LYDIA. Saitta. Septimius Severus, 193-211.
Medallion (Orichalcum, 49 mm, 52.65 g, 6 h), Androneikos, son of Iollas Kratistos Stephanophoros and first archon for the second time, late 193-195. AYT•KAI•Λ•CЄΠ CЄΟΥΗΡΟC ΠЄΡΤΙ Laureate and cuirassed bust of Septimius Severus to right, cuirass decorated with gorgoneion. Rev.
ЄΠΙ•ΑΝΔΡΟΝЄΙΚΟΥ•Δ•ΙΟΛΛΑ•Κ•CΤЄΦΑ / CΑΙΤΤΗΝΩΝ / ΑΡΧ•A• Mên standing right, wearing Phrygian cap and with crescent on his shoulder, holding pine-cone in his right hand and scepter in his left, facing Kybele seated left on throne, holding patera in her right hand and resting her left arm on tympanon; between them, lion seated left. BMC -. GRPC Lydia 84 (same dies
). F. Imhoof-Blumer: Antike griechische Münzen, in: SNR 19 (1913), 161 corr. (reverse legend misread). SNG Copenhagen -. SNG von Aulock -. Winterthur 3889 (same dies
). Extremely rare and by far the finest of just four known examples. A spectacular medallion of exquisite early Severan style, boldly struck on a full flan and with an incredibly artistic portrait. Very minor areas of weakness, otherwise,
good extremely fine.
Ex Roma XXIII, 24 March 2022, 529.
The early Severan coinage of Saitta is remarkable in several ways, most notably for employing an incredibly talented artist, who crafted some of the most impressive dies in all of Severan provincial coinage. Furthermore, the city was one of the few provincial mints to strike coins in the name of Clodius Albinus Caesar (see lot 126 below), providing a terminus ante quem
of 195 for the issue, when tensions between Septimius and his powerful ally in the west erupted in civil war. Since Pescennius Niger controlled Asia Minor until Septimius' victories in late 193 and early 194, the production of Saitta's fine coinage displaying both the winner, Septimius, and his designated Caesar, Albinus, must date to the period between late 193 and 195.
We can only speculate what prompted the polis of Saitta to issue such an impressive (and no doubt expensive) coinage, but the answer may lie in the dating we have just established. With Septimius' victories in the Battles of Cyzicus and Nicaea, control over Asia Minor shifted from loser to winner, and the communities of the region may have felt the need to publicly pledge their allegiance to the new strongman to avoid being punished for having been on the wrong side of history – and how better to do that than with such a colossal and beautifully designed medallion, supplemented by a smaller denomination for the newly appointed Caesar?
If this is indeed what happened, it illustrates a recurring theme in the political history of the ancient world, namely the dangers local communities faced when conflict between regional or imperial powers broke out. Picking the right side could bring about great benefactions to a city, but supporting a future loser of a conflict could equally result in severe repercussions from the victor, who usually held little regard for the dire situation local decision makers found themselves in. Punishments in Hellenistic or Roman times ranged from the removal of privileges and the imposition of fines to the sacking and destruction of a city. While Roman emperors usually refrained from such extreme measures as it deprived them of valuable tax revenues, the conflict between Septimius and Niger was marked by particular brutality, revealing itself in the siege and destruction of Byzantium by Septimius in 194-196, and in the sack of both Laodicea and Tyre by Niger after their defection from his cause in 194. Picking a side really could be a matter of life and death, and supporting the winner of a conflict in time was of crucial importance not just to economic and honorary status, but also to physical survival.
Since historiography focusses on the powerful and ignores the weak, details of Saitta's relationship with Niger or Septimius are unfortunately lost, as are the undoubtedly heated discussions in the local boulè and within the demos regarding the outbreak of civil war following a century of relative stability within the Empire. We have no proof that Saitta's contemporary coinage reflects a demonstrative public break from Niger and steering towards Septimius. Perhaps Saitta's early Severan coinage was just that, an issue of monumental coins, possibly financed by the first archon, Androneikos, as a benefaction to his city, that just so happened to coincide with Septimius' victory in the civil war. But the effort put into this coinage as well as the timing and the iconography argue for a more nuanced view, one in which the local elite was fully aware of imperial politics and the dangers and opportunities it presented. From this perspective, the highly unusual appearance of both Septimius Severus and Clodius Albinus on Saitta's exceptionally beautiful coins this shortly after Niger lost control over Asia Minor can hardly have been a coincidence, and likely reflects a deliberate and wise move by the city's elite.