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ANCIENT PROPAGANDA


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Propaganda is communication that is primarily used to influence or persuade an audience to further an agenda, which may not be objective and may be selectively presenting facts to encourage a particular synthesis or perception. Here is an obvious example on ancient coinage.

 

Philip I version: 

On this scarce early Eastern antoninianus Philip commemorated the peace he patched up with the Persians after Gordian III's death during a campaign against them. The 'P M' under the bust does not mean 'pontifex maximus', but 'Persicus Maximus', 'greatest of Persian conquerors'. The reverse also celebrates peace with the Persia. Philip apparently retained Timesitheus’ reconquest of Osroene and Mesopotamia, but he had to agree that Armenia lay within Persia's sphere of influence. He also had to pay an enormous indemnity to the Persians of 500,000 denarii. Philip immediately issued coins proclaiming that he had made peace with the Persians (PAX FVNDATA CVM PERSIS).

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SHAPOUR I version:

This unique coin of Shapour I (owned by a private collector) was at first believed to bare a depiction of the Persian ruler and the emperor Valerian. But by further investigation it was demonstrated that the standing man is in fact Philip the Arab.
 

The Sassanid Empire, founded in 224 by Ardashir I after his triumph over the Parthians, was one of the greatest powers in Western Asia. With its capital Ctesiphon (near Baghdad), the empire extended over more than 6 million km2 from Judea to the borders of India, and from the Caucasus to the Persian Gulf. In these territories several millennia succeeded one after another since the 13th century BC. (The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Achaemenid Persians, the Seleucids and the Parthians.) The Sassanians were the last to rule these rich Mesopotamian lands, before passing into the hands of the first Muslim caliphate.

Shapour already participated in the fall of the Parthian Empire alongside his father in 224. He was crowned King of Kings in 240 and reined alongside his father. In 241, he was the sole to reign, consolidating his empire until 272, especially against the Romans, whom he led two wars against. The first took place at the beginning of his reign; Gordian IlI managed to conquer cities in Asia Minor and threatened to invade the capital Ctesiphon. But the Roman emperor succumbed in battle, and his successor Philip the Arab preferred to make peace, giving the Sassanids control of Armenia and a tribute of half a million denarii. However, peace never lasts with the Romans! Indeed, in 252, they tried a new offensive in Syria. There were many conquests on both sides including Antioch on the Orontes, destroyed by the armies of Shapour in 253, and then re-taken by the Romans in 257. Then in 260, the Roman emperor Valerian was defeated and taken prisoner by Shapour himself. He finished his days in captivity, abandoned by his successor Gallien. The end of his reign continued in mitigated conflict with the Romans, leaving no room for diplomacy. Shapour died in 272, probably from illness.

On the reverse legend of the coin, we can read: « It was this (moment) when Caesar Philip and the Romans paid homage to him and submitted to him ».

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Other examples ?

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It could be argued all coins are propaganda, although some are based on less evidence than others.

The Atrebates dressed up their capitulation to the Romans after the Gallic Wars as a great job, bringing wealth to their people. To a great extent they were right, especially if you compare them to the neighbouring Durotriges. This coin features what looks like a Roman legionary aquila and a cup representing all the wine they were importing. Verica was deposed by the Catuvellauni and ran to Rome for help, prompting the Roman invasion. 

Verica Minim, AD10-40
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Silchester or Chichester, Atrebates tribe. Silver, 7mm, 0.35g. Wine cup; REX above. Eagle right; VERICA COMMI F around (S 159).

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To a certain extent most of the coins issued by Rome during the empire were propaganda pieces, either political or societal, communicating what the administration wanted folks to believe, and not necessarily how they actually were. Was FEL TEMP REPARATIO an accurate assessment of the times? 

Similarly Trajan Decius focused on coins with Pietas, Abundantia, and other personifications to show his adherence to old Roman values and religion which he believed had been watered down in recent decades. 

In some cases, as in Aurelian's there was a modicum of truth - such as the tagline RESTITUTOR ORBIS, for his defeat of Palmyra and Zenobia as well as the Gallic Empire.

 

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