88 out of 410 days: Seeing Too Much

Reverse Image

This reverse type has been the victim of too much speculation.  Crawford in RRC wants the type to be visual representation of the moneyer’s name.  The other type made at the same time by the same moneyer seems to pun on the constellation the Triones (a.k.a. the seven stars of the Plough a.k.a. the Big Dipper a.k.a. the Great Bear) and the moneyer’s cognomen:

To make a pun out of the winged boy on a dolphin Crawford had to speculate that it might represent Melicertes (a.k.a. Palaemon) and thus by extension his mother Leucothea whose name sounds like Lucretius.  This has then been spun into a legendary genealogy connecting the family to this goddess and tying the moneyer to Odysseus via a connection with Antium. [Hence how I found this in my notes today and thought I’d write it up as it’s unlikely to ever really make it into the book.]

The problem is that is that Melicertes is never represented with wings.  So says the LIMC (not just the website, I promise I checked the books as well on this).   That is just a regular little cupid (eros) on a dolphin.  A perfectly normal, completely common representation on gems, lamps, and dozens of other decorative art forms. One that appears on many coins as well:



And even on Roman coins:



The main problem with the tentative suggestion of Melicertes is not the speculative reconstructions above, but that by saying “winged boy” in the catalog entries of every major database it never returns in searches for “eros and dolphin”  or “cupid and dolphin” thus virtually erasing an important link in the history of the iconography.

Of course, Melicertes can be represented riding a dophin.  And there are lots of boys on dolphins, most famously at Tarentum.  But the wings rather make a difference!

As a fun aside:



Yep that’s George Washington!



Acrostolium (again)

I lied.  I wasn’t ready to move on.  I kept poking around and my eyes caught this specimen from Andrew McCabe’s collection:


And I was surprised to see a head in the acrostolium because I thought I knew all the Roman republican types with this sort of head.  All two of them.  We discussed them at length earlier.  So I checked Crawford.  No such note.  Then the ANS and BM specimens.  Possible but nothing that really looked conclusively similar.  The auction catalogs gave slightly better results and I turned that uncia above.  The neck of the head seems really clear.  I assume that even when it isn’t clear, it is meant to be there:




Figures on Prows (again)

I was poking through the ANS database thinking about the placement of symbols in relation to the main type.  Does the symbol float in the field?  Is it interacting with the figures?  Does it sit on a line suggesting it is on the same visual plane?  How can I be sure the placement is significant versus unintentional?  Of course I was looking for patterns, consistency, anything to suggest deliberate choice.  Doing this I stumbled upon the coins of Arados.  The mint is well studied and is well represented in most collections. See the specimen above.  Here are a few more:




These last two reminded me of our discussion of the seal of the Sidonians and possible precedents.  They confirm the use of the reclining figure on the prow in the region.

The first two make me think that small figures standing on prows were just part of the Hellenistic visual repertoire (esp. Athena) and that would make it more likely for the die engravers and/or designers to integrate a symbolic figure into the design proper….

So also the silver from Phaselis produced after 160BC when Rome detached it from Rhodes and added it to the Lycian Confederacy:


(It does look a wee bit Roman now doesn’t it.)


Enough musing back to my revisions.

Interesting Errors circa 1889



The website Forvm Ancient Coins has a Numiswiki for collaborative work.  I’m very impressed with their crowd sourcing transcription and editing of public domain books relevant to the discipline.  I stumbled upon this entry yesterday in the Dictionary of Roman Coins from 1889.   Two ‘errors’  are really intriguing.

1) The dating of the lex de limitibus.  This is the Mamilian law that proscribed the width of the strip of land dividing two properties and seems also to have governed the process by which disputes over these boundaries were adjudicated.  The date is controversial, as is the contents.   109 BC is the most common attribution, associating it with the same tribune who fought corruptions amongst the nobiles.   There are detractors though, most notably:  Morgan, L. 2007. The Moneyer C. Mamilius Limetanus. Ostraka 16.1: 195-201.  Leaving aside the modern debate, the date in this old general reference work is given as v.c. 589.  That’s A.U.C. 589 or 165 BC.  Somewhere, somehow, someone got the idea that the Lex Mamilia might have something to do with the Praetor Lentulus’ efforts to return Campanian land to ager publicus (public land) by paying off the holders.  There are two basic sources, Granius and Cicero, the former being the more substantive and narrative in quality.  This date doesn’t fit with any of the other prosopographical evidence or literary testimony.  It is most likely just flat wrong and a guess, but right now I’d give my eyeteeth to know where the idea came from.

2) An alternative obverse type.  The final sentence of the entry claims that the reverse is known with a different obverse.  Again, given the popular nature of publication there is no reference to the location or provenance of the specimen.  BUT the description is pretty clear.  It means the obverse of this type:


This error is easier to understand.  Either there was a forgery that combined the two, or some catalog entry or illustration was inadvertently created or suggested the connection, or someone looking through a collection mismembered what they saw.  [Yes, I know that’s not a real word. It should be though.]

The one problem with the otherwise fabulous quest to digitize just about everything in the public domain is that it generalizes and disseminates that information that is 70 years old, making that canonical and widely accessed knowledge.   I think this blog is slowly becoming an open access advocacy site.

81 thru 87 out of 410 days: Returning to a State of Grace

I did not coin the phrase, ‘The State of Grace, otherwise known as Brooklyn.’  That honor goes to an old friend who one December 31 I texted her asked what state she was in meaning was she still in the great Midwestern state of our birth and formative years or had she too already returned to NY.   I’ve adopted her reply as my watchword ever since.

Here I am myself.  The self I’ve chosen to be in my adulthood.  Here I know I am no better or worse than each of my neighbors.   Here I am home.

The details of domesticity and nostalgia from my sojourner on the great plains don’t have much of a place here.  The dissertation got read.  There were few to no coins except in the final chapter just to tease me a little.  The viva was won in the first moments by a brilliant opening statement far surpassing the introduction or conclusion of the written piece.  When the snake emerged, most of the committee joined in the defense.

And, yesterday was a good solid writing day with no blogging because I needed that.  I need just the peace of being at work.

80 out of 410 days: Work in Transit

I have 3 hours and 15 minutes of time before being plunged into the land of my origin. My constant companion for the next five days is a Doctoral dissertation. It must be read by my return to the state of grace otherwise known as Brooklyn. Hopefully there will be some coins in it for light relief. Now to find a quiet corner of the airport. …

79 out of 410 days: Trial by Snake

This is the coin type at the heart of the chapter I need finish by the end of the month. I don’t expect to write too much about it here as I seem to like to keep my free writing and the formal writing separate. Yesterday was mostly looking at possible (and impossible!) epigraphic references to other members of the moneyer’s family, the gens Mamilia. Today I was chasing up the references from an old article that suggested the type is all about the moneyer showing support for the Italians. Not an idea I’m ready to support, but the references he cited were all fascinating. Here’s the best of the lot:

In the bodies of these people there was by nature a certain kind of poison, which was fatal to serpents, and the odour of which overpowered them with torpor: with them it was a custom to expose children immediately after their birth to the fiercest serpents, and in this manner to make proof of the fidelity of their wives, the serpents not being repelled by such children as were the offspring of adultery. This nation, however, was almost entirely extirpated by the slaughter made of them by the Nasamones, who now occupy their territory. This race, however, still survives in a few persons who are descendants of those who either took to flight or else were absent on the occasion of the battle. The Marsi, in Italy, are still in possession of the same power, for which, it is said, they are indebted to their origin from the son of Circe, from whom they acquired it as a natural quality. But the fact is, that all men possess in their bodies a poison which acts upon serpents, and the human saliva, it is said, makes them take to flight, as though they had been touched with boiling water. The same substance, it is said, destroys them the moment it enters their throat, and more particularly so, if it should happen to be the saliva of a man who is fasting

The other references also mention snake taming, but they’re not quite as fun (Pliny NH 25.11, Serv. Aen. 7.750, Sil., Ital. Pun. 8.495-510). I find it hard to believe that Mamilius is claiming kinship with the Marsi as fellow offspring of Circe via the coin, but who doesn’t like a good snake story?! It made me think of the ritual being shown on this coin:

Propertius 8.4 helps us understand the image:

Lanuvium, from of old, is guarded by an ancient serpent: the hour you spend on such a marvellous visit won’t be wasted; where the sacred way drops down through a dark abyss, where the hungry snake’s tribute penetrates (virgin, be wary of all such paths!), when he demands the annual offering of food, and twines, hissing, from the centre of the earth. Girls grow pale, sent down to such rites as these, when their hand is rashly entrusted to the serpent’s mouth. He seizes the tit-bits the virgins offer: the basket itself trembles in their hands. If they’ve remained chaste they return to their parents’ arms, and the farmers shout: ‘It will be a fertile year.’

This seems to be part of cult of Juno Sospita, or at very least it took place in close proximity with her sanctuary and it is her head on the obverse of the coin. Here’s some recent scholarship with references. The cult at Lanuvium is rightly contextualized by the accounts of the powers to charm snakes linked to Circe and her ilk (Medea, Angitia, etc) and the origins of various Italic peoples and associations with specific Italian topography.


The original wire transfer is still lost. I spent a horrible time on the phone with HSBC. Again. We’re investigating other services… I took a break to write this post largely because I need to tamp down my rage to get back to writing properly.