The figure on this reverse type is usually seen as representing Sulla triumphator. He’s clearly labelled as Sulla, but the caduceus in his hand is curious. “Victory hoped for” is Crawford’s reading. He doesn’t want to align it with the agnomen Felix because of the chronology of the time, though felicitas in the imperial times is most definitely shown with this attribute:
I tend to agree with Crawford and am puzzled because a caduceus is a very odd thing for a triumphator to hold:
After a thorough reconnaissance had been made, it was ascertained after a few days that all was quiet as far as the Gauls were concerned, and the whole force was thereupon marched to Privernum. From this point there is a twofold story. Some state that the city was stormed and Vitrubius taken alive; other authorities aver that before the final assault the townsmen came out with a caduceus [Note] and surrendered to the consul, whilst Vitrubius was given up by his own men. (Livy 8.20)
No, I don’t think Sulla is suggesting his willingness to surrender! This passage is even more explicit:
3 An indication of this is found in the following word and act of each of the two peoples: Quintus Fabius, a Roman general, delivered a letter to the Carthaginians, in which it was written that the Roman people had sent them a spear and a herald’s staff [‘caduceus’ in the Latin], signs respectively of war and peace; they might choose whichever they pleased and regard the one which they should choose as sent them by the Roman people. 4 The Carthaginians replied that they chose neither one; those who had brought them might leave whichever they liked; that whatever should be left them they would consider that they themselves had chosen. 5 Marcus Varro, however, says that neither the spear itself nor the staff was sent, but two tokens, on one of which was engraved the representation of a staff [‘caduceus’ in the Latin again]; on the other that of a spear. (Gellius, Attic Nights, 10.27)
[Update 24 Sept. 2013 – The sending of the spear and caduceus is proverbial in the Hellenistic World. See Polybius 4.52.4 and 24.12.1 with Walbank’s Commentary on the former.]
The herald’s staff was certainly read most often as a peaceful symbol, one of reconciliation and concordia. Just to give a taste of this, here are two coins one from 70 BC representing ‘concord’ between Italy and Rome and another from 48 BC during the Civil Wars of Caesar and Pompey.
Sulla is victorious and an imperator on this coin, but he is also togate and bearing the caduceus and through the later I believe he may also be suggesting his potential harmonious return. It didn’t turn out that way, of course, but that may well have been how he wished to be seen. He certainly wished to be remember as one who restored order.
3 thoughts on “Bearer of Good News, Bearer of Peace”
This reminds me of the coins Q. Metellus Pius Scipio minted in Africa in 47/46 BC – a winged victory carrying a caduceus.
[…] to emphasize the olive branch in relation to the fasces, this seems to me as very similar to the caduceus as a symbol of peace juxtaposed against the fasces on republican coins. Peace and Law and Order beget […]
[…] A great image. I’m putting it up here just so I don’t want to forget it. I enjoy how both aspects of Mercury are emphasized: bringer of wealth (purse), as well as bringer of peace (caduceus). […]