Monday, 17 April 2017

Odenathus, the "lion" of Palmyra


I have just been reading a paper in BCEN 2015 on new adventus and profectio types from the mint of Antioch during the sole reign of Gallienus by Charles Euston. In the paper they question whether the control of the Antioch mint was under the control of Odenathus, ruler of Palmyra and Roman ally for some time after the recapture of the mint after the usurpation of Macrianus and Quietus. He doubts the hypothesis of J._M Doyen that aurei and medallions were struck by Odenathus at Antioch to celebrate his own victories.

I recalled a passage in the Sybilline Books that may actually lend support to the Doyen theory of Odenathus promoting his campaign successes. A coin reverse type in the antoninianus series from Antioch features a walking lion, either holding a thunderbolt or, on some types, a bull’s head. The 13th Sybilline book, dealing with this period of Roman history, states from line 210:

The very mighty Romans, one of whom
Shall have the number seventy, and the other
The number three, even then the stately bull,
That digs the earth with his hoofs and stirs up
The dust with his horns, shall many ills
Upon a dark skinned serpent perpetrate
That draws a trail with his scales; and besides,
Himself shall perish. And yet after him
Again shall come another fair-horned stag,
Hungry upon the mountains, striving hard
To feed upon the venom-shedding beasts.
THEN SHALL A FEARFUL LION COME,
Sent from the sun and breathing forth much flame.
And then too by his shameless recklessness
Shall he destroy the well-horned rapid stag


The general commentary accepts that the lion referred to is Odenathus and I just wonder (without wanting to over read the ambition of the die cutter’s intention) whether the lion of the Antioch coin type is a reference to Odenathus.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Galba aureus in Wakefield museum


A chance visit to a charity shop yesterday threw up a interesting batch of postcards, all unused and the same design and useful to use as notelets to numismatic friends. The batch of thirty or so cards bore an image of an aureus of Galba currently in the collection of Wakefield Museums. It inspired me to do a bit of digging about this coin and how it came to the museum.

Sadly there is very little online, apparently found by a metal detectorist working in the vicinity of Castleford (Roman Lagentium, thought to mean 'The Place of the Swordsmen') during road construction work in the centre of what was the Roman fort.


Most of the information gleaned came from Bland and Loriot’s monograph on Roman gold coins found in Britain. In that work it is entry number 646.

It is interesting to note that although the coin was found in 1979 it was not able to be included in the 1984 significant revision of Roman Imperial Coinage volume 1 where the type (obverse legend 5c, bust G (laureate, right) was only recorded as a denarius, the recorded aurei with obverse legend 5c being paired with a left facing laureate bust or a right facing laureate and draped bust:


Monday, 2 January 2017

A unique Silandos/Tabala mule


I recently came across this ancient coin that has a rather interesting story. It was sold as a 21mm bronze coin of the Silandos mint in Lydia (Turkey), an autonomous issue under Roman rule most often dated to around the Severan period in literature. Having searched through a number of references I was unable to place the type with helmeted Roma on the obverse and Tyche holding a rudder and cornucopia on the reverse. The obverse is known, for example, on SNG Copenhagen 547.

SNG Cop 547


I then took a closer look at the legend on the reverse, reading EΠI Λ MAPOC Y IE TABAΛEѠ[N ], a reverse type of Tabala in Lydia, not Silandos! Although the reverse legend is known, for example on the coinage of the city under Commodus and Crispina (eg SNG von Aulock 8272), the Tyche reverse design is not recorded for Tabala in the references I have consulted.

There is the thought that such mixes of types of different cities occurs because coining was a specialist craft and one location was contracted to produce types for a number of neighbouring cities. Thus errors could occur with the mixing of city types, although this combination was unknown to Konrad Kraft in his work Kaiserzeitliche Münzprägung in Kleinasien. This looks to have occurred here but, unusually, mixing a known obverse/portrait side from Silandos with a new, unrecorded reverse type from Tabala and is probably unique.

This coin can be bought HERE.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

A dynastic coin of Claudius

Claudius, Tetradrachm, c.45-6 AD, RPC I 5164

I recently acquired this “dynastic” coin, made in Alexandria, Egypt, of the emperor Claudius. His portrait is featured on the obverse of the coin. The reverse has a veiled female figure standing left. You would probably think of Demeter at first glance, however, the figure is named and that name is Messalina, Claudius’ third wife. In her hand, outstretched, there are two small children, Claudia Octavia and Britannicus.

Little is known about Messalina’s life prior to her marriage in 38 to Claudius, her first cousin once removed, who was then about 48 years old. Claudia Octavia was born in AD 39 or 40, a future empress, stepsister and first wife to the emperor Nero; and Britannicus in AD 41. When the Emperor Caligula was murdered in 41, the Praetorian Guard proclaimed Claudius the new emperor and Messalina became empress.

With her accession to power, Messalina enters history with a reputation as ruthless, predatory and sexually insatiable. Her husband is represented as easily led by her and unconscious of her many adulteries. In 48 AD, he went away on a trip and was informed when he returned that Messalina had gone so far as to marry her latest lover, the Senator Gaius Silius. While many would have ordered her death, the Emperor offered her another chance. Seeing this as weakness, one of his head officers went behind the Emperor's back and ordered Messalina's death. Upon hearing the news, the Emperor did not react and simply asked for another chalice of wine. The Roman Senate then ordered a damnatio memoriae so that Messalina's name would be removed from all public and private places and all statues of her would be taken down.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Tarr Steps, Devon

The Tarr Steps, Devon, are a clapper bridge across the River Barle in the Exmoor National Park, Somerset, England. A typical clapper bridge construction, the bridge possibly dates to around 1000 BC.

The stone slabs weigh up to two tons each. According to local legend, they were placed by the devil to win a bet. Its age is unknown, as several theories claim that the steps date from the Bronze Age, c. 1000 BC, but others date them from around 1400 AD. It has been restored several times in recent years, following flood damage.

The steps have appeared on British stamps twice, in 1968 and 2015.

 1968 UK stamp

2015 UK stamp

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Iron Age or Roman beehive quern from the lower Wharfe valley



I have just been fortunate enough to acquire as a garden ornament an ancient beehive quern. Dating from the Iron Age or early/mid Roman times this quern was in a garden/architectural salvage dealers in an antiques warehouse in lower Wharfedale. Unpriced it appears the dealer was reluctant to sell as he had the idea of utilising the central grain funnel to make the piece into a water feature!

Beehive querns are a characteristic later pre-Roman Iron Age type, although their chronology has yet to be refined. They were the first characteristic quern shape to be introduced into Britain. The horizon of their introduction is likely to be late in the 4th century BC and they remained in use until replaced by Roman rotary querns, perhaps from late in the first century AD, a process which may have extended over at least a century, although, again, the chronology has yet to be clarified.


In West Yorkshire querns are important as an indicator of the general distribution of later pre-Roman Iron Age settlement, subject to the usual caveats regarding the presence or absence of fieldworkers and museums, and other variables affecting their discovery and reporting.

Querns are particularly prevalent in the valleys of the rivers Wharfe and Aire, the distribution thinning out on the Pennine uplands and in the lower parts of the Vale of York. This pattern presumably reflects limited populations, but the thinning of the distribution in South Yorkshire may be a function of observation and recording. Within the general distribution pattern it is of particular interest to note the iffering distribution of ‘tall’ querns with sides of greater than 70 degrees to base and 'hemispherical' querns with sides of less than 60 degrees to base. While hemispherical querns are particularly found in North Yorkshire and the Tees valley, ‘tall’ querns are a feature of West Yorkshire, suggesting a cultural distinction which may also be reflected in the ritual and burial traditions noted above.

How long it took flat rotary querns to supplant beehive querns remains unclear, but it is likely that the use of beehive querns did not extend into the 3rd century AD.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Joseph Palmer and Edward Palmer

Seeing the posts on the internet about the Somme has prompted me to post about my two great uncles who died in the Great War and are named on the Thorner (near Leeds, West Yorkshire) war memorial, even though they were later casualties.
Private Joseph Richardson Palmer
It took me a while to identify which picture belonged to which person as neither is named but, from examination of cap badges and tunic buttons, I think I’ve got the correct attribution.
 Death notice Private Joseph Palmer
 The first, Private Joseph Richardson Palmer, was in the Leicestershire Regiment. He died of wounds in the 1st Australian Hospital in Rouen on 4th June 1918, aged 23, purportedly from an air raid on the hospital where he was being treated. He is buried in St. Sever cemetery extension, Rouen.

Private Edward Goodwill Palmer

The second, Private Edward Goodwill Palmer, aged 19, in the Essex Regiment was killed on September 21st 1918 aged 19. He is buried in Unicorn cemetery, Vendhuile.


Thorner parish magazine cover, November 1918
His death was reported in the November parish magazine, obviously published just before the declaration of the armistice. Two other village war deaths are recorded in the magazine, Private Percy Yates, died of wounds on 6th October, and Private Herbert Mitchell MM, October 17th and who is buried in Thorner churchyard.
Thorner parish magazine text, November 1918