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ANCIENT ARABIAN COINAGE: An Overstruck Drachm of Trajan from Bostra.


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When the last king of the Nabataeans died in 106 AD, Legio III Cyrenaica moved north into Petra from Egypt, while Legio VI Ferrata moved south from Syria into Bostra. There is no record of a struggle. By the first century, Nabataeans had become Romanized enough to accept a casual transition from vassal state to province. Neither did Trajan assume the title Arabicus, and the imperial coinage commemorating the event proclaimed Arabia Adquista rather than Arabia Capta. 

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The coinage featured the personification of Arabia holding a branch and bundle of cinnamon sticks, with a camel at her feet. These types were issued in denominations of aureus, denarius, sestertius, dupondius, and as...

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The already ancient city of Bostra was selected as the capital of Provincia Arabia, presumably because it was much better situated along eastern trade routes (particularly the Silk Road) than Petra, and easier to access geographically. One of the provincial types struck at Bostra was a drachm that followed the imperial model...

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When I first began collecting Arabian coinage, some ten years ago, I came across a paper written by the Israeli archaeologist Avraham Negev, which mentioned that some of the earliest examples of these coins were struck over Nabataean drachms. Thus began my search. For years I combed through auction and fixed-price listings, looking for an example of the coin that evinced a Nabataean host. I had almost given up hope until one day a fellow forum member @ominus1 posted just such a coin on CoinTalk! He was gracious enough to sell it to me, and I acquired one of my minor holy grails. First, an example of the host coin from my collection...

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Nabataean Kingdom: Rabbel II, 70-106 CE
AR Sela, 16mm, 3.45g; Petra mint, RY 22 (91/92 CE).
Obv.: Laureate and draped bust of Rabbel II right; around, inscription,
22 רבאל מלכא מלך - נבטו שׂנת (Rabbel the king, king of the Nabataeans, Year 22).
Rev.: Veiled and draped bust of Gamilat right; around, inscription,
גמלתּ אחתה מלכת נבטו (Gamilat his sister, queen of the Nabataeans).
Reference: Meshorer 154.

 

You'll notice that Nabataean script is frequently transliterated into Hebrew, not only because of the close relationship between the alphabets, but also because many scholars of Nabataean archeology and numismatics have been Israeli. Like Hebrew, the Nabataean alphabet is an abjad, read right to left. Now for the overstruck coin...

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This coin began as a Nabataean drachm which was flattened by a hammer, held by a pair of tongs, probably annealed, then restruck with the new dies. The part of the coin held by the tongs escaped striking, and left clear Nabataean letters on the tab. On the obverse is the end of the king's inscription giving the regnal year, שׂנת  20. On the reverse is the end of the queen's legend, מלכת נבטו.

Not the prettiest coin in the world, but these Bostran issues were not generally produced in a quality matching their imperial cousins. They are, however, plentiful and easy to collect (unless you're a complete nerd and want an overstruck example). If you've got any of the coins listed in this thread, I'd love to see them!

 

Edited by JAZ Numismatics
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Brilliant.  Just Brilliant.  ...Am I right to think I remember a later Republican denarius commemorating victories over one of the correspondingly earlier kings --also with a camel in the lower field?

...Wishing there were pics of any of my Nabataeans.  All much commoner, earlier types, but including some nice examples.

Edited by JeandAcre
OW. Wish that was a (mere) typo, but this time, it wasn't.
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Posted (edited)
11 hours ago, JeandAcre said:

Brilliant.  Just Brilliant.  ...Am I right to think I remember a later Republican denarius commemorating victories over one of the correspondingly earlier kings --also with a camel in the lower field?

You're thinking of M Aemilius Scaurus, who basically extorted a bunch of silver from Aretas III around 57 BC, then went back to Rome and made denarii touting his "victory" over the Nabataeans. It's a story that deserves its own thread.

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8 hours ago, Nerosmyfavorite68 said:

Question; why are silver coins of the Nabataeans scarce?  Were they melted down for the plentiful coinage of Trajan?

Yes, most were melted down after 106 AD. Some were overstruck, others converted to bullion I imagine, although there wasn't much silver left to harvest. By the end of Rabbel II's reign, the drachms were only .400 fine. Also, as an an addendum, here's a beautiful video of the Roman ruins at Bostra...

 

Edited by JAZ Numismatics
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