It wasn’t so long ago that every home had a jar or a jug filled with spare change – coins that were used for vending machines, the laundromat, late-night poker games, as a fine for swearing or to save for a vacation or other expenses. That practice of storing coins in jars goes back long before coin-operated machines or poker. Archeologists digging in the ancient western Turkey city of Aizanoi uncovered a well-preserved jar filled with 651 silver coins dating back over 2,000 years to the time of the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. Whose Roman coins were these and what were they being saved for? Coin-operated baths?
“These 651 silver coins, from the era of Emperor Augustus, constitute a very special and unique collection.”
In a press release announcing the discover, Elif Ozer, a professor at Pamukkale University and senior archaeologist supervising the dig in Aizanoi, lays out why this was indeed a unique jug of coins. Aizanoi was originally an ancient Greek city on the River Penkalas. It became a powerful political and economic stronghold during Roman times, when its famous Temple of Zeus (still in great condition), combination theater-stadium complex and macellum (Roman indoor market) inscribed with the Price Edict of Diocletian were built. That edict was issued in 301 CE by the Roman Emperor Diocletian as an attempt to stabilize the Roman economy – an attempt that was ultimately unsuccessful. Aizanoi also fell into decline after the 7th century.
“Of the coins, 439 are standard Roman silver denarius coins, and 212 are cistophorus coins from the ancient Greek city of Pergamon.”
Ozer identified the majority of the well-preserved coins as denarius, the standard Roman silver coins minted in Greek cities in southern Italy. The remaining 212 are cistophorus coins, named for the sacred chest of Dionysus imprinted on the obverse (heads) side. Cistophoric coins were unusual in that the ‘heads’ or top side didn’t portray reigning kings, and had a bow case on the reverse. All together, Özer told the Daily Sabah this is the most outstanding silver coin collection found in recent times.
So, whose coin jug was this?
“The excavation team estimates that the coins could have belonged to a high-ranking soldier.”
That’s it? No explanation of how he got them — was being a high-ranking soldier in ancient Aizanoi a high-paying job? Now did the article speculate what this high-ranking soldier might be saving the coins for – automatic fish dispensers at the macellum? A mechanical chariot for his kids to ride on? Gambling on sporting events at the stadium?
If you’re planning your end-of-the-pandemic-lockdown trip, the collection is now being exhibited at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in the Turkish capital of Ankara.