Crimean History in the News

There is a lot in the news right now about the Crimean War.  Where was Sevastopol?  Of course, I know about Florence Nightingale.  The Charge of The Light Brigade sounds familiar…   The major newspapers are helping us catch up on our snoozing in high school history class.  (Assuming we went to the sort of high school that taught such things.)   The Economic Times wants you to remember the Indian connection. The New York Times reminds us its all about how you tell the story, starting out with a reference to Tolstoy and filled with prosaic quotes from modern residents.  The Telegraph showcases the pictures of Roger Fenton, only occasionally addressing the issue of “staging”.

Oddly there isn’t much about the Ottoman Empire or the first Annexation of the Crimea in these popular histories, newsified accounts.  So just to add another perspective, let’s round up a few commemorative medallions.

Image courtesy of CNG. Auction 88, Lot 2017. RUSSIA, Empire. Ekaterina II Velikaya (the Great), with Abdülhamid I. 1762-1796. Tin Medal (43mm, 16.75 g, 12h). Commemorating the Treaty of Malka-Kaynardzha (Küçük Kaynarca). Dated 1774.

The catalogue entry reads:

The Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774 grew out of the internal strife in Poland, during which Russia was a supporter of King Stanislaus Augustus. During a pursuit of a Polish Bar Confederation (force of nobility) into Ottoman territory, a group of Cossacks in Russian service allegedly involved some subjects of the town in their rampage, inciting the Ottoman Empire into action against Russia. Ultimately, however, the latter’s dominance of the seas provided her numerous victories in the conflict. With the Treaty of Malka-Kaynardzha (Küçük Kaynarca), Russia received the unofficial governance of the Crimean Khanate, a large sum of war reparations, and two important seaports allowing direct access to the Black Sea.

The obverse legend translates as “two hands bring an end to the turmoil”.

4345 Catherine II Rossia 1783 Annexation of Crimea and Taman Medal Bronze
SHH 4345
Catherine II The Great / Map of Crimea, Sea of Azof and Taman
Annexation of Crimea and Taman Bronze 83 Россия 1783/1792 Diakov 196; Moneta 60, 162 (Follow link for image source.)

Here I have to rely on the ANS translation of the legends of a similar medal:

Obverse: [In Russian]: BY THE GRACE OF GOD CATHERINE II EMPRESS AND ALL-RUSSIAN AUTOCRAT – Shoulder-length portrait of Catherine II, crowned, laureated, and armored, r.
Reverse: [In Russian,on banderole]: THE RESULT OF PEACE/in ex: ANNEXED TO THE RUSSIAN/EMPIRE WITHOUT BLOODSHED/APRIL8/1783 – Maps of Kuban’ and Crimean steppe and peninsula with Asof and Black sea
Anyway.  The next time someone brings up the Crimean War as an analogy for the present situation, you might just ask if they don’t think the events of the 1770s and 1780s might not just be a bit more relevant.
What’s Greco-Roman about this?  Oh we could talk about alliance coinages or other such things, but really it’s here just because I like a bit of history.  If you are jonesing for something classically themed, I offer this British beauty:
Crimean War Medal, 1856
The discussion offered by Fitzwilliam website is quite good (click image for link).  And if you need just a little more propaganda:
Obverse: THE HOLY ALLIANCE LA SAINTE ALLIANCE – British and French soldiers standing before drum cannons
My favorite detail of this last piece is that is from a design by Punch Magazine!
Postscript 13 March 2014: Here’s a newspaper piece which is alive to the legacy of the Ottoman presence in the region.  No surprise its from the English version of a Turkish paper.

Putting a Face with a Name



The festschrift for Barclay Head is in the public domain and fully (beautifully) digitized!  What a fabulous portrait.  We should all do so well as to appear so dapper for history.

This provides us with an image of RRC 2/1 that’s wholly in the public domain:




Both Crawford’s image (see last post for link) and this one are taken from casts.  I’m not sure they are the same cast.  Regardless the plate itself is a nice sharp image one can zoom in on. Click on the photo for the link.

Here’s the link to the specific discussion of the type in the festschrift.

I note that Gàbrici gives the weight as 10.15, whereas Crawford as 6.14g.

260 out of 410 days: Profile versus 3/4s Profile

Above: Detail from Athenian red-figure clay vase, about 475-425 BC. Paris Musée du Louvre G365 © Musée du Louvre [Image links to Beazley archive]

I’m not worrying about the image above, I just think it is a pretty picture and one that can help students enter the iconographic and narrative thought world in which man-faced bull coinage was stuck.  

I am worrying about the dating of RRC 2/1: Thurian-style Athena obverse, full man-faced bull, walking right in profile, star above.  An image of which can be found on Molinari’s website, here.  Scroll down to #355, clicking on it provides a better resolution.  There is only one known specimen.  I’ve talked about how problematic that can before, twice in fact it seems.

I was adding a note in my current chapter draft about HN Italy 753 being the prototype for the reverse of  this first ROMANO coin (so HN Italy says), and decided to have another scroll through Molinari’s collection of Neapolis man-faced bull images (MFB hereafter). The thing is that even though HN Italy 753 has an eight-rayed star above the MFB on some specimens, the MFB has a 3/4 profile head. A similar 3/4 profile head is found on all  the full-bodied MFBs on bronzes of Neapolis, as far as I can tell.  [Other images are available via Luigi Graziano’s project].

Whoever carved the dies for RRC 2/1 was more familiar with a MFB in profile, rather than in 3/4s profile.  That makes it seem rather unlikely to me that he was looking at a bronze of Neapolis, let alone was also someone engraving dies for the Neapolis mint.  

I suspect somewhere in Molinari’s great collection of images one could find a better possible parallel, say something like the Hyira silver coins.  Obviously no star and wrong placement of ethnic, but overall a better ‘model’.  Crawford sees a sea-horse/sea monster/pistrix or whatever you want to call it on Athena’s helmet.  That might be another point when comparison shopping.

Obviously dating based on iconographic models is problematic anyway.  We need a few good hoards.  But don’t we always.


Update 8/27/14:  My thinking on this has developed a bit. See this more recent post.

What aid did Ptolemy render to Pyrrhus?

reverse of ANS 1997.9.159
Gold stater, Taras, c. 280 BC. ANS 1997.9.159. Vlasto 35. HN Italy 983.

There is a tight series of gold issues from Pyrrhus’ arrival in Tarentum (HN Italy 983-992).  They share common controlmarks and are signed by the same magistrates.   A variety of denominations are known: stater, 1/2 stater, 1/4, 1/3, 1/8, 1/10, 1/12, and 1/16.  A variety of dieties appear on the obverse, Zeus, Apollo, Athena, Heracles.  The reverses types include a biga, a dolphin rider,  a biga of dolphins, an owl, and on three denominations an eagle, such as that illustrated above.

This eagle bears much in common with an eagle to appear at the end of the century on Roman gold:

RRC 44/3. ANS 1967.153.4.

Here is a link to a variety of illustrated specimens of the Roman issue. When writing about this issue Meadows has made a very strong case that the iconography reflects Ptolemaic support.  I give only a little quote here (1998: 128):


Could it mean the same thing at Tarentum?  I think it very likely indeed.  Hammond 1988 makes a strong case that the Ptolemy that sent military aid to Pyrrhus for his campaign in Italy was Philadelphus base on this portion of Justin:

11 Nor was Pyrrhus of Epirus neglected by him, a king who would be of great assistance to whichsoever side he attached himself, 12 and who, while he desired to spoil them one by one, sought the favour of all. 13 On going to assist the Tarentines, therefore, against the Romans, he desired of Antigonus the loan of vessels to transport his army into Italy; of Antiochus, who was better provided with wealth than with men, a sum of money; and of Ptolemaeus, some troops of Macedonian soldiers. 14 Ptolemaeus, who had no excuse for holding back for want of forces, supplied him with five thousand infantry, four thousand cavalry, and fifty elephants, but for not more than two years’ service. 15 In return for this favour, Pyrrhus, after marrying the daughter of Ptolemaeus, appointed him guardian of his kingdom in his absence; lest, on carrying the flower of his army into Italy, he should leave his dominions a prey to his enemies.

The relationship between Ptolemy II and Pyrrhus has been documented at more length by Adams 2008.

The numismatic evidence strengthens the claims of both Hammond and Adams AND suggests that it was far more than troops and elephants that Ptolemy II sent to Italy.

Update 4/6/2014: I was very happy to read this paragraph in  2013 paper supporting a Pyrrhic dating for the eagle type at Taras on the silver.[Image links to full paper.]

Capture HN Italy 933



Postscript 5 March 2014.  If one is worrying about the use of the ‘Ptolemaic’ eagle in Italy, then this type of Larinum (c. 210-175, HN Italy 626) should also be thrown into the mix.  Inspired by the Roman gold in all likelihood:

Reverse of Bronze triens, Larinum. ANS 1944.100.2090. Image links to both ANS specimens of this type.

I’ve discussed coins of Larinum from this period before, here.  And of course:

RRC 23/1; Double unit, Neapolis (?) after 276 or Messana (?), Æ 14.35 g. ROMANO Head of Minerva l., wearing Corinthian helmet decorated with griffin; behind, helmet. Rev. ROMA – NO Eagle standing l. with open wings on thunderbolt. From the RBW collection. Follow link for important discussion and references.  Cf. also coins of Mamertinoi (a nice specimen).  Contra Mattingly 2004: 103 who makes too much of the angle of the eagle’s head to my mind.

A. Burnett, The Beginnings of Roman Coinage, AIIN 36 (1989): 33-64, at 37 says:




Update 11 March 2014: Just a note to self.  Consider also the coinage of Alba Fucens, Latin colony of 303 BC.  HN Italy identifies three types, all silver obols (241, 243, and 244) that have Athena in a Corinthian helmet and an eagle on a thunderbolt, dating to c. 280-275.  Crawford CMRR p. 47 sees the issue and those of Norba and Signia as likely struck to pay troops in the War against Pyrrhus.

Silver obol, Alba Fucens. ANS 1944.100.2059. SNG ANS.1.112.

The Stazio and Mertens’  literature is on order from ILL. The Italian Wikipedia has an article on the Monetaziono di Alba Fucens. There is an odd specimen in trade that I’d like to understand what’s going on with the mark behind the eagle better, looks like a fillet or maybe a striking artifact of some kind, image #1 and image #2.  Also see HN Italy p. 11 and 180 for a little discussion of how the eagle and fulmen have been interpreted as symbols of Alexander the Molossian.  I’d like to learn more about this coin type as well sometime.  It’s a small bronze (Athena, Attic Helmet/close winged eagle and MOΛOΣΣΩN).   

Update 4/4/2014:


Update 5/26/14:

The scholar who seems to be most actively writing about Eagles on Coins in Italy is Carroccio.  Most of his relevant papers are online with obvious titles, but the note the issue also comes up in his 2008 piece on Moneta Apula… also online on

Tyche of Capua, Turreted Roma

File:Capua Æ Biunx 130018.jpg
Campania, Capua. 216-211 BC. Æ Biunx (25mm, 18.20 g). Bust of Tyche or Fortuna right wearing crown of turrets; strigil and two stars (mark of value) behind Horseman galloping right, with lance pointed forwards; w:murex shell below. SNG ANS 203; SNG France 488; SNG Morcom -; HN Italy 485. From the Tony Hardy Collection. Ex Italo Vecchi II (12-13 September 1996), lot 73.

So I wish I has a slightly better picture of this Capuan type (above) to set next to this Roman uncia (39/5):


They share detailed similarities right down to the rendering of the turrets, the necklace and drapery.  There is another related Capuan type as well, but it’s of a small denomination and has fewer parallels:

Campania, Capua. c216-211 BC. AE Uncia. Turreted female head right, thunderbolt on headdress; pedum behind, star below / Warrior on horseback right, holding long spear pointed forwards; star behind, murex shell below. BMC 11-12.

I’ve blogged about the problems with Roman coin and its interpretation previously.

258 out of 410 days: Fighting Cocks and Sacred Chickens

This post is dedicated to the most estimable Prof. Kellogg, who has taught many to always listen to the sacred chickens.

RRC 12/1; Asta Stermberg XVIII lot 275, image from
RRC 12/1 5lb Currency Bar 270BC, Rostrum Tridens, Chickens eating corn, Stars. British Museum; 1940s incendiary bomb damage at side. Photo from Andrew McCabe’s Flickr set.

These fabulous currency bars appear in many a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate the Roman practice of divination prior to battle via the consumption of grain by sacred chickens.  If the birds eat, the gods are happy for the Romans to engage in combat.  The most famous incident is the Sea Battle of Drepana (249BC) when Claudius Pulcher is said to have been so enraged that the birds wouldn’t eat that he cast them into the sea, saying: ‘If they won’t eat, let them drink!’.  Anyway, great story and thanks to this excellent account by another blogger, I’ve got no need to review the sources here.

The idea that the bars show sacred chickens is only loosely endorsed by Crawford, who with uncharacteristic ambivalence, records the type as ‘two chickens facing each other and apparently eating; between, two stars’.  He is more definite in vol. 2, p. 218:


The Callimachus epigram is of interest:

Euaenetus, who set me up, says – for I know not – that in return for a victory of his I am offered – a bronze cock – to the Tyndaridae : I believe the son of Phaedrus, son of Philoxenides.

φησὶν μεστήσας Εὐαίνετος (οὐ γὰρ ἔγωγε
γινώσκω) νίκης ἀννί μετῆς ἰδίης
ἀγκεῖσθαι χάλκειον ἀλέκτορα Τυνδαρίδηισι:
πιστεύω Φαίδρου παιδὶ Φιλοξενίδεω. (Greek from Perseus)

This ἀλέκτωρ isn’t a sacred chicken, but a cock!  A symbol of virility and bellicosity.  Look again at the currency bars above, those birds have some impressive combs and plumage, visible even with corrosion on the bars.  The kicker is when we look at the pattern of coin iconography at Roman colonies and allied communities struck in the 1st Punic War, notice the combination of star and cock:

Suessa Aurunca, Bronze circa 265-240, 5.45 g. Helmeted head of Minerva l. Rev. Cockerel r. SNG Copenhagen 588. Historia Numorum Italy 449. From the Giancarlo Silingardi collection, with export licence issued by the Republic of Italy.
Teanum Sidicinum, Bronze circa 265-240, 7.02 g. Head of Minerva l., wearing crested Corinthian helmet. Rev. TIANO Cock standing r.; in upper field l., star. Sambon 1004. SNG Copenhagen 594 (this obverse die). SNG ANS 626. AMB 56 (this coin). Historia Numorum Italy 435.
Aquinum. Bronze c.265-240, 5.87 g. Helmeted head of Minerva l. Rev. Cock r.; behind, star. ANS 114. SNG Cop. 101. SNG France 228. H.N. 432
Cales, Bronze circa 265-240, æ 5.53 g. Helmeted head of Minerva l. Rev. CALENO Cock standing r.; in field l., star. Sambon 916. SNG Lloyd 53. SNG Copenhagen 323. SNG ANS 193., HNI 435.

There are also coins of this same type from Caiatia (HN Italy 433) and Telesia (HN Italy 457).  Discussion can be found in Crawford’s Coinage and Money (1985), p. 47.  They all seem to be carved by a single die engraver and I’d not be surprised to find obverse die links.  As a group they are all are overstruck by Neapolis coins from the 250s (Taliercio III,a; cf. discussion by Burnett and Crawford 1998 in essays for M. Jessop Price).

Anyway, the iconographic choice on the currency bars probably has less to do with religious ritual and more to do with selecting a symbol of military prowess.  The head-down, two cock rendering of the motif probably has more to do with the design challenges of the oblong bar.  The two birds echo the double design of the other side.

And, just by-the-by. the Latin for chicken, as in sacred chicken, is pullus, which is well distinguished from the gallus, or cock.



Update 4/25/16:

Notice the stance of these two fighting cocks and the imperial eagle above.

Rectangular brown glass paste intaglio: eagle flying above two fighting cocks.
BM 1814,0704.2062



Dioscuri and Desultores


This is a didrachm of one of Rome’s colonies, Suessa Aurunca.  This type is usually dated to the time of 1st Punic War.  The colony had been established in 313 BC as part of the Samnite Wars (Livy 9.28).  The place makes little mark on the literary narrative, appearing in such sleepy contexts as Cato’s recommendation on where to get a wagon or a mill.

The type is identified as a Dioscurus, i.e. either Castor or Pollux without his brother.  My first impression is that it looked rather like a desultor to me.

Obverse of RRC 480/21. ANS 1937.158.296 . Image links to a selection of other coin types also showing desultores.

This got me wondering what we actually know about desultores.  Less than you might think, I can assure you!  And many of our references are metaphorical (e.g. Cicero, Pro Murena 57).   There are only about 13 references in Latin literature.  The only certain testimony we have of their performance is during Julius Caesar’s triumphal games, and here they seem to be performances by elite youth (Suet. Iul. 39).   That they show up on the republican series more than once suggests they were a significant feature of Roman religious festivals or other celebrations, but which and when is up for debate.  Perhaps my favorite reference is their use in a piece of Augustan era Roman jurisprudence by Labeo preserved in the Justinian digest (19.5.20).

What about the Suessa coin above?  Dioscurus or desultor?  The confusion is more understandable when we look at this passage from Hyginus:

LXXX. CASTOR: Idas and Lynceus, sons of Apharesu from Messene, had as promised brides Phoebe and Hilaira, daughters of Leucippus. Since these were most beautiful maidens – Phoebe being a priestess of Minerva, and Hilaira of Diana – Castor and Pollux, inflamed with love, carried them off. But they, since their brides-to-be were lost, took to arms to see if they could recover them. Castor killed Lynceus in battle; Idas, at his brother’s death, forgot both strife and bride, and started to bury his brother. When he was placing the bones in a funeral monument, Castor intervened, and tired to prevent his raising the monument, because he had won over him as if he were a woman. In anger, Idas pierced the thigh of Castor with the sword he wore. Others say that as he was building the monument he pushed it on Castor and thus killed him. When they reported this to Pollux, he rushed up and overcame Idas in a single fight, recovered the body of his brother, and buried it. Since, however, he himself had received a star from Jove [Zeus], and one was not given to his brother, because Jove said that Castor and Clytemnestra were of the seed of Tyndareus, while he and Helen were children of Jove, Pollux begged that he be allowed to share his honor with his brother. This was granted him. [From this comes the expression “redeemed by alternate death”; and even the Romans preserve the practice. When they send out bareback riders, one man has two horses, and a cap on his head, and leaps from one horse to the other, just as Pollux takes turns with his brother.]

Thus, at least to Augustan era eyes, confusing the iconography of the Dioscuri and Desultores was no surprise.   Back to the mid third century.  I think it unlikely to have a Dioscurus without his brother and without another identifying mark like the star.  The palm branch is agonistic imagery and there is no reason that the coin can’t be an agonistic type.

I find myself surprised that the coins of Latin colonies are not more discussed in standard accounts of early Roman coinage.  In some ways the coins of Suessa, at least in the bronze seem to form a missing link of sorts between Rome and Neapolis, producing significant numbers of Apollo/man-faced bull coins that circulated with Neapolis coins [HN Italy 450] and the overstriking at Neapolis with this type of the new design of Minerva (Roma!?) and cock (symbol of fighting prowess, bravery, like a fighting cock or perhaps of Mercury?) [HN Italy 449].  All this musing is a spin off of my reading: “A hoard of bronze coins of the 3rd century BC found at Pratica di mare (Rome)” by Maria Cristina Molinari  in Proceedings to the XIV International Numismatic Congress, Glasgow 2009 (31 August – 4 September, (ed. N. HOLMES), Glasgow 2011

Update 3/28/18:

Desultores are pretty popular on intaglios too…  Notice the close link to the coin type.

Fürtwangler 1896:


BM specimen

Thorvaldsen specimen