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Knowing the Roman imperial mints: XIII- Antioch.

Antioch, the once great metropolis of Syria and capital of the diocese of the East, was founded at the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I, the first Seleucid monarch. The new city was born under an auspicious star since the intention of its founder was to use it as the capital of his enormous empire. This explains the great care taken in tracing its streets, perfectly adjusted to the demands of the Greek hypodaemic system, as well as the monumentality with which its two main arteries and its agora were built, fully equipped with splendid porticoed stoas.


Unequivocally it can be said that Seleucus I was fully successful in choosing the place where to built his new capital. Indeed, in Antioquia the routes coming from the interior of Asia were crossed with those that, from south to north, traveled the eastern Mediterranean. Likewise, the goods produced in Asia Minor also ended up passing through Antioquia before pursuing southward or eastward to their export. The result was a practically optimal location for the development of commerce, what would soon provide great wealth to the city which served to finance the construction of splendid buildings. As Antioquia also had both good natural defenses (the Mount Silpius guarding its north side, the river Orontes defending the rest of flanks) and artificial ones (a solid city-wall) it is not surprising us that many people in the region decided to settle in it and prosper.


Figure 1.- View of the ruins of the roman city-wall of Antioch. Engraving made in the mid-nineteenth century.


Antioch knows its zenith as a city in the first two centuries of the Christian era, when it reaches a population of half a million people which qualified it as the third city of the Empire only behind Rome and Alexandria. Such should be the magnificence of its monuments and the sumptuousness of its residences that it was known as the "Golden Antioch" and the "Queen of the Orient".


The decline of the Late Roman Empire affected Antioch to a lesser degree than other cities, retaining its enormous commercial and strategic importance, the latter related to its role as the main Roman stronghold against the Sassanid empire. In the 6th century, early Byzantine period, it still had 200,000 inhabitants -a very high number for the time-, being the main city of the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople. However the end of good times was about to knock on its doors ... so, in 540 Antioch is taken by the Persian monarch Chosroes I, plundered at will and its inhabitants taken to Persia as captives. Although this was not the first time that the Persians managed to overcome the defenses of Antioch, it was much more traumatic than the previous ones due to the city remained totally dejected and depopulated and also to the fact that the Byzantine Empire lacked the resources that once owned the Roman Empire at the time of returning life to the places punished by the enemy. Finally, the Arab conquest of 636 would be the responsible of ending the existence of Antioch as a major commercial metropolis. In the future and during most of the Middle Ages, the city would retain part of its importance as a solid stronghold of high strategic value but it would never again be the great emporium of the East. In time, in fact, the mercantile routes would deviate towards the east, inland, finishing off the scarce commercial pulse that could still own by the once wonderful Antioch. At present there are few vestiges of classical Antioch that can be seen in his heiress, the Turkish city of Antakya. The ruins of some stretches of city-wall perched on the Mount Silpius slopes and little else.


Figure 2.- Another view of the city-wall ruins.


The numismatic history of Antioch begins shortly after its foundation, when the first coins in the name of Seleucus I are minted in his newly installed mint. For several centuries and with hardly any interruptions Antioch coined a myriad of monetary issues in gold, silver and bronze. It could not be otherwise given that it was one of the main commercial cities of the known world. This vast experience undoubtedly justifies Diocletian's decision to allocate to the antiochean mint the production of the new reformed numerary destined to boost the trade in the diocese of the East. The coins minted in Antioquia during the Late Empire are characterized by their great artistic quality and good manufacture. These virtues, joined to the marked oriental air that they present, unrealistic and with tendency towards schematism, give rise to frankly showy coinage, both beautiful and curious. It is not surprising, then, that they are quite desired by collectors.


The production of the Antioch mint was very high during the first and second tetrarchies. It begins in 294 with eight offices, increased to ten in 299 and to eleven in 312. The mission of the mint did not stop at supplying the diocese but also had to provide the coins with which to pay the legions stationed at the border with the Persian Empire, hence the need for high volumes of minting. During the sole reign of Maximinus II Daia (311-313) Antioch reached its maximum number of offices: fifteen, a number reduced to eight in 321, reigning Licinius I in the east. Constantine I will add two additional workshops in 326. His son Constantius II, very needy of cash with which to face his commitments in the east, will take back to the mint to his maximum number of workshops: fifteen, amount that will remain until 362, reigning Julian the Apostate, when it is reduced to only four. Under Valens it will operate again with ten officinas, which will be reduced to six in the last months of 378, during the interregnum supervised by the western emperor Gratian. Theodosius I (379-395) eliminates two other monetary workshops, leaving four operatives until the reign of Theodosius II in which they are reduced first to three and then to only one. The mint meets its first closure in the reign of Zeno (479-491), re-coining some time later, already in the early Byzantine period, until its definitive closure in the first decades of the seventh century.


The photos 1, 2, 3 and 4 will serve to illustrate the numismatic production of the antiochean mint during the period 293 - 326 AD.


Photo 1.- Antoninianus coined on behalf the Caesar Galerius Maximianus between the months of March and August of AD 293. Bronze with light silver alloy. Galerius and Constantius Chlorus antoniniani (not to be confused with the radiate post-reform fractions) are quite rare since they were coined in the short period elapsed between their enthronement as Caesars (March 1, 293) and the implementation of the Diocletian´s monetary reform (summer of the 293), by which the antoninianus was eliminated of the imperial monetary system same as the rest of the traditional denominations (denarius, sestetius, as, etc).

Photo 2.- Follis in the name of Maximiniaus Herculius struck in the Syrian mint of Antioch between 294 and 297 with the original silver well preserved. High quality exemplar which perfectly explains the passion that this kind of coins usually generates among collectors.

Photo 3.- Follis coined in 312 on behalf the eastern Augustus Maximinus II Daia. Bronze. The reverse GENIO AVGVSTI refers to the spirit -genius- that allegedly protected the emperor.


Photo 4. Centenonial (AE3) coined in the name of Constantine I in the second office of Antioch during the biennium 325-326. Bronze with light silver alloy. High quality coin where the peculiar style of the Antioch mint is appreciated very well.

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