Author Topic: Bunch of grapes  (Read 160 times)

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Offline Pellinore

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Bunch of grapes
« on: October 01, 2018, 12:05:59 AM »
Here's a little Roman provincial coin issued in Philippopolis, now Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria. It bears the portrait of the emperor Septimius Severus, and on the other side a large bunch of grapes. Plovdiv happens to be one of the wine areas of Bulgaria.

I'm always curious about the nature of coinage like this: a small coin featuring a regional product. Were coins like this thrown out in October at wine festivals, or given to the poor, or to the wine priests (I'm sure they had wine priests)? Ordinary people probably just paid with antoniniani like other Roman citizens. Coins like this were probably local and festival. They get you a pint or a loaf. Propaganda: the emperor gives you wine.

I always wonder how coins like this were found. Hoards, anybody? Were they collected in their day, like our grandfathers and uncles and kind aunts collected stamps? Have they ever found a hoard with a hundred coins, all different, from neighbouring towns and various ages - the cache of a coin collector?

Septimius Severus AE16 of Philippopolis, Thrace. Obv. Laureate head right. AV KAI CEYHΡOC. Rev. Bunch of grapes hanging down. ΦIΛIΠΠOΠOΛEITΩN (= of the people of Philippopolis). 17 mm, 4.30 gr. SNG Cop 777. Moushmov 5254.

-- Paul




Offline Figleaf

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Re: Bunch of grapes
« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2018, 07:18:48 AM »
So many questions, so few answers.

Historians seem to agree that persecution of christians was decided on locally. If religious questions could be decided locally, it seems reasonable that economic questions could be decided locally also. That would be even more likely for a small denomination inscribed "of the people of Philippopolis".

Philippopolis was an important city. It was situated more centrally in the Roman empire at the time of Septimus Severus than Rome itself. That would mean that peace reigned, even as its emperor flitted from one war to another. Lucian called Philippopolis "the largest and most beautiful of all cities", surely an exaggeration, but an indication that Philippopolis was about beauty and fun. It was not yet the capital of Thrace, with all the bureaucracy that this would have entailed.

If I would have been in power in Philippopolis at that time, I would not have cared much about the interests of the emperor on a coin. He could very well take care of that himself on larger denominations. I would have wanted to promote the city as a centre of wealth and fun. Let the rich come and amuse themselves and spend a lot of money here. I would want the world to know that the best wines come from Philippopolis and they are best consumed there. Put that all in one symbol and you get the attribute of Bacchus, always accompanied by singing beautiful young women: a bunch of grapes.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline EWC

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Re: Bunch of grapes
« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2018, 05:29:04 PM »
I'm always curious about the nature of coinage like this:

Hello Paul

To the best of my knowledge, one of the most important sources regarding why the localised so called “Greek Imperial” coppers were issued, and how they were used, is an inscription ascribed to Hadrian from Pergamum

There is a translation here

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1025.4365&rep=rep1&type=pdf

The meaning has been controversial I think, but we can discuss what it seems to mean if you wish

Regards

Rob T

Offline Pellinore

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Re: Bunch of grapes
« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2018, 10:38:27 PM »
Thanks, that's useful. As I understand it, local bronze was used in small local transactions that could be done in bronze only. Exchanging the bronze for national money (silver, or denarii) yielded a profit for the state because of the use of two different values. Seems logical.

I just read an article about festival coins in Hellenistic times, written by someone with a most beautiful name: Selene Psoma, '"Panegyris" Coinages' in the American Journal of Numismatics, Vol. 20 (150 years), 2008. Pp. 227-255. Coins issued in the name of a god, or for the Eleusinian coinage of Athens, these functioned as tokens that had only value at a (religious) festival, games or mysteries. Issued by the organizing city, the exchange for money (back and forth) yielded a profit, and naturally the festival guests took some home as souvenirs - so that we can have them in our collections.

I suppose this strange coin is one, issued for the Eleusinian mysteries in the town of Eleusis, a walk of three hours from Athens. A double-bodied owl over an Eleusinian ring - the block-like object under the owl.

AE13 Athens, 340-317 BC. Obv. Helmeted head of Athens t.r. Two-bodied owl peering at you, above Eleusinian ring. Α / Θ – Ε. Kroll 41. HGC 4, 1736. 13 mm, 1.95 gr.

-- Paul



Offline EWC

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Re: Bunch of grapes
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2018, 09:35:27 AM »
Thanks, that's useful. As I understand it, local bronze was used in small local transactions that could be done in bronze only. Exchanging the bronze for national money (silver, or denarii) yielded a profit for the state because of the use of two different values. 

Yes, but with a quite important caveat.  The central Roman state seemed to issue gold and silver, initially at least, at a relatively small direct profit to itself.  As far as I understand it, these local copper would be issued in the East by city authorities at a large profit to themselves, it was probably an important form of local taxation.  Paying for fish directly with silver denarii at Pergamum would be rather like not paying state tax in the USA today. 

This local vs state wide tax regime thing seems to me really important for numismatists to understand.  For instance, in Ching China, local taxes relied very heavily upon a notional melting charge applied to silver ingots.  That seems to be the reason the central state refused to coin silver, almost until the state itself collapsed – it would undermined provincial finances.  There are many other relevant general points to make – too many to mention here.

I just read an article about festival coins in Hellenistic times, written by someone with a most beautiful name: Selene Psoma, '"Panegyris" Coinages' in the American Journal of Numismatics, Vol. 20 (150 years), 2008. Pp. 227-255. Coins issued in the name of a god, or for the Eleusinian coinage of Athens, these functioned as tokens that had only value at a (religious) festival, games or mysteries. Issued by the organizing city, the exchange for money (back and forth) yielded a profit, and naturally the festival guests took some home as souvenirs - so that we can have them in our collections.

Not a topic I ever read up on myself – but seems very plausible to me.  History repeats itself a lot, and the medieval English Boy Bishop tokens immediately spring to mind.  Perhaps there are Dutch equivalents too?

http://www.stedmundsburychronicle.co.uk/coinsintrotokens.htm

Rob T

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Bunch of grapes
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2018, 12:54:01 PM »
The ancient Greek Olympian coins seem to fit the pattern of souvenir "tokens" or festival coins, in that they were sold at the Games. Since they are of good weight and reasonable alloy, they could have been spent in theory, but we don't know at what price they were sold.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.