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DEO SANCTO NILO - NOT Festival of Isis


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Having recently posted my new "Festival of Isis" (Navigium Isidis) aquisition, it reminds me of an ongoing auction house annoyance ... Hard to say if this is due to ignorance or "marketing" - trying to sell one thing as another to get a better price. CNG is the biggest culprit here.

What a number of auction houses are doing is cataloging one of Maximinus II's civic types - the Alexandrian "DEO SANCTO NILO" as being a Festival of Isis type, when it's entirely unrelated. One can find many examples of this on ACSearch:


The actual  "festival of isis" types are distinguished by always having a "VOTA PVBLICA" reverse legend. They are issued from Rome, and never have a mintmark. Additionally most are made from orichalcum, although this may not be obvious.

In contrast, Maximinus II's civic types were issued from his mints of Antioch, Nicomedia and Alexandria, typically include a mintmark of sorts, and were made of bronze. These types are well described in Johan Van Heesch's "The Last Civic Coinages and the Religious Policy of Maximinus Daza (AD 312)" from NC 153 (1993), also available as a PDF on his academia.edu page:


Aside from the glaringly obvious lack of "VOTA PVBLICA" legend, and mintmark indicating the "DEO SANCTO NILO" type as being from Alexandria, one can see the coherence of these civic types from the legends.

One side of these (obverse/reverse is not consistent) typically refers to the genius of the issuing city (GENIO ANTIOCHENI, GEN CIVIT NICOM, GENIO ALEXAND), and the other side typically refers to a local god addressed as SANCTO (APOLLONI SANCTO, DEAE SANC CERERI, DEO SANCT NILO). The type that auction houses tend to misattribute is the Alexandrian one with a reverse of "DEO SANCT NILO" vs the rarer but more characteristic "GENIO ALEXAND", but given the ALE mintmark it should be obvious this is from Alexandria and not Rome, never mind that it doesn't have the "VOTA PVBLICA" reverse legend that is the hallmark of all "Festival of Isis" types!

Roma seems to flip-flop between cataloging these correctly or not (vs others like CNG who consistently fail), but did an exemplary job of getting it right here (with a super nice coin), and were rewarded with a great price.



Edited by Heliodromus
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I think the problem is there is no consensus on what these represent. Too many copy paste listings attributing these to persecution of Christians. While I agree these are not festival of Isis issues (particularly Antioch), I've never found any link to persecution of Christians. Apart from pagan deities, I'm not sure Antioch, Nicomedia, Alexandria and related to each other.

Edited by Celator
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8 hours ago, Celator said:

I'm not sure Antioch, Nicomedia, Alexandria and related to each other.

I'm not sure what you mean by that.

All three cities issued civic types featuring their city genius (vs imperial obverse) and SANCTO deity reverse. How much more coordinated could they get?!


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> I'm not sure why IOVI CONSERVATORI would be included if by going inscription solely?

Why go by inscription only?! We should be looking at all the evidence!

The possible date range for these is very narrow - from Diocletian's coinage reform of 294 when mint-identifying mintmarks were introduced, to 312 AD when Antioch expanded from the 10 officinas (A-I) we see on these pieces to 15 (A-EI). We can rule out Julian II (who these types used to be attributed to) since he continued to use theta to mark officina 9, as had been done since 330 AD when Constantine made the change from the superstitious Delta+Epsilon we see on these Antioch types.

We don't need to struggle to attribute the anepigraphic APOLLONI SANCTO type since - looking at the totality of the evidence - we can associate it with the type with legend that has the GENIO/SANCTO hallmarks of the series.

We shouldn't be struggling to attribute the Alexandrian DEO SARAPIDI/SANCTO NILO when we compare it to the DEO SARAPIDI/GENIO ALEXAND that has the civic genius legend that identifies it as part of the series.

Never mind the GENIO <city>, SANCTO <deity> commonality across mints that clearly associates them, we also see commonality in the mintmarks with both SMA and ANT from Antioch (plus an error? retrograde AMS version of SMA), and both SM and ALE from Alexandria (plus an error? retrograde MS version of SM). The mysterious OPA mintmark from Nicomedia certainly fits the pattern of odd mintmarks too.

Civic (non-imperial obverse) types from this time period of imperial coinage are extremely rare, so given the mass of evidence tying these types from Antioch, Nicomedia and Alexandria together, it seems extremely odd to reject all the evidence and suggest these might be 3 or 4 separate issues uncoordinated across mints!

Is it conceivable that the Antioch IOVI type is unrelated to the APOLLONI SANCTO one? I suppose. Does it seem likely that this is from a separate unrelated Antioch civic issue(!), but still from this same narrow date range? No.

The only one of these types who's affinity with the rest seems questionable is the Isis+Serapis jugate one without mintmark. The SANCTO NILO legend ties it to the other SANCTO NILO one, but the jugate busts and lack of mintmark would in fact (for that ONE type) be more at home in Rome.

It's good to question things, but only when accompanied with evidence. An attribution of "Van Heesch, but the cataloger believes these to be distinct issues because ..." would be fine, "Festival of Isis [in Rome]" is not fine!

Edit: The "Christian persecution" association of these seems unproven, but that doesn't change the *attribution*. The attribution to Maximinus II seems highly likely (between 311 AD when he gained control of all the 3 mints in question, to the 312 AD terminus date based on officinae). WHY he issued them seems harder to answer, although we do of course understand some of the religious/political climate of the time.


Edited by Heliodromus
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We can only date the Antioch issues (including SMA), the other 2 mints are of unknown date. I attributed both Antioch issues to the Olympics, Jupiter to 300 and Tyche to 312. Still awaiting publication however. Nicomedia is really an oddball. I'm still working on it as well as the Alexandrian issues. BTW the bottom left coin on your infografic is mine.

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1 hour ago, Celator said:

We can only date the Antioch issues (including SMA), the other 2 mints are of unknown date. I attributed both Antioch issues to the Olympics, Jupiter to 300 and Tyche to 312. Still awaiting publication however. Nicomedia is really an oddball. I'm still working on it as well as the Alexandrian issues. BTW the bottom left coin on your infografic is mine.

Ah, so you're the author of that very interesting article! I cited it in my description of one of the Antioch issues:

Anonymous civic issue, reign of Maximinus II, AE quarter follis [?][Sear] or 1/12 nummus [?][McAlee p. 106], Antioch Mint (3rd Officina), ca. 311-312 AD. Obv. Tyche (city-goddess of Antioch) wearing mural crown, seated facing on rock, holding wheat or  grain ears with right hand and, with left hand, holding a two-handled basket (filled with wheat or grain ears[?]) resting on ground to right, river god Orontes swimming below, GENIO ANTIOCHINI / Rev. Apollo standing left, pouring libation from patera held in right hand, and holding lyre in raised left hand, Γ [gamma, signifying 3rd Officina] in right field, APOLLONI SANCTO around; in exergue, SMA [meaning Sigmata Moneta Antioch (money struck at Antioch) or Sacra Moneta Antioch]. [Not in RIC; see http://www.notinric.lechstepniewski.info/6ant_civ_4v.html.] Sear RCV IV 14927 (ill); Vagi 2954; McAlee 170(c) (ill. p. 107); Van Heesch Type 3 [Van Heesch, J. "The last civic coinages and the religious policy of Maximinus Daza (AD 312)" in Numismatic Chronicle (1993), pp. 63-75 & Pl. 11]; ERIC II, “Anonymous Religious Coinage of the Fourth Century,” pp. 1198-1199, No. 2. 16 mm., 1.35 g. [Struck either (1) to promote propaganda against Christians and aid in their persecution (and thus traditionally denominated the “Persecution issue”; or (2) as proposed by David Kalina, for use in festivals, including the Festival of Apollo at Daphne, held in conjunction with the Olympics in Antioch in 312 AD. See Kalina, David, “Anonymous Civic Coinage,” Series 1, at http://allcoinage.com/anonymous_civic.php.]


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7 hours ago, Celator said:

We can only date the Antioch issues (including SMA), the other 2 mints are of unknown date. I attributed both Antioch issues to the Olympics, Jupiter to 300 and Tyche to 312. Still awaiting publication however. Nicomedia is really an oddball. I'm still working on it as well as the Alexandrian issues. BTW the bottom left coin on your infografic is mine.

I look forward to seeing what you have to say about them!

The AVGG of the IOVI type is another clue, but seems mostly to confirm what's already obvious  - that these date to a time when there were multiple co-emperors. I'm not sure how much we can read into the lack of any CAESS type.

My best guess for the Nicomedian OPA would be a reference to Ops (+ officina A perhaps?), which would seem thematically related to Ceres.

Congrats on the jugate type - an interesting one to place!


Edited by Heliodromus
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There's an interesting article on the famous sanctuary of Apollo at Dafne (near Antioch), in William Smith's "Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography" that may connect the two Antioch civic types of Apolloni Sancto depicting Apollo with lyre, and Iovi Conservatori depicting a seated Jupiter.

The sanctuary of Apollo apparently included huge statues of both Apollo (with lyre) and Jupiter (seated, in the style of that at Olympia), as depicted on these coins.



The depiction of a seated Jupiter here is specific to these coins (and hence seems to be a local Antioch reference to this santuary), with Maximinus II otherwise depicting a standardized standing Jupiter with spread chlamys on his coins.

The two coin types are of course separate issues (but same series?) in as much as they have different mintmarks of SMA and ANT. ANT is what Maximinus II was using on his regular bronze coinage c.312, while SMA (Sacra Moneta Antiocheni) is what might be expected when the emperor himself was present in the locale at the time of minting. The Alexandrian types include a simimilar pair of issues, one (perhaps the first, with it's GENIO ALEXAND legend) with a mintmark of SM (perhaps indicating a presence in Alexandria at the time), and another with the normal ALE.

Given that the issuing empreor, assuming it is the same one (Maximinus II), couldn't be in two places at the same time, one interpretation of these SMA and SM[ALE] mintmarks is that Maximinus had sequentially visited these issuing cities, perhaps indeed to shore up support from his "base" in the face of anti-Christian sentiment. One could speculatively tie in the Nicomedian Ceres type with OPA mintmark by suggesting that he chose to visit these cities on occasion of local festivals, so perhaps the Olympics of 312 as David suggests (can it be located to Antioch?), then conceivably the Opalia of December 19th at Cyzicus.


Edited by Heliodromus
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