Roman or Greek? Yes!

How best to broach the subject of provincial coinage? It’s a topic with no real clear cut distinctions that creates a lot of confusion among ancient coin collectors (collectors of ancient coins, not ancient collectors of coins!). Let’s tackle the question by starting with the above coin. This bronze was minted sometime between 196 and 146 B.C. by a federation of cities in the Roman province of Achaea, which closely approximates modern day Greece. This group of cities was known as the Thessalian League. Though a Roman province, the iconography of this bronze is all Greek: the obverse features a diademed head of Apollo while the reverse depicts Athena advancing to the right holding a shield and brandishing a spear. Even the legends of the coin are in Greek, denoting the issuing magistrate, Philokrates, and the region, Thessaly.

So why is a Roman coin from a Roman province covered in Greek letters and gods? The simple answer: the Romans were not dummies.

First, some history. In Michael Grant’s “A Guide to the Ancient World” he explains how the Thessalian League existed long before the Roman conquest. Around 400 B.C. a powerful state was created through the cooperation of several separate cities. This league of cities fell quickly under the conquest of Alexander the Great but was reorganized by the Romans around 196 B.C. This Thessalian League was empowered to issue its own federal currency. And, like I said, the Romans were not dummies. They knew that you don’t create productive citizens by crushing their culture and imposing your own.

Provincial coinage illustrates this. The diversity of subjects on provincial coins mirrors the cultural diversity of the people they served. Rather than bury the people living in their outlying territories with Roman gods and Roman language, the empire slowly integrated the colonies while allowing them to maintain their own history.

Provincial coinage is a very interesting subject and can be extremely rewarding to study and collect. See Wayne G. Sayles’ book “Ancient Coin Collecting IV” for more info!

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