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From mountain to icon: Mount Gerizim on Roman provincial coins from Neapolis, Samaria

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Abstract and Figures

Coins from the mint of Neapolis, Samaria, first show the sanctuary of Zeus on Mount Gerizim in the second century, rendering the landscape in great detail. While such sacred landscapes are not unknown on coins, they remain a rarity—especially in ancient Palestine. However, by the third century, die engravers are no longer interested in portraying the sacred landscape but in using the landscape as a sacred baetyl, modeled on the sacred baetyl of El-Gabal depicted on coins of Emesa. The coins of Neapolis are unique in extending the symbolism of the “sacred baetyl of Gerizim” to mean “the city of Neapolis.” In doing so, the coins model the transition happening in the late antique world from naturalistic object to abstracted symbol encompassing a wealth of meanings. Such transitions are commonly understood to have happened in sculpture and painting, but they have not yet been noted to occur on coins, a medium with a potentially larger audience.
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170 NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011
Temples and other sacred buildings are commonly
found on Roman coins, especially on bronze coins
minted in the East. By the time die engravers of the
second century .. tackled the representation of the sanctu-
ary on Mount Gerizim, they were drawing on a long history
of architectural representation on coins. Yet the die engravers
chose a less-used tradition of placing the temple within the
landscape; in doing so, they provide us with information on
what the peak sanctuary may have looked like in the second
century. In the third century, the die engravers abstracted the
reverse type by miniaturizing it and using it as a replacement
for a Tyche as a symbol of the Roman rights of its citizens and
as a symbol of imperial favor. To do this, they drew on the idea
of the mountain itself as an object of worship, an idea found
only in the Roman East, and best seen as El-Gabal, the sacred
stone of Emesa. This abstraction of the sanctuary on Mount
Gerizim is not entirely unique, though it is rare even in the
third century, when abstraction was becoming a normal means
of communicating through the visual arts. On coins, we can
see the shift in aesthetics from naturalism to abstraction—a
hallmark of late antique art—on objects that were intended
to be readily understood by all users. This movement from
naturalism to abstraction has been seen on the monumental
arts of the third century and understood as originating in the
Roman East. By studying the coins of one city of the empire,
we can begin to understand some of the mechanism of this
change and see how its language was understood on objects
of mass communication.
Geographical and Historical Setting
Mount Gerizim is one of two peaks that rise near the mod-
ern city of Nablus in the West Bank (figs. 1–2); it is still home
to a small community of Samaritans, a people who believe they
are descendants of the Israelites who once lived in the north-
ern kingdom. Even in antiquity, they broke from their Jewish
neighbors, as they thought that they preserved the worship of
God in a manner more pure than the Jews who had returned
from exile in Babylon. The mountain itself was revered by Jews
and Samaritans as the spot where Abram stopped on his jour-
ney out of Ur (Gen 12:9); where Jacob camped on his return
to Canaan, bought land, dug a well, and made an altar (Gen
33:18–19); and where his bones were eventually buried (Josh
24:32). Moses commanded six of the tribes of Israel to assem-
Jane DeRose Evans
FROM MOUNTAIN TO ICONFROM MOUNTAIN TO ICON
Mount Gerizim on Roman Provincial Mount Gerizim on Roman Provincial
Coins from Neapolis, SamariaCoins from Neapolis, Samaria
NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011 171
ble here so that he could pronounce the bless-
ings upon Israel once they had crossed the Jordan
River (Deut 27:12), and it is from this elevation
that Joshua was said to have given his parting
address (Josh 24:1, 26). But the Samaritan Pen-
tateuch deviates from Jewish tradition in making
Mount Gerizim the spot where Abraham was
sent to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen 22:2), the spe-
cial place where God ordered his worship to be
established (Deut 12:5), and the location where
Joshua built an altar after he wrote down the law
(Deut 27:4). Thirteen names were given by the
Samaritans to the sacred mountain, including
“House of God,” “Gate of Heaven,” and “Chosen
Place” (Memar Marqah 2.10); this spot was as
holy to the Samaritans as the temple in Jerusalem
was to the Jews.
The peak of Mount Gerizim splays out in two
ridges, one of which runs north to end in a sec-
ondary peak about 1,000 meters above sea level
(fig. 3). The date and exact place of the earliest
temple built on the mountain is still debated,
but it seems clear that the temple was destroyed
by the Hasmoneans around 128 ...1 Wor s hip
must have continued here after the destruction
of the temple, as the writer of the Gospel of John
mentions the site as the seat of contemporary
Samaritan worship (John 4:20, dating to the late first or second
century ..). Archaeological remains of the Hellenistic period
record the small city nestled at the foot of Mount Gerizim and
show that the city survived into the Byzantine period. After
the city was controlled by the Romans, a temple was built on
one of the peaks of the mountain, today called Tell er-Ras.
This temple to Zeus may have been started under the emperor
Hadrian (reigned 117–138 ..). Remains of the temple were
excavated in the 1960s by Robert J. Bull.
Neapolis (the name given to the city at the foot of Mount
Gerizim by the emperor Vespasian in the first century ..)
produced coins in the second century that show the sanctuary
of the recently built Roman temple (fig. 4). Coins were pro-
duced in Neapolis continuously for the next ninety years, and
the sanctuary remained the focus of interest for die engravers.
Throughout the second century the legends on the coins are
invariably in the Greek language, and all celebrate “Flavian
Neapolis of Syria Palestina.
Figure 2. Contour map of Mt. Gerizim, showing the
numerous peaks of the mountain, the placement of the
steps, and the Roman sanctuary of Zeus (after Bull 1968);
copyright M.N. Pareja.
Figure 1. Map of modern Israel, locating
Mount Gerizim and Nablus. Copyright M.
N. Pareja.
172 NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011
It is with the accession of the emperor and priest of El-Gabal
of Emesa, Elagabalus (reigned 218–222), that the coin types
changed dramatically in response to events in Rome. By the
mid-third century, the types almost hysterically proclaim
the city’s loyalty to Rome in unique terms, and the engravers
boast—now in the language of the conquerors—of the city’s
new status as a colony. For reasons we do not yet fully under-
stand, the mints of the Roman East closed in the mid-third
century; Neapolis was no exception. The last coins that came
from the mint were made for the emperor Volusian (reigned
251–253), all of them bearing the icon of Mount Gerizim
within their types.
Sacred Landscapes on Coins
The earliest sacred landscape found on a Roman coin is
on a denarius minted by the Roman Republican moneyer C.
Considius Nonianus in 57 ... (fig. 5). The reverse of the
coin shows a temple on top of a mountain, identified by the
inscription “ERVC”; it is the famous temple of Venus in the
Sicilian town of Eryx. The coin shows an elaborate wall with an
Figure 4 (left). Reverse of a bronze
medallion ca. 35 mm in diameter
minted under Antoninus Pius, show-
ing the mountain sanctuary of Zeus.
Now in the Museum of the Flagel-
lation, Jerusalem, ex-A. Spjikerman
collection; photographed by R. Bull
in 1970, used with his permission.
Figure 5 (above). Reverse of the denarius of C. Considius Nonianus,
minted in 57 B.C.E. in Rome, showing the mountain sanctuary of Venus
Erucina. Yale University Collection 2001.87.1837, ca. 19 mm, pur-
chased 1960. Courtesy of Yale University Art Galleries.
Figure 3 (left). Photo-
mechanical print of ca.
1890–1900, showing Mount
Gerizim and Nablus. The
Roman sanctuary was later
excavated on the left-hand
shoulder of the mountain,
but the wadi recorded
on the coins can be seen
clearly. Library of Congress
no. ppmsca 02727, public
domain.
NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011 173
arched gate girdling the base of the mountain. A small temple
sits on the peak of the rocky acropolis. Antefixes and doors are
even represented on a coin slightly smaller than a modern
American nickel. This reverse concentrates on the temple
itself, emphasizing its structure and the portico at the base
of the mountain; this type of representation is the kind
of depiction of a mountain sanctuary found on the
earliest Eastern coins, but landscape scenes are rare,
and sacred landscapes are otherwise missing from
coins minted in the West. For Roman die engrav-
ers, the emphasis was always on the representation
of a physical building, not the sacred landscape in
which it is placed.
Die engravers in Phoenicia, Samaria, and Judea
also tended to focus on individual buildings in the
first and second centuries, perhaps most famously
with the façade of the Jerusalem temple on coins
from the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135 ..), at least
until the third century .. For entire landscapes, we
must turn to other regions of the Roman East, where
sacred landscapes began to be shown on large bronzes
of the first century .. From sporadic first-century exam-
ples, we begin to find more of an interest in landscape in
second-century coins, partly due to the increasing size of
the flan (the cast metal disc onto which an ancient coin was
struck) available for such depictions, and partly to an interest
in differing coin types that is apparent across the East during
the second century, although these types are never common
nor ever the subject of a huge number of coins coming from
the city mints.
Interest in sacred landscapes persisted through the third
century, until the end of minting by Roman provincial cit-
ies. Increasingly, more detail was placed on the progressively
smaller bronzes that came from mints in Greece, Thrace, Asia
Minor, Phoenicia, and Syria. I will not provide an exhaustive
catalog of such sacred landscapes but use illustrative examples
to make my case. All sacred landscapes—except those of Neap-
olis—fill the entire reverse of the coin. Only the engravers of
the bronzes of Neapolis turn their sacred landscape into a sym-
bol of the city itself, by abstracting the important components
of the sacred mountain sanctuary.
As an example of a mountain sanctuary placed on a coin type,
the city officials in Amaseia in Pontus (modern Turkey) struck
coins from the first through the third centuries depicting the
rocky city heights (fig. 6). The die engravers concentrated on
the fortification walls and towers but took some pains to show
the two summits that Strabo (Geogr. 3.39) described as part
of the town. The façade of the temple (depicted with four col-
umns) is shown on the lower summit. Just beside it is a small
building that may be one of the rock-cut tombs of the Pontic
kings, perhaps even that of Mithridates I (reigned 171–138
...; Price and Trell 1977, 91–92). The most elaborate type,
illustrated here, presents a lower temple with six columns and,
on the peak of the mountain, a second temple with a flaming
altar next to it. One of the rock-cut tombs of the Pontic kings
is depicted next to the lower temple. The ancient fortification
walls are now subsumed by the Ottoman walls (visible in fig.
7), and the Roman temples have disappeared, but the rock-cut
tombs of the Pontic dynasts are still visible as striking remind-
ers of the antiquity and fame of the ancient city. The coins of
Amaseia show how die engravers attempt not only to render
the sacred aspects of the mountain landscapes but also to
depict unique features—in some detail—of the town that will
make the scene recognizable to the viewer.
The most complete series of landscape coins comes from
Caesarea in Cappadocia, also in modern Turkey. Beginning in
the reign of the emperor Tiberius (14 –37 ..), Mount Argaeus
is pictured schematically on reverses of silver and bronze
coins, topped by a representation of Helios, the sun-god wor-
shiped there. By 80–81 .., a portico appears to run around
the base of the mountain, and a sacrificial bull stands directly
on top of the altar on large bronze coins. On larger silver coins
beginning in the reign of Trajan (98–117 ..) and continu-
ing into the second century, the die engravers emphasized the
grotto flanked by two towers or baetyls (sacred stones) at the
foot of the mountain; they thus had to reduce the size of Helios
and the peak (fig. 8). Inside the grotto is the cult stone, the
Figure 6. Coin of Amaseia (Pontus) minted between 222 and 235
and showing the fortification walls of the city, two temples, and one
of the rock-cut tombs of the Pontic kings. Yale University Collection
TR2007.13938.792, ca. 34 mm; on the market in 1970, Münzen und
Medallion GmbH. Courtesy of Yale University Art Galleries.
174 NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011
image of the god, often strung with chains and crescents. On
top of the mountain is the sanctuary of Helios (or a fountain?).
These depictions of Mount Argaeus are sometimes elaborated
with added star(s), trees, and/or coursing animals. Other die
engravers in the same mint experimented with a more detailed
view of the mountain sanctuary, beginning in the early third
century. The mountain is shown as distinctively triple-peaked
(it was not shown thus in the earlier coins), with each peak
surmounted by a statue. At the foot of the peaks is the six-col-
umn temple façade either resting on a large base or “in back”
of a portico.2 Since the series is long-lived and popular, we will
return again to the coins of Caesarea to compare them to the
coins of Neapolis.
Beginning in the mid-third century, coins from Athens show
the Acropolis (fig. 9). The die engravers concentrate on the long
stair leading up past the Cave of Pan to the walls of the summit,
upon which is shown the Erechtheion in three-quarter view,
with a flaming altar in front of it. The Erechtheion is especially
recognizable due to the colonnaded porch shown on the left,
today known as the “Porch of the Maidens.” To its right, the
viewer can see the columns of the Propylaea (or gate house)
and a statue of Athena (a view of the Parthenon is thus blocked
by the Erechtheion and the Propylaea). The die engraver clearly
distorted the perspective of the buildings on the Acropolis in
order for viewers of the coin to perceive that they are looking at
the Acropolis of Athens (fig. 10). Thus the Erechtheion, which
is so prominent on the coin, barely peeks above rocks, yet the
Cave of Pan is still prominent, as is the stepped approach to the
Propylaea. Indeed, the Propylaea does still catch the eye, even
if the small Temple of Nike next to it (today covered in scaf-
folding for restoration) is not pictured on the coin. As with the
coins of Caesarea in Cappadocia and Amaseia, the die engrav-
ers concentrated on the recognizable aspects of the mountain
sanctuary, filling the reverse with details of the buildings, altars,
and natural features of the mountaintop.
This representation differs from the approach taken by
die engravers depicting the sacred mountain of Acrocorinth,
crowned by the famous temple of Aphrodite (fig. 11). While
other large bronzes from the city and the reign of Antoninus
Pius do show in detail the mountain and structures built into
the mountainside, it appears that the amount of detail depicted
in the reverse is simply a matter of taste, not an iconographical
choice built on imperial politics.
Mount Gerizim and Its Sanctuary on Bronze Coins of
Neapolis
Large bronze coins minted during the reign of Antoninus Pius
have a detailed depiction of the ancient sanctuary on Mount
Gerizim (fig. 4). The reverse legend reads “ΦΛ[ΑΟΥΙΑC]
NEAOΠOΛEWC SYPIAC ΠAΛAICT[ΙΝΟC],” or “Flavian
Neapolis of Syria Palestina.” The temple is shown as a Greek-
style temple with free-standing columns all around. Indeed,
the die engravers insisted on this detail, placing four columns
down the side of the temple. They even appear to suggest that
the capitals are Corinthian and place a small unidentifiable
object in the pediment. Three-quarter views of temples are
unusual on coins of Roman Judea, Samaria, and Phoenicia,
and this coin is the earliest temple so rendered in the area.
Figure 2. Map of locations of the American School in Jerusalem, 1900–1924 (transposed onto a contemporary plan of Jerusalem base map from
Cook's Handbook for Jerusalem and Judea (1924). A—Jaffa Gate area, location of the Grand New Hotel, the first rented quarters of the School
from 1900 to 1906 and of Bute House, a British-owned building meant to be used for the joint American-British Allied School. B—Two nearby
houses rented by the American School between 1906 and 1924 (including the house on Ethiopia Street). C—Way House, on Museum Street,
location of the American School’s library in 1920. D—The new building of the American Schools. Land was purchased in 1909, and construction was
completed in 1924. It was continuously occupied and is now the home of the Albright Institute for Archaeological Research.
Figure 7. View of Amaseia
(modern Amasya), Turkey,
showing the double peak,
the Ottoman fortifications
built on top of the ancient
fortification walls (on right),
and the rock-cut tombs
of the Pontic kings (?) just
above the second minaret
spire. Copyright J. Tobin;
used by permission.
NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011 175
Figure 8 (left). Reverse of a silver
didrachm minted during the reign of
Trajan in Caesarea in Cappadocia (Tur-
key) showing Mt. Argaeus topped by a
statue of Helios and the grotto flanked
by two baetyls (?) with the cult stone
inside the grotto. Yale University Col-
lection 2001.87.12247, 21 mm, gift of E.
Schulyer in the late 1800s. Courtesy of
Yale University Art Galleries.
Figure 9 (right). Reverse of a mid-
third-century bronze coin minted
in Athens showing the Acropolis
with the Erechtheion, the statue
of Athena, the Propylaea, and the
Cave of Pan. After Price and Trell
1977, fig. 130.
Figure 10 (below). Modern view of the Acropolis of Athens from the
Aeropagus, showing the monuments rendered on the coin in figure 9,
but without the die engraver’s distortions for ease of identification of
the site. Copyright A. Yandek; used by permission.
176 NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011
The die engraver could choose not to portray all of the
façade columns in order to have enough space to depict the
cult statue. The display of the cult statue at the door of the tem-
ple is normal in Judea, Phoenicia, and Samaria, in part because
it makes the building much easier to identify as a temple. Here
the cult statue within is clearly Zeus, with his upraised hand
holding or perhaps resting on his scepter. The door of the
temple debouches upon a long, straight flight of stairs that is
clearly rendered on every coin die; this must have been the
most recognizable portion of the sanctuary, and it is the only
portion that is described by fourth-century sources (Itin. Burd.
587.3; Epiphanius, Lib. de XII Gemmis 258). Excavators have
found traces of these stairs.
The temple is placed on a large platform. Beside it is a struc-
ture that has occasioned some comment, as it has been vari-
ously called “a horned altar” or “another building,” while the
excavator believes it is a well-head.3 Horned altars are shown
on coins of the Roman East and Africa, with the horns nor-
mally shown as triangular shapes, sometimes bent out over
the sides of the altar, but always large and taking up most of
the top surface of the altar. The feature on the temple platform
at Neapolis does not always show such triangular projections,
and it is in the wrong place for the altar, since it is behind
the temple, not in front, which is
where Roman altars were placed.
However, specimens of this coin
in Berlin, Vienna, and the British
Museum show the small object to be
a horned altar. It is important to note
that the rendition of the coin reverse
in Architectura numismatica (Donald-
son 1966), the handbook for those study-
ing architecture on coins, has an ambiguous
rendition, something between a horned altar
and a roofed structure (fig. 12). There are also
structures beside the stair; these are regularized into
small buildings or shrines, as is the flaming altar on the
second peak. For the die engraver, placing the altar behind
the temple gives the viewer an unobstructed view of the temple
façade with the cult statue of Zeus inside. Such distortions for
the sake of clarity are common on architectural coin types,
and this is the preferred explanation when close examination
shows the structure as a horned altar.4
The reverse depicts a ravine or road just below the horned
altar; it branches, leading to the rear of the temple and to the
second peak (see the ravine also depicted in fig. 3), which can
still be seen today. On the second peak is another of these
horned altars. The altar, shown with a large flame licking up,
is decorated with a shape that cannot be identified today.5
Between the roadway/ravine and the opposite slope of the
sanctuary are various numbers of horned altars and squares
divided into two on the ascent to the temple. The squares are
often called two-story sacred buildings; as noted above, this
designation may have come about as scholars depended on the
representation of the sanctuary in Architectura numismatica.
I wonder instead if the die engravers were showing sacred
enclosures. Small buildings are always shown with triangular
roofs; two-story buildings are indicated simply by a horizontal
line placed on the façade of buildings with triangular roofs.
Although I can find no parallel for these structures on coins,
it makes sense that they are reminders of a long sacred his-
tory and perhaps components of the pre-Roman phase of the
sanctuary.
r
an
d
tt
Figure 11. Reverse of a bronze coin of Acrocorinth,
minted between 138 and 161 C.E. in Corinth. Here
the die engraver concentrated on the temple and
cult statue, not the landscape. Contemporary
coins did show more detail in the landscape,
but the amount of detail shown does not
appear to reflect anything other than the
personal interests (or skill?) of the die
engraver. American Numismatic Soci-
ety collection, ca. 23 mm, 1948.4.84,
collected in 1984. Courtesy of the
American Numismatic Society.
NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011 177
At the bottom of the hill is a long colonnaded structure
with two openings, one for the stair and one for the road
ascent. The latter is marked with a small pediment on
some of the coins; on the coin in figure 4, a balancing
pediment is placed on the opposite end of the portico.
The structure is surely that of a portico, marking the
space of the sanctuary. Such structures are commonly
found on representations of sanctuaries, such as on the
coins of Caesarea in Cappadocia.
Although detailed views of the mountain sanctuary
were still produced in the mint of Neapolis until the mid-
third century, die engravers changed the representation
of the complex on Mount Gerizim to function less as a
description of the site and more as a symbol of the city
itself—contrary to the process happening elsewhere in
the Roman East. Part of the reduction of description
could be explicable by the decreasing size of the flan,
but the representation of the sanctuary was also used in
a different manner, and the trend can even be spotted
on large bronzes. On early third-century coins, the die
engravers eliminated the detail in the portico at the base
of the sanctuary, eliminated the shrines or altars on the
side of the mountain, and reduced the size and detail of
the temple itself. Instead of depicting all of the structures
of the sanctuary, they emphasized the great stairs up the
side of the mountain, the most individual feature of the
Zeus sanctuary. Large bronzes minted under the emper-
ors Macrinus and Elagabalus (reigned 217–222 ..)
followed this abbreviation. The coins continued to have
a simplified portico at the base of the mountain, but here
even the forked road and altar on the second peak could
be eliminated. The main peak lost many of the small
shrines, and the temple was shown without its acroteria
or its cult statue.
The visual abbreviation is accompanied by an expan-
sion of the meaning of the representation of the sanctu-
ary. Under Elagabalus, die engravers floated Mount Ger-
izim above the heads of the horses pulling the emperor’s
quadriga (a chariot drawn by four horses abreast; fig. 13).
The peak is balanced by a similarly tiny baetyl embraced
by an eagle. This specific baetyl is known from coins
minted in Emesa, Elagabalus’s native city. Elagabalus
was the high priest of the god El-Gabal, “the god who is
the mountain,” represented by the baetyl. The baetyl and
eagle are a specific reference to the transfer of the baetyl,
the cult object, from Emesa to Rome (Hist. Aug. 1.6;
Herodian, Hist. 5.6.6; Dio Cassius, Hist. 79.31.1), a trans-
fer that was important enough to be commemorated on
gold and silver coins from Rome and at least six provin-
cial Roman mints (including Jerusalem) in 219 .. (fig.
14). Elagabalus accompanied the stone on its trip; once
in Rome, it was placed in a quadriga pulled by pure white
horses fitted with golden harnesses. There was no driver,
but the stone was alone in the chariot. Elagabalus ran in
front, facing backward, in order to look into the “face” of
Figure 12. Lithographic interpretation of the
Antonine medal reverse from Neapolis by T. L.
Donaldson (1966, fig. 33), public domain.
Figure 13. Reverse of a bronze coin minted in the
reign of Elagabalus in Neapolis (218–222 C.E.).
The four horses pulling the chariot are approach-
ing the viewer head-on, with the baetyl of Emesa
(left) and the mountain of Mount Gerizim (right)
floating above the chariot. The implication is that
both “holy stones” were transported to Rome.
American Numismatic Society Collection, 24 mm,
1961.154.139, collected in 1961. Courtesy of the
American Numismatic Society.
178 NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011
his god.6 On the aurei from Rome, the stone is found inside the
quadriga; a star hovers above the team, while an eagle protec-
tively wraps its wings around the baetyl.
The engraver equated the cults of Zeus and El-Gabal on
the coins of Neapolis, saying that each was important to the
emperor. As such, the type is a poignant appeal to the emperor,
for Neapolis had chosen the losing side about twenty-five years
earlier when Elagabalus’s great-uncle Septimius Severus fought
Pescennius Niger for control of the empire (Kushnir-Stein
2000; Harl 1984; yet also Stenhouse 1985, 186–205). While
there are no known coins of Severus from Neapolis (minting
was suspended during his reign), coins were minted under
his successor Caracalla, including the minting of silver coins,
rarely occurring in the Roman Near East. The reverses minted
under Elagabalus attempted to reiterate Neapolitan support for
the Severan family by showing the parallel importance of the
cult of El-Gabal and Zeus. They did this by making the paral-
lel to the reverses of the coins from the East, as coins from the
mint at Rome rarely circulated in the Eastern provinces until
much later in the third century. But instead of simply show-
ing the baetyl of El-Gabal over the quadriga, the die engravers
showed the importance of their own “god who is a mountain
by placing the baetyl of El-Gabal next to the miniaturized
Mount Gerizim, making the mountain a baetyl of similar
power and reverence.
Now that the mountain peak was used as a symbol of the
city itself, die engravers for Philip I (reigned 244–249 ..) and
Philip II experimented with using the sanctuary as a replace-
ment for the figure or bust of Tyche. The goddess Tyche had
become a widely used and instantly recognizable figure since
the third century ... in the Roman East. On coins, her bust
was often found in conjunction with other deities important
to the life of the city. In the middle of the third century ..,
instead of combining Asklepios and Hygeia (two important
gods featured on the coins of Neapolis) with the bust of Tyche,
the peak of Mount Gerizim floats above the cult statue of the
healing gods. It was also combined with the type of Triptole-
mus (the mythological giver of grain to humans), who is drawn
in his cart by two serpents, on a coin of the empress Otacilia.
Instead of referring to a temple of Triptolemus in the city, the
type may refer to a gift of grain presented by the emperors to
the city. Tyche herself gazes protectively down on the tiny peak
perched in her outstretched hand, or she is shown underneath
the hovering peak on a type with two Tyches and a Silenus.
Zeus holds a tiny peak as he is enthroned; Athena carries a
spear topped by a small Mount Gerizim; and Nike (Victory)
also holds the peak in her hand.
As a continuing sign of imperial favor, the floating peak
is shown supported by the imperial eagle on coins that were
struck through 253 .. Other marks of imperial favor show
the founder of the colony plowing the boundary below the
floating peak; the sanctuary is paired with the wolf and twins
Figure 14. The baetyl of Emesa brought
to Rome, reverse of an aureus minted
218–219 C.E. during the reign of Elaga-
balus in Rome. Ca. 20 mm. The stone
is barely visible behind the wings of
the eagle. British Museum Collection
1864.1128.288, published in 1950, used
with permission. Figure 15. Reverse of a bronze coin
minted in Neapolis between 244 and
249 C.E., during the reign of Philip I. A
miniaturized version of Mount Gerizim
is shown floating above a large she-wolf
suckling the twins Romulus and Remus;
around the flan is the prominent legend
COL(onia) SERG(ia) NEAPOL(is). The
wolf and twins are another announce-
ment of the favored colonial status of
Neapolis. American Numismatic Society
Collection, 28 mm, 1961.154.143, col-
lected in 1961. Courtesy of the American
Numismatic Society.
Die engravers
changed the
representation
of the complex
on Mount Ger-
izim to func-
tion less as a
description of
the site and
more as a sym-
bol of the city
itself.
NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011 179
of Rome (fig. 15). During the imperial period, the wolf and
twins had become an emblem of Rome itself and were usually
found in close proximity to the goddess herself. Alternatively,
the mountain is placed next to the statue of Marsyas, a symbol
of the rights granted to the city by Rome (fig. 16). Marsyas is
shown (as he was on coins in Rome for over three hundred
years) as a silen (a type of satyr) carrying a full wineskin and
a raised arm. This statue was placed in the Forum of Rome,
near the Comitium, and served as a “talking statue” because
of satiric verses posted on the base. A depiction of Marsyas in
a city of the empire as a rule points to the liberty that Roman
citizens enjoy.
Further, the peak is shown between Roma, Tyche, Philip I,
and Philip II and above a nude, helmeted standing male (the
emperor?) standing next to a seated female (Tyche or Roma?).7
The type first minted under Elagabalus was revived, this time
without the baetyl and eagle; instead, the quadriga pulls only
Mount Gerizim. Thus, Neapolis celebrated the special imperial
favor enjoyed by the city—which is not communicated in any
surviving text—by placing the sanctuary on Mount Gerizim
prominently with types that equate it with the city of Rome
or with symbols that show the Roman rights the citizens had
obtained.
The mint closed briefly between 249 and 251 .., and when
the die engravers were rehired, they returned to some of the ear-
lier reverse types but invented new types as well. The engravers
never again gave the entire reverse over to the sacred landscape;
they continued to use the tiny peak as a symbol of the city or as a
replacement for the figure of Tyche. In one reverse type, a Nike
holding a small peak over her head approaches a female (the
empress?); the miniaturized mountain is also combined with
Neptune, a legionary standard, a boar, and a star.8 The mint
closed for good after the reign of Trebonius Gallus (reigned
251–253 ..).
From Landscape to Icon
At its most abbreviated, the mountain sanctuary is reduced
to its absolute basics; the elements essential for identification
are included but little else: the double peak with the temple of
Zeus on the larger summit. The doubled peak is necessary for
identification, as no other sanctuary is so depicted on Roman
coins. The doubled peak is the visual cue that even illiterate
viewers could use to identify the issuing authority and then
make the connection between Neapolis and the well-known
symbols as the wolf and twins or Victory.
A similar coin type is found only in Caesarea in Cappadocia.
Under Commodus (reigned 183–195 ..), the reverses had
concentrated on the temple of a god, with the altar shown in
place of the cult statue inside the temple; the altar is topped
by a tiny Mount Argaeus, the sacred peak that towered over
Caesarea. Alternately, the reverses could simply show the
altar with the peak on top. Under Severus Alexander, the
peak rests beside the emperor’s chariot; under Gordion III
(reigned 240–244 ..), the bust of the empress Tranquilla,
as Tyche, is crowned with the mountain peak, instead of her
normal crown of the city walls (fig. 17). Strong parallels always
existed between the coin types of Rome and Caesarea in Cap-
padocia; indeed, it appears that some of the coins for Caesarea
were minted in Rome and shipped to the Eastern city. Thus
it appears that the baetyl in the quadriga found on the coins
from the Roman mint provided the model for the later coins of
Caesarea. Although the type is not copied, the idea is. The holy
mountain of Caesarea is used in a parallel manner as the stone
of El-Gabal, as an image of the god as well as a geographical
marker for the city. In Caesarea, this occurs under the influ-
ence of the Roman die engravers; in Neapolis, the change
occurs slightly earlier and under the influence of other Eastern
die engravers, with a healthy helping of pure invention on the
part of the local engravers.
On the coins of Neapolis, Mount Gerizim is first equated
with the baetyl of Emesa during the reign of Elagabalus. In
Emesa, the baetyl refers to the imperial favor shown to the city
by the transfer of the sacred stone to Rome. Neapolis copies
this by placing the baetyl, Mount Gerizim, and the emperor’s
quadriga on reverses to refer to the restoration of imperial
Figure 16. Reverse of a bronze coin minted in
Neapolis between 244 and 249, during the reign of
Philip I. Here a miniaturized version of Mount Ger-
izim is hailed by the figure of Marsyas and support-
ed by the eagle of Rome, two more examples of
the favor with which the Neapolitans hoped Rome
viewed them. American Numismatic Society Col-
lection, 28 mm, 1944.100.69135, collected in 1944.
Courtesy of the American Numismatic Society.
180 NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011
favor granted after their near-disastrous show of support for
a competitor of Septimius Severus. The peak is placed on the
type as a recognizable symbol of a specific city and because the
mountain was considered sacred, and thus a good parallel to
the baetyl.
The representation of the sanctuary on Mount Gerizim is
truly special. It is the first, and one of the few, ever made of
a representation of a sanctuary within its sacred landscape in
Palestine, Samaria, and Phoenicia. It gives us valuable clues
as to the physical appearance and use of the sanctuary in the
second century. In the third century, when the types on bronze
coins in the East can become highly repetitive and deriva-
tive, the die engravers of Neapolis used their imaginations to
extend the meaning of the landscape type and thereby show us
in unique terms their loyalty to the faltering imperial govern-
ment. Baetyls, eagles, and Roma are half of the equation, with
the mountain sanctuary of Neapolis the other.
By 244 .., the die engravers were making a unique visual
image that had only one other, albeit incomplete, parallel in
the ancient world. The coins of Gordion III from Caesarea
in Cappadocia use the peak on the crown of Tyche, replacing
the walls that are normally found there. In a sense, the peak
functions partly as a symbol of the city (in part because of
the presence of Tyche, who is the real symbol of the city). The
die engravers of Neapolis make the breath-taking leap to use
the peak as the self-contained symbol of the city. It is indeed
shown on the hand of Tyche, but it is also protected by Victory,
Athena, Zeus (or his eagle), Asklepios, and Hygeia. It refers to
grain gifts to the city (when it is paired with Triptolemos) and
the rights of the citizens (when it is paired with the emperor
plowing, the wolf and twins, or Marsyas). But most of the time,
the city is shown under the watchful care of the emperors.
While cities had used badges to identify themselves on coins
(e.g., a murex shell within a type refers to the city of Tyre), no
other city extends the understanding of that badge to signify
the rights and protection of the city and its citizens as does
Neapolis.
The final abstraction of the peak as a symbol of the city sums
up the movement of iconography in the late antique period.
The Greeks were comfortable with the use of a personifica-
tion to stand in for a city, especially the use of Tyche. We are
quite familiar with the use of a monument to stand in for a
city—the Eiffel Tower can mean only Paris, the Leaning Tower
only Pisa—but in the third century this concept was just taking
root. There were certainly images that paved the way for this
type of representation, especially that of the wolf and twins.
Yet by the imperial period, the suckling group was not used
simply to mean the city of Rome. It was used more broadly, for
instance by soldiers on the Rhine to show their Roman citizen-
ship or as a protective device on sarcophagi. The die engravers
of Neapolis in the third century were the first to take a physical
place, miniaturize it, and use it as a substitute for the figure of
Tyche. It was a short-lived experiment: Roma and Constan-
tinople on later coins are again depicted as females, with one
exception. On the Peutinger Table, a late fourth- or early fifth-
century map known to us from a thirteenth-century copy,
Constantinople is indeed shown seated and helmeted in the
traditional manner, but she grandly points to the symbol of her
city, the statue of Constantine the Great raised on a porphyry
column, which stood in Constantinoples Forum (fig. 18).
“Thin Signifier” to “Thick Discourse”
The meaning of the increasing abstraction of concepts in
late antiquity has become intensely interesting to scholars,
who have assigned this movement to several causes. However,
explanations of the changing language of style usually concen-
trate on painting and sculpture. By looking at the minor art of
coins, we can better understand the intentions of the artists as
well as what the viewer understood. The iconography of the
coins is fascinating because they were intended to be passed
from hand to hand (and perhaps scrutinized closely) by people
who did not have opportunity to travel widely nor see the
imperial building and sculptural projects in the large cities. Yet
the artists who carved the coin dies must have expected the
users to understand the coin type, and the interests that were
shown in imperial sculpture and painting are seen to have
occurred as quickly in the minor arts.
Scholars have explored how the language of art changes
from the overwhelming interest in depicting the naturalistic
world in the first century to something very different by the
Figure 17. Reverse of a bronze coin minted in Caesarea
(Cappadocia) between 238 and 244 C.E., for Gordion III. The
empress Tranquilla, who can be recognized by her facial fea-
tures, is crowned with Mount Argeus, replacing the mural
crown of Tyche. American Numismatic Society collection, 28
mm, 1911.87.25, collected in 1911. Courtesy of the Ameri-
can Numismatic Society.
NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011 181
fourth century. Some of this change is due to a transition in
taste, but some must be due to a new way of looking at the
world, whether it be a Christian or a Neo-Platonic viewer. By
the fourth century, the viewer is encouraged to apply layers of
meaning to a work of art; no longer is the naturalistic depic-
tion of the world the main driving force. Instead, the viewer is
expected to understand the depiction of the object as a “signi-
fier” of a whole host of meanings, whether political or theo-
logical (Onians 1980, 23).
In terms of the coins, the
naturalistic reverses of
the second century, which
insist on showing the sanc-
tuary “as it was,” is changed
in the third century into a
symbol that can be read as
the sanctuary but also as a
cult object, as a symbol of
the city, as a symbol of the
rights of the citizens, and
as a sign of the favor of the
emperor. Jaś Elsner calls this
a movement from the “thin
‘signifiers for the sacred’ to
the ‘thick discourse’ of …
allegorical representations
(1995, 243–44).
The third-century
reverses only become clear
to the viewer when one
brings knowledge of visual
symbols and religious rep-
resentation to the coin
reverses. Without under-
standing the images of the
city of Rome (Marsyas or
the wolf and twins), the
image of the mountain as
cult object, the traditional symbols of Victory and Tyche, the
coin reverses do not make sense. The viewer is asked to associ-
ate a variety of images, symbols, and connections in the repre-
sentation of the miniature mountain on the coins. Without this
reading, the coin reverses become opaque and meaningless;
this is a confirmation that what was happening in the major
arts was already familiar to viewers in the compressed lan-
guage of a mass-produced coin type. The transformation from
“thin signifier” to “thick discourse” becomes abundantly clear
on coins of the fourth and fifth centuries, where the “return of
happy days” is proclaimed with a phoenix, the “welfare of the
Roman state” by the Christogram combined with an alpha and
omega, and the “concord” of the empire by a simple cross.
Acknowledgments
I had stimulating conversations with the audience of the
American Institute of Archaeology Annual Meeting in 2008
and wish to thank especially Muserref Yetim for showing me
her work before publication; Ben Lee Damsky for sharing an
enthusiasm for architecture on coins by reading the manu-
script and bringing to my attention coins in his collection;
Robert J. Bull, who asked me to publish the coins from the
excavations on Tell er-Ras and showed me coins from his col-
lection; and William E. Metcalf, Kevin Butcher, and Barbara
Burrell, who read the manuscript and thereby improved it
greatly. None is responsible
for any errors that remain.
Notes
1. For excavations in Tell er Ras-
Shechem, see Bull 1967, 1968;
Bull and Campbell 1968; Magen,
Misgav, and Tsfania 2004;
Magen 2005. For the history of
the site, see Magen 1993 and
Schwartz 1993; for an overview
of the history and coinage,
see Tameanko 2008. I have
adhered to the policy of ASOR
in illustrating only coins that
have been already published or
entered a collection before 30
December 1973. The rarity of
these bronze or copper-based
coin types combined with these
restrictions means that the
reader will rarely be looking at
beautiful coins.
2. For the iconography of
the coins of Caesarea in
Cappadocia, see Metcalf 1996;
Sydenham 1978; Weiss 1985.
3. E.g., Price and Trell 1977,
173; rpc.ashmus.ox.ac.uk,
search temp. no. 3788; R. J. Bull
sees this as a well-head due to
the cisterns excavated on this
side of the temple (personal
communication).
4. For an example of the shifting of entire buildings on the coin types for
clarity or aesthetics, see the coins of Athens, where the whole Acropolis
can be shown in mirror image, or the Propylaea placed halfway down
the entrance stairs or omitting the Propylaea for the Beulé Gate.
5. Magen 1993 reports a second building to the north of the Roman
temple, which Yetim (personal communication) calls a temple on the
second peak. Yet Magen clearly dates the building he found in his
excavations to the third century; he believes the only other structure
near it is part of a fortification system.
6. For the worship of the god and a brief discussion of the iconography
of the stone in the quadriga, see Dupont-Sommer and Robert 1964,
79–82; Stewart 2008.
7. Burrell (2004, 261–62) rejects the interpretation that the coin refers
to a visit to the city by the imperial family, even though Philip was born
in a neighboring province.
8. Kindler 1963 followed earlier scholars in suggesting that the type
with the legionary standard refers to the transfer of troops from
Aelia Capitolina to Neapolis, since the boar, war galley, and standard
Figure 17. Detail of the Peutinger Table, thirteenth-century copy of a
fourth- or fifth-century document, from 1916 Conradus Miller repro-
duction, in public domain. Constantinople is seated and pointing to
the statue that is the symbol of her city.
182 NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY 74:3 2011
normally refer to the Tenth Legion. Yet this theory does not account
for the figure of Neptune. Since it seems unlikely to me that the Tenth
Legion was transferred from the city where it had been based for over
one hundred years to the small, not easily accessible town of Neapolis,
the type can be seen as a more generalized statement about Roman
military presence and its implied victory on land and sea, and especially
its role in protecting Neapolis. Such an interpretation is consistent with
the other reverses celebrating Rome and Neapolis.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jane DeRose Evans is a
numismatist and archaeolo-
gist who is a Professor in the
Art History Department,
and affiliated with the Clas-
sics Department, of Temple
University. She is currently
the numismatist for the
Harvard Sardis Expeditions,
for which she is preparing a
monograph. She has written
on propaganda on Roman
coins for various scholarly journals and books. Her
work on the excavation coins of Caesarea is found
in The Joint Expedition to Caesarea Maritima: Exca-
vation Reports, vol. 6: The Coins and the Hellenistic,
Roman and Byzantine Economy, Biblical Archaeolo-
gist, and the American Journal of Numismatics.
Re ections of Empire
Archaeological and
Ethnographic Perspectives
on the Pottery of the
Ottoman Levant
edited by Bethany Walker
Ottoman archaeology in the
last decade has progressed
to a multi-faceted investigation of the history
and societies of the longest-lived Muslim empire
of the early modern era. Missing, however,
have been technical studies of Ottoman-period
ceramics that identify assemblages, de ne
typologies, and posit chronologies for speci c
wares across entire regions. This volume
assembles such technical studies for the region
of the Ottoman Levant: Cyprus, Israel, Palestine,
and Jordan.
to a multi faceted in
... 1303-38, 1699-1710. 36 Meshorer 2013Tameanko 2008;Evans 2011;Lichtenberger 2017, 207-8. 37 Meshorer 2013, 49, but correctly described at no. 14. 38 Meshorer 2013, no. ...
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