85 of 234: Norbanus

A work in progress.

We assume the moneyer of 83 BCE is the son of the Consul of the same year (RRC 357/1), BUT we don’t actually have any proof to that regard. We could suggest that the consul issued the coins himself, but then we might expect to see some indication of his office, such as we find for the Praetor of this time Q. Antonius Balbus (RRC 364/1).

There is plenty of epigraphic evidence of imperial era members of the gens Norbana but no real evidence that I can see about whether those lines descend in any way from the consul of 83 BCE.

The consul of 38 BCE issued coins in 43 BCE, RRC 491 as praetor. He was a partisan of the future Augustus from an early date and was generally allied with the Caesarians in the early period of the civil wars. I see no evidence he was related to the cos of 83 but I’d have to dig more to be confident. He may have been borne c. 85 BCE according to Rüpke 2005.

Norbanus (cos. 83) first shows up in the historical record with his prosecution as tribune of the plebs of Caepio for the lost of his army in 105 BCE and then his own subsequent prosecution for the violence that resulted. The case was of interest in Latin rhetorical handbooks, other accounts like Valerius Maximus are only interested in Caepio not Norbanus.

[Norbanus] did not commit treason in proceeding to violent measures in respect to Caepio ; for it was the first indignation of the Roman people that prompted that violent conduct, and not the conduct of the tribune : and the majesty, since it is identical with the greatness of the Roman people, was rather increased than diminished by retaining that man in power and office.” And when the reply is, ” Majesty consists of the dignity of the empire and name of the Roman people, which that man impairs, who excites sedition by appealing to the violent passions of the multitude;” then comes the dispute, ” Whether his conduct was calculated to impair that majesty, who acted upon the inclinations of the Roman people, so as to do a thing which was both just and acceptable to them by means of violence.”

Cicero, de Partitionibus Oratoriae 104-105, cf. Rhet. Her. 1.24 for briefer much earlier but similar use; as well as Cic. Or. 2.124, 197, and most esp. the long exposition on the nature of legal case at 199-204;

The dates of the events are disputed but not the events themselves. Generally the prosecution is of Caepio is place in 104 and and Norbanus’ prosecution to 95 or 94 BCE but I have no strong views, and all that particularly matters is that Norbanus was dedicated to attacking patrician privilege and had in turn been viciously attacked. (More text sources on this). Cicero’s primary interest seems to be the strategies of both defense and prosecution, until the De Officiis when he calls Norbanus, a seditious and dangerous citizen (2.49).

M. Aemilius Scaurus, princeps senatus, prosecuted C. Memmius for extortion, with strong evidence. As a witness he attacked C. Flavius, accused by the same law, with the same fierceness; he openly endeavoured to ruin C. Norbanus, who was brought to trial for treason. Yet neither by his authority, which was very great, nor by his piety, which no man doubted, could he inflict damage on any of them.

Val. Max. 8.5.2

This prosecution did not stop him earning the praetorship and it is likely in this role he held his social war command. Some time after Sulla’s departure for the East Norbanus was in charge of Syracuse and Sicily with an army, c. 88? 87?:

But when Sulla was engaged in the war in Asia against Mithridates, and Rome was filled with slaughters and internal strife, Marcus Lamponius and Tiberius Cleptius, and also Pompeius, the generals of those Italians who were left remaining in Bruttium, attempted to capture the strong city of Isiae. After they had lain before the city for a long time, they left part of their army to maintain the siege, and fiercely assaulted Rhegium, in the expectation, that if they gained this place, they might with ease transport their army into Sicily, and so become masters of the richest island under the sun. But Gaius Norbanus, the governor of Sicily, so overawed the Italians with the greatness of his army and his vast preparations, that they drew off from the siege; and so the Rhegians were freed from danger.

Diod. 37.2.13-14

Therefore, while these were the established regulations of the province, Caius Norbanus, a man neither very active nor very valiant, was at perfect ease, at the very moment that all Italy was raging with the servile war. For at that time Sicily easily took care of itself, so that no war could possibly arise there.

Cic. Verr. 2.5.8 cf. 2.3.117 (70 BCE)
CIL 01, 02951 = ILSicilia 00056 = Engfer-2017, 00412 = AE 1989, 00342a From Syracuse.

Norbanus sought refuge at Rhodes when proscribed by Sulla (Liv. Per. 89; Oros. 5.21.3) and based on this some want to have him be familiar with the island from his days as a quaestor but I don’t think we need to go that far.

Appian gives a brief account of his success levy of troops in 83 with his co consul and the consul of the previous year, saying that they generally had popular support but also held greater responsibility for what had happened in Sulla’s absence. During the events of the war he was for a time at Capua and refused to engage with messengers sent by Sulla (App. BC 1.84 & 86).

And a little while before he crossed over from Greece, there were seen on Mount Tifatum in Campania, in the day time, two great he-goats fighting together, and doing everything that men do when they fight a battle. But it proved to be an apparition, and gradually rising from earth it dispersed itself generally in the air, like vague phantoms, and then vanished from sight. And not long after,​ in this very place, when Marius the younger and Norbanus the consul led large forces up against him, Sulla, without either giving out an order of battle or forming his own army in companies, but taking advantage of a vigorous general alacrity and a transport of courage in them, routed the enemy and shut up Norbanus in the city of Capua, after slaying seven thousand of his men. It was on account of this success, he says, that his soldiers did not disperse into their several cities, but held together and despised their opponents, though these were many times more numerous.

Plut. Sulla 27

Diana Tifatina is a favorite of mine on this blog. And is often connected to the Diana imagery on Faustus’ coins. RRC 426

“It was while Sulla was ascending Mount Tifata that he had encountered Gaius Norbanus. After his victory over him he paid a vow of gratitude to Diana, to whom that region is sacred, and consecrated to the goddess the waters renowned for their salubrity and water to heal, as well as all the lands in the vicinity. The record of this pleasing act of piety is witnessed to this day by an inscription on the door of the temple, and a bronze tablet within the edifice.”

Vel. Pat. 2.25

[Albinovanus] invited Norbanus and his lieutenants, Gaius Antipater and Flavius Fimbria (brother of the one who committed suicide in Asia), together with such of Carbo’s lieutenants as were then present, to a feast. When they had all assembled except Norbanus (he was the only one who did not come), he murdered them all at the banquet and then fled to Sulla. Norbanus, having learned that, in consequence of this disaster, Ariminum and many other camps in the vicinity were going over to Sulla, and being unable to rely on the good faith and firm support of many of his friends on the spot, now that he found himself in adversity, took passage on a private ship, and sailed to Rhodes. When, at a later period, Sulla demanded his surrender, and while the Rhodians were deliberating on it, he killed himself in the middle of the market-place.

App. BC 1.91, cf. Livy Per. 89.8

The Hand of the Engraver

Roman republican coin engravers certainly had distinctive hands and styles. This is well known, but hard to quantify or even get into meaningful qualitative descriptive terms. I found myself thinking about this as I reviewed the plates from a hoard publication that came in through ILL today. The images aren’t really sharp enough: I’ll have to re-scan at the ANS one day soon, but at least for now I have an idea of the content and the text.

M. Corrente et al, “La paga del soldato? Studio e interpretazione di un tesoretto repubblicano da Masseria Battaglino” The journal of archaeological numismatics 10 (2020), 67-85.

The plates do however let us readily see stylistic similarities especially in the rendering of obverses, so for instance below compare specimen 115 (RRC 407/2) and 124 (RRC 409/1), or even 126 (RRC 410/3) and 145 (RRC 423/1).

Here compare the flat faces of 51 (RRC 341/1) and 67 (RRC 344/3), and the bunchy beard on 67 and 72 (RRC 346/1).

Stylistic similarities or “hands” are notoriously hard to identify and I’m not trying to do so here, but rather simply say something about how comparisons can be made and the utility at looking at issues not singularly but side by side, esp. how the circulated.

Another side of this conversation might look at the small neck phase of the RR mint in the late 2nd century, e.g. RRC 291/1 and RRC 296/1.

84 of 234: Ship Imagery

Relief with a trireme. Last decades of the 1st cent. BCE. Baia, Museo Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei. © 2015. Photo: Ilya Shurygin. (source)

This relief provides a few nice parallels to features seen on ships on coins. Such as the figure by the Prow looking forward.

RRC 483/2

The aplustre with the circle before the fan is similar to the so called fleet coinage of Antony (RRC 544)

The scepter on Antony’s ships near the prow seems different than the pole on the relief near the aplustre (at the stern). But that does seem to have a parallel on the coins of Sextus Pompeius, which also place a legionary standard near the prow and a trident (symbolically invoking Neptune?) near the stern. The trident like the scepter on Antony’s coinage help remind us not to take these depictions a 100% literally, but rather as visual invocations of an idea.

RRC 511/4

The semis and quadrans of P. Calpurnius are the earliest full ships on the Republican coin series and they have a stick at both stern and stem. I say a stick to keep from committing to what type of vertical object I’m seeing.

McCabe collection examples (Flickr, where they can be easily enlarged to see details)
Schaefer Archive image
Another Schaefer Archive image

This might be the best parallel for what we’re seeing on the aplustre of the relief. I’d also note that where there is a Medusa on the relief their is an eye on the prows both of these bronzes but of almost all RR bronzes since the intro of the prow series. Bear in mind the Gordon head is apotropaic as is the eye and they have been found together from v early on in ancient Mediterrean art. A typical kylix with eyes on the outside has a Gorgon in the tondo.

There are earlier bronzes where the prow is augmented by a vertical element usually called a mast and sail (RRC 213 and RRC 239). Given scale I wonder if it might not represent some sort of standard or pennant or something.

Note also that the prow stem has a female head on RRC 213/1, a feature not noted by Crawford in RRC (cf. earlier blog post discussion).

If you look at comments of this old blog post you’ll find most other previous blog posts discussing ships on this blog.

My last observations are on the depiction of the rams on the relief.

The bottom ram reminds me of the trident decoration on the Athlit ram (Haifa)

public domain image (source)
public domain image (source)

The top ram just really a blunt rectangular horizontal element on the relief. This surprises me because on most coin representations it has the head of a canine, probably a wolf. This feature is perhaps clearest on RRC 290/1.

Non-coin section.

Well I didn’t really want to come to work today, so that might mean yesterday’s goal wasn’t accomplished but here I am regardless. I got my blog post done. I may wait to get to email and turn back to the book proposal (good progress has been made, the end is insight). I touched most other tasks that needed touching. I think I’ll just see what happens with my day and give myself a break from goal setting and just be glad I showed up.

83 out of 234: Mirror Imagery

While visiting the Met last week to catch Chroma before it closed, I snapped a pic of this little figurine to remind me of it. Then last Friday I got to see a former mentee, Hannah Lynch, present on the hair as a form of communication at a conference (she was amazing and I was so proud I could almost burst) and this came rushing back to mind.

Met link

What I liked a great deal about it was that the statuette was in the same room as some gorgeous mirror cases, which in turn show off some pretty elaborate hair styles:

Met link to search results

The statuette in turn made me think of this poly chromatic terracotta sarcophagus in the BM. Notice the woman pulls away her veil to check her hair in her mirror. It is almost a play on the pudicitia gesture. (For what it’s worth, when I think of ancient statues as painted I always then to call to mind these terracottas to render an image in my mind. I find them more satisfying than many modern reconstructions largely I think because of the shading in the drapery and other modelling.)

BM link

There is perhaps a similar humor? or play on the meaning of the gesture on this mirror box below. Notice how instead of pulling on a veil the woman grasps a tendril of her own rather wild hair.

I love how listening to smart students and junior scholars lets me look with new eyes on material I’ve known for so long.

I like mirrors esp. hinged mirror boxes because of how the image of them were misidentified as shackles on the Papius control marks and I (still) find that deeply amusing.

Self Accountability Section

I already sent one necessary email there is another one to go. Spring is tempting me into the garden, but I will mostly resist. I think after that email, I circle back to a book proposal and grant before trying to do some writing. The logistics for visiting the Nemi material in the UK got complicated because airline prices went through the roof. I need not to put my head in the sand on that and take some action. RACOM paper could use some drafting. But I need a gentle day and am going to do all of this slowly, slowly. The goal is to wake up tomorrow wanting to work, rather than having to work. Overall the most important part of this sabbatical, is not what I publish but to recharge my batteries such that I fortify the determination to keep engaging with my disciplines.

Cales Overstrike?

The inspiration for this post was a tweet announcing the growth of Winterthur’s contributions to IKMK. I thought I’d might go check out what they had uploaded that was struck in Italy for fun.

This lovely specimen caught my eye, esp. That mark on the obverse cheek. I can’t be sure even from the excellent photos but I do wonder if it might not be traces of an under type. We know the earlier(?) Minerva Cock type (HNI 435) is regularly over struck by the man-faced bull IΣ series at Naples. This coin likely dates to the same time as that series.

80 of 234: Etruscan Procession

“Procession of c. 16 figures, lictores, tuba players, death demons. The man Laris Pumpus, probably the owner of the tomb, is mentioned in the inscription” A 1910 painting on canvas of right wall middle of Tomba del Tifone, Tarquinia, 2nd cent BCE. Glyptotek, Copenhagen, H.I.N. 410, I.N. 2568 “The original of the procession is so ruined that it would be unintelligible without the help of the old copies.”

I’m most interested in the objects everyone is carrying. First figure with raise arm, sholder length hair, a hair band tied in front and sleeves, seems to be holding some thing with three curved horizontal bars and a fan shaped object above (orange). The green circles mark out a pretty ordinary horn player and horn. The blue circle is what I suspect is being interpreted as the symbol of the lictors: should we call this twisty stick with a hoop fasces?!? Perhaps these are not the lictors, but heralds of some sort with a form of the caduceus? There are more examples in the image near the horn. Yellow marks out a three objects. From left to right they are the hammer, the typical attribute of the death demon (blue dude in back above the other heads). Next comes what looks like a sheep head on a stick. Then there is a stick with a slight curve at the top. More like what I’d call fasces, but I’m far from certain. Then a hammer? that looks a little different than the death demon’s but might be for another spirit? It seems to be overlapping in the image an other stick with a slight curve.


(1) early versions of togas! We learned about that when I was an undergraduate, but there weren’t all that many good examples – the Arringatore was the prime example. This shows them off better. (2) Despite obvious differences, the composition is so similar to the procession on the Ara Pacis – presumably it was in direct conversation with a long tradition.

via social media Dr. Maria Pretzler made these observations which I thought had deep merit, quoted with permission

self accountability section

Felt bad about not getting to a blog post yesterday. Something unexpected came up my day took a bit of a turn. Yet, beyond that, it was really a very good day work-wise. I finalized a paper for conference proceedings and was reminded why co-authoring is so nice. I added edits to a chapter on Dionysius for an edited volume based on editors suggestions and thus got to spend a little time with the Brock’s views on the Ship of State in the Greek tradition, pre Alexander but clearly relevant later too. I had some nice email correspondence with PhD student asking good questions regarding the grain supply that got me thinking about my book project again. AND, I spend a good deal of time exploring funding options and grants and starting to think about my next target deadlines. Getting back on the horse and staying in the groove of such writing is critical. The is a habit to all forms of writing and I cannot take any of it too seriously if I am to get it done. I have a few now in mind and one will need some serious attention the next couple weeks. Ah yes, AND I agreed to give an ANS long table next Friday on my Aes Grave work, AND I concretized my smelting plans. A week from tomorrow I make my first test samples for drilling and experimentation. Yes, no reason to feel bad, that was a days work by any measure and it is also good to be open to interruptions and the unexpected. Again, part of the function of this type of blogging is to better understand how hard to push myself and when to give my self a break.

Possible docket for Today

More smelting logistics!

Respond to departmental planning email

Process die axis scans and share with colleagues

Check in with co-authors and tweak as needed

finalize images

Check in on book proposal

Time in on textual evidence for RACOM paper

Write first draft of abstract for RACOM paper

Look at some nice pictures just for fun, maybe post about them (it helps my mood and motivation!)

Maybe write referees about next grant application?

Maybe think about re working book proposal for grant app, or not

Check in on Abstract for AIA panel

Attend zoom talk

Glass Paste Scholarship

I was looking for another article I need cite and believe I have on file but cannot for the life of my find, BUT I did come across this fantastic piece, I had on file and never seem to have blogged about. And as this blog is my external brain, no post = no memory.

Alessandra Magni and Gabriella Tassiniari treat a very wide chronological range. The piece is beautifully illustrated and the real highlight for me are the unpublished ancient specimens from Verona.

It was published in these conference proceedings.

This one is a bit different and reminds me of the Mithridatic stylistic move on Roman Republican coins with the crazy hair. I wonder if the original intaglio may be ancient or just inspired by antiquity…

78 out 234 days: Gratidianus

a round up of stuff I’ve said or learned before about Gratidianus and concerns over the coinage in the 80s BCE

What follows has repetitions section to section, but it is useful for me personally to see the slight changes in my own framing or where I’ve been consistent over the years. This is an active post so I’ll be dropping more primary evidence and thoughts at the end as I spend more time with the topic.

This is from a draft of chapter 1 of my coin book written 2018. This section goes with fig. 1.40 and was cut to keep the book somewhat close to target word length.

We have both literary and physical evidence that suggests anxiety over the authenticity of coins and the ability of the state to regulate coin production, two issues that go hand-in-hand. These concerns seem to develop in the mid 110s BCE and continue down until the early 50s BCE, with a peak in intensity in the late 80s. On the coins themselves, we find increased use of serration and the use of control marks (1.40). Flans were serrated by cutting the edges prior to striking; control marks may have corresponded to record-keeping regarding batches of bullion issued to the mint.[1] Both processes are extremely labor intensive and neither became standard operating procedure. The irregular application of and great variety in control mark systems and other intermittent minting innovations such as serrations may derive from these regular shifts among post-holders and these individuals’ desires to distinguish themselves from their forerunners. They are outwardly visible signs of the care the moneyer took in regulating his issues. Our literary testimony seems to speak of similar concern. Cicero writes of the legislation of Gratidianus as a praetor under the Cinnan regime in the 80s BCE thus:

Even our kinsman Gratidianus failed on one occasion to perform what would be a good man’s duty: in his praetorship the tribunes of the people summoned the college of praetors to council, in order to adopt by joint resolution a standard of value for our currency; for at that time the value of money was so fluctuating that no one could tell how much he was worth. In joint session they drafted an ordinance, defining the penalty and the method of procedure in cases of violation of the ordinance, and agreed that they should all appear together upon the rostra in the afternoon to publish it. And while all the rest withdrew, some in one direction, some in another, Marius (Gratidianus) went straight from the council-chamber to the rostra and published individually what had been drawn up by all together. And that coup, if you care to know, brought him vast honor; in every street statues of him were erected; before these incense and candles burned. In a word, no one ever enjoyed greater popularity with the masses.

Cicero, On Duties 3.80

It maybe that Gratidianus codified the purity of the silver and the number of denarii to be struck to the pound.[2] The nature of these currency reforms or regulations are much disputed, but the political capital Gratidianus gained from being seen to act is not.[3] Upon his return, Sulla also passed legislation on the coinage, certainly concerning counterfeiting, and probably making it a crime to reject coin with the mark of the state upon it.[4] Sulla’s legal measures and preceding ones by members of Cinna’s faction all point to a general anxiety about the quality of the coinage in circulation. Thus, along with these legislative solutions, it is also possible that the uptick in serrated issues in the late 80s and early 70s may also be an attempt to improve confidence in the coinage.[5]

[1] Kraft et al. 2006; Witschonke 2012, cf. Stannard 1993, cf. 1987: 162.

[2] Plin. NH 33.132, quoted below p. XXX.

[3] Cic. Leg. 3.36, Plin. NH 34.27; Heinrichs 2008.

[4] Julius Paullus, Opinions 5.25.1; Lo Cascio 2008: 161.

[5] Cf. also p. XXX n. 6.

This is a section from chapter one of the longer version of coin book that I set aside as it was far more in-depth than the press wanted. To write the shorter now published version of the book, I had to move from a chronological approach to a thematic approach. Of course, the first longer version deeply influenced the writing of the final published version. This was last revised 18 June 2014. RACOM has now begun to answer the questions and concerns raised in the final section.

The Fabric of the Coins Themselves

After die studies and hoards, metallurgical analysis is the other major component of the quantitative numismatic tool kit.  Even in antiquity, there was great concern over the fabric of the coins themselves.  Did they weigh what they were supposed to weigh?  Did they contain the right amount of precious metal?  These were particularly key issues during the second Punic war (chapter 3, p. XXX) and also during the Civil Wars of the 80s BC (chapter 6, p. XXX).  Our challenge is to correctly interpret the physical evidence we have.

The first and most obvious data point is the weight of individual specimens as they survive today.  Even determining the original intended weight standard can be problematic.  It is not enough simply to average the weight of all known specimens.  Such an approach would ignore factors which make our existing specimens likely to weigh less than originally intended.  First, the more a coin circulates, the more wear it suffers from handling, so the less the specimen will weigh.  Thus, optimistic scholars have tried with little success to estimate the relative speed of circulation based on the observation and comparison of coin weights (Lightfoot 2007: 206 contra Duncan-Jones 1994: 180-192).  Second, environmental factors in the deposition of coins prior to their recovery, or even poor storage conditions after their recovery, can cause corrosion.  A potential third factor would be shaving or clipping, whereby an unscrupulous user could remove a small amount from the edge of a coin and then spend that same coin at face value.  Although a well-known phenomenon in later periods, rather surprisingly we see little-to-no evidence of the practice on republican coins (Stannard 1993: 50).

The other issue with using the average of known specimens as a means of expressing the intended weight standard is that it assumes that there was one specific weight per coin which the mint was attempting achieve.  This is not as obvious as it might at first appear.  The mint was given a certain amount of bullion, and there was an expectation that that bullion would produce a certain number coins.  Thus, it should be possible to express weight standards as the target number of coins per Roman pound.  We know this was the case for the Imperial period from Pliny and the context of the passage implies that the ratio, 84 denarii to the Roman pound, was in place for the Republican period (NH 33.132, also see p. XXX [quoted in chapter 7]). Based on his analysis of the Cosa hoard, Duncan-Jones suggests the ratio was 82 denarii to the pound before the Social War, then falling c. 90-89 BC to 83 and finally to 84 in the Triumviral period (1995, cf. 1994: 219).  This has not been widely accepted in part because we do not know with confidence what the Roman pound weighed.

Duncan-Jones uses the figure 322.8g for the Roman pound based solely on weights in the Naples collection (1994: 214-215; 1995: 110).  Other estimates are more wide ranging and often higher.  Crawford surveyed various estimates noting their different source materials – coins, stone weights, balances, metal weights – and in the end used c. 324g, with the caveat that it was not reasonable to assume “that the Romans were able to maintain the weight of their pound absolutely constant, at all times and in all places” (1974: 591).  He conceptualizes the target weight standards for the precious metal coins as fractions of the Roman pound, 6 scruples for the didrachm, 4 scruples for the early denarius, sometimes falling to 3 scruples (1974: 3, 7, 11, 34).  A scruple was a fractional measure, 288 scruples in a pound, 24 in an uncia or ‘ounce’.  The same vocabulary was used by Romans to also discuss small divisions of land and time, so a scruple could also be 1/288th of a iugerum or 1/24th of an hour as well.  One finds other scholars using other figures sometimes with no particular justification; so for instance, Heinrichs uses c. 327g without further comment in his discussion of Gratidianus’ reforms of 85/84 BC, a figure common enough in Late Roman and Byzantine studies (2008: 265-6; cf. Entwistle 2008: 39).

It appears that the Roman mint controlled the weight of its silver coins, not by the individual flan, but by the weight of batches.  Flans were cast erring on the heavy side.  When a batch of flans was weighed prior to striking and it came in over target, any particularly overweight flans were removed and recast or some were gouged to reduce their weight.  Only after this control step were coins heated and struck.   The results of the gouging often remain visible (fig. 1.35).  This practice was introduced c.123BC and does not seem to extend beyond 49/8BC (Stannard 1993).  Brockages and control marks may also be byproducts of the Roman mint working in batches (Goddard 1993; Witschonke 2012).  One could not discard a single flan as a striking error, i.e. a brockage, if its elimination would disrupt the integrity of the batch.  Control marks, even those appearing on duplicate dies, could have been used to trace batches of coins back to a particular striking team, thus deterring, or at least making detectable, corruption at the mint itself, if anything should prove wrong with a particular controlled batch.

The original, intended chemical composition of the coins is of just as much interest to scholars as the weight standard, and it is even more fraught with methodological difficulties.  The refining, smelting, casting and finishing techniques of the Romans and other ancient societies were highly sophisticated.  Not only could they closely control the percent of precious metals in the flans, but they even had techniques to ensure the surface of a coin had a higher percent of silver than its core.  Sometimes called ‘surface enrichment’, it is more accurately described as ‘depletion silvering or ‘gilding’.  A combination of oxidation and acid leaching removed base metal elements leaving behind a porous surface.  The porous flan would then be rendered smooth in the striking process.  Ancient Mediterranean societies were adept at these processes from the third millennium (La Niece 1995).  Even when flans were not thus treated in the manufacturing process, some deposition conditions can have a similar leaching effect.  Besides depletion silvering, the conditions under which an individual flan cools from a molten to a solid state also affect the distribution of elements within the flan.  There are well-known models for solidification for different metal alloys, but as historians and archaeologists we do not know enough about the practices in the ancient mint to model this.  Moreover, human intervention and environmental effects on the cooling process are unlikely to have been consistent mint to mint or even batch to batch.  While to a certain extent these issues affect all metal alloys, the problems are most pronounced and most studied for silver alloys. 

These factors mean that the only certain method of establishing chemical composition of any one specimen is to take a core sample.  This process is minimally invasive: a drill as small as 0.6 mm in diameter penetrating about a centimeter into the coin from the edge with no effect on the struck surfaces.  The discarding of the first, and sometimes even second, millimeter of the drillings ensures only the core is tested.  This type of analysis has been and continues to be applied to coins struck under the Roman Empire (Ponting 2012).  Unfortunately, most of the existing studies have relied heavily on non-destructive techniques.  These past methodological choices have been driven by a variety of understandable factors.  First, an appreciation of the extent to which all the factors above may affect results has been very slow to emerge.  Second, both museums and private collectors are exceptionally reticent to allow testing that has a physical effect on the coin, however minimal.  This has led to an over-optimistic application of a variety of non-destructive techniques. 

The largest study to date on Republican coins is still Walker’s analysis using x-ray fluorescence (XRF) of 1,991 silver coins from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (1980).  He understood the possibility of surface leaching from environmental factors, but did not anticipate intentional depletion silvering or possible issues around the dispersal of elements during the cooling process.  He abraded the surface of each coin until he achieved three consistent readings.  He found a gross mean silver fineness of 96.78% based on issues of 169-100, 97-81, 78-41 BC.  A flan made from an alloy of 90% or more silver with the remaining portion made up primarily of copper with other trace elements such as lead, bismuth and gold will be relatively homogenous in character, with exception of lead as it is insoluble in copper (Ponting 2009: 273, 2012: 21).  This means Walker’s analyses for the Republic are likely to be more valid than those he did for the Empire when debasement and depletion silvering have now been proved to be far more prevalent than originally thought (cf. Butcher and Ponting 2005).  It is suspected intentional depletion silvering may have been first introduced with the legionarii denarii of Antony, but this is not yet proven (Ponting 2012: 17).

Twenty years after Walker’s study, another major investigation of the composition of Republican coins was published (Hollstein 2000).  This project used non-destructive techniques, primarily wavelength dispersive XRF, to investigate more than 630 specimens, considering not only fineness, but trace elements.  The hope was that trace elements, especially lead isotopes, could point to likely metal sources for coins so produced.  Even coins struck by the same dies demonstrated very different trace element profiles (Hollstein 2000: 33-4).  This confirms that the Roman mint used bullion from many different sources, not only the product of recent mining, but likely also old and foreign coins and various the spoils of war, including jewelry and tableware.  Those with a metallurgical background have been critical of the methodology and missed opportunities of this study (Raub 2002), while numismatists have praised it for the number of insights it does offer (de Callatäy 2002).  Its results usefully inform many points of our historical discussion in coming chapters.

The future of metallurgical analysis for the republican series is likely to lead in a number of directions with technological improvements. Even smaller microscopic drill bits might encourage more curators to approve core sampling of specimens. There has even been some experimentation with using lasers which leave a crater not visible to the naked eye (Guillaume et al. 2007 with Ponting 2012: 24).  However, non-destructive techniques that answer the questions of greatest interest remain the holy grail.  The two largest studies on republican silver coins both used XRF, a surface analysis technique.  The other nondestructive techniques presently available are neutron and proton activation analyses (NAA, PAA).  Activation analysis can give an accurate reading of the composition of the whole coin as it exists today.  While this does not, on its own, bring us closer to knowing the original intended composition, it can be combined with XRF results for the same specimens to help determine any discrepancy between the composition of the coins surface and its core (Rizzo et al. 2010; Brissaud et al. 1990).  Republican specimens used in previous studies could be productively retested using activation analyses.

further snippets from unpublished papers

Both literary and physical evidence suggest anxiety over the authenticity of coins and the ability of the state to regulate coin production, two issues that go hand in hand. Much of the conversation in literature centers on the figure of Gratidianus, yet while nature of his currency reforms or regulations are much disputed, but the political capital he gained from being seen to act is not. Graditianus was part of the Marian-Cinnan regime, but we know Sulla also introduced currency reforms during his dictatorship.

Cic. Off. 3.80; Plin. NH 33.132; Cic. Leg. 3.36, Plin. NH 34.27 with Verboven 1994 and Heinrichs 2008, cf. Bransbourg 2013.

Heinrichs uses c. 327g without further comment in his discussion of Gratidianus’ reforms of 85/84 BC, a figure common enough in Late Roman and Byzantine studies.

Heinrichs 2008: 265-6; cf. Entwistle 2008: 39 cf. this past blog post

From another old post

In spurious coin there is an alloy of copper employed. Some, again, curtail the proper weight of our denarii, the legitimate proportion being eighty-four denarii to a pound of silver. In consequence, a method was devised of assaying the denarius: the law ordaining which was so much to the taste of the plebeians that in every quarter of the City there was a full-length statue erected in honour of Marius Gratidianus.

Pliny, Natural History 33.132

From a 2013 blog post

Anyone who knowingly and maliciously writes or reads publicly, substitutes, suppresses, removes, re-seals, or erases a will, or any other written instrument; and anyone who engraves a false seal, or makes one, or impresses it, or exhibits it; and anyone who counterfeits gold or silver money, or washes, melts, scrapes, spoils, or adulterates any coin bearing the impression of the face of the Emperor, or refuses to accept it, unless it is counterfeit, shall, if of superior rank, be deported to an island, and if of inferior station, be sentenced to the mines, or punished capitally. Slaves if manumitted after the crime has been perpetrated, shall be crucified.

From THE OPINIONS OF JULIUS PAULUS ADDRESSED TO HIS SON (as found in S. P. Scott, The Civil Law, I, Cincinnati, 1932. Book 5 section 25

Lo Cascio believes that the portion of this passage on the crime of refusing a coin goes back to Sulla like the rest (p. 161). And, that originally it would have been something like the mark of the state, rather than the face of the emperor. Heinrichs thinks that it this regulation goes back to Marcus Gratidianus and that it is key for understanding the problem he was trying to address, that is according to Heinrichs: underweight coins whose value depended on their relationship to the Roman pound (esp. p. 267). [If I’ve understood the German properly!]

I’ll add further primary source quotations here as I go along.

For now here is a link to the attalus.org website round up of primary evidence.

I particularly want to think more about how Catiline’s involvement in Gratidianus’ death may color how the man himself is remembered and also how we account for partisan politics in all these events. While most of the above is written as ‘history’, I think what might be called for is a more historiographical investigation of the literary testimony and why it has come down to us in the form it has.

“…or refuses to accept it, unless it is counterfeit…”

Lege Cornelia testamentaria tenentur: qui testamentum quodve aliud instrumentum falsum sciens dolo malo scripserit recitaverit subiecerit suppresserit amoverit resignaverit deleverit, quodve signum adulterinum sculpserit fecerit expresserit amoverit reseraverit, quive nummos aureos argenteos adulteraverit laverit conflaverit raserit corruperit vitiaverit, vultuve principum signatam monetam praeter adulterinam reprobaverit: honestiores quidem in insulam deportantur, humiliores autem aut in metallum dantur aut in crucem tolluntur: servi autem post admissum manumissi capite puniuntur.

Cic. Off. 3.91; Loeb

I put this passage here against the language of the sent. Paul. 5.25 because of the use of adulterinus to describe coinage.

I’m wondering if we could connect this clause to the rise in so called banker’s marks. The coin has to be accepted if it passes a simple punch test. I’m going to sit with this idea. I like it.

Likely Relevant Bibliography

Debernardi Pierluigi. Plated coins, false coins?. In: Revue numismatique, 6e série – Tome 166, année 2010 pp. 337-381. DOI : https://doi.org/10.3406/numi.2010.2941 ; www.persee.fr/doc/numi_0484-8942_2010_num_6_166_2941

CRAWFORD, M. H. “PLATED COINS—FALSE COINS.” The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-) 8 (1968): 55–59. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42666542.

F. Albarède et al. 2020. “From commodity to money: The rise of silver coinage around the Ancient Mediterranean (sixth–first centuries bce)Archaeometry 63(34) DOI: 10.1111/arcm.12615

P. Debernardi et al. 2018. “Average and core silver content of ancient-debased coins via neutron diffraction and specific gravity” Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 10(7): 1585-1602 DOI:10.1007/s12520-017-0464-y

    non coin section

    Yesterday was frustrating. I’d put too much on my calendar, writing and editing a piece for a set of conference proceedings does not mix with doctor’s appts and other necessary logistics such as parenting while my partner addresses his commitments. Today looks better. I don’t think I have to leave the house. In the early pandemic all I wanted was a reason to leave the house, but now I just want to be left alone in my office to get on with things in my pajamas and cup of tea.

    Anyway, most of this post was pulled together yesterday and I did also have some great back and forth with colleagues via email and finalized my April Rome travel arrangements, including a visit to Nemi and fingers crossed the Capitoline too, so not a total wash out. Oh, and I also wrote and sent in the abstract for a public lecture I’m giving to open an exhibit at a local college.

    Today I’ve got a zoom on a grant proposal and those conference proceedings then need to take center stage. There are some emails but I may leave them to later in the day to keep my focus where I want it.

    76 out of 234 days: Open Access Attalids

    Some readers of this blog may be interested to know that Noah Kaye‘s 2022 book from CUP is available for free download and is completely open access. I’ve not yet dug in properly but I’m excited to do so. He also have a number of interesting numismatic and Hellenistic history articles and chapters posted on his academia edu page: worth checking out!

    non coin section

    Friday was so productive work wise I woke up Saturday itching to work. I resisted. I worked in the garden. I cleaned and re organized the pantry. I helped the kiddos build land form models for a school project (I can mix some pretty great earth tones out of black, orange, and green arcrylic paints and my tooth pick flags would make any 60s homemaker envious). There was more you get the idea. A good weekend.

    Today I’m in NYC to see Chroma and catch up with colleagues (friends!), but I have a little time to tend communications and logistics: got through 99.5 percent of my paper list Friday: must make another. Almost ready to buy my April plane ticket to Rome just waiting to hear about one more possible opportunity. I’m thinking it is early and I feel fresh perhaps I’ll do one historical blog post as pre writing for the RACOM conference.