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Knowing the Roman imperial mints: III- Thessalonica

April 8, 2017

The city of Thessalonica (nowadays known as Thessaloniki) was founded in 316 BC by the diadochus Cassander at an important crossroads what would facilitate its economic development and the arising of the city as the main port of northern Greece.

 

During the Roman period Thessalonica lives moments of great splendor thanks to its location in the middle of the Via Egnatia: the terrestrial route that linked Byzantium (later Constantinople) in the Bosphorus with Dirrachium in the Adriatic, thus guaranteeing the arrival of the eastern goods to the italian ports and from there to Rome. Its importance as a city is not only economic but also political, especially in the Late Empire. Indeed, the emperor Galerius chose it as a residence, embellishing its streets with monumental buildings to the point of allowing it to rival the most sumptuous imperial capitals. In A.D. 379 Thessalonica replaces to Sirmium as capital of the prefecture of Illyria. Nor does the city decay during the early Byzantine period, being considered the second most important city of the Empire, only surpassed by the unparalleled Constantinople. From then until today, Thessalonica has undergone many avatars and different dominations, all without losing its economic dynamism fueled by the enormous traffic of its port. At present it remains a very important city and its port one of the largest of the Aegean.

 

 Photo 1.- The monumental Arch of Galerius.

 

It is worth the visit to Thessaloniki because despite the destructions suffered in the last two centuries and the urban pressure of the second half of the twentieth century has preserved its historical heritage in reasonable good condition. One triumphal arch, one mausoleum and one palace (the first in good condition --photo 1--, the second very modified, the third as archaeological ruin --photo 2--) are preserved, all of them built during Galerius´ reign. We can also see some sections of the city wall. The triumphal arch was built to celebrate the Galerius victory over the Sassanian Persians, being perhaps the most important Roman monument of the city from the historical point of view.

 

Thessalonica coinage is among the most extensive and longest ones in the eastern half of the Mediterranean. Its first issues date from the middle of the second century BC, continuing throughout the Roman and early Byzantine periods until the last years of the reign of Heraclius (610-641), at which time the Arab invasions interrupt the Byzantine trade flows, provoking a tremendous economic chaos that would lead to the closing of most of the imperial mints. After a long parenthesis of several hundred years, the Thessalonica mint will be reactivated at the end of the eleventh century, working during other three centuries until the Ottoman conquest of the city.

 

Photo 2.- Ruins of the Palace of Galerius.

 

Thessalonica did not begin to struck imperial coin, this is legal tender in all the Roman Empire, until 298 AD when Diocletian orders to place in the city one of the new official mints. The mission of the Thessalonian Imperial mint was to provide cash to the entire Balkan area and certainly it can be said that it was effectively fulfilled: up to six offices were working in parallel during the period 308-311