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Research Coins: Feature Auction

Sale: CNG 70, Lot: 627. Estimate $200. 
Closing Date: Wednesday, 21 September 2005. 
Sold For $200. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

[Roman Provincial] SPAIN, Emporion. Autonomous. Time of Tiberius, 14-37 AD. Æ As (11.52 g, 6h). Helmeted head of Athena right; 2 c/m: dolphin in dotted circle on helmet, DD in rectangle before face / Pegasus flying right. RPC I 257; Villaronga, Emporion 111 (with c/ms); CNH 41; SNG Copenhagen 668-669 (with c/ms); for DD c/m: Martini, Locarno 9. VF, brown patina with some encrustation. ($200)

These two countermarks are typically only seen on coins of Emporion, and always carefully positioned in the same position. The countermarks are lexically identical to countermarks applied to provincial issues of Nemausus (see lot 629). They were probably applied during the reign of Claudius, when the provincial coinage of Spain ended.

With the 1985 publication of Christopher Howgego's monumental work Greek Imperial Countermarks, the study of countermarks in the Roman east was finally placed on a firm basis. Subsequently, several publications by Rodolfo Martini, expanding on the work of earlier authors such as Grunwald and MacDonald, have presented a vast corpus of material from sites in Europe, mainly along the northern border of the Roman world, where legionary camps guarded the limes. Besides these publications, there have been several small studies, in RIC and elsewhere, compiling the known Imperial countermarks, mostly applied to coins circulating in Italy itself.

Howgego listed over 800 different varieties of countermarks, and the northern corpus (plus Spain and Gaul) adds several dozen more. We now see a much clearer picture of the distribution of these countermarks, and can gather some idea of their function. Beside the obvious necessity of re-validated worn, obsolete or unusual coins for circulation in areas where regular coinage was scarce, there are clear cases where changing political realities were expressed by making revisions to the circulating coinage. Such cases are the numerous varieties of countermarks applied during the tumultuous reign of Nero and subsequent civil unrest. And again, in the Severan period, the struggles for legitimacy among the various family members and usurpers saw a wide array of politically motivated re-validations.

Nonetheless, there are still many cases where the reason for the application of a specific countermark, or for a specific series of coins to be re-validated, remains a mystery, and is probably related to local market conditions or perhaps cult practices. And further, as demonstrated by the Ian Roper collection presented here, there is still a significant number of unrecorded countermark issues out there, waiting to be discovered and analyzed. The study of the countermarked coins of the Roman world is far from complete.