Salii and their Shields?

From the Schaefer Archive

This is not the Papius specimen or control-mark I’m supposed to be thinking about this very moment, but I don’t want to lose this thought:

The cataloger for MZ 194 describes the reverse control mark as crossed shields and a helmet and thus as attributes of the Salii, armed priests who dance for Mars. This seems plausible but not certain. I’d like to see more crossed shields. I’m also interested if this is the cataloger’s original proposal or if it has been proposed else where. Other possibly Salii related images on the Blog.

RRC 384/1

Lessons from a Fake

This is a lovely specimen in the Kelsey Museum (T2009-0053; Thx Prof. Soto Marín!), but it looks funny. How am I 98.88% confident it is a 19th century imitation? Largely through comparison with images collected by Schaefer. This was made easier by the fact that Satrienus numbered his dies and thus told me exactly which dies I should be checking. A selection is given below.

My working hypothesis is that the imitation was made from casting a (relatively) well preserved specimen and then cleaning up that mold before using it for making imitations. Hubbing is also possible, but less likely.


  • The set of the eye is wrong, esp. the upper lid
  • There is too little detail in the hair
  • Lack of spiral on the helmet


  • The shape of the upper portion of the rear far leg is wrong
  • The fourth teat has been removed
  • There is too much fur on the underside of the raised front leg
  • There is too much fur in spikes beneath the tail
  • The hair at the neck has a different pattern


  • Funny Patina
  • Flan is much larger than most used for this series, allowing more detail than typical
  • Combination of soapy indistinct features suggesting wear and then very legible feature elsewhere (contrast letters and border dots).

Should the Kelsey de-accession this piece? Absolutely not.

It remains a key historical artifact; it just requires we ask different questions.. It came into the collection in a well documented fashion in the late 19th century (more on that history of the collection another time). Given that it is (near) replica of a likely genuine specimen it gives us evidence of that specimen’s existence. It also can teach us about the historical trade, manufacture, and marketing of fakes. I’m particularly interested in the metallurgy that produced this patina and whether it is distinctive enough to confirm other imitations where die comparison is inconclusive.

In this case I suspect the earnest buyer who was selecting specimens for the university while in Florence in the 1880s was an easy mark, as non-expert, with a very particular goal: selecting specimens to educate the young men of Ann Arbor.

And, in its own way it is beautiful, in fact too beautiful.

RRC 388/1b

What does it mean to be laureate?

We all know emperors on Roman coins are laureate. Why? What does it mean?

I’m trying to consider the republican evidence

These are all the individual types counted. A bad graph. It makes no difference of change over time and does not take into account differences between silver and the much more conservative bronze. Also Crawford’s numerous sub types can inflate representation.

In this next Graph I removed all bronze and planned to restrict coin types to those at 146 BCE, but there are no silver or gold issues with laureate heads between 170 BCE and 119 BCE.

But I still want better data visualization. This doesn’t say anything very meaningful.

This next graph below is hard to read at this scale. But it does a better job of showing change over time. Traditional senior male gods are laureate through out the period and going back to the very start of the republic. Neptune gets to be laureate when he appears, unsurprising giving his divine status. Things only get interesting with the introduction of the laureate Venus in the mid 50s to represent Pompey’s Venus Victrix. After this minor gods or divine personification are made laureate on specific issues for reasons we may not fully understand. Caesar is only laureate after death and we should probably take it as a Roman symbol of his divine status. None of the many other living Romans who put their own portraits on the coins are depicted laureate, nor are their ancestors.

Anyway. Not earth shattering but there it is. Post Actium the future Augustus shows up on the coins laureate… I sure someone has written about that. Just wanted to see how the run up shook out.

Prow Stems again

This tweet thread on RRC 205 generated good conversation and supplementary images. I’m archiving on the blog to ensure I can find it when I next go looking.

Perhaps to me the most interesting is this fitting said to be from the area of Actium in the British Museum. It measures Height: 47.50 centimetres Length: 58.42 centimetres Width: 44.45 centimetres.

BM 1872,1214.1, thanks @SDeCasien for bringing this to my attention!

The other key observation on twitter is that there are more decorated prow stems on the Roman Republican Bronzes than have been noted in the major catalogues, a point well made by Michael Davis ( @Michael24441229)

example of RRC 195/2

What type of axe?!

Specimen image source.

I’ve been very focused in the pre 49 BCE period. This is likely to change as my research evolves over the next few years, but I realize that I am so much less familiar with coins after that date. Even ones I ‘know’ I’ve just spent less time thinking about.

This might be completely obvious but prior to today I saw a hodge-podge of symbols on this reverse rather than a programmatic message. My blind spot was the axe. If I thought about it at all I thought it was a priestly axe as those show up on other Caesarean coins. It doesn’t look much like those priestly ones though. Instead, I now read it as the axe that has been removed from the fasces. It seems so obvious that I assume others have seen this before.

Caesar in his role as perpetual dictator has brought peace and harmony (caduceus and clasped hands) to the world (orb)–or at least an end to conflict, if I was being snarky. Civil order has been restored (fasces) and thus military authority (axe) is no longer necessary.

The reading of the clasped hands on this specific coin is discussed Cornwall 2017, 65 no. 53.

A selection of fasces with axes for comparison (see earlier post)

Of course I’ve been thinking about it more since discovering this Cavino specimen in Glasgow, which takes its inspiration from the denarius but associates the imagery with the events of 56 BCE and the conference at Luca:


Some comparative iconography of fasces and axes

from the Fabatus Series (RRC 412/1)


Gallica Link

Sullan Hercules?

As so often happens I was reading for something else and I came across this article.

Keaveney, Arthur. “Sulla and the Games of Hercules.” L’Antiquité Classique 74 (2005): 217–23.

and now I have an addition for any future edition of my book. This should have been cited in footnote 24 of chapter 4 (see pages 168 and 233).

Keaveney is a blistering invective against Wiseman’s interpretations of RRC 385/2. While it is not particularly collegial in tone, he raised some valid points and the two pieces of scholarship must be read in tandem.

BUT if I’ve read it correctly after all the criticism of Wiseman’s reading of Sullan evidence. He seems to accept there were games of Heracles and that this coin likely celebrated them. He suggests at the very end that maybe the games were not down graded because of Sulla but continued much like his ludi Victoriae. I still have no strong opinion.

I would note that Keaveney’s use of RRC 205/5 (n. 14 and corresponding text) shows a lack of awareness of Hercules as a standard god for any quadrans.

Besides the coin the certain evidence for the games includes two inscriptions

publication: CIL 06, 00335 (p 3004, 3756) = CIL 01, 00985 (p 728, 840, 964) = ILLRP 00703 = AE 1999, +00169         EDCS-ID: EDCS-17300541 province: Roma         place:Roma

]r mag(ister) ludos / [3 Her]colei magno / [3]neo fecit

ILLRP says of it “saxum magnum in via Appia inter Casal Rotondo et Tor dei Selci”.

publication:CIL 06, 30888 (p 3758) = CIL 01, 00984 (p 964) = D 06081 = ILLRP 00701 = AE 1888, 00033 dating: -70 to -31         EDCS-ID: EDCS-18300897 province: Roma         place:Roma

] / mag(istri) He[rc(ulis)] / suffragio pag(i) prim[i creati] / ludos feceru[nt]

ILLRP says of it “Fragmentum mamoris Graeci litteris aetatis Ciceronianae repertum Romae in monte Caelio”


Cicero on Concordia – unpublished paper, c. 2011

I’ve been saying I’ll publish this paper for ages. Maybe I will but no time soon based on the length of my to do list. So I’m going to add it to my blog here just so that it is available. Perhaps it will generate comment.

Favorite slide from the presentation of this paper. Each dot represents the use of the vocabulary of concord(ia) in a Ciceronian text.
My second most favorite slide from the same talk. It shows how Cicero’s use of Opimius as an exemplum changes over time in reaction to contemporary events.

AVR and MA Semis Obv Die Link

I’m pretty sure about this, but I also assume someone must have already said this in print somewhere? Maybe Russo? I’ve not found looked too hard yet, just throwing this post up because aha! moments are fun even if they are not actually new observations. Also this isn’t hugely unexpected we already knew the two issues were closely related and probably minted on Sardinia.

Here’s a specimen of MA series RRC 64/3. Schaefer thinks its is likely that all known specimens are struck by the same dies but not all are confirmed matches to one another because of quality of specimens.

From Schaefer’s archive.

Now let’s look at a specimen of RRC 65/3 (which is even more rare than 64/3)

From Schaefer’s Archive
side by side
left made monochrome and transparent and rotated to match alignment
die match illustrated by overlay
intentionally unaligned overlap for comparison