The Last King of Commagene

24 06 2010

It has been a while since I blogged, and especially since I blogged about a coin.  Below, however, is an interesting one.  As anyone who has read my blogs from the past knows, I am interested in coins with a connection to the biblical world of the first century and also holed coins. Once a coin becomes holed, it leaves the realm of exchange and takes on a different meaning.  My sense is that it became token (memento) and/or amulet.  Holed coins, therefore, are freighted with extra meaning, especially for the person who drilled the hole and displays the coin as bodily decoration.  Of course one has very little if any evidence for why this particular coin was significant to wear—although a lack of evidence does not stop good guesses. 

 

This bronze coin, well worn, was minted by the Kingdom of Commagene (it would be part of what is today south-central Turkey) which was a client-kingdom of Rome.  It was minted in 72 C.E.  The obverse portrays Epiphanes and Callinicus riding horses.  They were the sons of the last king of Commagene named Antiochus IV Epiphanes 38-72 C.E.  The reverse has a Capricorn right with a star above and anchor below.  All of these symbols are within a wreath.

Here are the interesting connections.  The Commagene kingdom and the Herodian kingdom were closely allied.  Epiphanes was betrothed in 43/44 C.E. to a daughter of the Judean king Agrippa I.  Her name was Drusilla.  Does her name sound familiar?  It should; she is mentioned in the New Testament in Acts 24:24:  “Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus.”  In this reference, Drusilla is in the city of Caesarea and is married to Antonius Felix a Roman prefect under Emperor Claudius who governed Judea from 52-59 C.E.  Epiphanes never married Drusilla; the wedding was called off because Epiphanes refused to embrace Judaism.  However, interestingly, Drusilla does marry a Gentile and pagan in the form of Felix (Josephus provides some background on this “magical” match, Jewish Antiquities, xx.7.2).  How was this marriage looked upon by the average Judean? 

Evidently, no hard feeling existed between the Commagenes and Herodians since Epiphanes was sent several years later by his father to assist Titus in the siege of Jerusalem.  Eventually in 72 C.E., Vespasian, abolished the Commagene kingdom and made it part of Roman Empire via the province of Syria.

Perhaps this last point may have caused a person to drill a hole in this coin.  It is clear that the hole was drilled from the obverse side which would imply that this side was the important one.  The person wanted to preserve as best as possible the image of the two heirs to the throne Epiphanes and Callinicus on their horses. When the kingdom was annexed, this coin was a reminder of the dynastic hope of the Commagenes.  Perhaps this coin was in the possession of one of the numerous retainers who owed their allegiance to the Commagenes and hoped for their return to power.

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One response

25 06 2010
Stephanie

Dr. May,
I too am interested in old coins, well just one really-the Mite. When I was installed in my current church, a member gave me a cross with a Widow’s Mite in the middle. It even came with authentication papers. The coin is not particularly attractive – misshapen and black in the cracks. But there was something about it I found fascinating. I decided to wear it with my robe on Sundays. In order to do that I had to buy a chain. After a visit to my local jewelry story, I had the proper long chain to set the cross off just right. But not without a bit of torture to my conscience. What I paid for that gold chain was many, many more times the original worth of the coin. So every Sunday when I prepare for church, I take out that cross and imagine some poor woman who might have used it to buy some barley bread or pay her temple tax. I am reminded by my spiritual poverty as well.

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