You are here

Silver and Power: The Three-fold Roman Impact on the Monetary System of the Provincia Asia (133 B.C.E. – 96 C.E.)

Lucia Francesca Carbone

εἰς τὸν Εὔξεινον πόντον, Σύλλας δὲ τὴν Ἀσίαν δισμυρίοις

ταλάντοις ἐζημίωσε, προσταχθὲν αὐτῷ τά τε χρήματα ταῦτα

 πρᾶξαι καὶ νόμισμα κόψαι

Peace being presently made, Mithridates sailed off to the Euxine sea,

but Sulla taxed the inhabitants of Asia twenty thousand talents,

and ordered Lucullus to gather wealth and coin the money.

(Plutarch, Lucullus 4.1)

This excerpt from the Life of Lucullus describes the aftermath of the First Mithridatic War, after the hasty conclusion of the peace of Dardanus in 85 B.C.E. and highlights two elements that will be central in this paper, namely the fact that Lucullus, a Roman magistrate, had to ‘gather’ (πρᾶξαι) money and, even more importantly, he was asked to ‘issue’ currency (νόμισμα κόψαι). Since denarii were not produced and did not circulate in Asia until 49 B.C.E. (Kinns 1987), the currency Lucullus was required to ‘gather’ and ‘issue’ were cistophori, a reduced-standard silver tetradrachm whose origins dated back to the Attalid times (Kleiner and Noe 1977; Meadows 2013) and whose iconography remained distinctively non-Roman until 59 BC (Kleiner 1972; Kleiner 1978; Kleiner 1979; Stumpf 1991).

How then could Lucullus, a Roman magistrate, issue this apparently ‘non-Roman’ currency? What was the level of involvement of Roman provincial power in Asian silver issues? When did Roman silver currency finally arrive in the province? What was the reason that brought the Romans to change the modality of their involvement in the monetary system of the Provincia Asia, apparently moving from a ‘conservative’ attitude to a more ‘interventionist’ one, introducing their own silver currency, the denarius? The numerous attempts to examine the nature of Roman rule in Asia have not grappled seriously with the ubiquitous presence of coinage, which still needs to be assimilated into an inquiry into the transition in structures of power in the region (Magie 1950; Sherwin-White 1984; Eck 1999; Kallet-Marx 1995; Dmtriev 2005; Santangelo 2007).

This paper therefore aims to shed some light on these topics through the original analysis of the production and circulation patterns of three different silver currencies (silver autonomous coinage, cistophori and denarii) all present in the Provincia Asia in the considered time span and interacting, at a certain level, with each other. Heuristic tools for this research will be provided by two databases, one including  the civic coinage issued by Asian cities between 133 B.C.E. and 96 C.E. (11,898 coin types) and the other including inscriptions mentioning Roman silver currency in the same years (273 inscriptions).   Our thesis is that the establishment of the Roman province of Asia brought elements of novelty in the monetary system of the region, both in terms of production and circulation. The Romans altered the nature of the monetary system in Asia by making it a ‘relatively’ closed currency system, to the difference with the previous Attalid period (Carbone 2015).  Means for the establishment of this currency system were the gradual disappearance of silver autonomous coinages (Carbone 2014) and the coordination of the output of cistophoric mints (Callataÿ 1997; Callataÿ 2011). This change was probably caused by the necessity of controlling the flow of silver from and to the province and should be put in correlation with the presence of the societates publicanorum. This monetary policy, however, was again modified in the 40s B.C.E. with the introduction of the denarius in the circulation pool and, much more relevantly, as an account unit. This finds precise analogies in other Eastern provinces of the Empire (Helly 1997) and brought to an end Asian ‘isolation’.

In order to prove this, we first analyze one of the main elements of discontinuity with the previous period, namely the gradual disappearance of silver autonomous coinages. The second part of this paper then deals with the production and the circulation patterns of cistophoric issues under Roman authority. The third part focuses on the epigraphic attestations of the denarius.

Session/Panel Title

Minting an Empire: Negotiating Roman Hegemony through Coinage

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy