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Historical Article

Scythia. Geto-Dacian Dynasts - Koson

The conventional view that these coins were struck by a Thracian dynast named Koson striking on behalf of Brutus was first proposed by Theodor Mommsen. Mommsen based his theory on Appian' s statement (B Civ. IV.10.75) that Brutus struck coins from the gold and silver provided to him by the wife of a Thracian dynast. The coins' similarity to known Roman types of the period, in particular the issue Brutus struck as a moneyer in 54 BC (Crawford 433/1), and Mommsen's (and others) misreading of the obverse monogram seemed to support this conclusion. Max Bahrfeldt ("Über die KOΣΩN-Münzen," Berliner Münzblätter 1912), however, cogently challenged this interpretation, arguing instead a connection to Coson-Cotiso(n), a Getic king with whom Octavian had apparently been arranging an alliance-by-marriage (Suetonius, Aug. 63.2; cf. Horace, Carm. II.18.8; Flor. II.28.18). Nonetheless, Mommsen's academic reputation and the appeal of associating these coins with Caesar's assassin favored the earlier interpretation. Thus, this attribution has largely been unchallenged (but see M. Crawford, CMRR, p. 238: "A remarkable issue of gold staters, imitated from the denarii of M. Brutus.... Showy and useless, it was probably produced in the area of modern Transylvania in the second half of the first century.").

Re-examining the evidence, Octavian Iliescu has argued in support of Bahrfeldt's interpretation based on the following reasons: first, hoards as well as individual specimens of these coins can be traced for the most part to Transylvania (northern Romania), rather than Thrace (southern Bulgaria); second, the average weight of known specimens conforms not to the aureus-standard of 8.10 gm established by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, and at which Brutus struck coins for his troops, but to that of the staters struck on behalf of Mithradates VI during the First Mithradatic War; third, the coin types do not directly copy the corresponding types of Brutus' denarius, but combine the type's reverse with the reverse of a denarius of Q. Pomponius Rufus struck three decades earlier. The discovery of many coins in a number of archaeological excavations that include different Roman types from various periods further undercuts the specific historical connection to the use of the Brutus-type. Moreover, the monogram that has been read to achieve L BR, BR, or, in the case of Barclay Head, OΛB, and thus associate the coinage with Brutus or Olbia, may also be read as a BA monogram for BAΣIΛEΩΣ. Such a BA monogram is known to have been used for the Thracian king Rhoemetalces I.

Rendered as Cotiso(n) in the literary sources, this name can be reconciled with Coson as a transcribal error on the part of the textual copyist, making Coson-Cotiso(n) one and the same: a local Geto-Dacian king for whom these staters, and perhaps associated silver coins, are the only known coinage. It is this king Cotiso(n) to whom Octavian had sought to arrange an alliance-by-marriage (Suetonius, op. cit.), with his daughter Julia marrying Koson's son, and himself, Koson's daughter. This negotiation angered Mark Antony, to whose son Julia had originally been promised, and exacerbated the rift between Octavian and himself. The local usage of Roman coin types in the region during the last century BC demonstates the economic ties between Dacia and Rome, but the struggle between Antony and Octavian revealed the region's strategic and diplomatic significance, by increasing the local king's power and prestige and affording him the opportunity to strike his own coins.

SCYTHIA, Geto-Dacians. Koson. Mid 1st century BC. AV Stater (8.48 gm). Roman consul accompanied by two lictors; BA monogram to left / Eagle standing left on sceptre, holding wreath. O. Iliescu, "Sur les monnaies d'or à la légende ΚΟΣΩΝ," QT 1990, 1; RPC I 1701; BMC Thrace p. 208, 2; BMCRR II p. 474, 48.