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Bronze coin of Caracalla with Christian graffiti


Diameter: 42.000 mm
Weight: 42.250 g

CM 1906.10-10.1

Room 68: Money

    Bronze coin of Caracalla with Christian graffiti

    Roman, early 3rd century AD
    From Cyzicus in Asia Minor (modern Turkey)

    The secret sect

    This large bronze coin was minted at the Greek city of Cyzicus (Belkis in modern north-western Turkey) to provide small change for the local community. In common with the rest of the eastern parts of the Roman Empire this community spoke Greek. At this point of time it had developed into a form known as koine (the 'common' language). This Graeco-Roman cultural mix is reflected in this coin, which looks Roman in style and displays an image of the emperor, but has Greek legends. The coin was minted during the reign of the emperor Caracalla (AD 211-17). Caracalla is vividly depicted dressed in armour and carrying a spear.

    This particular example has been abused by one of its owners - it bears a Christogram scratched just behind the bust. This could have occurred at any time during the third century, until this type of coin dropped out of use in the 270s. The maker of this mark was a Christian living at a time when it was very dangerous to follow such a faith. Indeed, Christians faced three major persecutions during the third and early fourth centuries, up until the death of the last persecuting emperor Maximinus Daia, in 313. To the pagan inhabitants of the Roman world the image of the emperor was a sacred object, even when on a coin. This Christian appears to have avoided going as far as desecrating the actual bust, but he or she must have felt a degree of impudent satisfaction by placing this symbol so close.

    R. Reece, The later Roman Empire: an arc (Tempus, 1999)

    K. Butcher, Roman provincial coins: an int (London, Seaby, 1988)

    J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)


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