Jump to content

Caracalla's imitatio Alexandri in Thracia


Recommended Posts

Those of you who are familiar with my posts know by now that my main 'thing' is trying to date stuff. Imperial coins are usually dated quite fittingly tight, thanks to continuous minting, dated legends (COS TR P IMP etc) and a logical progression in effigy and Imperial names. With 'provincial' or 'Greek Imperial' coins often there is no such hint in the coin per se, but rather there is a more contextual approach and theories based on hoard finds and or correlations with Imperial types and/or Imperial effigy are sometimes used to put a ballpark period for the minting of a particular type, almost always in the case of emperors who had long and eventful reigns. There are of course dated 'provincials'/'Greek Imperials' - either by regnal year or different local or political eras (Pompeian, Actian...) - but they seem to be more of the exceptions than the rules. The most known such mints are also the ones that are prolific to the point that they have a steady output year after year - like Antioch in Syria or Caesarea in Cappadocia but also more centrally Viminacium and/or Dacia - almost in the same general manner of the mint at Rome. But most other cities and towns - like it was the case with my previous post about Orthosia - struck coins at particular times for either specific local needs or to ingratiate themselves to the Imperial figure and family when they came visiting. 

In the general case of the Balkan area - Moesia Inferior and Thracia - most researchers consider that coinage was struck, at least starting with the Severan period (but perhaps earlier too), usually for municipal council needs and expenditures, rather than day-to-day economic needs. That means usually municipal building campaigns, be they religious and or civil, or holiday celebrations and popular games. 

The other main reason is what interests me here: the Imperial presence. 

Caracalla AE29mm 14.75g minted at Serdica c. first half of 214 - with Hera seated right holding scepter and phiale, or is this iconography usually reserved for the Queen of the Gods meant here to also serve as a representation of the province of Thracia in a not-so-subtle try at religious and symbolic syncretism?

What would be the cause of an Imperial presence in a provincial town or city for that matter -- or actually even in a general area where a group of cities are located for a koinon? Generally it's a military campaign: the emperor moves towards the borders for war and travels a certain itinerary because he needs to both gather troops and perhaps establish new provincial representatives and set up logistics mechanisms for his campaign. On his way back from the front, there are the triumphs and the dedications and the games/celebrations in honor to the emperor by the local elite of a city. In such events the striking of coins might easily be simultaneous with the dedication of inscriptions honoring the emperor and his triumph locally. 

Caracalla started East in 213, soon after his Germanic triumph in Raetia. His itinerary is more or less known thanks to Cassius Dio, Herodian and the Historia Augusta, and they all more or less agree that he wintered 213-14 in Nicomedia, where he arrived around early December. Dio mentions that the Imperial entourage even took a detour to Troas before the new year. But instead of continuing eastwards, the emperor is again in Thracia in February 214, where he recruits Thracian and Illyrian soldiers - that is possibly also when he gets the idea of recruiting Greeks for a 'Macedonian phalanx' unit. Then he moves north to Dacia Porolisensis for other business -- it's worth noting that there was discontent and a possible revolt or at least raiding parties and the legate for the trium Daciae was in deep trouble after the death of Caracalla in 217. 

What is interesting numismatically is that at this point, probably before mid 214, Caracalla announces his explicit interest for an actual Eastern campaign in a very official Roman fashion as his 'profectio ad Orientem' complete with an 'adlocutio' in or near Serdica. This moment is distinctly marked on the coinage of Serdica, for the city mints with a distinctly Imperial iconography for the 'adventus/profectio':


Caracalla AE30mm 16.89g minted at Serdica in the spring-summer of 214, saluting the troops and the province

Thracian cities minted extensively for the later Severans, but Caracalla is favored at Serdica. This type, with emperor on horseback marching right and saluting (the army and the province too likely, see above for the connection with the seated Hera and the military effigy of Caracalla) was very likely minted while the Emperor either resided at Serdica or was in the general area of Serdica, marking also the time when he decided to both launch his 'expeditio felicissima orientalis' (the military campaign against the Parthians) and start his 'imitatio Alexandri'.

This makes the Serdica coinage of 214 a first rate historically important coinage.

Edited by seth77
  • Like 9
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...