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Knowing the Roman imperial mints: VII- Cyzicus.

September 2, 2017

The scant ruins of Cyzicus, once the great capital of Mysia, are located a few kilometers from the Turkish town of Erdek, in the north of the country, half hidden by the thick olive groves that populate the area. The exact place is known as Bal Kiz, the ancient Kiz, proceeding the word Kiz from Kyzikos, the greek name of the city.

 

Founded in the mid-7th century BC by Ionian greeks from Miletus, Cyzicus stands as the main trading city of western Asia Minor following the Athenian defeat in the Peloponnesian War (404 BC) and the vacuum in the control of the economic routes that followed. Its excellent strategic position in the middle of the Marmara sea, coupled with a more than solid defensive position in the narrow isthmus of the Arctonessus peninsula, would guarantee for centuries to Cyzicus the condition of first order mercantile emporium. Such was, certainly, the wealth, size and dynamism of the city that in the height of its splendor, during the first two centuries of the Christian era, was considered one of the eight most important cities of the Roman Empire.

 

Photo 1.- Ruins of Hadrian´s temple podium.

 

Its decay begins in the late roman period, accentuated at the end of the seventh century when it is looted and temporarily occupied by an army of arab invaders. Posterior earthquakes collapsed the few structures that remained functional after the departure of the muslims. Discouraged by such misfortunes, the cyzicens marched away, leaving vast uninhabited urban areas, filled with ruins as magnificent as useless. At the beginning of century XIII its last inhabitants were transferred to Artake, the present Erdek. Cyzicus would be never inhabited again. In fact, its marbles and other finely carved stones served as a quarry for centuries, being this one the reason for the scant relevance of the current vestiges, among which we can highlight the ruins of the temple of Hadrian (photo 1) and those of the roman amphitheater (Photo 2).

 

Photo 2.- Great roman wall, the main of the surviving remains of the Cyzicus amphitheater. It corresponds to the structure of the main door of the amphitheater.

 

The numismatic history of Cyzicus gives by itself to write a thick volume. Such was, in truth, the enormous magnitude of the coinage issued by the city throughout the centuries: nothing surprising considering the great commercial importance that characterized this city. We are going to focus on the late roman period, starting from the moment that Diocletian chooses the very veteran cyzicenian mint as the supplier of the new post-reform cash to the extensive diocese of Asia. The Cyzicus mint will traditionally concentrate on the issuance of bronze coins with or without silver alloy (very low in any case), coining very little gold and silver cash. The style of its coins is only moderately oriental, being able to link it more with that of the balkan mints than with the other asian mints. Perhaps its most distinctive characteristic is a marked hieraticism in busts and figures. From 294 to 312 the mint operates with six offices in parallel, increased to nine in 312 (reign of Maximinus II Daia). In 321 Licinius I orders a large reduction to 4 offices. In fact, it is noted that the Cyzicus coins struck during the last years of the reign of Licinius I (321-324) are scarcer than those of immediately previous chronology. Constantine I will increase to six the number of offices, remaining this figure stable until 363 when it is halved (3). One more workshop is added to the Cyzicus mint during the reign of Valens (364-378), keeping the four offices operative until 395 when they are reduced to two. The Cyzicus mint will coin in a single office from the reign of Marciano (450-457) until the 629, early byzantine period, when the great catastrophe of the persian invasion of Asia Minor severely disrupts the byzantine trade flows, causing the abrupt closure of all byzantine mints in Asia, including that of Cyzicus, whose closure would become definitive.

 

The following photos (3, 4, 5, 6 and 7) correspond to coins struck in the Cyzicus mint during the period 297 - 363.

 

Photo 3.- Follis coined on behalf the caesar Galerius in the first office of Cyzicus during the triennium 297-299. Bronze with light silver alloy. It emphasizes the reverse legend: GENIO AVGG ET CAESARVM NN, translatable like "The Genius of Our Augusts and Caesars". This reverse legend only appears in the cyzicenan follis being reserved to the caesars Galerius and Constantius. The augusts carry the usual GENIVS POPVLI ROMANI.

 

Photo 4.- Follis coined on behalf the augustus Galerius in the second office of Cyzicus during the biennium 309-310. It highlights the unusual mint mark MKY (the Y looks like a V and so it is usually classified as a V but it is really a Y), initials of the legend MONETA KYZIKOS (Coin of Cyzicus). The office mark, a B, is on the left side of the back field. The reverse legend GENIO IMPERATORIS is characteristic of the second tetrarchy coinage.

 

Photo 5.- Follis struck in the year 311 on behalf Constantine I, august of the west, in the fifth office of Cyzicus, being the mint under the dominion of Licinius I. It is very striking the bust of Constantine, totally different to the typology which would later be imposed once Constantine was done with absolute power. It is, in effect, an impersonal bust, typically tetrarchic, that does not pretend to represent a specific person but to emphasize the magnificence of imperial power.

 

Photo 6.- Centenonial (AE3) coined on behalf Constantine I in the second office of Cyzicus during the biennium 325-326. Bronze with light silver alloy. High quality specimen where the style of the Cyzicus mint can be appreciated.

 

Photo 7.- Double Maiorina (AE1) minted on behalf Julian the Apostate in the second office of Cyzicus during the triennium 361-363. Magnificent exemplar where the emperor's bust stands out (very oriental in this case, with a marked lack of realism) and the unambiguous mint mark CYZB, typical of the period. 

 

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