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Knowing the Roman imperial mints: XI-Nicomedia.

June 30, 2018

Nicomedia corresponds to the current city of Izmit in the Turkish province of Kocaeli. It was founded in the year 264 BC by the bithynian monarch Nicomedes I, whose name the city reminds. It was the capital of the kingdom of Bithynia during the existence of this one and later, already under Roman dominion, capital of the Pontus diocese (Bythinia et Pontus).

 

Its location in an important crossroads where the main roads that articulated the micro-Asian territory converged, linking them with the road that led straight to the Bosphorus Strait and to the west, assured to the city a high potential for growth and prosperity thanks to the trade. Nicomedia had as rival to the neighbor Nicea although maintaining always a certain superiority on her, what explains that it was chosen by Diocleciano to install the capital of the portion of the Roman world under its control (the future prefecture of the Orient, in broad strokes). From this time dates its greatest splendor as a city, under the auspices of the imperial patronage that did not hesitate to adorn it with all kinds of monumental buildings, including a sumptuous palace for the use of the emperor. Galerius Maximian and Licinius also chose it as the capital of the eastern half of the Empire. Constantine I stayed in the imperial palace of Nicomedia during the years when the great Constantinople was built (324-330). Given the relative proximity between both cities (about 70 kilometers), Nicomedia was a good place to regularly supervise the works while ruling the Empire.

 

Photo 1.- Richly ornamented tomb lid. Izmit archaeological museum.

 

In 358 Nicomedia was devastated by a powerful earthquake followed by a fire of great magnitude that destroyed what was left standing after the earthquake. The city was rebuilt but without the magnificence of yesteryear. The splendid Constantinople was destined to be the uncontested metropolis of the region, which is why it did not seem necessary to invest considerable resources in restoring a city that would no longer surpass the status of "secondary". However, Nicomedia never decayed too far because of its condition of guardian of the head of the route that, coming from the East, led to Constantinople. In fact, any hostile army that wanted to reach Constantinople, regardless of its place of origin, was forced to conquer Nicomedia before to continue towards the capital of the Roman East. That is why the Roman-Byzantine authorities always made sure to keep the strategic stronghold in perfect state of defense, which obviously benefited to Nicomedia. The rest of its existence as a city was lived faithfully fulfilling the role of shield of Constantinople that received in the second half of the fourth century. As the centuries passed, threats followed one to another and the Byzantine empire lost its dominions. A consequence of this debacle was that Nicomedia began to be abandoned by its inhabitants: less and less confident in the imperial garrison's ability to keep the enemy away from them. When its conquest by the Turks in 1337, its inhabited area was reduced to the fortified citadel standing high above the immense field of ruins in which the once proud city had become ... At present you can barely find traces of the ancient Nicomedia in the modern Izmit. The strong urban pressure that afflicts the area has taken care of it. Therefore, the visitor has no other choice but to settle for the pieces exhibited in the modest archaeological museum of the city (photos 1 and 2).

 

Photo 2.- Frieze with newt. Izmit archaeological museum.

 

Nicomedia had minted coins from the remote times of the Kingdom of Bithynia. It was also the capital of Diocletian. It is clear that there was no better place to install the imperial mint that had to provide cash to the Diocese of Pontus. From 294 it coins gold, silver and especially bronze. The latter in two offices: a surprisingly low number for such an important city. In fact, the tetrarchian follis of Nicomedia are significantly scarcer than those of the other mints. It is not something that is reflected too much in market prices, possibly because it is a bit counterintuitive, but the truth is that numismatically it is like this.

 

During the second tetrarchy, the Nicomedia mint increased its production considerably, operating eventually with four simultaneous workshops, to which three more were added during the government of Licinius I. After the victory of Constantine in the war with Licinius, Nicomedia continues minting profusely in its seven officinas (only some few reverse types). The monetary reform of Julian the Apostate (363) will reduce the production and with it the number of offices to three. As the development of Constantinople persuades the emperors of the convenience of securing Nicomedia as a bastion of the imperial capital, the military presence in its area of ​​influence increases, what translates into an increase in the need for cash. A new office, the fourth, joins the three existing in the mint to face such an increase. The quartet will work until the reign of Arcadius when it is reduced to a duet. The dawn of the Byzantine Empire will find the Nicomedia mint with a single operating officina. This one will continue strucking coins during the early Byzantine period, especially in the reign of Justinian I. Its final closure occurs in the year 627.

 

The style of Nicomedia coins is characterized by a very marked oriental flavour, with a charming lack of realism. Although the manufacture quality of the coins is good, it is not so high the artistic level reached by its workers, especially in the tetrarchic age; later it improves considerably until reaching the level of the rest of the mints of the period. The coins in photos 3, 4, 5 and 6 were struck in Nicomedia between 295 and 326.

Photo 3.- Silver Argenteus coined in the year 295 on behalf of Maximianus Herculius in the third office of the mint of Nicomedia. The reverse commemorates a victory over the Sarmatians (VICTORIAE SARMATICAE) and the most interesting: it introduces the type of reverse "Camp Gate" which would after be profusely used in Late Empire coinage.

Photo 4.- Follis in the name of Diocletian struck in the first office of Nicomedia during the biennium 303-304. Note the peculiar style of the obverse bust, typical of the Nicomedia mint.

Photo 5.- Reduced follis coined on behalf of Licinius I in the second office of the mint of Nicomedia during the period 321-324. The emperor's radiated bust stands out, unusual in this moment of Roman coinage and whose objective should be to emphasize the difference between these follis, equivalent to 12,5 common denarii, of the immediately preceding ones: something larger as well as equivalent to 25 common denarii. We know this from the reverse control mark X IIG in two lines) interpretable as the value 12,5.

Photo 6.- Centenonial (AE3) issued on behalf of Caesar Crispus in the second office of the mint of Nicomedia during the biennium 325-326. Excellent specimen with the  original silvering perfectly preserved and a magnificent obverse bust looking to left.

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