“Common Values of the Community”

Two very respected scholars read this coin of 58 BC as an iconographic turning point. They see it as shocking that both sides commemorate ‘personal’ or ‘familial’ themes and thus leave no room for the state.  They see the divinities of the obverse embodying community identity in a manner that by implication the ‘private’ types can’t.



While the type is visually innovative and thus fitting with the character of this aedileship which was known for the spectacular (see below), the types would not be meaningful if they were only private.  The images are making a direct claim to the importance of the events thus celebrated to the community as a whole.  The state glorified through individual acts.

Pliny NH 36.116:

In the ædileship of M. Scaurus, three hundred and sixty columns were to be seen imported; for the decorations of a temporary theatre, too, one that was destined to be in use for barely a single month. And yet the laws were silent thereon; in a spirit of indulgence for the amusements of the public, no doubt. But then, why such indulgence? or how do vices more insidiously steal upon us than under the plea of serving the public? By what other way, in fact, did ivory, gold, and precious stones, first come into use with private individuals? Can we say that there is now anything that we have reserved for the exclusive use of the gods? However, be it so, let us admit of this indulgence for the amusements of the public; but still, why did the laws maintain their silence when the largest of these columns, pillars of Lucullan marble, as much as eight-and-thirty feet in height, were erected in the atrium of Scaurus? a thing, too, that was not done privately or in secret; for the contractor for the public sewers compelled him to give security for the possible damage that might be done in the carriage of them to the Palatium. When so bad an example as this was set, would it not have been advisable to take some precautions for the preservation of the public morals? And yet the laws still preserved their silence, when such enormous masses as these were being carried past the earthenware pediments of the temples of the gods, to the house of a private individual!

The accuracy of this testimony is however called in question by other passages in Pliny.

186 out of 410 days: More on Aediles and the Coins

This type of 63 BC borrows design elements from both of these coins of the period when Cinna controlled Rome. They were minted between 86-84 BC depending on whose chronology one follows.  Here are the two forerunners:

These two forerunners are the first two types struck by aediles the first by plebeian aediles, the second by curule aediles.   They both clearly identify the office of the issuer(s) on the obverse.  They also show on the obverse a goddess whose festival was tasked to each respective pair of aediles: the games of Cybele were the responsibility of the Curule Aediles, the games of Ceres the Plebeian.  Both reserve types also show the type of ceremonial seat on which the magistrate conducted his official business.  The subsellium for the plebeian aediles, the curule chair for the curule aediles.  Both types could be read as reflecting the honors and duties of each magistracy.  Perhaps an emphasis on constitutionality in a period when the constitution was in such a so precarious position?

Fast forward to the 60s as the type of Brocchus draws inspiration from both.  This can be seen as confirmation of a change in the honors and status of the plebeian aediles under Sulla.  Lily Ross Taylor many years ago pointed out the necessity of assuming such a change based on this passage of Cicero:

Now I am aedile elect, I consider what it is that I have received from the Roman people; I consider that I am bound to celebrate holy games with the most solemn ceremonies to Ceres, to Bacchus, and to Libera; that I am bound to render Flora propitious to the Roman nation and people by the splendour of her games; that it is my office to celebrate those most ancient games, which were the first that were ever called Roman games, with the greatest dignity and with all possible religious observance, in honour of Juno, Jupiter, and Minerva; that the charge of protecting all the sacred buildings and the whole city is entrusted to me; that as a recompense for all that labour and anxiety these honours are granted to me,—an honourable precedence in delivering my opinion in the senate; a toga praetexta; a curule chair; a right of transmitting my image to the recollection of my posterity.

Before Lily set the record rights some had assumed Cicero must be mistaken about the nature of his own office.   Clearly by 69 BC plebeian aediles had been upgraded to a better chair than the hard-benched subsellium.  Sulla’s constitutional changes seem like a good time for such a change, as the coins clearly show us that the subsellium was still in use in the mid 80s and the Ciceronian passage tells us the practice had changed by 70BC.  Thus we’re limited to a 15 year window for the change.

Schafer’s 1989 dissertation points out that IF Brocchus’ coin commemorates an ancestor’s aedileship that aedileship must be that of his father’s because it must have been after the reforms of Sulla.   Perhaps that’s even why its worth commemorating?  Could his father have been the first such plebeian aedile to have curule chair and fasces?     

And why would an aedile have fasces anyway?  Schafer notes these passages from Dionysius of Halicarnassus:

After this they also returned thanks to the gods worshipped in the city, and prevailed upon the patricians to pass a vote for the confirmation of their new magistracy [i.e. the tribune of the plebs]. And having obtained this also, they asked further that the senate should allow them to appoint every year two plebeians to act as assistants to the tribunes in everything the latter should require, to decide such causes as the others should refer to them, to have the oversight of public places, both sacred and profane, and to see that the market was supplied with plenty of provisions. Having obtained this concession also from the senate, they chose men whom they called assistants and colleagues of the tribunes, and judges. Now, however, they are called in their own language, from one of their functions, overseers of sacred places or aediles, and their power is no longer subordinate to that of other magistrates, as formerly; but many affairs of great importance are entrusted to them, and in most respects they resemble more or less the agoranomoi or “market-overseers” among the Greeks. …

The superintendence and oversight of the sacrifices and games performed during this festival [The Latin Festival] was committed to the tribunes’ assistants, who held, as I said, the magistracy now called the aedileship; and they were honoured by the senate with a purple robe, an ivory chair, and the other insignia that the kings had had.

This puts a lot of weight on the very last passage and the unspecified “other insignia” and the assumption that must include the fasces.  Dio was writing in the Age of Augustus and must seen plebeian aediles with the honors such as Cicero describes in the post Sullan period and then retrojected these back onto the earliest days of Roman history.  OR, he’s just saying they had these honors for the games but not their other duties…  In which case we need not assume any change under Sulla.

Why an aedile would have axes on his fasces is a mystery to me.  Their sphere of responsibilities were very much inside the pomerium.  The only explanation I can think of is Feriae Latinae the festival being held on the Alban Mount would take the aediles out of the city in their official capacity.  Perhaps that is where the axes come in.

Brocchus’ type was itself mimicked later, but not to symbolize the aedileship!  L. Livinius Regulus modifies it (without axes in the fasces) to symbolize his father’s praetorship, and perhaps also his own turn as Praefectus Urbi.

Finally, I’m interested in the fact that Brocchus is one of the earliest moneyers to feel it worthwhile to add IIIVir on his coinage to make clear his own magistracy.  Other pre-49 issues to do this are RRC 401, 407, 411, 413, 437.  IIIVir (or IIIIVir after Caesar increases the number) are more common during the Civil Wars: 440, 442, 444, 454, 463, 364, 472, 480,  484, 494, 525.   Crawford describes this as a whim of the moneyer, but I’d suggest that like the aedile labels above.  The emphasis on authority suggests a general concern for constitutionality in a time of constitutional crisis or at least destabilization.

In the case of Brocchus it seems that labelling his office helps remove any speculation that he might himself be the aedile to which the types refer.  I find it hard to believe that the type is ‘aspirational’  suggesting honors he wants but has not yet received.

The use of the curule chair as a symbol in its own right follows on from representations of the subsellium with figures seated on it.  The removal of the figures and the use of a just an object as a symbol seems to make the types refer more to the institution rather than the individual.

184 out of 410 days: The Aedile’s Feet


Capture.JPGI’ve been reading Schafer’s 1989 dissertation on sella curulis und fasces.  Many nice little observations and details here and there.  This coin has the distinction of being the first to display the curule chair and to be the first minted by a curule aedile.  The head of Cybele recalls the oversight of her games by the curule aediles.  Schafer also wants to connect the lion’s feet on the curule chair as a fantastic detail linking to the role of lions in the cult of Cybele, a detail added to the coin to make the connection between obverse and reverse that much more obvious.  He bases this assertion on the absence of such feet on other representations of the chair.  I’m not so sure it is that unlikely that some sella curulis weren’t so adorned.

I’m interested in how the moneyer has used symbols and words together to communicate his message.  The P. FOVRIVS is written onto the chair itself making the individual and the status of the object absolutely clear.  This isn’t any old curule chair its Furius’ chair!

Then on the obverse at the end of the legend AED CVR is a foot.  The foot is the visual symbol for the moneyer’s cognomen, Crassipes  = crassus + pes = thick foot, i.e. probably clubfooted.  The cognomen is known in other families in the Imperial period but primarily used by the gens Furii.  Why is another matter.  If it refers to the congenital birth defect it may be that the family had the genetic mutation that made the disorder more common.  Or perhaps some ancestor just had a fat, swollen foot from a war wound or some more mundane reason.  All that said the foot is clearly being used as a symbol of the name which appears on the reverse.  Who was AED CVR? Crassipes obviously!  There’s his foot.

The other thing this issue is good for is illustrating how spelling varients in proper names.  He is always FOVRIVS  with an O before the U, where as we later see the gens switching to just Furius.  That said, the engravers swap between the CRASSVPES and CRASSIPES spelling.  The varients crop up elsewhere but its curious that the moneyer himself didn’t seem to impose a single spelling of his cognomen on his coinage.  I usually get quite sniffy if my name is misspelled or mispronounced.

There is, I should mention, a good chance that this moneyer is some relation to Cicero’s later son-in-law, a Furius Crassipes of unknown praenomen.

Unfortunate Roman Names

We’ve talked about Roman names a bit and how they can be the inspiration of visual puns on coins.  There is no pun today.  Just a really unfortunate rather common cognomen.  Brocchus.

Bucktooth.  As in, “Hey Mr. Bucktooth get in here!”  Just unfortunate.  I guess it isn’t any worse than Balbus, the Stammerer.   But really it isn’t very nice.

Do you know what else isn’t nice?  Stereotypes.  Especially, racial stereotypes.  The new Google image search seems perfectly designed to help re enforce and educate us all about common stereotypes.  Case in point:


I know this is result of the algorithm that suggests just what other people commonly search for and click on, but how deeply sad and unfortunate.

Here’s Mr. Bucktooth’s coin from 63BC who inspired this post.

And while we’re at it.  I really hope his father wasn’t THIS Gnaeus Furius Brocchus:


182 out of 410 days: LOFTS announced on AWOL

I’ve often griped about things behind the paywall of major publishers.  Case in point, I just put a line in a grant request for a year’s access to Brill’s New Jacoby: a new necessity for historiographical research that I can’t access via ILL.  And even at an outrageous cost it is still has significant weaknesses.  Anyway, I was pleased and intrigued to learn about this new approach from this blog:

The Leipzig Open Fragmentary Texts Series (LOFTS)

which includes this sub-project:

Digital Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum (DFHG) Project

This is a great move forward for access and maybe even for interface, but how will it move us forward in terms of new scholarship?  Will those outside the research one institutions be forever stuck behind the ultimate paywall of the 70 year public domain for esoteric digital resources?

The dirty little secret of the academy is illegally digitized books.  I’ve check the pirated sites that have a richness of academic titles.  My first book has been pirated.  Dozens perhaps dozens of dozens of individuals are now reading it on bad scans rather than checking it out from the library or may one or two of them buying it.  Gotta say.  I don’t really mind.  It is dreadfully expensive. Even at a 40 percent author’s discount I didn’t buy many copies, just enough for my tenure file.  I certainly don’t have a spare copy!

At least the print nature of a book makes it more able to A) be legally borrowed from a library or B) pirated.  Databases like the BNJ are because of pricing and the high degree of specialization of their subject matter to only a few wealthy institutions which are willing to pay for access for their members.

So for now I’ll cheer on LOFTS and its ilk.  (While groaning at yet another acronym!)  And, I’ll twiddle my thumbs hoping that my wee little grant is approved so that come next July 1st, I too might have the privilege of accessing the BNJ.

181 out of 410 days: Calories for Poor Romans


Lots of numbers get tossed around when talking about the food supply of ancient Rome.

A good case in point is Rosenstein’s impressive piece in JRS 2008.  But I find it hard to think about what these numbers mean about assumptions about subsistence level and caloric/nutritional need.  So I did a few calculations.

Assuming 200 kg of wheat per person per year means 1860 calories from that staple per day.

Assuming 266 kg of wheat per person per year means 2475 calories from that staple per day.

Add to that some olive oil.

Assuming 20 liters per person per year adds 440 calories per day.

Assuming 30 liters per person per year adds 660 calories per day.

This gives us a calorie range of about 2300 to 3100 with 15 to 25 percent of the calories coming from oil (I’m rounding all these numbers).  High for a sedentary modern westerner.  Crazy low for say a lumberjack who might need upwards 5000 calories per day.

What did the Romans think?  Well, 5 modii of grain per month is what was put on sale at reduced prices or given away for free at some points in history.  It is called in some rhetoric “prison rations” and is about what Cato prescribes for his more active slaves, the farm laborers.  Notice that when Atticus wishes to be generous to the Athenians his donative is 7 modii per person, not 5.

Assuming 6.65 kg per modii, 5 modii provides about 3700 calories a day.  We often read in modern scholarship that this is enough for two people.  Two people that lay around all day.  Or, two people that can supplement their diet with other food stuffs.   However, neither of these two conditions really seems to me to well describe the urban poor of Rome.   Being poor is hard work.    Hell, even milling that grain into a more digestible flour that maximizes its nutritional potential takes some real labor.

Need some help imaging this amount of food?  Each modii would result in about 13 loaves of bread, so we’re talking approximately 65 loaves a month.

Update 5/5/2014: A great footnote from Walthall’s 2011 ZPE article on Sicilian grain measures:



The modius is ~8.73 liters.

177 out of 410 days: Auspicio and Imperio


Ryan published a 2006 article suggesting a new resolution of one of the legend abbreviations on this coin, The IMP A(V) X.  Crawford had suggested that each element represented a different part of the moneyer’s grandfather’s career: Imperator, Augur, Xvir sacris faciundis.  Badian rejected this [Badian, Ernst. – Two numismatic phantoms : the false priest and the spurious son. Arctos 1998 32 : 45-60 ill.].  He argued for IMP AN X = Imperator annos X, meaning commander for 10 years. Notice that the AV or AN are in ligature thus confusing the resolution of the second letter.  Ryan argues for imperio auspicioque decies as the resolution, ten times he had command under his own auspices.  Much hangs on how traditional this phase imperio auspicioque would be and, of course, Ryan cites comparative evidence.  All three resolutions have some issues but Ryan’s got me thinking about how common that phrase is.

First the literature.  Here’s a link to relevant database search.  As a linked pair, twice in Plautus’ Amphitruo.  Nothing, nadda, zip in Cicero in terms of verbal pairing.  Which is just plain weird.  Five uses in Curtius Rufus’ History of Alexander of all things!!  Some relevant ones in Livy:  10.8.10, 22.30.4, 27.44.5, 28.27.5, 29.27.2, 41.52.5, 41.28.8.  Other clear pairings of the two words: Val. Max. 2.8.2, Sabidius,Gram. 2.3.  

On to the epigraphy.  Ryan is right the best parallel is the Mummius inscription

L(ucius) Mummi(us) L(uci) f(ilius) co(n)s(ul) duct(u) / auspicio imperioque / eius Achaia capt(a) Corint(h)o / deleto Romam redieit / triumphans ob hasce / res bene gestas quod / in bello voverat / hanc aedem et signu(m) / Herculius Victoris / imperator dedicat

Other direct epigraphic parallels are hard to come by.  Here’s the relevant database.  One can’t link to search results, but just put in auspici in Search text 1 and imperi in Search text 2 to see results.

Noticeably none of these results record numerals in relation to the phrase.