ARTICLES




Imperial coins                
      Roman Egypt

       Alexandrian bronze drachmae
         & billion tetradrachmae



Here is a sexy little collection of imperial bronze drachmae from Alexandria, Egypt.

Most of them were struck in the days of the “adoptive” dynasty. “Adoptive” because the emperors of this dynasty (which wasn't considered as such) designated their successors (usually) amongst the fittest and most competent for the job. The reign of Commodus, the last and only one who succeeded his father, marked the end of the Empire’s golden age.






Alexandrian bronze drachma - Antoninus Pius


Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD).
Greek legend: AVT KAIC AΔP ANTWNINOC CEB.

Why Greek? Well, the romans spoke Latin, but in those days Greek was spoken all along the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, including Egypt (conquered by Alexander the Great).

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Nilus & Euthenia


Reverse. Nilus seated left on rocks. Crowned with lotus, himation over lower limbs, holds reed and cornucopiae. Before him, Euthenia standing right, clad in chiton and peplos, uraeus on head, in upraised right hand ears of corn, which she offers to Nilus.

Euthenia was the ancient Greek female spirit of prosperity. In ancient times (and up to the building of the High Dam at Aswan in 1970) the river Nile would flood each year, bringing in silt-laden waters. When the waters receded the silt would stay behind, fertilizing the land for growing crops, bringing thus prosperity to Egypt... and Rome.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Antoninus Pius


Roman emperor Antoninus Pius.
AVT K T AIΛ AΔP ANTWNEINOC CEB

LE (on the reverse) = year 5 (ie 141-142 AD) of the emperor's reign

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Isis & Harpokrates

Reverse. Egyptian shrine with "paunchy" columns supporting rounded pediment in which disk with uraei; within, seated statue of Isis wearing horns and disk, clad in chiton and mantle, suckling Harpokrates, who wears shkent.

Harpokrates is not to be confused with Hippocrates. In late Greek mythology as developed in Ptolemaic Alexandria, Harpocrates is the god of silence, secrets and confidentiality. He was adapted from the Egyptian child god Horus, the newborn Sun, rising each day at dawn. Harpocrates is a rendering from Egyptian Har-pa-khered or Heru-pa-khered (meaning "Horus the Child"). In Egyptian mythology, Horus was conceived by Isis, the mother goddess.







Alexandrian bronze drachma - Trajan


Roman emperor Trajan (98-117 AD).
Greek legend: AVT TPAIAN CEB ΓEPM ΔAK

ΓEPM and ΔAK are short for Germanikos & Dakikos (Germanicus & Dacicus). They are "nicknames" which refer to the emperor's victories over the Germanic tribes and the Dacians (today's Romania).

Nice vigorous profile.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Temple portal & Isis


Reverse. Winged portal of temple. Above door, statue of Isis, wearing headdress of horns, disk and plumes, holding sceptre. In upper part of each wing four square apertures.

LIB = year 12 (ie 108-109 AD) of the emperor's reign.

I suppose those are the kind of winged portals we see on the island of Philae (renowned for its temple of Isis).

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Antoninus Pius

Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD).
Greek legend: AVT K T AIΛ AΔP ANTWNEINOC CEB EVC

AVT[OKRATOROC] => Imperator
K[AICAP] => Caesar
T[ITOY] => Titus
AI&Lambda[IOC] => Aelius
AΔP[PRIANOC] => Hadrian
ANTWNEINOC => Antoninus
CEB[ASTOC] => Augustus
EVC[...] => Pius ?

"Imperator" didn't mean "emperor", more like "general-in-chief". As such, Pompeus, in the days of the Republic, was an "imperator". It was the title "augustus" which designated the emperors.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Hercules


Reverse. Hercules' tenth labour: Geryon's cattle.

King Eurystheus had ordered the hero to bring him the cattle of the monster Geryon. You can well imagine Geryon wasn't too pleased with this petty theft. He opposed the robber vehemently... and got shot dead with a flight of arrows.

LΔEKATOV = Year 10 (146-147) of the emperor's reign.







Alexandrian bronze drachma - Hadrian


Roman emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD).
Greek legend: AVT KAIC TPAIAN AΔPIANOC CEB

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Nile / Nilus


Reverse. Nilus recumbent, crowned with lotus, himation over lower limbs, holds reed and cornucopiae, rests on crocodile.

LIH = year 18 (ie 133-134 AD) of the emperor's reign.

The annual flooding of the River Nile brought prosperity to Egypt and beyond, hence the cornucopiae (see first coin).

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Hadrian


Roman emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)

Greek legend: AVT KAI TPAIA ADRIA CEB

Reverse: L ΔWΔEK = Year 12 (ie 127-128 AD)

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Nilus / Nile

Reverse. Nilus recumbent, crowned with lotus, himation over lower limbs, holds in right hand cornucopiae, from which springs infant genius pointing at letters IS. Reed in left hand. Left arm rests on elephant (or hippopotamus).

About Nilus, see previous coin. The infant genius is intriguing. The genius is the individual instance of a divine nature that is present in every individual person, place, or thing. The Greeks called their genii "daemons". The concept extended to some specifics: the genius of the theatre, of vineyards, and of festivals, which made performances successful, grapes grow, and celebrations succeed, respectively.
Which genius are we talking here and what is the meaning of "IS"? You tell me!







Alexandrian bronze drachma - Antoninus Pius


Roman emperor Antoninus Pius.
Greek legend: AYT K T AIΛ AΔP ANTWNEINOC CEB EYC

LH (see reverse) = year 8 (ie 144-145 AD) of the emperor's reign.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Sphinx

Reverse. Winged sphinx with fore-paw on wheel.

In Greek tradition, the sphinx has the head of a woman, the body of a lioness, sometimes the wings of a bird and a serpent-headed tail. Its Egyptian counterpart is typically shown as a man (an androsphinx). The Egyptian sphinx was viewed as benevolent, but having a ferocious strength similar to the malevolent Greek version and both were thought of as guardians often flanking the entrances to temples.

The haiddress - horns, plumes and disk - reminds me of Isis. Is it the case? If yes, what would be the meaning of it? And what would be the meaning of the wheel (if not a shield)?

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Antoninus Pius


Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD).
Greek legend: AYT K T AIΛ AΔP ANTWNEINOC CEB EYC

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Roma

Reverse. Roma seated, wears helmet and chiton leaving right breast bare. Peplos over lower limbs and left arm. Right hand holds Nike (victory) bearing wreath and palm. Left hand: sword (parazonium) in sheat. Shield at her side.

LEN A TOV = year 9 (ie 145-146AD) of the emperor's reign.

To be honest, I don't see a shield there. Or else could we suggest that the so-called wheel on the previous coin is in fact a shield?!







Alexandrian bronze drachma - Hadrian

Roman emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)
Greek legend: AYT KAI TPAI AΔPIA CEB

AYT[OKRATOROC] => autokratoros, ie imperator, which doens't mean "emperor" but rather "general-in-chief" !
KAI[CAP] => caesar. After Julius Caesar, "caesar" became sort of a title given to the emperors or the individuals who were formally designated as their successors.
TPAI[ANOC] => Trajan. Hadrian's predecessor and "adoptive" father.
AΔPIA[NOC] => Hadrian
CEB[ASTOC] => sebastos, meaning "Augustus", which after Octavius (Caesar's nephew) became the imperial title.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Quadriga - Horses

Reverse. Emperor in quadriga of horses, holds laurel branch and aquila (Roman eagle).

LIS = Year 16 (ie 131-132 AD) of the emperor's reign.

The quadriga and laurel branch are symbols of victory. Back from a successful war, a general or the emperor would be granted a triumphal entry into the City, standing on a chariot drawn by four horses (quadriga). The funny bit is that Hadrian spent most of his time touring his pacified empire. Trajan, his predecessor, was the "conqueror" one.
The aquila is supposed to be on top of the stick/rod, but it doesn't show on this coin.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Hadrian

Roman emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)
Greek legend (mostly unreadable)

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Quadriga - Horses

Reverse. See previous coin.

The horses stand out in fairly sharp relief.







Alexandrian bronze drachma - Antoninus Pius


Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD)

Greek legend: AYT K T AIΛ AΔP ANTWNEINOC CEB

Reverse: [LENΔE]KAT[OV] = Year 10 (ie 146-147 AD) of the emperor's reign.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Isis and Pharos

Reverse. Isis "Pharia", wearing horns disk and plumes (not visible here), clad in chiton and peplos which flies behind her, holding inflated sail with both hands and left foot ; in right hand, sistrum ; before her, Pharos represented as a square tower, surmounted by a lantern ; on summit, statue holding situla and scepter, Isis Pharia ; on either side of lantern, a triton, blowing buccinum.

The pharos, a gigantic lightouse destroyed by a series of earthquakes in the Middle Ages, was one the "Seven Wonders" of the ancient world. Ships sailing at night could see it from a very long distance.

The coin is not in a good condition. However many details are still quite clear.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Hadrian


Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)

Greek legend: AYT [KAIC TPAIAN AΔPIAN]OC CEB

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Isis and Pharos

Reverse. Isis and Pharos lighthouse. See previous coin.

LIH = Year 18 (ie 133-134 AD) of the emperor's reign.

Isis is a bit more detailed on this one.







Alexandrian bronze drachma - Antoninus Pius


Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD)

Greek legend: [AYT K T] AI[Λ] AΔP ANTWNINOC [CEB EYC]

15.9 gr

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Isis and Pharos

Reverse. Bust of Helios, radiate. Or so I believe. Couldn't find this type in the 1892 catalogue of the British Museum (the only exhaustive one I could lay my hand on).

Can't make out the date either. Is it "LH" (year 8, ie 144-145 AD)?

Helios was the personification of the Sun in Greek mythology. He was described as a handsome titan crowned with the shining aureole of the Sun (radiate crown), who drove the chariot of the sun across the sky each day. As time passed, Helios was increasingly identified with the god of light, Apollo.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Faustina II


Roman empress Faustina II, daughter of Antoninus Pius, wife of Marcus Aurelius.
Greek legend: ΦAVCTINCEB EVCEBCEBΘEVΓA

ΦAVCTIN => Faustina
I speak no ancient greek and the rest of the legend is a bit of a mystery to me. Feel free to help.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Triptolemos / Triptolemus

Reverse. Triptolemos in car drawn by two winged serpents, wears chlamys, scatters seed from seed-bag supported on left arm.

LIΔ = year 14 (ie 150-151 AD) of Antoninus' reign.

In Greek mythology Triptolemos is always connected with Demeter (goddess of the harvest & fertility) who chose to teach him the art of agriculture. Triptolemos then flew across the land on a winged chariot and taught the people of Greece how to plant and reap crops.
Triptolemos was equally associated with the bestowal of hope for the afterlife associated with the expansion of the Eleusinian Mysteries.







Alexandrian bronze drachma - Hadrian


Roman emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)

Greek legend: AVT KAIC TPAIAN AΔPIANOC CEB

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Athena

Reverse. Athena, wearing crested Corinthian helmet, chiton and (probably) aegis ; She holds two wheat ears in right hand (eroded) & rests her left hand on a shield.

LIZ = Year 17 (ie 132-133 AD)

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Antoninus Pius


Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161 AD)

Greek legend: AVT K T AIΛ AΔP ANTWNINOC CEB EYC

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Jupiter and Sagittarius

Reverse. Bust of Zeus, crowned with laurel. Beneath, Centaur galloping, drawing bow. Above head, star.

LH = Year 8 (ie 144-145 AD) of the emperor's reign

Jupiter in Sagittarius. Apparently it was a celestial event deemed sufficiently important to deserve a coin issue.







Alexandrian bronze drachma - Hadrian


Roman emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)

Greek legend: AYT KAIC TPAIA AΔPIANOC CEB

Reverse: LKA = Year 21 (ie 136-137 AD)

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Athena

Altar of Caesareum (the Altar of Agathodaemon), with six columns in temple style, plain frieze, set on two-tiered base; burning pyre* on the top with an aphlaston** at each end. Veiled goddess (Eusebeia?) standing in the centre; curule chairs within the other columns and the serpents Agathodaemon and Uraeus to left and right of the base.

* (some see a figure of Mt. Argaeus)

** or “aplustre”, an ornamental appendage of wood at the ship's stern

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Trajan


Roman emperor Trajan (98-117 AD)

Greek legend: AVT TPAIAN CEB ΓEPM ΔAKIK

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Nike and trophy

Reverse. Nike erecting trophy, palm in left hand.

LIA (?) = Year 12 (ie 107-108 AD)

In Greek mythology, Nike personified victory. The Roman equivalent was Victoria. The coin is in a pretty bad condition, however the trophy (shields, spears, helmet and cuirass) is fairly well preserved and worth taking a look.







Alexandrian bronze drachma - Hadrian


Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)

Greek legend: AYT KAIC TPAIAN AΔPIANOC CEB

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Euthenia & Demeter

Reverse. Euthenia standing right, crowned with corn, wears veil, chiton and peplos, holds corns in raised right hand and scepter in left ; facing her, Demeter, similarly clad, wears modius, holds corn in lowered left hand and long torch in right hand.

LIH = Year 18 (ie 133-134 AD) of the emperor's reign.

Regarding Euthenia, see first coin. The modius is an ancient Roman unit for dry measures, 8.73 l. The reference to crops and prosperity is obvious. Let's not forget that Rome depended on Egypt's cereals to feed its people (annonae). Assuring grain supplies was a major, risky business and could lead to dangerous uprisings when faulty.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Hadrian


Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)

Greek legend: AVT KAIC TPAIAN AΔPIANOC CEB

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Euthenia & Demeter

Reverse. See previous coin.

LIH = Year 18 (ie 133-134 AD) of the emperor's reign.







Alexandrian bronze drachma - Trajan

Roman emperor Trajan (98-117 AD).

Greek legend: [AVT] TPAIAN CEB ΓEPM ΔAKIK

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Quadriga - Elephants

Reverse. Emperor in quadriga of elephants, holds laurel branch and aquila (Roman eagle).

LIE = Year 15 (ie 112-113 AD) of the emperor's reign.

This coin is not in a very good condition, but the quadriga is interesting. Trajan was the "conqueror" emperor of the Antonine dynasty. It is under his reign that the empire expanded to its maximal size. The elephants, standing in for horses, add an exotic and powerful dimension to the triumph and reputation of the man (and the empire he personifies).

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Severus Alexander

Roman emperor Severus Alexander (222-235 AD).
Greek legend: A KAI MAP AYP CEV ALEXANΔROC EY CE

A[VTOKRATOROC] => Imperator
KAI[CAP] => Caesar
MAP[KOS] => Marcus
AYP[HΛIOC] => Aurelius
SEV[HPOC] => Severus
ALEXANΔROC => Alexander
EY => ?
CE[BASTOC] = Augustus

I find this coin a little moving in a sense that it's the last issue of its kind. Bronze drachmae would henceforth undergo a strong devaluation.

Alexandrian bronze drachma - Hygieia

Reverse. Bust of Hygieia, veiled, draped and wearing wreath. In front, serpent staff combined with olive branch. In field, palm.

LI = Year 10 (of the emperor's reign).

Alexander was the last emperor of the Severan dynasty. His assassination marked the epoch event for the Crisis of the Third Century — nearly fifty years of civil wars, foreign invasion, and collapse of the monetary economy.

Hygieia was the goddess/personification of health. Daughter of the god of medicine, Asclepius, her name is the source of the word "hygiene".






A few tetradrachmae...






Alexandrian tetradrachma - Tiberius & Augustus


Roman emperor Tiberius (14-37 AD)

Greek legend: TIBERIOΣ KAEΣAP ΣEBASTOΣ

LZ = year 7 (ie 20/21 AD) of the emperor's reign.

To think that this coin was struck when Christ was still alive...!

Alexandrian tetradrachma - Tiberius & Augustus


Reverse: head of Augustus, radiate.

Greek legend: ΘEOΣ (divus) ΣEBASTOΣ (Augustus)

This is a truly magnificent portrait of Augustus (aka Octavian) who was deified (divus) at his death.

Alexandrian tetradrachma - Tiberius & Augustus

On 16 January 27 BC the Senate gave Octavian the new title of Augustus. Augustus is from the Latin word Augere and might bear a connection with the augurs, Roman priests whose main role was the practice of augury (interpreting the will of the gods). The ceremony and function of the augur was central to any major undertaking in Roman society (public or private) including matters of war, commerce, and religion. "Augustus" was thus a title of religious authority which had strong political implications.

After the harsh methods employed in consolidating his control, the change in name served to demarcate his benign reign as Augustus from his reign of terror as Octavian.

Alexandrian tetradrachma - Tiberius & Augustus

The title of Augustus was also more favorable than Romulus, the previous one which he styled for himself in reference to the story of Romulus and Remus (founders of Rome), which symbolized a second founding of Rome. The title of Romulus was associated too strongly with notions of monarchy and kingship, an image that Octavian tried to avoid.

It is also worth mentioning that this title, which survived the advent of Christianity, came to define the imperial status as it was worn by Octavian's successors up to the 7th century (Heraclius finally dropped it for "basileos", meaning "king" in Greek).







Alexandria - tetradrachma - Nero


Nero (54-68 AD)

Greek legend: NEPW KΛAV KAEΣ ΣEB ΓEP

NEPW => nero
KΛAV[ΔIOΣ] => claudius
KAEΣ[AP] => caesar
ΣEB[ASTOΣ] => augustus
ΓEP[MANIKOΣ] => germanicus

Not a very flattering portrait... !

Alexandria - tetradrachma


Reverse: draped bust of Alexandria in elephant skin headdress.

Greek legend: AVTOKPA[TOPOΣ] (imperator)

LIB = year 12 (ie 65/66 AD) of the emperor's reign

Alexandria, gateway to Africa, had an exotic connotation, hence the headdress.

Alexandria - tetradrachma - Hadrian


Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)

Greek legend: AVT KAIC TPA AΔPIANOC CEB

Alexandria - tetradrachma - Tyche


Reverse: Tyche recumbent on couch, holding rudder in right hand.

LK = year 20 (ie 135-136 AD) of the emperor's reign

Tyche was the presiding tutelary deity that governed the fortune and prosperity of a city, its destiny. Which explains why she is often wearing a crown depicting city wall and towers (though I believe she's wearing a modius on this reverse). And the rudder would be a methaphor, I suppose.
The couch looks comfy.







Alexandria - tetradrachma - Hadrian


Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)

Greek legend: AVT KAIC TPAI AΔPIA CEB

Alexandria - tetradrachma - clasped hands


Reverse. Clasped hands.

Greek legend: ΠATEP ΠATPIOΔOC
=> Pater Patriae => Father of the Nation

LIΓ = year 13 (ie 128/29 AD) of the emperor's reign.

If anyone can tell me more about the meaning of the clasped hands...

Alexandria - tetradrachma - Hadrian


Roman Emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD)

Greek legend: AVT KAIC TPAI AΔPIA CEB

Alexandria - tetradrachma - Nilus


Reverse. Nilus recumbent, crowned with lotus, himation over lower limbs, holds reed and cornucopiae, rests on crocodile.

LIZ = year 17 (ie 132/33 AD) of the emperor's reign.

The annual flooding of the River Nile brought prosperity to Egypt and beyond, hence the cornucopiae (see fifth coin).







Alexandria - tetradrachma - Commodus


Commodus (180-192 AD)

Greek legend: M A KOM ANTW CEB EY CEB

M[APKOC] => Marcus
A[YPHΛIOC] = Aurelius
KOM[MOΔOC] => Commodus
ANTW[NINOC] => Antoninus
CEB[ASTOC] => Augustus

Alexandria - tetradrachma - ship and lighthouse - Pharos


Reverse: Pharos (Alexandria's lighthouse) represented as a square tower from an angle, surmounted by a lantern. Statue on top. On either side of lantern Triton blowing buccinum. To right of Pharos, galley sailing over waves.

LKΘ = year 29 (ie 188/89 AD) of Marcus Aurelius' reign (his father).






And a few dichalkons...






Alexandrian dichalkon - Trajan


Roman emperor Trajan (98-117 AD)

No legend.

A bit blurred, I'm sorry. They're quite small and my camera is a standard one...!

Alexandrian dichalkon - Hemhem crown and double plumed crown.


Reverse: Hemhem Crown and Double plumed Crown.

LIZ = year 17 (ie 113/114 AD) of the emperor's reign.

The Hemhem Crown was the Triple Rush Crown (constructed from a series of reeds and flanked by ostrich feathers). It is set on ram horns with sun disks on top and (but not always) Uraeus on either side.

Double Plumed Crown, consisting of two ostrich/falcon feathers combined with ram horns and a sun disk. Was is an attribute of Isis?