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The Augustan Revolution Seen from the Mints of the Provinces*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 July 2011

Andrew Burnett*
The British Museum


This paper looks at the words, pictures and shapes that people in the Roman provinces placed on the thousands of coins that were made by each of several hundred cities, and uses the patterns that can be found to discuss the contribution provincial coins can make to our understanding of how relationships developed between the early Roman emperors, especially Augustus, and their audiences in provincial cities.

Copyright © The Author(s) 2011. Published by The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies

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This paper began life at a seminar in the University of St Andrews in 2008; revised versions were given at the Institut für Klassische Archäologie in Munich in 2009 and at the Roman Archaeology Conference held in Oxford in 2010. I am very grateful to the various participants for their helpful comments and criticisms, as I am to the editor and readers of this journal.


1 The transformation of the Roman world in the reign of Augustus was encapsulated over seventy years ago by Syme's great and long-lasting book, The Roman Revolution (1939). Ten years ago, its lasting impact was celebrated in a series of discussions led by Millar (Millar, F. et al. , La Révolution romaine après Ronald Syme: Bilans et perspectives. Sept exposés suivis de discussions, Vandoeuvres-Genève, 6–10 Septembre 1999 (2000)Google Scholar); one of those essays, by Wallace Hadrill, expanded the concept into the cultural and material world of the Romans (A. Wallace Hadrill, ‘The Roman revolution and material culture’, 283–321), the theme which he has more recently investigated and celebrated further in his Rome's Cultural Revolution (2008). Changes to the coinage featured a little in Galinsky, K., Augustan Culture (1996), 2941Google Scholar, which focused on coins from Rome rather than from the provinces.

2 The coins were known as ‘Greek Imperials’ until about 1990, and ‘Roman Provincials’ since then, reflecting different perspectives. Good overviews to the subject can be found in Franke, P., Kleinasien zur Römerzeit: Griechisches Leben im Spiegel der Münzen (1968)Google Scholar; Butcher, K., Roman Provincial Coins: An Introduction to the Greek Imperials (1988)Google Scholar; Harl, K. W., Civic Coins and Civic Politics in the Roman East, AD 180–275 (1987)Google Scholar; and Howgego, C., Heuchert, V. and Burnett, A. (eds), Coinage and Identity in the Roman Provinces (2005)Google Scholar. The standard reference works are RPC 1 and 2. RPC 1 = Burnett, A., Amandry, M. and Ripollès, P. P., Roman Provincial Coinage Vol. I (1992)Google Scholar; RPC 2 = Burnett, A., Amandry, M. and Carradice, I., Roman Provincial Coinage Vol. II (1999)Google Scholar. Two supplements have been published: Burnett, A., Amandry, M. and Ripollès, P. P., Roman Provincial Coinage. Supplement I (1998)Google Scholar, and A. Burnett, M. Amandry, P. P. Ripollès and I. A. Carradice, Roman Provincial Coinage. Supplement 2 ( (2006).

3 The drop in numbers after a.d. 69 is to be explained partly by the much shorter Flavian period (27 vs. 100 years), and partly by the ending of provincial coinage in the West, on which see below.

4 A good example is provided by the silver cistophori of the kingdom of Pergamum (and after 133 b.c., the province of Asia).

5 They were first discussed by Grant, M., The Six Main Aes Coinages of Augustus (1953)Google Scholar, who identified them as the coins of Rome, Ludgunum, Nemausus, Antioch, ‘Parium’ and Asia (CA coinage). His approach was followed by Sutherland, C. H. V. and Kraay, C. M., Catalogue of Coins of the Roman Empire in the Ashmolean Museum. I. Augustus (1975)Google Scholar. See the discussion in RPC 1, pp. 13–14.

6 The ‘Celtic’ or ‘Iron Age’ coins were not included in RPC, and it remains difficult to get a good overview of them. A good place to start is the British Museum Catalogue: Allen, D. (ed. Kent, J. and Mays, M.) Vol. 1, Silver Coins of the East Celts (1987)Google Scholar; Vol. 2, Silver Coins of North Italy, South and Central France, Switzerland and South Germany (1990); Vol. 3, Bronze Coins of Gaul (1995); and (for Britain) Hobbs, R., British Iron Age Coins in the British Museum (1996)Google Scholar.

7 See Burnett, A., ‘Latin on coins of the western empire’, in Cooley, A. E. (ed.), Becoming Roman, Writing Latin? Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 48 (2002), 3340Google Scholar.

8 RPC 1, 2975.

9 RPC cites Robert, L., Villes d'Asie Mineure (1962)Google Scholar, 138, 362 and others; but one of the Journal's readers points out that RPC erroneously equated the cults of Apollo Lairbenos and Apollo Archegetes, referring to, e.g., Miller, K. M., ‘Apollo Lairbenos’, Numen 32/1 (1985), 4670CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 64–6, and Ritti, T., Hierapolis. Scavi e ricerche 1: Fonti letterariae ed epigraphicae (1985)Google Scholar.

10 P. Weiss, ‘The cities and their money’, in Howgego et al., op. cit. (n. 2), 57–68. The topic has been the subject of a recently completed DPhil thesis at the University of Oxford by R. Bennett.

11 RPC 1, 309.

12 The process is fully described by Keppie, L., Colonisation and Veteran Settlement in Italy 41–14 BC (1979), 8797Google Scholar.

13 RPC 1, 4463.

14 For the refoundation of Balanea, see Sartre, M., The Middle East under Rome (2005), 182Google Scholar.

15 The accusative is unusual (see below) and rare compared to the nominative. Its choice may be influenced by the normal usage on statue bases.

16 RPC 1, 1651.

17 Johnston, A., ‘The so-called pseudo-autonomous Greek Imperials’, ANSMN 30 (1985), 89112Google Scholar. See also, e.g., the discussion by Klose, D., Die Münzprägung von Smyrna in der römischen Kaiserzeit (1987), 7784Google Scholar.

18 RPC 1, pp. 41–2; RPC 2, pp. 31–2.

19 RPC 1, 4036. For the use of coins without imperial portraits as a way of denoting denominations, see Johnston, op. cit. (n. 17) and also her book cited below (n. 85).

20 There is much literature: see above, n. 6. For the theme here, see J. Williams in Howgego et al., op. cit. (n. 2), 69–78.

21 RPC 1, p. 42.

22 See the survey by Dahmen, K., ‘With Rome in mind? Case studies in the coinage of client kings’, in Kaizer, T. and Facella, M. (eds), Kingdoms and Principalities in the Roman Near East (2010), 99112Google Scholar.

23 For example, most of the cities of Bithynia conform to the same pattern (see below); but that, of course, was only part of the province of Bithynia and Pontus. See, in general, for the first century: RPC 1, pp. 26–37; RPC 2, pp. 20–9.

24 For the various occurrences of PERM(ISSV) or ΑΙΤΗΣΑΜΕΝΟY followed by the name of an emperor or governor, see RPC 1, p. 2; RPC 2, pp. 1–2. Weiss, op. cit. (n. 10) regards the formula as belonging to the internal affairs of the cities, rather than their relations with the emperors and governors.

25 For the change, see Crawford, M., Coinage and Money under the Roman Republic (1985), 5274Google Scholar. There was no need to demonetize these coins, even after the reform which introduced the denarius in c. 212/11 b.c.; the fact that it happened implies an aggressive policy, which seems most likely to be a wish to obliterate things Carthaginian. The similar action taken sixty-five years later in Africa is part of the policy of ‘delenda est Carthago’ (Crawford, op. cit., 140; Burnett, A., ‘Africa’, in Burnett, A. and Crawford, M., The Coinage of the Roman World in the Late Republic, BAR International Series 326 (1987), 175–6Google Scholar).

26 Crawford, M., ‘Social War’, in Rutter, N. K., Historia Numorum. Italy (2001), 55–7Google Scholar.

27 RPC 2, 101–4, 106 (c. a.d. 87).

28 RPC 2, 219 (c. a.d. 85/6).

29 See now Amandry, M., ‘Le monnayage de L. Sempronius revisité’, American Journal of Numismatics 20 (2008), 421–34Google Scholar, with an updated catalogue and new thoughts on the minting location, date and denominations of the coinage.

30 Leaving aside the earlier large Ptolemaic bronzes made in Egypt and Syria in the third and second centuries b.c.

31 Gerin, D., ‘La petite collection alexandrine de Soheir Bakhoum’, in Gerin, D., Geissen, A. and Amandry, M. (eds), Aegyptiaca serta in Soheir Bakhoum memoriam. Mélanges de numismatique, d'iconographie et d'histoire, Collezioni Numismatiche 7 (2008), 2136Google Scholar; see now, Burnett, A., ‘The rise and fall of the Roman «sestertius» at Alexandria’, Schweizerische Numismatische Rundschau 88 (2009), 25–6Google Scholar.

32 The sestertius had been a small silver coin in Republican times.

33 Apart from the Lycian cities.

34 For Nero's reform, see RPC 1, pp. 52–3.

35 See Haselgrove, C. C., ‘The development of Iron Age coinage in Belgic Gaul’, Numismatic Chronicle 159 (1999), 111–68Google Scholar; see his table on p. 164.

36 RPC 1, pp. 18–19; P. P. Ripollès, ‘Coinage and identity in the Roman provinces: Spain’ and A. Burnett, ‘The Roman West and the Roman East’, both in Howgego et al., op. cit. (n. 2), 93, 171–80; most recently, Ripollès, P. P., Las acuñaciones provinciales romanas de Hispania (2010)Google Scholar.

37 Suetonius, Tiberius 49, with Crawford, op. cit. (n. 25), 271–2.

38 See n. 36.

39 For copies see King, C. E., ‘Roman copies’, in King, C. E. and Wigg, D., Coin Finds and Coin Use in the Roman World (1989), 237–63Google Scholar.

40 Using the terminology of Wallace-Hadrill, A., Rome's Cultural Revolution (2008), 78Google Scholar, one might call them examples of ‘direct’ as opposed to ‘indirect’ Romanization.

41 The names were sometimes in Latin, at colonies or municipia, but usually in Greek. The usage in the two languages is different, since each language reflects a very different tradition. Greeks tended to have single name, written in full; whereas Romans had three names, the famous tria nomina, often abbreviated; the praenomen always is.

42 Three sorts of example. A portrait of Augustus may appear in parallel with that of an early proconsul, as at Aezani, c. 25 b.c. (RPC 1, 3-66-7). At Aphrodisias the portrait appears on a coin labelled Aphrodisias-Plarasa (RPC 1, 2387), whereas all others are of Aphrodisias alone. In Syria, a number of the coinages are dated according to the city's era.

43 Woolf, G., ‘Monumental writing and the expansion of Roman society in the early Empire’, JRS 86 (1996), 2239Google Scholar. Similarly, inscriptions become quite common on Gallic coinage in the second half of the first century b.c.

44 Imp Caesar divi f Augustus pontifex maximus pater patriae.

45 In a similar way, city names are nominative singular in Latin but genitive plural in Greek. (The nominative is used for ‘magistrate's’ names on Hellenistic coins, but never for the king.)

46 There is a trace of the same use of the nominative for Antony (RPC 1, 4094, from Syria), but the lack of certainty of case in the other examples where Antony is mentioned by name, as both are abbreviated (Cyrenaica and Thessalonica: RPC 1, 924–5 and 1551–2), makes it impossible to generalize, though we may again perhaps imagine that Antony provides the model for Augustus. ‘Magistrate's’ names, in contrast, regularly appear in the nominative, from the Hellenistic period onwards.

47 Since this is as much of a type parlant as a piece of iconography, it implies something about Augustus' name as much as his image; hence it is included here in the epigraphic section rather than in the next iconographic section.

48 RPC 1, p. 42.

49 Although the form Αὐγοῦστος does occur once: RPC 1, 5425, from an uncertain city.

50 Mason, H. J., Greek Terms for Roman Institutions (1974), 116Google Scholar. There is also the word οἰωνιστής, but this occurs only in literary sources and inscriptions always have αὐγουρ.

51 And perhaps that the several sculptural portraits of him capite velato show him as augur, rather than as pontifex.

52 One of the Journal's readers points out that it might just have been such a strong part of Augustus' imagery (e.g. being copied from gold and silver coins, with Latin) that it appeared without the engravers being aware of the derivation. But if the augurate was such an important part of the emperor's imagery, people would surely have been aware of its significance.

53 See RPC 1, Index 4.1.

54 See RPC 1, Index 4.1.

55 A high number, as Galba occurs at only fifteen to sixteen cities.

56 There are only two to three cities for Otho.

57 There are only two cities for Vitellius.

58 At Philadelphia, RPC 1, 3034ff.

59 See RPC 1, Index 4.1.

60 RPC 1, 1238–44, 1371–6, 2433–4, 3107, 2923.

61 RPC 1, 1427, 3841, 5420–1, 5423.

62 RPC 1, 5448.

63 RPC 1, 2247.

64 Livia (Hera): Thessalian League (RPC 1, 1427), Pergamum (RPC 1, 2359), Eumenea (RPC 1, 3143); Livia (thea): Thessalonica (RPC 1, 1563), Methymna (RPC 1, 2338), Clazomenae (RPC 1, 2496); Agripppina: Cydonia (RPC 1, 1017), Clazomenae (RPC 1, 2499), Mostene (RPC 1, 2461), Methymna (RPC 1, 2341), Mytilene (RPC 1, 2349), Cyme (RPC 1, 2434), Samos (RPC 1, 2685), Synaus (RPC 1, 3107); cf. Ephesus (RPC 1, 2620).

65 O. Mørkholm, Studies in the Coinage of Antiochus IV (1963).

66 See RPC 1, Index 2.1, for documentation.

67 Millar, F., ‘The impact of monarchy’, in Millar, F. and Segal, E. (eds), Caesar Augustus. Seven Aspects (1984), 45Google Scholar.

68 The exception is Syria. Although we do have some early portraits, e.g. at Damascus and Gadara, most of the dated portraits are rather later, generally from the last decade b.c. (see the table in RPC 1, pp. 584–5). However, the pattern of portraiture on Syrian coins is unusual, as indeed it is for sculptural portraits (which are very few compared with the rest of the Empire).

69 RPC 1, p. 40.

70 See RPC 1, Index 2.3; p. 40. The new coin of Didius Gallus will appear in the next Supplement to RPC, as no. S3-I-5490. Unfortunately its city of origin is as yet unclear, as is its date, though the portrait looks ‘Augustan’.

71 Eck, W., ‘Senatorial self-representation: developments in the Augustan period’, in Millar, F. and Segal, E. (eds), Caesar Augustus. Seven Aspects (1984), 138–9Google Scholar.

72 Zanker, P., Studien zu den Augustus-Porträts. 1. Der Actium-Typus (1973)Google Scholar; Boschung, D., Die Bildnisse des Augustus. Das römische Herrscherbild 1.2 (1993)Google Scholar; Walker, S. and Burnett, A., The Image of Augustus (1981)Google Scholar; Smith, R. R. R., ‘Typology and diversity in the portraits of Augustus’, JRA 9 (1996), 3347Google Scholar.

73 Bosch, C., Die kleinasiatischen Münzen der römischen Kaiserzeit l.2 Einzeluntersuchungen. Bd. I. Bithynien (1935)Google Scholar; RPC 1, pp. 39–40.

74 RPC 1, p. 40.

75 RPC 1, p. 37.

76 This is demonstrated by the appearance of other members of the imperial family.

77 Hiesinger, U. W., ‘The portraits of Nero’, AJA 79.2 (1975), 113–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar, divided them into five chronological groups. It is hard to be so precise on the provincial coins but they can be loosely grouped into the three groups described in this paragraph.

78 RPC 1, p. 42.

79 The portrait ‘in gradus formata’ (Suetonius, Nero 31).

80 V. Heuchert, in Howgego et al., op. cit. (n. 2), 31–2, 55: mythology, foundation stories and famous citizens are all important parts of the coin imagery of the second and third centuries.

81 RPC 1, p. 44; Heuchert, op. cit. (n. 80), 50–1.

82 Burnett, A., ‘Buildings and monuments on Roman coins’, in Paul, G. M. and Ierardi, M. (eds), Roman Coins and Public Life under the Empire (1999), 137–64Google Scholar; Meadows, A. and Williams, J., ‘Moneta and the monuments: coinage and politics in Republican Rome’, JRS 91 (2001), 2749Google Scholar.

83 RPC 1, p. 46.

84 Dio 52.30.9 (Maecenas, supposedly speaking with Agrippa to Augustus in 29 b.c.). The passage was of course written in the early third century a.d., and there is no suggestion that any such discussion was held (by anybody!) during the reign of Augustus. The sentiment perhaps encapsulates the possibility of an intervention in regard to the provincial coinages of the sort described elsewhere in this paper.

85 Much light has been thrown on this difficult topic by Johnston, A., Greek Imperial Denominations, ca. 200–275: A Study of the Roman Provincial Bronze Coinages of Asia Minor (2007)Google Scholar, although she concentrates on a later period. For the Julio-Claudian and Flavian periods, see RPC 1, pp. 26–37 and RPC 2, pp. 20–9.

86 RPC 1, p. 31.

87 RPC 1, pp. 33–4.

88 A. Burnett, Coinage in the Roman World (1987), 47.

89 Rogers, G. M., The Sacred Identity of Ephesos. Foundation Myths of a Roman City (1991)Google Scholar.

90 The series of articles by Mavrogordato, J., ‘A chronological arrangement of the coinage of Chios’, Numismatic Chronicle (1915), 152Google Scholar, 361–432; (1916), 281–355; (1917), 207–56; (1918), 1–79, remains the best guide, but it is now very out of date.

91 See RPC 1, pp. 369–75.

92 Under Tiberius: Caesaraugusta, Tarraco, Turiaso; under Gaius: Caesaraugusta, Ercavica, Osca. RPC 1, pp. 64–5.

93 20–22 g rather than 25 g at Rome.

94 See the discussions in RPC 1, pp. 26–37 and RPC 2, pp. 20–9.

95 See Butcher, K., ‘Circulation of bronze coinage in the Orontes valley in the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods’, in Augé, C. and Duyrat, F. (eds), Les monnayages syriens — Quel apport pour l'histoire du Proche-Orient hellénistique et romain? (2002), 146Google Scholar.

96 Burnett, A., ‘The rise and fall of the Roman “sestertius” at Alexandria’, in Peter, M., Silvia Hurter Gedenkschrift SNR 88 (2010), 225–48Google Scholar.

97 See the discussion in RPC 2, p. 24: a larger denomination appears in the Flavian period at eight cities (Magnesia, Samos, Alabanda, Rhodes, Nysa, Tralles, Midaeum and Laodicea).

98 RPC 2, pp. 28–9.

99 cf. two thirds (67 per cent) of all Greek legends in the Julio-Claudian period are of two words or less, whereas three quarters (75 per cent) of Flavian ones consist of two to five words.

100 The only regular exception is Messalina who is described as Augusta, a title she was not permitted by Claudius (Dio 60.12.5), at Nicaea (RPC 1, 2033–4, 2038), Nicomedia (RPC 1, 2074), Sinope (RPC 1, 2130), and Aegae (RPC 1, 2430corr.)

101 Most of the inscriptions on statue bases give the emperor's name in the accusative case rather than, as on the coins, the nominative; but that is the standard formula for a dedicatory inscription, whether earlier or later: Høtje, J. M., Roman Imperial Statue Bases from Augustus to Commodus (2005)Google Scholar.

102 ILS 8870 (a.d. 253).

103 See Ando, C., Imperial Ideology and Provincial Loyalty in the Roman Empire (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, especially ch. 7 (although Ando is citing evidence that is mostly from a later period).

104 See Smith's discussion in his review-article of Boschung's Augustus volume in the series: Smith, R. R. R., ‘Typology and diversity in the portraits of Augustus’, JRA 9 (1996), 3347Google Scholar, reviewing Boschung, D., Die Bildnisse des Augustus. Das römische Herrscherbild 1.2 (1993)Google Scholar.

105 For the second century, Arrian, Periplus 1.3 tells of a statue of Hadrian that was unrecognizable, while the well-known letter of Fronto to Marcus Aurelius (Letters 4.12) makes the point that there were many poorly made portraits of that emperor. There is no reason why one should not assume the same for the earlier period.

106 See n. 40 (Wallace-Hadrill).

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