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Mallus in Cilicia Pedias, large denomination for Iulia Mamaea


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Sometime after 230, Alexander Severus raised the city of Mallus in Cilicia Pedias to the rank of colonia. But before that, around 229-30, a Greek issue of coins in the name of Alexander and Mamaea was struck (with the local dating system present just on the Alexander dies), in what seem to be very modest quantities.



There is just one specimen recoreded in RPC (RPC VI 30076 temporary) with no other references, both coins with the same obverse counter-mark, possibly a local counter-mark used to (re)affirm the coin's status as legal tender at a later date. The coinage of Alexander from the pre-colonial phase of Mallus is recorded in SNG Levante but this one for Mamaea is not. The flan is thick and heavy (26mm 14.95g) and the metal seems to be copper rather than orichalcum. The effigy of Iulia Mamaea is typical for the period, likely inspired by the Imperial antoniniani of Iulia Maesa of ca. 218, with the empress bust placed on crescent. Although rare and unrecorded, there should be more examples considering that there are at least two sets of obverse dies to one(?) reverse die.

The reverse is interesting for some implications and deductions that can be made from this rather usual and normal design: the local Tyche seated on a rocky cliff, wearing the mural crown and veil and holding ears of corn in her right hand, while below two river gods swim away from each other. The river gods are surely representing Pyramus, the river flowing to the Mediterranean near the ancient city, while the Tyche seated on her rocky mound represents the city itself. But why two river gods? This image give us a possible symbolic representation of how the landscape where Mallus was situated in antiquity looked like, which is likely different than the landscape we see today. Usually the area around the mouth of a river is very dynamic in its changes in time. Now, the ancient city (or its presumed location) is situated on the Ceyhan River (the ancient Pyramus) but miles inland rather than at its mouth. The area is a wild natural delta, a habitat for a rich variety of wildlife thriving on the mud deposits that changed the face of the Karataș peninsula from what it looked like in antiquity, when Mallus was seated on its rocky promontory at the (or closely by) the river's mouth, rather than further inland where the promontory finds itself now due to continuous deposits brought by Pyramus. Authors in antiquity refer to the city and the river being in close proximity and the city either at the river's mouth or very close to it. This coin possibly shows us an interesting detail that was likely in place since at least the 1st century AD: in its flow towards the Med, before reaching the city of Mallus, Pyramus bifurcates, likely somewhere close to the city, placing it between its two branches, as it nears to the sea. This would explain both: 1. the two river gods swiming away from each other and around the Tyche of Mallus on the reverse design of this (and other Mallus issues, going back to the 1st century) and 2. the lush and wild delta of today. Likely the beginning of this delta can be traced to Roman times.


Very interesting and wild today, the river was fit for navigation in antiquity, although the beginning of the marsh area near its mouth was very likely present and observed by people and immortalized on the coins from Mallus.




(from flickr)

Edited by seth77
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Some further research lead to some new insights. The issue of this type for Mamaea was unknown in 2001 when O. Tekin wrote 'River-Gods in Cilicia in the Light of Numismatic Evidence', although the general type is recorded for Domna (not pictured and I did not see any another specimen). The placing of this issue in time to 229-30 thanks to the local date on the Alexander coin RPC 7156 is somewhat at odds with the probability that Mallus was granted the status of colonia at the latest in 230 (R. Ziegler 'Wann wurde Mallus zur romischen Kolonie?' 1992), which meant almost immediately that a new Latin coinage was minted to mark this event (RPC 7157). But this actually helps in dating this issue with more confidence: this is the last Greek issue of Mallus before it received the new status from Alexander in 230, possibly started not long before the event, which likely meant its discontinuation to make room for the new Latin colonial coinage. This also explains the rarity of this issue.

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Eastern provincial issues under SA that are 229 and later are of historical interest because he was collecting troops for a massive response to Ardashir's invasion a few years earlier.  A number of cities were upgraded to Colonia or Metropolis status, probably associated with an increased military presence in the city.  Here's a coin of Philomelium in Phrygia that was probably issued in connection with the same troop buildup:


The clash between Sev Alex and Ardashir was a big one, and probably ended in something of a stalemate.  It tends to get ignored, but I think it's pretty significant.  After all, the Roman-Sasanian conflict was to be a huge part of foreign policy of both empires for the next four hundred years.

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I think you are right @Severus Alexander this is a rather important moment, mostly because it precedes the Sasanian war, and cities in the Eastern provinces were of vital importance for supplying grain to the Roman troops. In fact, it's certainly possible that one of the reasons why, after the rise in status, the city is (possibly) obliged to mint new coinage, is a closer alignment to the Imperial denominations, which would have made grain transactions easier. I'm not sure there is certainty regarding the denominations at Mallus prior to it becoming a colonia, but the post 230 coinage with the S-C marking would have likely been tied to Imperial denominations.

In fact, this arrangement is possibly the conducive factor in the need to counter-mark earlier coinage -- as it's the case here -- to establish their place in the new monetary environment. Both my specimen and the RPC specimen have a distinct countermark that might be in fact S-C, or similar with a similar meaning.

Edited by seth77
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