A Note on a Medallion of Antoninus Pius from Neapolis: The Largest Medallion Minted in Palestine
by Robert Deutsch
Antoninius Pius, the adopted son of Hadrian, was born on September 19, 86, and became Roman Emperor on July 11, 138. He died on March 7, 161, at the advanced age of seventy-four. He reigned for twenty-three years, and until the end of the third century was the second-longest reigning emperor after Augustus, lasting one month longer than Tiberius. He refrained from engaging in military adventures beyond those necessary for maintenance of the empire and is considered a peaceful emperor.
The massive minting of city coinage in Palestine during his reign is represented in Neapolis by a series of coins including the following medallion, which appears to be the largest ever minted in Palestine:
Æ medallion; 48 mm; 56.3 gr.; ↑ (Fig. 1)
Obv.: Laureate draped and cuirassed bust of Antoninus Pius to r.; Greek legend
upwards from bottom left: [ANTω]NINOC CEBAC EYCE AY[TOK KA]I(C)AP
Rev.: Mount Gerizim is represented as two mountain peaks, separated by a sloping roadway. A steep, broad stairway leads up between houses to a temple seen in three-quarters perspective. Below is a colonnade with eleven pillars and two arches over the columns. The entrance leads to a square with a horned altar. A path leads to the right from the center of the road to a higher hill with a second horned altar. Greek legend from bottom left upwards: ΦΔ NEACΠOΔEωC CYPIAC ΠAΔAICTINE[C] ET ΠH (“Fl[avia] Neapolis [which is in] Syria-Palestine, year 88 [160 CE]”)1
The dies used to mint our medallion are significantly larger than those used for regular sestertii. The obverse is surrounded by an elaborated frame resembling a bezel, and the reverse shows a large image of Mount Gerizim surrounded by a chain of dots, two parallel lines, a circular groove and a raised border ridge. The limits of the dies are not visible, which means that the dies were larger than 48mm. In contrast, the limits of the dies are clearly visible on sestertii.2
The representation of Mount Gerizim with a stairway leading to the temple on its peak first appears on the coins of Antoninus Pius toward the end of his reign. His coins are dated ÐZ (year 87, i.e., 159 CE), ÐH (year 88, i.e., 160 CE), or ÐÈ (year 89, i.e., 161 CE), or are undated. Therefore we can not establish the exact first appearance of the mountain in his reign; a date earlier than 87 CE is also possible.
Mount Gerizim became the emblem of Neapolis and was adopted by all subsequent emperors. It appears on their coinage covering the surface of the reverse, or in small icons on eagles’ wings, or on the back of a she-wolf, or in the background.3 The last coins issued in Neapolis were struck during the reign of Trebonianus Gallus (and his son Volusianus) in 251–253 CE. The emblem was also used on jewelry, including rings.4 In the fourth and fifth centuries, the emblem was represented on typical Samaritan oil lamps by a temple with a flight of steps leading to it.5
The term “medallion” is misleading as it is used for all the large specimens minted in Palestine. Therefore a subdivision into two main groups is required:
1. Commemorative — unusually large specimens, not designated for commercial use but minted to commemorate outstanding events.
2. Commercial — coins the size of Roman sestertii, currency in circulation and used in everyday commercial activity.6
The largest previously recorded medallion is in the collection of Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. This specimen is undated and measures 43mm in diameter.7
What was the purpose of minting such a large medallion in Neapolis in 88 CE? As far as we know, Antoninus Pius did not travel to Palestine as his adoptive father Hadrian had done and no special events in his honor were celebrated. The reason for minting such a magnificent medallion will remain unknown for the time being.
- The medallion suggests that Antoninus Pius did visit Palestine at some time. An aureus of his was discovered at Bethsaida (Israel Numismatic Research 2011 p135), which also suggests that he might have visited the region although it was not recorded by the historians as far as we know.
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