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HOME : Roman Coins : Vabalathus : Bronze Antoninianus of Vabalathus, the Roman Duke of Palmyra
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Bronze Antoninianus of Vabalathus, the Roman Duke of Palmyra - C.4434
Origin: Minted in Antioch
Circa: 266 AD to 271 AD

Collection: Numismatics
Medium: Bronze

Location: United States
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Obverse: VABALATHVS V C R IM D R; Laureate, Draped, and Cuirassed Bust of the Duke Facing Right

Reverse: IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG; Radiate and Cuirassed Bust of Aurelian Facing Right

Palmyra was an oasis city straddling the border between Syria and Mesopotamia strategically situated at the junction of several major trade routes, including the Silk Road. It was annexed by Rome in the first century A.D. and served as a frontier fortress key to the empire’s eastern defenses. When the Persian threat erupted following the capture of Valerian, Gallienus responded by naming Odenathus, the Palmyrene client-king, the autonomous commander of Rome’s eastern forces. This arrangement worked out well until Odenathus was assassinated in 267 A.D. and his son Vabalathus took over the throne. However, the real power lied in the hands of young Vabalathus’ mother, Zenobia, the ambitious widow of Odenathus, who steered the Eastern provinces to near total independence from Rome. Naturally, Rome refused to recognize this new arrangement and several abortive expeditions to restore Roman rule all failed. By the time of the reign of Aurelian, Zenobia managed to capture all of Syria and Egypt and Rome had had enough. Aurelian was determined to take back the eastern provinces and the Palmyrenes recognized his military finesse and resolve. In an act of diplomacy, Zenobia convinced the emperor to restore Vabalathus to the title possessed by his father, Dux Romanorum, or Roman Duke of the East. During this shaky period of peace, the Antioch mint issued a series of coins depicting the busts of both Valabathus and Aurelian. Yet, in 271 A.D., war broke out when Aurelian amassed and army to take back the provinces of Syria and Egypt from the grip of Palmyra which quickly declared its independence. This autonomy was brief, however, for by 272 A.D., Aurelian had defeated all hopes of Palmyrene independence. In an act of mercy, the lives of Vabalathus and Zenobia were spared and they were allegedly allowed to retire in a nice villa.

How many hands have touched a coin in your pocket or purse? What eras and lands have the coin traversed on its journey into our possession? As we reach into our pockets to pull out some change, we rarely hesitate to think of who might have touched the coin before us, or where the coin will venture to after it leaves our hands. More than money, coins are a symbol of the state that struck them, of a specific time and location, whether contemporary currencies or artifacts of a long forgotten empire. This stunning hand-struck coin reveals an expertise of craftsmanship and intricate sculptural detail that is often lacking in contemporary machine-made currencies. This ancient coin is a memorial to the power and wealth of ancient Palmyra and their quest for independence passed from the hands of civilization to civilization, from generation to generation that still appears as vibrant today as the day it was struck.
- (C.4434)


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