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Sovereignty and Coinage. The case of the late cistophori of Tralles

Lucia Carbone

Columbia University, American Numismatic Society

Can the study of a provincial coinage provide useful elements for a better understanding of the Roman idea of sovereignty? Are sovereignty and the right to issue coinage related?

According to MARTIN 1985, no direct relationship could be established between sovereignty and coinage in the Classical world. On the other hand, MEADOWS 2001 shows that the involvement of Roman authorities in municipal sovereignty was more heavy-handed and that therefore, we should consider a direct relationship between sovereignty and coinage in the Roman world. This relationship has been further expounded by BURNETT, AMANDRY and RIPOLLES ALEGRE 1999 by analyzing the imperial authorization of local coinages.

In this respect, the Provincia Asia offers a unique perspective, as provincial coinages were here issued up to Septimius Severus, notwithstanding the existence of a well-developed provincial administration and the use of the Roman currency as a unit of account.

By examining an original die study of the Trallian late cistophori, this paper aims to shed light on the complex relationship between municipal sovereignty within the Roman imperium and the right to issue coinage.

Cistophori, the Attalid silver standard-reduced currency, retained their pre-Roman appearance until Mark Antony. They probably served as a provincial coinage right from the establishment of the province, in spite of the presence of the ethnic of the cities where the mints where located and the local types. Their study will demonstrate the ambivalence of the relationship between sovereignty and coinage in Roman provinces.

While the production and circulation patterns of other important cistophoric mints, such as Ephesus, Pergamum, Apamea and Nysa have already been established in important studies, the study of the Trallian cistophoric mint represented up to this moment an important lacuna in the depiction of the Asian monetary system in the 1st century BC.

Based on an original database of 600 Trallian cistophoric tetradrachms, this paper offers an important contribution to the study of this intricate relationship through a new die study of the late cistophori of Tralles, This study enabled the author to establish on the basis of hoard evidence that the production of this coinage did not start before the last years of 2nd century BC and that their production went on in the Sullan Age, even after the city was severely punished by Sulla and lost its independence.

The impact of the Roman imperium on this coinage is made evident by their presence during the Sullan Age and by production peaks corresponding to the Mithridatic Wars. These elements, highlighted here for the first time, show a coordination between the cistophoric mints of the Province, apparently suggesting a sort of province-wide monetary policy.  

At the same time, the ultimate municipal responsibility in the cistophoric production is suggested by the presence of control marks inspired by the contemporary Pontic coinage, which testifies for the famed amicitia between the city and Mithridates, which ultimately caused the already mentioned punishment at the hand of Sulla and Lucullus.

Therefore, the study of the production and of the circulation patterns of the Trallian late cistophori strongly suggests that, for what concern cistophoric issues, there was no univocal relationship between sovereignty and coinage in the Roman Asia. The research pursued in this paper is then not only central to the reconstruction of the monetary system of the Provincia Asia in the course of the 1st century BC, but also provides important insights into the relationship between local sovereignty within Roman imperium and coinage.

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Sovereignty and Money (Joint AIA-SCS Panel)

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