the city’s Greek past or its origin as a veteran colony. One of the most important regions for Roman provincial coinage is Asia Minor, which was home to hundreds of provincial mints during the Roman period. Filges’ book on the numismatic imagery of Roman colonies in Asia Minor, based on his 2012 Habilitationsschrift (but incorporating more recent scholarship), comes on the heels of another important work on provincial coin iconography from Asia by Bennett (Local Elites and Local Coinage: Elite Self-Representation on the Provincial Coinage of Asia, 31 BC–AD 275 [London 2014]). Filges’ book is narrower in scope in that it concentrates on the 14 colonies of Sinope, Parium, Apamea, Antiochia pros Pisidiam, Lystra, Iconium, Ninica Claudiopolis, Cremna, Alexandria Troas, Comama, Olbasa, Parlais, Germa, and Mallus. As his book focuses on the “self-representation” of Roman colonies, it provides significant insight into how a specific group of cities projected their identity as opposed to a more generic examination of provincial coin iconography, which would have included other classes of provincial coins such as the local coinage of Greek cities or regional coinages such as the cistophori for use in Asia or the silver drachms and didrachms used in Cappadocia.

The first chapter outlines the author’s methodology and theoretical premises, including a useful discussion of the communicative value of coin imagery and the agency behind its formulation in the provinces, with reference to the most recent scholarship and with specific regard to the martial qualities of coin designs from Roman colonies. The meat of the book begins with the third chapter, on the actual reverse types from the selected colonies. The first half of the chapter (57–109) presents an overview of each mint, including the types of coins it struck, if any, before the coming of Rome; details of its foundation as a colony; and a useful descriptive list of types that it struck. The following section (109–287) categorizes the different types of images from the various colonies: the imperial family (110–32), various gods and heroes (133–208), personifications (208–32), some colony-specific themes (the Lupa Romana, Marsyas, and city-foundation scenes with oxen pulling a plough [232–50]), and “other” (250–87). This last category includes images such as architectural representations, tripods, warships, and priestly implements. Although dealing with the provinces, Filges points out that the reverses of colonial coinage in Asia Minor are often derivative of reverses on Roman imperial coins, which makes sense given the Roman origin of these colonies through veteran colonization. He argues that while there is a tendency over time for the character of colonial coin design to become similar to other coins in Asia Minor, the coinage continues to refer to Rome and veteran colonization even centuries after the foundation. Each of Filges’ sections on the different reverse types is carefully researched and considered with respect to archaeological, art historical, and specialist numismatic literature. The section on architectural representations (256–58), for example, examines the depiction of arches and temples on the colonial coinage and explores evidence for the existence (or lack thereof) of the monuments depicted. In each case, the representation refers to the identity of the colony.

The categorization of reverse types in the third chapter is, however, imperfect. For example, coins of Olbasa struck under Caracalla and Maximus Caesar that depict Venus standing within a distyle or tetrastyle temple facade are included in the part of the chapter devoted to gods and heroes rather than in the section on architectural representation. Similarly, coins of Gallienus from Parium that feature Sol driving a quadriga on a monumental base flanked by two columns, perhaps a large-scale altar complex, are located in discussion of representations of Sol rather than in the context of architectural representations. The decision to place such images in discussion of gods and heroes rather than architecture appears to have been based on the identifiability of the figures on the coins, while images in which figures are either absent or unidentifiable are placed in the section on architectural representation. This should not be interpreted as a major flaw but rather as a result of the fact that ancient coins do not always conform to rigid modern taxonomic distinctions. Researchers looking for specific types of imagery, such as architecture, will simply want to be thorough in their search of the book. It is unfortunate that the book does not contain an index. A reader searching for specific coins or images will thus need to flip through the book to find them. On the other hand, hundreds of illustrations throughout the text depict virtually every coin discussed.

The fourth chapter examines the visualization of colonial identities, and the final chapter acts much like an appendix, providing, for instance, a list and discussion of Roman imperial coin hoards in Asia, a list of coins and their reverse types according to the size of the coin, and a useful list of types from the colonies. The book comes with a CD-ROM containing a catalogue and database. The average researcher will have little need for this content, but it will certainly benefit numismatic specialists or those searching for specific types without the aid of an index. Characteristic of the numismatic scholarship coming from the students and researchers attached to the University of Frankfurt, this book provides an immensely detailed evaluation of its subject. The specificity of the subject matter largely limits the target audience to numismatists actively engaged with Roman provincial coinage, although specialists working more broadly on the question of the agency and significance of images on Roman coins, and archaeologists and historians concerned with any of the 14 colonies on which this book focuses, will find much of value in this important work.

Nathan T. Elkins
Department of Art
Baylor University

Book Review of Münzbild und Gemeinschaft: Die Prägungen der römischen Kolonien in Kleinasien, by Axel Filges

Reviewed by Nathan T. Elkins

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 1 (January 2017)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1211.Elkins

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