The Roman Empire
King Rhoemetalces of Thrace, with Augustus

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Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) KINGDOM OF THRACE Rhoemetalces I,c11BC-AD12
Design Description: Rhoemetalces and Augustus AE19
Item Description: AE19 Kingdom Of Thrace rv Augustus obv Rhoemetalces I
Full Grade: NGC AU Strike: 4/5 Surface: 4/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Roman Empire
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

By mid 1st century BC, the city-state of Rome had grown into a powerful Republic, exerting hegemony over much of the Mediterranean. During this expansion, Rome’s ruling classes forged friendships and alliances with those governing the various surrounding realms. Such relationships figured prominently in the series of civil wars that heralded the end of the Republic and the genesis of an empire.

The role of Rome’s client states expanded when Octavian, later named Augustus, consolidated power after prevailing at the Battle of Actium. Realizing he needed to promote his own power and defend his extensive realm, Augustus looked beyond employing foreign allies simply as military assets; they must now agree to become personal clients. In this fashion, Augustus employed his client kingdoms as necessary: buffers against more remote enemies, protectors of valuable trade routes, and, of course, allies in battle. Augustus also recognized that annexation, i.e., direct rule, of some of these kingdoms was necessary, and thus a gradual transformation into new provinces ensued. By the end of Augustus’ reign, the list of client kingdoms was prodigious: Armenia, Bosporus, Cappadocia, and Dacia, just to name a few.

This particular coin was struck in the client kingdom of Thrace. Around 29 BC, the Romans defeated the Bastarnae, a tribe of mixed ethnicity who were threatening Thrace and the surrounding areas. In the aftermath, Augustus decided to leave the local ruler, King Rhescuporis I, in charge; other, more troublesome nearby lands he annexed in order to keep them under closer Roman control. There was a rebellion in 11 BC, and Rhescuporis was killed. Subsequently, the Romans moved in to quell the rebellion, and afterwards Augustus renewed his decision to keep Thrace as a client kingdom under the rule of Rhescuporis’ uncle, Rhoemetalces I.

This bronze, struck in Thrace between 11 BC and 12 AD, provides evidence of the political arrangement. One side of the coin depicts a diademed bust whose epithet reads BAΣIΛEΩΣ POIMHTAΛKOY, or King Rhoemetalces. The other side depicts another, bare headed, bust whose epithet reads KAIΣAPOΣ ΣEBAΣTOY, signifying Caesar Augustus.

Rhoemetalces provided peace and prosperity over Thrace until his death in 12 AD. At that time, Augustus decided to split Thrace into two portions, and appointed Rhoemetalces’ brother, Rhescuporis II, sovereign over the more troublesome portion (ancient historian Tactitus described it as wild and savage, with enemies on its frontier). The remaining, cultivated portion of Thrace was placed under the dominion of Rhoemetalces’ son, Cotys III. Augustus’ reasoning for splitting Thrace into disparate client states, rather than maintaining it as one, or even annexing as one or more new provinces, remains unclear. Presumably, he deemed it too early for Rome to exert direct control, e.g., would be too costly at that time.

Several years after Augustus’ death, Rhescuporis II imprisoned his nephew, seeking to consolidate Thracian rule. Cotys III died in prison, and it was widely held that Rhescuporis II was responsible. At least that was the conclusion reached by the Roman Senate, following an investigation opened by Augustus’ successor, Tiberius. Sentenced into exile, Rhescuporis II attempted to flee his captors, but was killed in the attempt. Tiberius then reunited the Thracian Kingdom under joint rule of Cotys’ widow, Antonia Tryphaena (whose testimony helped to convict Rhescuporis II), and her eldest son with Cotys, Rhoemetalces II. The latter, who never married nor had any children, died in 38 AD. Thrace’s throne then passed to the eldest male dynast, who happened to be the son of Rhescuporis II, namely Rhoemetalces III. The latter died in 46 AD, and, after a brief anti-Roman uprising, Thrace was finally absorbed into the provincial Empire.

Convoluted dynastic struggles aside, Augustus’ long-term strategy for Thrace succeeded; for centuries, the region served as an important eastern province and buffer zone against Rome’s eastern enemies. Augustus’ successors maintained Rome down a similar path of absorbing surrounding kingdoms. The Julio-Claudians and Flavians continued the annexation process, only adding new client kingdoms for military support at the expanding Empire’s fringes. The policy proved largely successful, with a few notable exceptions such as Armenia, a region constantly contended between Rome and the Parthians (and later the Sassanids). Only Emperor Trajan succeeded in fully conquering and annexing Armenia, and even then, direct Roman control proved short-lived. In fact, it was not until Trajan that any Emperor dared to annex all Rome’s client kingdoms. Ultimately, the Empire failed to sustain direct control over such vast borders, demonstrating the wisdom of Augustus’ original, balanced system of provinces and client kingdoms.

Additional Reading: J D Everatt, A Study of the Client Kings in the Early Roman Period, Durham Theses, Durham University, 1972.

Coin Details: KINGDOM OF THRACE, Rhoemetalces I, with Augustus. Circa 11 BC – 12 AD, Æ (19mm, 4.54 g, 6h), NGC Grade: AU, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Diademed head of Rhoemetalces right, BAΣIΛEΩΣ POIMHTAΛKOY, Reverse: Bare head of Augustus right, KAIΣAPOΣ ΣEBAΣTOY, References: RPC 1718; Youroukova 194-200.

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