A Divine Explanation

I just ordered up via ILL a piece of German scholarship which from the abstract seems to redate some early Roman coins (aes grave with a prow and the quadrigati) and connected them with the events of 241BC. I’ll reserve judgement on that until I see the article. However, it also reminded of this portion of Ovid’s Fasti, calendar of the Roman year in poetic form:

I spoke these words to the god [sc. Janus] who holds the key.

‘Indeed I’ve learned much: but why is there a ship’s figure

On one side of the copper As, a twin shape on the other?’

‘You might have recognised me in the double-image’,

He said, ‘if length of days had not worn the coin away.

The reason for the ship is that the god of the sickle

Wandering the globe, by ship, reached the Tuscan river.

I remember how Saturn was welcomed in this land:

Driven by Jupiter from the celestial regions.

From that day the people kept the title, Saturnian,

And the land was Latium, from the god’s hiding (latente) there.

But a pious posterity stamped a ship on the coin,

To commemorate the new god’s arrival.

I myself inhabited the ground on the left

Passed by sandy Tiber’s gentle waves.

Here, where Rome is now, uncut forest thrived,

And all this was pasture for scattered cattle.

My citadel was the hill the people of this age

Call by my name, dubbing it the Janiculum.

Asses did stay in circulation for a very very long time and were minted very sporadically during the late Republic. Ovid’s Augustan age testimony provides evidence that worn base metal coins had become the norm but that the types were generally known. The prow however did not hold a particular meaning for a contemporary viewer. Ovid has the god explain that the prow commemorates Saturn’s arrival. This would have seemed plausible because Saturn was the god of the treasury, even if it is unlikely to have been the original inspiration. Crawford suggests the visual inspiration comes from this beautiful type of Antigonos Doson, c.227 BC (See RRC p. 42 esp. n. 5):

Reverse Image

Naval imagery first appears on Roman coins, unsurprisingly, when they become more adept as a military power. And it has even been argued that naval imagery on aes signatum commemorated the very battle in which the bronze itself was captured in the form of rams, armor, and other spoils from the Carthaginian enemies. However awareness of symbolism slips away as particular images stop resonating with contemporary audience, hence Ovid’s deduced explanation.

40 and 41 out of 410 days: The Dangers of Reading Roman History on the Subway

I took Rosenstein with me on my way to apply for the Turkish Visas yesterday. This drew more attention than reading porn in public.   Apparently in the age of private Kindle reading selections having a real book with a few pictures in it is an open invitation to conversation.  On my way there a nice man decided he must give me a section of the NY Times with an article about Egyptian Cats at Brooklyn Museum.  He was nervous to break the code of subway silence but couldn’t repress his desire to engage about culture.  He explained he tried to take an art history course or similar every summer.  I said I wished more people did that.  He responded fervently that the world would be a better, more humane place if they did.

On the way back, it was standing room only and I was smashed in next to a police officer, Officer O’Reilly his badge said.   He wanted to know if I was an avid reader and how he should go about becoming a reader himself.   He was bored with video games and the like.  He wanted substance.  I asked him what subjects interested him, history? science? Definitely science.  What kind of shows did he watch on television?  Did he need plot resolution?  a narrative arc?  mystery?  intensity?  I settled on recommending The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  One wasn’t good enough.  So I moved on to describing the writing style of Erik Larson.  Apparently my narration of the Devil in the White City was so gripping that a nearby junky (I know making such assumptions is less than PC, but if he wasn’t a junky, he certainly had adopted a similar aesthetic for his self-presentation.) interrupted and demand to know if I was describing the book in my hand.  I said, no, another book.  He needed all the details straight away.

I love New York.  I adore public transportation.

The visa application process was nerve wrecking I had to fill out by hand my CV including publications.  Four to eight weeks for any answers.  On the bright side, I met a nice girl going on Fulbright to paint Seljuk carpets with whom we might connect in Istanbul.  This morning I identified a coin set into jewelry for a friend of a friend.  A fun little test.  Now onto coins. SDA is away and as today is 10% of my sabbatical complete I hope to make it a good one…

And I almost forgot, my beloved is on the radio on our favorite show, Splendid Table.  Start listening at minute 36.30, if you want to skip to the good part.

39 out of 410 days: Progress not Perfection

The weather was cool.  This helped.   It helped many things.  I averaged under a 10 minute mile for 3.4 miles.  I’ve never ran that fast anywhere but a tread mill.  That is something.  

I spoke to the Turkish consulate. 6-8 weeks for the visa. Yikes.  Tomorrow will not be a coinfest, but a bureaucratic love-in.  SDA wants me to renew my driver’s license too.  

Today while trying to learn about coins and the Decii, I instead ended up back deep in the literature on the oath scene coins.  No bad thing really.  A false start on writing a narrative but a start.  I worked until after 8 pm and then made whole wheat pasta from scratch.  Just sayin’.  A pretty nice day all in all.  Oh and banking.  I spent a chunk of the morning on the phone with my bank.  I hate talking to humans.  Good thing they were nice ones.

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: