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Ancient Nomos Art is a museum of galleries exhibiting ancient coins and ancient mint maps. The coin gallery displays the diverse art and history of hand-crafted ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Persian and Medieval coinage. The ancient mints mapping gallery features Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Asia Minor and Medieval mint city regions and territories. Visitor's are welcome to explore, study and enjoy Ancient Nomos Art.

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Aksumite Kingdom – 300 AD

King Ousanas I

From Ancient Galleries

Obverse: Arcaded gold crowned, with ribbon, and draped bust (torso length) of Ousanas I facing right, holding scepter in right hand.
Reverse: Headclothed, with ribbon, and draped bust (torso length) of Ousanas I facing right, holding whisk branch in right hand.

LEGEND
Obv: OYCANAC B-ACIΛE-YC, Crowned and draped bust of Ousanas I facing right with upper half of chest visible; holding scepter in right hand. The portrait is set between two sheaf’s of grain. Above the king, one disc and two flanking pellets (stars) above a crescent (moon) symbol; two more pellets below the crescent. Rev: AΞWMITWN B-ICI ΓICENE, Draped bust of Ousanas I facing right, holding branch or fly-whisk in right hand; pellet below his hand. The portrait is set between two sheaf’s of grain. Above the king, one disc and two flanking pellets (stars) above a crescent (moon) symbol; two more pellets below the crescent and one additional pellet directly above king’s head.

The ancient city of Aksum (or Axum) lies inland from the southern Red Sea on the highlands of the Tigray Plateau in North Africa. For most of the modern era, the history, art and culture of this great ancient African civilization has been largely ignored. In fact, most of our knowledge and chronology of the past Aksumite kings is known only through the scant numismatic evidence found on their ancient coin inscriptions. Even an exact dating system is still not known to scholars. All other Aksumite evidence of their existence has virtually disappeared in the ruins of this once great ancient city. However, much of the archaeological evidence suggests that from the first century AD to the seventh, Aksum was the capital of an empire that controlled much of modern Ethiopia, with territories extending up into southern Egypt and Arabia. It is believed the Aksumite people bartered, exchanged and traded with the Romans, Persians, including regions as far east as Sakastan and India. They are known to have exported grains, gold, ivory, frankincense, myrrh, and salt, and imported silver, copper, olive oils, wines & various fabrics. The Aksumite kingdom built impressive symbolic structures including architectural monuments, granite monoliths, long obelisks and tall stone towers that still stand today. Since the early 20th century, only a handful of scholars have even attempted to untangle the obscure history of this once great North African kingdom. From the relatively rare known Aksum coinage, which began in the late third century, the kings of this empire started engraving, minting and issuing gold, silver and bronze denominations. These rare specimens are considered the first and only coins created in Africa south of the Sahara during ancient times. The Aksum gold standard denomination weighed approximately 1.5-1.7 grams, corresponding to about one-half the weight of the contemporary Roman gold solidus. The design typology was intentionally created to be a similar image of the ruler on both sides, i.e. the head of the king facing right. The above gold coin example depicts king Ousanas I in two different wardrobes, one with a crown and the other with a head cloth. The coin obverse depicts the king wearing an impressive high crown, likely made of gold. The crown, often described as a tiara, features a row of colonnades and arches supporting high spikes. The presence of a small ribbon dangling behind his head on the obverse may indicate that his head cloth, as seen on the reverse, is being worn under the king’s royal crown. In addition to the crown and head cloth, Ousanas I coins included articulated images of royal regalia, such as his long spear, a symbolic branch or whisk with berries, and the addition of tassels with fringes to the imperial robe. Flanking the king’s portrait on the left and right are two curved sheaf’s of grain, perhaps wheat. This was an important ancient Aksumite symbol of agricultural prosperity and a verdant sign of future fruitful abundance. Above the king is a small crescent and disc with two pellets. This is likely a Pagan reference symbolizing the solar and lunar gods of the Aksumite religious culture. The legend inscriptions are in Greek; OYCANAC BACILEYC, translating as; “King Ousanas,” and continuing on the reverse in Greek; AΞWMITWN B-ICI ΓICENE, translating as; “of Aksum, Man of Dakhu.” From an artistic perspective, the above Ousanas I gold coin represents the height of Aksumite coinage under the exceedingly brief Pagan era, which terminated circa 320 AD. The Pagan coinage of the Aksumite’s was issued for less than fifty years before they abandoned their polytheist culture. After 356 AD, the Aksumite people converted to Christianity, like their Roman contemporaries under Constantine the Great, and thus lost all Pagan symbolism on their subsequent coinage. For additional Aksum coinage history, illustrations and information, reference the Catalogue of the Aksumite Coins in the British Museum by Stuart Munro-Hay.

DOCUMENTATION
Value: One-half Solidus (contemporary Roman equivalent). Metal: AV Gold. Weight: 1.74 grams. Mint: Axum, Aksumite Kingdom. Date: 300-330 AD (Pagan Period).
Attribution: Hahn, Aksumite 12a.1; Munro-Hay type 21; BMC Axum 26 variety (obverse legends have a single pellet above each crescent); Photo Courtesy Classical Numismatic Group, Adams Collection.

Legend, Documentation and Attribution

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