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Knowing the Roman imperial mints: III- Thessalonica

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. However, the normal situation oscillated between two and four offices. The mint stands out for its peculiar style, certainly oriental as well as quite remote from realism, and also for the variety of types it employs, some of them exclusive to this mint, especially during the reign of Constantine I. The exemplars of photos 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 correspond to coins minted between 308 and 363 AD.

Photo 3.- Follis struck in the second office of Thessalonica on behalf of Galerius Maximianus, the eastern Augustus, during the triennium 308-310. The reverse type GENIO AVGVSTI was the most coined during the second tetrarchy, what explains its great abundance today.

Photo 4.- Follis struck in the first office of Thessalonica on behalf of Galeria Valeria, daughter of Diocletian and wife of Galerius, during the triennium 308-310. Empress Galeria issues are significantly scarcer than those made on behalf of her husband, thus achieving a much higher market price.

Photo 5.- Follis struck in the second office of Thessalonica on behalf of Constantine I: Western Augustus during the biennium 312-313. This coin was minted before the battle of Campus Ardiensis, being Thessalonica still under the control of Licinius I. As a result of his defeat in that battle, Licinius I would lose all his European dominions with the sole exception of the diocese of Thrace.

Photo 6.- Centenonial struck in the second office of Thessalonica on behalf of the young Caesar Licinius II: firstborn son of Licinius I, during the biennium 318-319. Bronze with silvered surface. This is a specimen of the reverse type: VOT V MVLT XX CAESS TSE within garland, exclusive to Thessalonica. The coin was minted after the battle of Campus Ardiensis, that is to say: being the mint under the dominion of Constantine I. This explains the expression CAESS --Caesarum: "of the Caesars"-- referred to both Licinius II himself and Crispus and Constantine II (the three youngsters were proclaimed Caesars at the end of 316).

Photo 7.- Centenonial struck (321-324 AD) on behalf of the caesar Crispus: firstborn son of Constantine I, had with Minervina, his first wife. Bronze with silvered surface. This issue was struck exclusively in the fourth office of the thessalonian mint.

Photo 8.- Doble Maiorina struck in the seconf office of Thessalonica on behalf of Julian II during the biennium 362-363. Julian attempted to revalue the Roman monetary system, greatly affected by inflation. One of its measures in this respect was the introduction of a new monetary type: the double maiorina, which was a large coin (about 27 mm in diameter), with a great fiduciary value, on whose reverse always appeared a bull standing to right, possibly the Apis Ox. Highlight the strong oriental flavor of the issue.

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