Shared Symbols and Cultural Identity: The Goddess Tyche on Coins from the Roman Province of Syria
Yost, Sarah L.
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Coins of every rank from Roman imperial to the smallest denomination of bronze depicting Tyche, the goddess who represented and protected a given city, can be found throughout the Roman Empire from its inception until its demise. Tyche had two primary functions: as a goddess of fortune and as a representation and protector of a city. However, there appear to be more such coins from Syria than any other province and the frequency with which Tyche is featured on civic bronze issues in that province raises the questions of local agency and civic identity in the use of this iconography. The meaning of the Tyche images could change drastically depending on their creators and the purposes these coins served. Equally important is the audience, as the differing groups who viewed or used these coins interpreted them according to their own concerns. Many cultures, too numerous to list here, coexisted in Syria and had varying degrees of identification with the images on the civic bronze Tyche coins. This thesis discusses how these coins featured in the visual advancement of local identities in Syria. The thesis argues that the civic bronze coins with images of the city Tyche were more numerous in the province of Syria largely because they acted as a shared symbol between the many cultures of the province. Tyche had many ties to the area that solidified her role as a shared symbol. Her origin as a Greek goddess, combined with her iconography that was rooted in the Near East, allowed Tyche to speak to a wide audience comprised of people from diverse cultures, while at the same time creating a shared visual identity for all of the citizens of the city she represented. Through the appropriation of iconography these coins were able to display both a civic identity specific to the city in which they were minted and that also tied the city into the broader network of Greek-style city states within the Roman Empire. In addition, Tyche coins helped their cities to create a relationship with Rome that proved mutually beneficial.