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Research Coins: Feature Auction

Sale: CNG 73, Lot: 619. Estimate $300. 
Closing Date: Wednesday, 13 September 2006. 
Sold For $386. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Hadrian. AD 117-138. Æ Dupondius (13.45 g, 12h). Struck circa AD 132-135. Laureate head right / Galley with five oarsmen left, hortator at stern. RIC II 719d. Good VF, green patina, light smoothing in fields.

From the Alexandre de Barros Ship Collection. Ex New York Sale V (16 January 2003), lot 302.

Selections From
The Alexandre de Barros Collection

Classical Numismatic Group is pleased to present the Alexandre de Barros collection of ships on ancient coins. Assembled with a view toward creating a broad overview of Greek and Roman ship types, this collection features some of the earliest examples of ships known on coins. Of particular interest is a Phoenician double shekel struck in Sidon in the late fifth century BC, one of the earliest coins to feature a ship. The collection ends with the issues of Carausius and Allectus, the late third century AD British usurpers.

9th-4th Century BC:
The Phoenician Pentekonter

Owing to the difficulty of overland travel in the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, sailing became the main method of transportation in the ancient world. While ships employed for mercantile purposes are well documented, the origin and development of warships are the subject of scholarly speculation. The earliest-developed and most widely used type was the trireme (Greek, trihrh~; Latin navis longa), so-called because it employed three rows of oars on each side with one oarsman per oar, the primary system of propulsion for these ships. The most distinctive feature of these vessels was the bronze beak (Greek, embolo~; Latin, rostrum) located at the ship’s bow, used for ramming one’s opponent. The prototype for the trireme was the pentekonter, a ship developed in the ninth century BC by the Phoenicians. This ship was a long, shallow-draft vessel with a single row of twenty-five oars on each side and a bronze ram. A line of shields along the gunwale, provided by the soldiers who also manned the vessel, protected the oarsmen. The tactical advantages of such ships and the great naval capabilities of the sailors themselves made the Phoenician pentekonters the choice of the Persians for their imperial navy. This close relationship may have been the inspiration then for the introduction of the ship as a design type, a type that continued in use on the coins of the Phoenician cities until the late fourth century BC.

4th-1st Century BC:
The Greek Trireme & Hellenistic Polyreme

By the eighth century BC, when, according to Thucydides (1.13), Ameinokles of Corinth is said to have first introduced the trireme to Greece, the Phoenician pentekonter was already the standard in naval warfare. The Greeks, however, modified the original design. Now, rather than one row of oars on each side, three rows of oars on each side with one oarsman per oar were used; it is from this arrangement that the collective term for these ships, trireme, originated. Another progression in design was the addition of a deck superstructure. Now the trireme could be used as a battlefield once they became interlocked with another ship after ramming. Such innovations served to make the Greek trireme a more powerful weapon, and under such men as Themistokles, whose build-up of the Athenian navy won the day at Salamis, made them masters of the Aegean.

Although the trireme remained the standard for the next four centuries, the rapid modification in warship design in the Hellenistic period touched off a proverbial “arms race” with the introduction of numerous additional light and heavy craft-types. Among these were the so-called polyremes, of which the quadreme (Greek, tetrhrh~) and quinquereme (Greek, penthrh~) became the prevailing types; they were soon followed with even larger types. Achieving lengths of at least 420 feet (128m), and manned by as many as 4000 oarsmen, these larger ships-of-the-line soon displayed their value, becoming the backbone of both the Hellenistic and Roman navies. Even the Macedonian king Demetrios I Poliorketes, himself an amateur naval architect who recognized the importance of advanced naval technology, was involved in the development of such ships.

2nd-1st Century BC:
The Roman Quinquereme

Although the Romans included triremes in their fleet, their typical warship (Latin navis longa) was a heavily armed quadreme or a quinquereme (lots 600-606), adapted from Magna Graecian and Syracusan prototypes. More comfortable with infantry tactics, they included a novel device known as the corvus, or “raven.” Located at the bow, the corvus was an iron hook attached to a retractable bridge attached to a pole-and-pulley system. Upon ramming their opponent, the bridge was dropped, and the corvus imbedded itself into the deck of the opposing ship. As a result, the now-locked ships allowed the Roman soldiers stationed on the quinquereme to board the other ship and fight as if the battle were on land.

With the end of the Third Punic War (146 BC), and no longer faced with a major threat in the west, the Romans mothballed their fleet. It would be periodically re-commissioned to deal with pirates, though, as in 67 BC when the Senate enjoined Pompey to put down the Cilician pirates. When his son, Sextus Pompeius, amassed a powerful fleet to contest Octavian in the period immediately following the assassination of Caesar, he issued a denarius recalling both the memory of his father’s accomplishment, and his own naval power (lot 604). Antony’s silver legionary denarii and bronze fleet coinage, struck prior to Actium and used to pay his Roman and Egyptian forces (lots 605 and 606), also attest to the important role of the Roman navy in this period. While the purpose for the striking of a later restitution issue of the legionary type under the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus is a subject of speculation (lots 629 and 630), it does show that the Romans retained the same ship design over the next two centuries.

The wars between Octavian and Antony fundamentally changed the role of naval warfare for the Romans. Agrippa’s naval victories against Sextus Pompey at Naulochus in 36 BC and the combined fleets of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BC, demonstrate the decisively integral role that such naval engagements had become. By the founding of the Empire, Rome had definitively established itself as the supreme naval power in the Mediterranean.

1st-4th Century AD:
The Ship in Imperial Rome

Realizing its importance, Augustus established the Roman navy along lines similar to that of the legions. In addition to a number of key harbors, from which ships could be deployed, he stationed several fleets (Latin classes) in key areas throughout the empire. Among these, the classis Britannica patrolled the channel between Gaul and Britannia, protecting the shipping lanes. Its strategic regional importance is commemorated in the coinage of several of the period usurpers from the area. M. Aurelius Postumus was the first to do so (lots 676-679). His bronze ship issues carry the legend LAETITIA AVG, emphasizing the source of imperial well-being resides in a strong navy. The usurper M. Aurelius Carausius, commander of the classis Britannica under Diocletian, struck coins commemorating, in part, his control of that fleet and its abilities in keeping the sea lanes open (lot 680). His short-lived successor, Allectus, continued the type (lots 681-684).

One important function of the navy was the transportation of the imperial family on state visits. From the time of Augustus, vessels were dispatched to carry the emperor between the capital and the provinces. One such instance is commemorated in a rare bronze as, struck at Patrae in AD 66/7 (lot 609). The reverse depicts the quinquereme used to carry Nero on his infamous tour of Greece. Hadrian’s extensive travels were recorded with a wide variety of ship types struck at Rome (lots 610-622), and in the East (lot 623). An inscription from Ephesus (Syll. III 3241), records that a local captain, L. Erastus, used his ship to transport the emperor while he was in that area. A coin struck at Alexandria (lot 624) is of particular importance for, in the same year as the coin was struck Antinoüs drowned as the imperial party was sailing up the Nile. Hadrian’s successors continued to travel, now to shore up border conflicts or prepare for one of the periodic wars with Persia (lots 625-627; 631-675). By the middle of the third century AD local issues, rather than those minted at the imperial capital, recorded these events, a sign that the center of power was drifting away from Rome itself.

Warships were not the exclusive vessel of the Roman navy. Providing the empire with an uninterrupted supply of grain, as well as other necessary supplies, necessitated the construction of ship for such a purpose. Unlike the warship, which required speed and strength for ramming, the merchantman (Greek nau~ stroggulh; Latin navis oneraria) was of broader beam. Many of these vessels, like the ponto or more common actuaria resembled the shape of a trireme and could be powered by both oars and sails. Since ships of this type were used to transport vital commodities such as wine and grain, they, like the large ponto, are often those shown on coins from the Black Sea (lots 655 and 664-666). The great Roman merchantman, or corbita, often seen in part on imperial issues commemorating the annona, is more familiar (lots 607-608). Powered by two large sails, it featured a rear cabin in the shape of a swan and was the true workhorse of Roman merchant vessels; its type continued well into the Byzantine period.