So I was skimming the ANS catalogue trying to collect my thoughts about the Italian context for early Roman coinage. Most of the examples of cast coinage from non-Roman mints seems comfortably familiar. Wheels, Tridents, Anchors, Clubs are all motifs found at Rome and elsewhere. I particularly like the animals, roosters and sleeping dogs especially. But then I came across this specimen above: “Female Head in Murex Shell”. So different! Even if the other side, a Pegasus, is by contrast strikingly familiar in a numismatic context. Anyway the unexpected-thing-in-a-shell motif reminded me of course of our discussion of gem stone themes, earlier. It certainly fits that motif well.
The British Museum also have a good selection of this type of gem. Note especially the Mule coming out of the murex shell.
Postscript 5 March 2014. There is no image of that mule coming out of a shell on the BM site, but I just wonder if it isn’t more likely to be an ass. The ass is known for its generous male genital endowment and Henig argues that the shell is a symbol of a female sexual organs. You see why I wonder about it being a mule… Anyway, in further support of Henig’s fertility theory of the shell motif, there is the other BM specimen (illustrated) where two rabbits issue forth from the shell.
Postscript 19 Jan 2021. I see it noted in a catalogue that there are known renaissance forgeries of this type.
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[…] Update 27 February 2014: see also newer post on similar iconography. […]