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Alabanda, a capital of Roman Conventus. History and coinage.

Doğanyurt (also called Araphisar) is a small village in the interior of Turkey, heir to the once rich and famous city of Alabanda, capital of Roman conventus iuridicus and seat of Episcopal diocese during the Byzantine rule.


The date of foundation of Alabanda is unknown. Probably it must be dated sometime in the first half of the first millennium BC, as it is the case of the surrounding cities.


In the 4th century BC Alabanda is part of the Persian satrapy of Caria. The different Achaemenids monarchs used to hand over the government of that satrapy to local noblemen loyal to their cause, granting them a high degree of independence. Among these stands out the famous king Mausolus, satrap between 377 and 353 BC, who expanded the limits of his province and ordered to erect an imposing tomb called to become one of the seven wonders of antiquity.


Photo 1.- Ruins of the Apollo Isotimos temple. 2nd Century BC.


Conquered the west of Asia Minor by Alexander the Great as a result of his overwhelming victory in the Granicus River (334 a.C.), Alabanda enters in the orbit of the nascent Macedonian empire. Upon the death of that one, it passes to the domain of Antigonos I Monophthalmos, who will be defeated in Ipsus (301 BC), perishing in battle. As a consequence, a large part of Asia Minor and with it Alabanda will arrive to the hands of Seleucus I, founder of the Seleucid dynasty.


At the beginning of the 3rd century BC is constituted the chrysaorian league: a carian cities association oriented to the joint defense and the stimulus of the commercial practice. The name comes from Chrysaorid, city in whose temple of Zeus the assembly of the league met. Our Alabanda was one of the founding members of this league, remaining in it until its dissolution in 203 BC.


Photo 2.- General view of the Zeus Chrysaoreus temple.

Figure 1 .- Archeological sketch of the previous temple. First half of the 3rd Century BC.

During the reign of Antiochus III Megas (222-187 BC) and through the intercession of this one, Alabanda is declared an immune city by the Amphictyony (assembly of Greek cities held annually in Delphi and Antela). The granting of this privilege, epigraphically dated in the year 203 BC., was not at all negligible because in theory it avoided being attacked, besieged or sacked in case of conflict between Hellenic factions. Another decision of that the Amphictyony was the consecration of Alabanda to Zeus Chrysaoreus and to the god Apollo, the latter with the epithet "Isotimos": exclusive to this city and which means "of equal honor" to Zeus. In gratitude to Antiochus III for the support given, the citizens of Alabanda decided to rename their city as Antiokheia Khrysaoreus, this is: Antioch of the Chrysaoreans.


Photo 3.- Greek letters DI engraved in an ashlar of the Zeus Chrysaoreus temple. They have been interpreted as the initials of the legend DII (to Zeus) or, if the mark is read in reverse order, ID: initials of (H) IERON DII, translatable as "Sanctuary of Zeus".


In 201 BC Alabanda and its territory are plundered by Philip V of Macedonia during his expedition through the lands of Caria, paradoxically in support of Antiochus III against the Greco-Egyptian sovereign Ptolemy V (it is possible that Alabanda was under lagid control at that time, what would eventually explain the attack of Philip V). This indicates that the inviolability decreed a few years ago by the Amphictyony was no longer the efficient protective shield of other times, evidence in turn that the assembly had lost much of the political power it had in pre-Hellenistic times.


Defeated Antiochus III in the battle of Magnesia (190 BC), the Roman troops of Lucius Cornelius Scipio enter Alabanda. Shortly after, the city is given, next to the southern half of Caria, to the powerful island of Rhodes in payment for its support to the Roman Republic in the recently concluded war against Antiochus III. By this time Alabanda retakes its original name, abandoning the one of Antioch: too linked to the defeated seleucid monarch.


Photo 4.- Interior of a hellenistic tomb excavated in the eastern necropolis of Alabanda.


Considering the great distance to the metropolis, the rhodium domain in Alabanda could never be very intense. In fact, the city tried to insert itself in the Roman orbit thorugh the construction of a temple dedicated to Dea Roma, a process that culminated in 170 BC with the signing of a treaty of alliance with Rome, becoming by this way a protectorate of the great Latin power. Titus Livius says that Alabanda celebrated the alliance by sending generous gifts to Rome, among which stood out a gold crown weighing 23 kilos.


Undoubtedly it was convenient for the Greek city to be in good relations with the power that was emerging as the future lord of Asia. Three years after this agreement, in 167 BC, Alabanda fulfills its commitments with Rome helping Rhodes in its fight with the nearby Mylasa. The epigraphy reveals that the negotiations between Alabanda and Rhodes were on an equal footing: a proof that the first had completely escaped to its submission to the second.


Photo 5.- The well-preserved southern wall of the Alabanden bouleterion.


Photo 6.- Interior of the bouleterion where its semicircular cave was raised. First half of the 2nd Century BC.


In the year 133 BC, date of the death of the last Pergamene monarch and the creation of the Roman province of Asia, Alabanda continues as allied city of Rome or what is the same: independent as long as it does not act against Roman interests. It is a prosperous city, embellished by sumptuous buildings built in the last one hundred years as well as financed with the successive silver emissions coined by the city authorities. These emissions are divided into three groups, all characterized by the presence of the winged horse Pegasus: the iconographic motif par excellence of Alabanda coinage.


The exemplar of figure 1 corresponds to the first group and was coined during the reign of Antiochus III. On obverse appears a laureate bust of Apollo Isotimos looking to the left, in reverse Pegaso advancing to the right. The legends indicate the name of the city in genitive, ANTIOXEΩN, "from Antioch", and that of the magistrate responsible for the coinage (MENEKΛHΣ, Menecles). This class of tetradrachms were coined between 197 and 185 BC approximately, deferring each issue in the name of the monetary magistrate. Specifically, the issue "signed" by Menecles has been dated roughly in the period 197-190 BC.


Figure 2.- Tetradrachm coined in Alabanda during the reign of Antiochus III.


Alabanda suspends the minting of tetradrachms for some years, perhaps as a result of the political-economic convulsions caused by the imminence and subsequent explosion of the conflict between Antiochus III and the Roman-Pergamene alliance. The activity returns in 173 BC in the form of a large series of conventional type tetradrachms with a bust of Hercules on obverse and Zeus Etophoros seated on reverse (second type). The distinctive mark of the mint is still the Pegasus, which makes it possible to differentiate quickly the Alabandan coins from other pieces of this type.

Figure 3.- Tetradrachma coined in Alabanda during the period 173-167 BC.


The emissions of "conventional" tetradrachms will last until 167 BC, when the mint returns to the first Apollo-Pegasus type, strucking two emissions in two successive years, easily distinguishable by the letters A (167 BC) and B (166 BC) on reverse, under the Pegasus belly. This third type of tetradrachm is by far the scarcest of the three and, of course, the most commercial by including the original name of the city: AΛABANΔEΩN, "from Alabanda", readopted, as we said, after the defeat and death of Antiochus III.

Figure 4.- Tetradrachm coined in Alabanda in the year 167 BC.


In 70 BC Alabanda is incorporated into the Roman province of Asia. Shortly after the growing network of roads connects the city with the major cities of the province such as Ephesus, Mileto or Trales, intensively benefiting the development of it trade. However, the pax romana also has its disadvantages: the fiscal voracity of the successive proconsuls seriously damages the Alabanda finances to the point of having to request a loan from the Italian banker Cluvius (51 BC). A decade later (40 BC) Alabanda is occupied by the army of Prince Pacorus I, son of Orodes II, and his lieutenant, the roman renegade Quintus Labienus. After the march of the main part of the enemy troops, the Alabandan people rise up against the Parthian garrison, massacring it. In reprisal Quintus Labienus directs his troops against the city, occupying it again and subjecting it to a hard looting.


Photo 7.- General view of the cavea of the Alabanda theater, with its two levels. 2nd Century BC.


The dawn of the imperial period illuminates a Alabanda in very good relationship with Rome. A consequence of this is the appointment of the city as head of one of the eight conventi iuridici in that the great province of Asia was divided. Conventus Alabandensis was its name. Also, in AD 22 Tiberius renews the privilege of immunity granted by the Amphictyony two centuries ago. It is clear that Alabanda continued being a rich and dynamic city despite the difficulties experienced in the second half of the first century BC. In fact Strabo highlights, to exemplify this prosperity, the abundance of young female harpists in Alabanda.


Photo 8.- Original structure, built in Hellenistic time, of the theater scene.


Photo 9.- Roman extension of the scene, with its columns and other elements reused (2nd Century AD).


The imperial Alabandan coinage span from the reign of Augustus to that of Caracalla with important gaps between both. The most voluminous emissions were, by far, those minted during the severe period, mainly those corresponding to the reign of Caracalla. As is usual in western Asia Minor coinage, they are limited to medium and small bronzes. His art is also typically micro-Asian, of medium quality, and the reverse iconography is fundamentally religious: Tyche, Athena, Apollo, Zeus, etc. We can contemplate four of these issues in the next figure:


Figure 5.- Bronze coins minted in Alabanda during the Roman imperial period. Top-left.- AE18 in the name of Augustus and Livia (on reverse). Top-right.- AE26 on behalf of Septimius Severus. Zeus Chrysaoreos on reverse. Bottom-left.- AE27 in the name of Julia Domna. Tyche in reverse. Countermark on obverse. Bottom right.- AE26 on behalf of of Caracalla. Zither -a musical instrument typical of the god Apollo- on reverse.

Prosperity continues during the high Roman Empire. Two large thermal complexes are built by this time to the delight of the Alaband citizens. The city authorities try not to neglect the maintenance of the sumptuous buildings inherited from their ancestors. There are also illustrious deceased buried in richly sculpted sarcophagi. Yes, it can be said that things worked in Alabanda as in the rest of Asia Minor...


Photo 10.- Ruins of a Roman thermal complex, known as "the Central Bath"


The situation will begin to turn around in the middle of the 3rd century AD. The Gothic invasion is the first of the setbacks that the Caria region would suffer. The fear of external attacks will force to build a rampart to protect the most populated portion of the city, leaving the rest outside the city-wall. The truth is that Alabanda already had a city-wall, built in the Hellenistic era, but it should be discarded because of its excessive length that forced the use of a very large garrison, impossible to sustain by the dwindling provincial rents.


Photo 11.- Vestiges of a stoa belonging to the agora of Alabanda.


Despite the difficulties, life continues in Alabanda. But it is a diminished life, where some of the most important buildings have not been used for a long time, being their materials cannibalized to carry out repairs and renovations in the buildings still in use. Divided in two parts the Roman Empire, the Eastern one follows its own way from the year 476 onwards. Alabanda adapts successfully to the new political scene, managing to be named episcopal seat of the diocesis Alabandensis, suffragan of the Aphrodisias one. We know the names of some of its bishops: Zeuxis, Julian, Constantine, John ... the last one we know of is Nicephorus and dates from the eleventh century. We also know from the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959 AD) that Alabanda was counted, at that time, among the twelve most important cities of the micro-Asian west.


Photo 12.- Flanking tower of the Byzantine wall of Alabanda.


After two centuries as turbulent as 12nd and 13rd, in which the city changes of hands several times to the compass of the Turkish advances and the Byzantine counterattacks, falls definitively under Muslim power in 1280. Its later history is dark, languishing progressively until being reduced to the miserable village that is currently...

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History and Numismatics lovers

specialized in ancient coinage.

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