This coin of Pompey is probably a small issue struck as a commemorative piece and/or gift on the occasion of his second triumph. The choice of legends are particularly revealing about both the date of issue and also the impression Pompey wished to convey. Three passages are needed for context. First, Granius Licinianus 36.2.4:
And Pompeius, when he was 25 years old and still a Roman knight – something which no-one had previously done – celebrated a triumph as pro-praetor from Africa, on the fourth day before the Ides of March. Some writers say that on this occasion the Roman people were shown elephants in the triumph. But when he came to enter the city, the triumphal arch was too small for the four elephants yoked to his chariot, although they tried it twice.
I include this for how it emphasizes his having served with Praetorian imperium as a private citizen and because it shows the close connection between Elephants and Africa in the Roman mind. Next up is Plutarch, Life of Pompey 13.4-5.
[When Sulla] perceived that everybody was sallying forth to welcome Pompey and accompany him home with marks of goodwill, he was eager to outdo them. So he went out and met him, and after giving him the warmest welcome, saluted him in a loud voice as “Magnus,” or The Great, and ordered those who were by to give him this surname. Others, however, say that this title was first given him in Africa by the whole army, but received authority and weight when thus confirmed by Sulla. Pompey himself, however, was last of all to use it, and it was only after a long time, when he was sent as pro-consul to Spain against Sertorius, that he began to subscribe himself in his letters and ordinances “Pompeius Magnus”; for the name had become familiar and was no longer invidious.
Here we get some accounts of how Pompey came to be called ‘the Great’, its connection to his African campaign, and when he himself embraced the name. What’s missing from this passage are the associations with Alexander which were well known in antiquity and today. Finally, Cicero, For the Manilian Law 62.6-7 (cf. Cicero, Phillipics, 11.18-19):
What was ever so unusual, as, when there were two most gallant and most illustrious consuls, for a Roman knight to be sent as proconsul to a most important and formidable war? He was so sent—on which occasion, indeed, when someone in the senate said that a private individual ought not to be sent as proconsul, Lucius Philippus is reported to have answered, that if he had his will he should be sent not pro consule, but proconsulibus.
The final statement puns on the double meaning of pro consule: it can be translated either ‘not instead of one consul, but instead of both’ or ‘not with the rank of proconsul, but instead of both consuls’. Its this controversial appointment, again as a private citizen, that the reverse legend celebrates and associates with the triumphal figure.
Today was the long slog through typing in the text I wrote long hand yesterday and adding citations and edits as appropriate. Lots of progress just not inspiring. I have between three and six more coin types I want to incorporate into the chapter all of which I’ve written about here on the blog at one time or another. Tomorrow, fresh, longhand, I could have something like a full rough draft.