BMCR 2007.04.44

The Roman Coinage of Cyprus

, , The Roman coinage of Cyprus. Nicosia: Cyprus Numismatic Society, 2004, 2005. 316 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm. ISBN 9963907008. CY£26.25.

This book attempts the deceptively straightforward task of providing a full study of the Roman coinage of Cyprus. The book is arranged chronologically and divided by Roman imperial periods. After an introduction of the topic and an overview of the previous work done on Roman Cypriot coinage, there are three chapters which detail the coin issues as well as countermarks: one for the Julio-Claudians, one covering Galba to Marcus Aurelius and one for the Severans. There follows a chapter on the circulation of Cypriot and imported coins from Augustus to Diocletian and a conclusion. There are five appendices: a catalogue of Roman Cypriot coins, a catalogue of countermarks, a die study of Flavian silver, a catalogue of coins from Cypriot excavations and collections, and a catalogue of hoards.

The methodology of the heart of the book (chapters II – IV) is to list the series issued under the emperors of the period covered in that chapter with a supporting illustration, a description of the obverse and reverse, and a transcription of the legends (sometimes translated). There is also a discussion of the die axes as well as the range of weights, with an accompanying chart which shows the distribution of individual coin weights for each issue. Parks also provides the date of issue, which she demonstrates through the titulature as well as a few analytical comments on such matters as minting authority, attribution and distribution.

The only philosophical objection I would raise is with the statement “The portrait of the emperor or a member of his family appears on the obverse of all coins assigned to the Cyprus corpus. Therefore, the ultimate striking authority can be assumed to be the emperor.” This seems to suggest a control that I do not believe always existed. A good example of this is a provincially issued coin which calls Messalina “Augusta”, despite the fact that this title was never officially granted.1 Often the local issuing authorities produced coinage which was considered to be acceptable or welcome to the emperor, without there being any imperial control or authority.

One other point: I claim no great knowledge of Roman countermarks and their purpose, but it seems logical to me that the purpose of a countermark on an older coin of significantly higher silver content might have been to equate it with contemporary silver coinage of the same face value, but lower silver content. To revalue the older coins as Parks offers as a possibility is an open admission of the debased nature of the new coins. On the other hand, re-asserting the older coin’s face value legitimizes the value of the new coins (or at least attempts to). If there were significant numbers of the older, high silver content coins, the most advantageous thing would be to melt and re-strike, so there must have been some compelling reason to countermark.

The book itself is a very high quality production with 69 figures in the form of illustrations of coins and weight charts. The paper is glossy and allows for very sharp images of the coins which are thus quite legible for the reader to examine. It is, therefore, surprising to find so many errors, mainly of the typographical variety. As an example, in the second sentence of Chapter I there are two instances where the space between two words is omitted. This type of slip certainly does not impede the reader’s understanding of the material, but it is unexpected. Also, in my copy on pages 130 and 131, there are portions of the type that are faint, as if the ink cartridge were running low (also 158-59).

A few other observations or corrections:

p. 44: the coin’s obverse legend is given as “IMP AVGVST TR P” although the illustration would appear to show IMP AVGVST TR POT.

p. 69: coin 11a’s reverse is transcribed at ΚΟΙΝΟΝ, but the corresponding image shows only ΚΟΙΝΟ.

p. 70-71: the text refers to Fig 15 and 16, but the coins actually discussed are Fig 23 and 24.

p. 93: a standard of 20,000 coins struck per die is noted in both the body of the text and the footnote.

p. 102: the obverse legend is translated but not the reverse.

p. 105: it is noted that Hadrian minted on an almost identical scale as Trajan, but that he did not mint in Cyprus, whereas Trajan had. One wonders if there was some significance to this stoppage in Cyprus when minting policy, in general, seems unchanged.

p. 116: the translation of Geta’s titulature does not match the transcription from the coins. The transcriptions are given as Π ΣΕΒ ΓΕΤΑΣ ΚΑΙΣΑΡ and ΑΥΤΟ ΚΑΙΣ Π ΣΕΠΤΙΜΙΟΣ ΓΕΤΑΣ, but the translations offered are “Augustus Caesar Publius Septimius Geta” and “Caesar Lucius Septimius Geta.”

p. 121: concerning a series of coins of Caracalla, Parks notes, “Most of the die axes lie at 6:00, but a certain proportion lie at 12:00”. Surely it would be a simple matter to provide the percentages, unless the exact number is unknown, in which case it might have been better to state as much.

p. 126: there is a weight chart (Fig 64) whose scale allows for half coins (also Fig 68).

p. 139: a coin distribution pattern seems to be made on the basis of only three coins.

p. 160: A hoard of coins is said to date from the reign of Seleucus III to Decius. It might have been helpful to provide the dates.

All in all, this book is a good start in the cataloguing of the Roman coinage of Cyprus. Parks has created a list with a considerable number of coins and has certainly established a good methodology for future work in this area. However, there is undoubtedly a large quantity of Roman Cypriot coins, both published and unpublished, as Parks herself acknowledges, in museums, archaeological storage, and private collections. For example, the Roman coins in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada were recently published and they included three Roman Cypriot coins, two of Augustus and one of Vespasian.2 They all conform to descriptions given in Parks, with the exception of the anomaly of the obverse legend on page 44 (noted above). It should be interesting to see how this book generates further work on Roman Cypriot coinage specifically and Roman Provincial Coinage in general.


1. RIC 1 2 p.132 n.124. The topic of issuing authority is discussed in a number of the papers in Coinage and Identity in the Roman Provincies, 2005, edited by C. Heuchert and A. Burnett.

2. Luigi Pedroni, “Roman and Byzantine Coins in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver,” Mouseion 47, 2003, p. 166.