A Puzzling Provincial of Germanicus and Drusus

 

Among the earliest of my ancient coin purchases was a fascinating bronze of Germanicus and Drusus issued during the time of Tiberius and later overstruck by a creative proconsul, possibly during Caligula's reign. It appears to be the sole instance in which coins were later modified with special ring dies, preserving the central devices while creating a new legend. Recently I picked up a second example and a copy of an old Celator issue* which has an article about the type.

 

First, the coins:

 

LYDIA, Sardes (... or maybe not); Germanicus and Drusus.  Struck CE 23-26?  Restruck by Asinius Pollio, proconsul of Asia under Caligula, CE 37-38? Æ 26, 13.78 gm (first example);  Æ29, 15.5 gm (second example).  Obv: ΔPOYΣOΣ KAI ΓEPMANIKOΣ NEIOI ΘEOI ΦIΛAΔEΛΦOI; Germanicus and Drusus seated left on curule chairs, one holding lituus.  Rev: ΓAIΩ AΣINNIΩ ΠΩΛΛIΩNI ANΘYΠATΩ; KOINOY/ AΣIAΣ within wreath.  Ref: RPC 2995, Sear 365

 

 

An example of the native coin without overstrike (from CNG's archives):

 

LYDIA, Sardis. Germanicus & Drusus. Died AD 19 & AD 23, respectively. Æ (26mm, 12.10 g, 1h). Alexander of Sardis, son of Cleon, high priest of the Koinon of Asia. Struck circa AD 23-26(?). Germanicus and Drusus, both laureate and togate, seated left on curule chairs, one holding lituus / Legend within and around combined laurel and oak wreath. RPC 2994; cf. SNG München 507-9; SNG von Aulock 3143; BMC 104. Good VF, dark green patina, light smoothing in fields.

Theodore Buttrey's discussion of the coin in Greek, Roman, and Islamic Coins from Sardis (Harvard University Press, 1981) disputes the attribution to Sardes:

"The issue is traditionally attributed to Sardis but almost certainly belongs elsewhere. The original reverse legend reads, EΠIAPXIEPEΩΣAΛEΞANΔPOYKΛEΩNOΣΣAPΔIANOY referring to the magistrate rather than the people of Sardis. The reverse type must be a reference to the games of the koinon... and would be appropriate to Pergamum, Ephesus, or Smyrna, as cities where the major games were held."

 

A CNG cataloger added: "Without a proper ethnic proclaiming the authority, they may be better thought of as Koinon issues."

 

 

Second, why was this done?

 

Larry Devine, who proclaimed this coin "The Superstar of Restrikes"**, put forth a theory.  According to Devine in his Fountainhead catalog #10, 1977, the original coin was struck by Caligula to commemorate the opening of sacred games dedicated to the memory of Drusus Jr and Germanicus. The rest of the catalog listing discussing the original coin and its overstrike:

"[on the original coin's reverse] outside were the name and title of Alexander, son of Cleon, the magistrate who issued it, and the city-name. The Proconsul Caius Pollis, on seeing the coin and realizing its historical potential, and seeing a chance for posterity to note his name, did an amazing thing. He had his own name engraved on a circular ring, and the original obverse legend on another, then he had the coins restruck, only the outer edges of the coin, mind you, (the design was not to be effected [sic]) between them, thus obliterating the original circular legends on each side of the coin, and replacing it with his own.

 

The difficulty of this feat is mind-boggling, for the primitive equipment of the time. You can see how these rings would easily slip, even if just a fraction of an inch, and deface the figures of Drusus and Germanicus. Also, with some planchets being just a bit less wide than others, most of the new legend, even if there was no ring slipping, would be off the flan.

 

Yes, a far-sighted man, this Pollio, but in the face of all these difficulties (although the threat of a work-stoppage by the minters has not been sufficiently substantiated to take into account), he soon gave it up. Very few specimens with his full legend ΓAIΩ AΣINNIΩ ΠΩΛΛIΩNI ANΘYΠATΩ have survived, and it is believed that half of these are in the British Museum (they have three). This one is BMC 106, and is one of the handful with full legends, still on the public market. 'The Superstar in ancient restrikes'. Redundant to say, it's of the highest rarity. Fine-Very Fine. Ex. Col. O'Sullivan Collection, $750." [the coin referred to in this auction catalog excerpt is the second coin shown in the photo composite below]

I'm not sure I buy all of Devine's explanation. Buttrey (1981, citation as above) had this to say about the date and purpose of this unusual coin:

"Many of the known examples, including all the find pieces, are overstruck on the outer rim, cancelling the earlier reverse legend. C. Asinius Pollio was proconsul in AD 37-38, which provides a terminus ante quem for the original issue, which could date back to the appointment of Germanicus as supreme authority in the East in AD 17. There is no indication of the reason for the partial restrike, which may have simply been intended to honor Drusus and Germanicus on the occasion of Caligula's accession.††  An elaborate restriking seems an unlikely response to the downfall of the original magistrate, Alexander. The high proportion of restruck pieces shows that a mint could call in a given type if necessary..."

So, where does that leave us?

 

1. Why did Pollio even do this in the first place? Why not just make completely new dies?  Asinius Pollio (the second) was half brother of Drusus Jr, who is depicted on these coins.  Maybe Pollio wanted emphasize his relationship to Drusus and Germanicus, perhaps pay homage or gain prestige. I'm just speculating, of course, but Germanicus and Drusus were highly regarded by the populus.  If the original coin was struck for a popular event, something memorable, or happy times, I can imagine Pollius wanting to use that exact coin but with the addition of his name.  The original dies were probably long gone, necessitating use of the originally issued coins. This still doesn't satisfactorily explain why new dies weren't made, but maybe he thought the association would be stronger if he used those exact coins rather than new imitations.  Maybe they were intended as gifts or as ancient "business cards" for Pollio-- the ancient equivalent of vanity plates.

 

2. Did the government have a hoard of the original coins? Is that the source of the restrikes? Or, did they recall the original type? A little of both?

 

3. The date of striking of the original coin is in question. It is reasonable to think it could date as far back as CE 17.

 

4. The date of the restrike surely must have been during C. Asinius Pollio's proconsulship of Asia. I'm finding conflicting dates. Buttrey says CE 37-38; CNG puts it at CE 28-29. Caligula's reign was from CE 37-41.  Caligula didn't have any active roles in the government in CE 28-29. He was only 16 in CE 28 and was living with his great grandmother, Livia. If the restrike was in CE 28-29, this coin has been repeatedly misattributed; it would have nothing to do with Caligula.

 

5. The location of issue is still not resolved.

 

6. I guess all of this typing really didn't really clarify anything :D.

 

 

* The Celator, Vol. 8, No. 11, November 1994. Thomas P. McKenna, "The case of the curious coin of Caligula", pp 34-37.

 

** Technically, this is not a restrike. It is an overstrike. 

 

Obviously, more coins have come to light since Devine wrote his summary. I have searched all of the public-access databases I can find and have identified at least 25, possibly 28 individual examples. Who knows how many more are lurking in old private collections or yet to be discovered?

 

†† Germanicus was Caligula's father; Drusus (Drusus Julius Caesar) was Caligula's grandfather. For the complete and completely confusing Julio-Claudian family tree, click here.

 

I have not surveyed databases for the original unrestruck coin but apparently there are fewer of those native coins. McKenna thinks that is the case. I will do a survey in the near future.

 

 

Here are all of the examples I've found so far: