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Coinage and the Client Prince: Philip the Tetrarch’s Homage to the Roman Emperor

Katheryn Whitcomb

This paper examines the coinage of Philip (r. 4 B.C.E.-34 C.E.), son of Herod the Great and tetrarch of Batanea, Trachonitis, Paneas and Auranitis, in the context of the coins of three other groups of minting authorities: contemporary client rulers, defined for the purposes of this paper as independent rulers who achieved their position through Roman support; contemporary municipal coinages of Syria; and other successors to Herod. I argue that the coins of Philip, in comparison with these other coinages, demonstrate a remarkable level of preoccupation with the Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius. This emphasis on the reigning emperor leads to an almost complete absence of expressions of local identity on Philip’s coinage. Further, by emphasizing his connection to the emperor Philip signals that the legitimacy of his rule comes from the central Roman authority, rather than from any connection to Herod’s legacy. It has been suggested that Philip minted coins bearing the emperor’s likeness simply because he ruled over a territory that was predominantly non-Jewish and therefore was not constricted by the Jewish prohibition against graven images, as other Herodians were (Meshorer 1982). I argue, however, that the non-Jewish character of his tetrarchy not only allowed, but even mandated that Philip make such a strong connection between his regime and the Roman authority that established it.

            My analysis of the coins of Philip is aided by the work of Horster (2013), which examines the use of imperial portraiture and expressions of local civic identity in the Greek east. In addition, the work of Burnett (2002), which discusses the process of “Romanization” in the coinages of Syria, provides valuable background for this paper. Dahmen (2010) provides useful context for assessing the extent to which the coinage of Philip is similar to and different from the coinages of other contemporary client rulers. Finally, the works of Hendin (2010), Meshorer (2001), and Fontanille (2011) give valuable insights into the coinage of Philip itself.

            Each issue of Philip’s coinage, minted throughout his long tenure as tetrarch, displays a portrait of the emperor (Augustus or Tiberius) on at least one denomination. Portraits of Livia also appear, perhaps as early as her designation as Augusta in 14 C.E. (Meshorer 2001). The reverses of the coins bearing the emperor universally depict the Augusteum, the temple built by Herod at Paneas and dedicated to Augustus. It is remarkable that even on the reverse of these coins, where we would most expect to see an expression of local identity, another symbol referencing the emperor appears. In contrast, the coinages of contemporary client rulers from Mauretania to Commagene exhibit oblique references to the emperor (such as Antiochus IV of Commagene’s use of the Capricorn on the reverse of his bronze coinage), but none do so on both sides of their coins (Dahmen 2010). Issues from municipal mints may or may not include portraits of the emperor, and even those that do display strong expressions of local identity on their reverses (Horster 2013). Only the coinage of Agrippa I, Philip’s nephew, can rival his in its preoccupation with Rome and the emperor. Even the coins of Agrippa, however, consistently represent local imagery as well as imperial imagery.

            Philip’s use of imperial imagery on both the obverse and reverse of his coins sets him apart from other client rulers, local mints in Syria, and even his fellow successors to Herod. Further, by naming himself Philip the Tetrarch (ΦΙΛΙΠΠΟΣ ΤΕΤΡΑΡΧΟΣ) on his coins, rather than the title Herod the Tetrarch (ΗΡΩΔΗϹ ΤΕΤΡΑΡΧΗϹ) seen on the coins of his brothers, Antipas and Archelaus, he obscures any legitimacy an association with Herod would give him. Clearly a connection to Roman power carries more currency, in more ways than one, with the audience Philip is trying to reach through his coinage.

Session/Panel Title

Minting an Empire: Negotiating Roman Hegemony through Coinage

Session/Paper Number


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