Where in the world is Decius Mus?

To get inspiration for writing the book today I opened up Rosenstein’s latest, very readable, introduction to the Imperial Republic. He starts at Sentinium and how P. Decius Mus’ self-sacrifice provided a turning point in Rome’s conquest of Italy.  He and his father and his son, all bearing the same name, became a standard exempla of dedication unto death to the fatherland; Cicero mentions them thirty times in his extant works (cf. Van der Blom, p. 101).  And yet unlike so many exempla with wide communal resonance, they appear no where on the republican series that we can see.  Noteworthy by their absence.  Crawford thinks the line died out and without ancestors numismatic commemoration was unlikely.  Interestingly the lack of commemoration was so keenly felt that the Emperor Trajan made up a type to ‘restore’ in his name (see image above).  The image he chose to augment with Decius’ name is this type:

The carnyx and shield clearly link the otherwise completely standard type with Celtic victories.  And, the Decii did engage with the Celts as well as the Samnites, but it is unlikely that Trajan has any ‘inside’ knowledge 300 years later about who made the original type.  Instead it is filling a void in the numismatic record.  The Decii deserved a coin type so the must have had one.  Did Trajan do the same for other republican heroes?   There are some modern copies for Cocles.  I’ve not see an authentic specimen yet, but two are listed in RIC so perhaps they do exist:



37 out of 410 days: Drowning in Paper

Today I had to clean out my work space on campus.  Or part of my workspace.  I had to clear off a 3.5 x 6 foot bookcase that had random stacks of paper on it and the top of my filing cabinet and empty four desk drawers.  Partly because we’re getting some new (to us) glass fronted shelves instead of institutional gray and partly to make room for my substitute.  I told myself it would be a few hours.  Its been all day and most depressingly I’m not done.  I’ll be back here tomorrow.  Found some good scholarship in the stacks related to the book, but mostly it was the detritus of older projects, published or not as may be the case.  Thank goodness for the digital age and search functions.  I feel I’m working over a major transition in practical methodology.  

I also had a Skype tour of our house in Istanbul.  Very exciting. 

Philip VI Andriscus Overstrike


I don’t want to reiterate what appears in the Triton catalogue on this specimen, as you can read it yourself by clicking on the image.  In the article I linked to earlier today, Callataÿ mentioned the phenomenon of these coins of a “pretender” to the Macedonian throne being overstruck on denarii.

The one above is apparently using this type as its flan:

The Crawford type is re-dated by the overstrike, just pushed down a couple of years.  It’s striking [always my favorite numismatic pun] that two of the known specimens of Andriscus are known to have been overstruck on the this same type.   Here’s the link to the other one.  The obverse dies are linked but the reverses are unique.  Another un-die-linked specimen is overstruck on a Thesalian League type.  Of course, Callataÿ is right that it shows use of the denarius in the East, at least sufficient to allow Andriscus to produce a (small?) series.

The other minor mystery is whatever is Andriscus wearing on his head.  Macedonian head gear is always a wee bit baffling, but more on that some other time:


UPDATE 2/4/22: see now, Sánchez 2021 (related blog post).

This is the coin type that occupied me much of last Thursday.  The interest comes from it being a potentially non-Italian instance of an oath-taking scene.  Such scenes appear during the Hannibalic War on both Roman coinage and that of certain Campanian cities which sided with the Punic forces.

And was resurrected by the Romans probably about 137 BC:

But was then famously the iconography was taken over by the Italian allies during the Social War in the 80s BC when they broke with Rome.

The swearing of an oath on a pig to seal a treaty is well attested as part of Italic culture, perhaps most famously at the Caudine Forks incident.  The legend of the type had previously been read on less clear specimens as FETIA and thought to refer to the fetiales, the priests associated with religious declarations of war and solemnizing the peace.  All these ‘oath scene’ coins have been associated with the fetiales in the past.  That’s somewhat problematic as such an oath could be sworn by the generals without such priests (again, see Cicero on the Caudine Forks oath).

Anyway, the new specimen above clearly reads EETI- and all the other reverse die specimens I’ve seen could be read the same way.  EETIA must be Latin as the letter combination is unattested in Greek.  It’s none too common in Latin.  If the word begins EETI- one thinks of the various legendary kings and heros named Eëtion.   They are associated with the Greek mainland or Asia Minor.  Leypold said he bought his specimen in Amisus and because small bronzes don’t tend to travel far its usually attributed to that location or the general region.   No other specimens find spots are known.   The lack of a diadem or garland on the obverse head has lead to the assumption it was a portrait of a Roman commander.  Speculation then commences about possible Roman commanders active in Asia Minor.  The Roman certainly experimented with coinage in the region.

As we puzzle out the legend we might recall that “Accian” Vowels, i.e. the reduplication of vowels to indicate their long vowel length, do appear on Republican coins.  [This type of vowel is discussed by Lucilius.]

And, even on provincial issues from Macedonia:

For the type of the last see BM catalogue.

One other clue might be visable on this rather awful specimen:

On this specimen one can see what I think might be a Q under the obverse head.   Q or PRO Q is a relativelycommon addition special issues and military coinage of this period.  We’ve seen two examples already above.  Here are two more from the Crawford sequence:

I grabbed this last example because of the placement under the bust.  If there wasn’t the assumption that it was from Asia Minor, I would have speculated Italic or at least Western Mediterranean origins.  The type is closer to the Campanian imagery of two figures holding a pig above the ground than any of the Roman or Marsic scenes.

But finally, given that there only seems to be one obverse die and maybe about four reverse dies amongst all the specimens, not to mention the scarcity of the type, this must be a very low volume production.  Why put all this energy into its manufacture?!  Who benefited?  Is it purely an ideological statement?  If so, towards whom is it aimed?

32, 33, 34, 35 & 36 out of 410 Days: Framing

I started looking for an image of someone fallen down face first to top this post. And, then I stopped.  I might feel like I fell on my face but that’s hardly an accurate descriptor and it’s good be ruthlessly honest about one’s behaviors.  Thursday was all about coins.  Amongst other things I was given a list of all the scholarship that variously re-dates republican coins post Crawford as well as annotated copies of much of the concordance tables.  Very useful.  I tracked down the die study of Malaca and started plowing through the Spanish (not as bad as German but still not my strongest academic language).  Look for an update on the previous post.  And I spend time studying a very mysterious provincial type that will be my next post.  Friday was a disgustingly hot (115 heat index) and I took a mental health day.  I talked with a colleague through my thought processes and behaviors regarding my work, personal issues, and travel. Decent insights emerged. I got a colleague to send a reference to our Turkish hosts and another to draft documentation for the visa application.   I also sorted lots of personal paperwork and generally tidied.  And then SDA and I fled the head for the AC and garden in PA.  The weekend was cooking and pruning and weeding and cycling.  This morning was a routine doctors visit.  All of it was important self care.    I’ve not completely digested the draft book proposal I was asked to read but my first impression is that it is much more thematic than mine. At 4.30 am (sleep is not my strong suit) it dawned on me that the brilliance of thematic organization for this type of work is that one may stop obsessing about completeness and aim at just the best illustrative examples.  I need to borrow some of that mentality for my own approach.

Visual Parallels, Debunking Historical Allusions

Crawford in RRC says of this coin: “The obverse type recalls the standard obverse type of the coinage of Lipara, captured by C. Aurelius Cotta, Cos. 252; the reverse type alludes to the triumph celebrated in consequence.”  He echoes Broughton in the MRR: “On coins of L. Cotta, perhaps celebrating the taking of Lipara, see Gueber CRRBM 1.200f.; Cesano, Stud. Num. 1 (1942) 158.”   Looking at the coins of Lipara doesn’t instill confidence in this claim:

I have a hard time believing I’m the first to see this, but the parallel with Malaka in Spain is nearly perfect, right down to the wreath and the placement of the tongs behind the head:

The mint of Malaka is well studied, but I’ll need to read up a bit on the dating of the obverse proto-type.  I think we can be sure the Spanish coin is the prototype, and not visa versa, as the Malakan bronze has Punic lettering.

So if the Lipara connection is a red herring, why this type?  So far I’m hard pressed to find a Cotta with a Spanish connection.  The poor L. Aurelius Cotta, cos. 144, was denied the opportunity to go to Spain (Val. Max. 6.4.2).

Perhaps the Malaca connection is also a red herring.  Maybe there is no attempt to recall a spanish Familial connection, only that it provided an attractive model for representing Hephaistos, the smith god, for some other reason…  One to think about.

[The ANS does list specimens in its collections for all these types, but they are just not imaged yet, hence the reliance on non-academic sources.  There are also academic images here but they do not allow direct links and the image quality is pour.]

31 out of 410 Days: Avoidance

Ostriches do not stick their heads in the sand to avoid danger.  They do appear to have the good sense to runaway from charging baby rhinos.   I spent five hours revising the substance of the book review today, even after SDA gave me copy edits (bless him!). That’s work.  I sent it off and the proceeded to update the mirror lists:  

  • Article Due End of September
  • The Coin Book
  • New Review
  • Funding for Next Project

That’s rather different and much shorter than where we started exactly a month ago.  There is also another list with mess details about getting ready for Turkey out on the living room mirror.  I have a huge urge to avoid anything related to both Turkey and the Coin Book.  Case in point: another author in the series (an exceptionally clever guy) sent me his proposal and some chapter drafts which he knocked out in like three weeks.  He wants my feedback.  That’s nice, even flattering, possibly inspiring and helpful for my own writing, but part of me is so intimidated that I don’t even what to open the damn file.  I could research how to fill out our Visa applications for Turkey but that seems equally terrifying.  Although, I tell myself that I don’t want to do that because it will take time away from my research and writing.  So here I am talking about ostriches.  Which is also why I have a blog: to keep me accountable and honest about my work habits.  I suspect that I might need to chunk out the book project into discreet steps and make a list of those AND I’m going need to schedule time to make Turkey happen.

Tools for Reaping

Pretty consistently on the Roman Republican Series the attribute of Saturn is identified as the harpa.  In fact the logic is a little circular, if its Saturn it must be the harpa and if there is a harpa with a bearded divinity it must be Saturn.

The harpa is a tool otherwise usually associated with Perseus who used it to cut off the head of Medusa and it is a regular numismatic symbol like Heracles’ club, though not precisely as common.  Here they are together:

My problem looking at the Saturns is that the later ones clearly have the traditional harpa on them.  See above, as well as this slightly earlier type:

But the object behind the heads of the divinity on all of these is clearly something different:

Whatever this implement is it clearly has ‘teeth’ and is a single curved piece, not a blade with a hook or prong, such as we associate with the word harpa.   Of course, at its most basic the word just means sickle or curved blade in Greek, the general equivalent of falx, falxis in Latin.  And yet, surely we can come up with some vocabulary discuss the shift in attributes of Saturn without rounding them all down to a generalization.  The earlier Saturn is clearly associated with something other than the tool of Perseus with which he is bestowed in the imperatorial period.  What is that earlier tool?  At first I saw the teeth and shape quite literally as a jawbone.  There are jawbones on some Greek coins, but they don’t look much like the tool:

My guess is that its some piece of agricultural equipment probably for reaping and that it has a specific name.  At some point Saturn’s agricultural associations perhaps became a little less critical and his attribute took on a more mythological, apotropaic form.

In the interests of completeness I should also mention that there is this other early coin with Saturn not as an obverse type but as a reverse type.  If I’m right, the tool in the hand should be be the toothed one, not the Perseus-style harpa, but frankly I’ve not yet seen one clear enough in that detail to say it looks like much of anything specific:

Saturn as an agricultural god of reaping would certainly have resonance for a number of these earlier moneyers, to say nothing of agrarian issues generally in the Republic.

Update 1/13/21:

From Schaefer’s Binders.
The photos of ?-B and 1-A in the Schaefer binder are actually better lit for seeing details than the official Gallica images.

30 out of 410 days: Proof of Vocation

I’m a practicing Christian.  One of the most powerful parts of the Christian tradition is the idea of vocation, or ‘calling’.  I always think I hear a strong call, but spiritual leadership isn’t the only Vocation with a capital ‘V’.  Some traditions talk about marriage as a vocation.  And the metaphor has been widely borrowed.  For me I know I’m on the path of my vocation when I’m at peace on a hard road, when there is joy in the labor itself.   I often tell students to volunteer to help them find a career: if they’re willing to do something ‘for free’, there is a good chance they won’t mind getting paid for it later on.

I came home from my speaking engagement and subsequent lunch with great contentment.  After a mostly sleepless night, the talk came off just fine. The major points were well received.  I was able to hear and accept the feedback regarding certain logical inconsistencies in my presentation from more senior scholars.  I was pointed towards new fascinating evidence; I have an appointment to view some great specimens this Thursday.  The lunch was borrowed time with a mentor whose cancer is in remission and a host of other senior scholars — sometimes a cantankerous group, but peace reigned, maybe due to a general sense of gratitude our host was still with us.

The lack of sleep made me think maybe a nap was in order, but I was so excited I instead just sat leafing through some beautiful full color catalogs I was given today looking for a coin to write about here.  So I sat for an hour or so with some very happy cats. I was getting up to check something when a check fell out of my bag.  A speaking honorarium.  I’d been handed it first thing this morning.  Some eight hours ago.  My ‘wages’.  In my happiness I’d completely forgotten to even peek to see what I’d earned.  I’m really grateful.  Not only that I love my work so much, but that I have the luxury of not living meal to meal or check to check.