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The Numismatic Iconography of the Roman Colonies in Greece: Local Spirit and the Expression of Imperial Policy

The Numismatic Iconography of the Roman Colonies in Greece: Local Spirit and the Expression of Imperial Policy

By Harikleia Papageorgiadou-Bani (Research Centre for Greek and Roman Antiquity, National Hellenic Research Foundation Meletemata 39). Pp. 161, figs. 61. De Boccard, Paris 2004. €24.88. ISBN 960-7505-19-9 (paper).

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The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that the

coins [of the colonies] express a complex reality that in turn reflects the varied human environments that produced them ... the recently established colonists proudly expressed the privileged status they enjoyed compared to the other cities and their satisfaction with the new lands that they had acquired, often after a long period of military service. The central government emphasized the emperor’s concern for the organization of the Roman colonies, the repayment for services rendered by the loyal soldiers, and his goodwill toward a particular city. Finally, the native populations, whenever they got the chance, resurrected images from their glorious past in order to express their own ethnic pride (18).

There is little doubt that the paragraph above provides a reasonable summary of the content of colonial imagery, but the assumptions underlying it deserve examination. The book is rife with facile assertions, often controversial ones. We are told that “Guidelines for the types were in all probability issued either by the emperor or his immediate environment [sic], or else by local authorities in the case of provincial mints, and they were intended to convey certain messages, but also to flatter the ruler” (17). But nowhere in the work is the mechanism of creating colonial coinage explored, and the presumed sensitivity to the varying interests of the populace and government has about it an air of political correctness that is surely anachronistic: “Their interpretation should be sought, it would seem, in the very nature of coins as bearers of particular messages directed at particular audiences”(59). The particularity of audiences is a controversial point with an extensive bibliography, and it is in fact very difficult to identify the audience for any particular numismatic image, much less the whole output of a mint.

This is not a work that proceeds directly from the evidence itself; the author is content to incorporate the conclusions of others in labor-saving ways. The book succeeds in drawing attention to the colonial coinage and distinguishing between its form and that of other currencies of the provinces. But by relying completely on published material (e.g., the volumes of Roman Provincial Coinage, where available) she has missed an opportunity. It would also have been useful to know whether and how the colonies of Greece differ from those elsewhere (e.g., Alexandria Troas, Ilium) that have already been treated synthetically. We can hope that this is only a prelude to a larger study.

William E. Metcalf
Department of Classics
Yale University
P.O. Box 208266
New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8266

Book Review of The Numismatic Iconography of the Roman Colonies in Greece: Local Spirit and the Expression of Imperial Policy, by Harikleia Papageorgiadou-Bani

Reviewed by William E. Metcalf

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 111, No. 2 (April 2007)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1112.Metcalf

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