314 out of 410 days: Descriptive Legends

RRC 316/1. ANS 1937.158.34 Obverse: I·S·M·R – Head of Juno Sospita right, wearing goat-skin. Border of dots.

I was thinking about the use of legends on the republican series to label or describe the images.  The above type is a nice example of the use of abbreviation to do so.  We can resolve it based on longer inscriptions in other contexts.

CIL I2 1430 cf. I2 p. 987 = XIII 1030* = XIV 2090 = ILS 3097 = ILLRP 170 = Suppl. It. – Latium vetus 1, 72

I wanted to think about the phenomenon over time and by type of usage.  So I created a little color coded chart.  No promises I didn’t miss a few or mis-transcribe a couple, I didn’t want to give this too much time.


My groupings are pretty subjective, pink for hard to recognize gods, peach for divine qualities/virtues — aren’t those two pretty much the same thing?  Green for Kings, but then I threw in Faustulus because where else would he belong in these categories?  Blue for the accomplishments of individuals.  This can be hard to separate from the moneyer’s name and titular.   A slightly darker blue for military accomplishments and a slightly lighter blue for religious acts.  Purple is for buildings and monuments, but not statues.  Mud is for personifications of place.  I’ve left uncolored others that are not readily paralleled elsewhere in the series.

I’d say 63 BC onwards is the real ramp up in this coin epigraphy if we can call it that.  The trend is towards longer more complete legends, rather than just ‘helpful hints’.  It’s still a long way from the Imperial habit of labeling most reverse types.

[Of course, I’m also ignoring the question of when ROMA is labeling the goddess and when its indicating the minting authority. And, yes, I just gave up transcribing at 431/1.  I’ll save the file and come back to it later, if it should prove useful.]

Update 1/11/16: The Φ on RRC 293/1 should have been on the above chart!

313 out of 410 days: Janiform Heads

Image result for culsans

I’m worrying about the janiform heads on the quadrigati and prow bronzes today and how they might relate to each other and Roman cult practices.  This is bringing me back to a number of different posts on related subjects and has led me to some other goodies as well.

First, the three earlier posts to catch you up on my thinking:

145 out of 410 days: Argos Panoptes?

237 out of 410: Similar Images, Different Interpretations?

Dei Penates Publici and the Dioscuri

Here’s Meadows succinct footnote in his Mars Eagle essay on scholarly views:


[More recently there is W. Hollstein’s ‘Ovids « Fasti » und das « aes grave » mit der Prora’ in Noctes Sinenses ; Festschrift fur Fritz-Heiner Mutschier zum 65. (2011), 59-67.  I’m not convinced by the idea of the types as references to 241 BC, but he raises many interesting observations.]

[Image lost]

“Head terracotta two-faced deity, from Vulci. III-II century. B.C. Vulci Archaeological Museum. The head comes from a rich votive deposit, found at the North Gate of the city, whose materials are stored partly in Rome, in the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia. The image of the god Janus takes the type of the Roman Empire, characterized by thick beard (perhaps influenced by coin types), rather than the Etruscan youth.”  (cf. first image above)

I was leaning towards a ‘Penates as Dioscuri, Dioscuri as Penates’ reading and then I came across the bizzare late passage below.   Over 700 years after the coins.  This is the only know association of Janus with Penates, and yet looking at the coins and the young Etruscan bifrons deity, Culsans, I’m almost tempted to believe Procopius that on some level the identity of Janus was tangled up in Roman minds with that of the Penates…and the Dioscuri… and probably the Lares too.  I’m no scholar of religion.   I’ve no idea how this worked in the experiences of individual Romans, but the iconographic borrowings and overlaps seem clear enough…

Procopius’ Histories (5.25.20):

ὁ δὲ Ἴανος οὗτος πρῶτος μὲν ἦν τῶν ἀρχαίων θεῶν, οὓς δὴ Ῥωμαῖοι γλώσσῃ τῇ σφετέρᾳ Πένατες ἐκάλουν.

At that time some of the Romans attempted secretly to force open the doors of the temple of Janus. This Janus was the first of the ancient gods whom the Romans call in their own tongue “Penates.” And he has his temple in that part of the forum in front of the senate-house which lies a little above the “Tria Fata”; for thus the Romans are accustomed to call the Moirai. And the temple is entirely of bronze and was erected in the form of a square, but it is only large enough to cover the statue of Janus. Now this statue, is of bronze, and not less than five cubits high; in all other respects it resembles a man, but its head has two faces, one of which is turned toward the east and the other toward the west. And there are brazen doors fronting each face, which the Romans in olden times were accustomed to close in time of peace and prosperity, but when they had war they opened them. But when the Romans came to honour, as truly as any others, the teachings of the Christians, they gave up the custom of opening these doors, even when they were at war. During this siege, however, some, I suppose, who had in mind the old belief, attempted secretly to open them, but they did not succeed entirely, and moved the doors only so far that they did not close tightly against one another as formerly.

And just for the record we can’t assume that that statue in the temple of Janus as it is described for us was in anyway an ‘original’ representation of the God:

And then besides, King Numa dedicated the statue of the two-faced Janus; a deity who is worshipped as presiding over both peace and war. The fingers, too, are so formed as to indicate three hundred and sixty-five days,or in other words, the year; thus denoting that he is the god of time and duration. (Pliny NH 34.33)

If the fingers represented the days of year and counted 365 then Pliny and by extension Procopius were looking at a statue created after Caesar’s reform of the calendar presumably from the Augustan restoration of the temple (so Graf in Brill’s New Pauly, s.v. Ianus).

Update 2/15/2016:

From this article.



Oldest Line in the Book

History doesn’t repeat itself, but the rhetoric sure does.

Antigonus, when the Spartans were thus reduced, pitying the distress of so famous a city, prohibited his soldiers from plundering it, and granted pardon to all who survived, observing that “he had engaged in war, not with the Spartans, but with Cleomenes, with whose flight all his resentment was terminated; nor would it be less glory to him, if Sparta should be recorded to have been saved by him by whom alone it had been taken.   – Justin 28.4


Our only enemy is Saddam and his brutal regime — and that regime is your enemy as well.  – Bush on Iraq War


Our enemy is Saddam and his regime, not the Iraqi people. Our forces are friends and liberators of the Iraqi people, not your conquerors.   – Blair on The Iraq War

Literary Topoi and Historical Facts

From: Miles, R. (2011). Hannibal and Propaganda. In Dexter Hoyos (Eds.), A Companion to the Punic Wars, (pp. 260-279). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

This passage above suggests that it is a ‘fact’ that one of Pyrrhus’ advisors made such a comparison. The story is known from Cassius Dio (9.40.27):

The same man, when, upon his retreat, he beheld the army of Laevinus much larger than it had been before, declared that the Roman legions when cut to pieces grew whole again, hydra-fashion. This did not, however, cause him to lose courage, but he in turn arrayed his forces, though he did not join battle.


and Plutarch:

It is said, too, that Cineas, while he was on this mission, made it his earnest business at the same time to observe the life and manners of the Romans, and to understand the excellences of their form of government; he also conversed with their best men, and had many things to tell Pyrrhus, among which was the declaration that the senate impressed him as a council of many kings, and that, as for the people, he was afraid it might prove to be a Lernaean hydra for them to fight against, since the consul already had twice as many soldiers collected as those who faced their enemies before, and there were many times as many Romans still who were capable of bearing arms.

Appian pulls these two traditions together:

The Senate made answer to Cineas as Appius advised. They decreed the levying of two new legions for Laevinus, and made proclamation that whoever would volunteer in place of those who had been lost should put their names on the army roll. Cineas, who was still present and saw the multitude hastening to be enrolled, is reported to have said to Pyrrhus on his return: “We are waging war against a hydra.” Others say that not Cineas, but even Pyrrhus himself said this when he saw the new Roman army larger than the former one; for the other consul, Coruncanius, came from Etruria and joined his forces with those of Laevinus.

Appian makes clear that bon mot was not a fixed point in the received tradition.  He knew it from at least two different sources with different variations.  We can’t be sure if Appian’s sources were riffing on Silenus’ motif or faithfully recording an actual piece of rhetoric from the time or if the metaphor is just so pervasive that it provides a nice plausible exclamation in any history.

Heck.  There are dozens upon dozens of popular histories to day that still use the metaphor.  The loose use of the metaphor is found in many earlier Greek works including Plato’s Republic, p426E.

All that said, this Florus passage (going back to a lost bit of Livy?) might be the best evidence that some lost historian made something of the Pyrrhus = Hercules, Rome = Hydra symbolism on a more meaningful level that a simple metaphor.

For Pyrrhus said, “I plainly see that I am sprung of the seed of Hercules, when I see all these heads of foes cut off springing up again from their blood as they sprang from the Lernaean hydra.”

Perhaps tellingly for the attribution to Pyrrhus, Plutarch uses it when discussing the actions of Alexander.

The use of metaphor in relationship to Pyrrhus is not irrelevant to a discussion of Silenus, but I’d hesitate to move it from a conversation about the historiographical tradition and into one about propaganda.

Note also how the hydra in Pyrrhus tradition is not a negative characterization of Rome, not emphasizing her monstrosity or destructive capacity, but instead resilience and depth of martial resources, especially her manpower base.  It’s a complement.

312 out 410 days: Dickenson College Commentaries

312 out 410 days: Dickenson College Commentaries

In the Fall semester, when we can hope this adventure in my head continues post-sabbatical, I’m running a graduate seminar on Commentaries.  I want at least one meeting to be on digital commentaries.   So I was just delighted, to find this new project with a really creative and functional interface.  Texts run a wide gamut, but look particularly appropriate for 3rd or 4th semester Latin undergraduates.   Maybe the next time I teach one of those I’ll have to try out an online textbook as it were.  I’m all for open access.

It’s a teaching and language oriented version of something like this site which is more historical in its explication, or the Vergil project which seems aimed at a more advanced student.  But the real leap forward is that DCC is crafting new commentaries specially for the web instead of building interfaces to existing print texts.

311 out of 410 days: Greek Coins in the West


So I was reading Pere Pau Ripollès’ fascinating ‘The X4 Hoard (Spain): Unveiling the Presence of Greek Coinages during the Second Punic War’ (2008) this morning. I fervently wish I’d read it before now.  The problem with real publication, rather than this blogging non-sense, is its not easy after the fact to rethink and amend and correct your former ideas.  Also real publication takes a very long time, so by the time it is out there for the world one’s intellectual engagement with the content has already moved on to something else or ‘evolved’ as Mr. Obama’s position has done on some issues.  I’m thinking about my piece in this book.  I’ll put a clean copy up on academia.edu one of these days.

Anyway.  Pere Pau Ripollès goes along way towards illuminating circulation of Greek coinage in the Western Mediterranean.  He tentatively still supports Crawford’s 1985 thesis that any Greek coins arrived with the Romans, although saying ‘this may be too categorical’.  I’m inclined to see the evidence he collects as requiring this hypothesis to be seriously re evaluated.  As he himself says in his conclusion the Greek coinage found in the hoards of Sicily are more similar to those in Spain than either is to Italy where there is a greater dearth of such Eastern coinages in the hoards.

One of the coins in Hoard X4 that he publishes is of the same type as that illustrated above.


This coin type, Crawford suggests, is the inspiration for the prows on Roman bronze series (See RRC p. 42 esp. n. 5; earlier post).  It’s nice then to see that some specimens did in fact reach the Western Mediterranean relatively swiftly after its production.

I also note the rendering of the ram on this type (red circle above) is not unlike that found on the Athlit Ram.

And, while were talking about things I said in print I no longer believe, I can’t stand by a 260s date for the Heracles and Wolf and Twins didrachm after all the reading I’ve done for this new book.  It fits better at the end of the First Punic War.  I’m not sure how much that messes with my use of it as comparative evidence in the chapter linked above, but it does have some impact…

Seeing Race

The Family Resemblance of Obama and his Grandfather. Links to excellent blog post by Gwen Sharp.

It is often suggested that the Barcid coinage of Spain could be portraits of members of the dynasty in the guise of Melkart/Heracles.  The idea has fallen mostly out of favor, or is usually qualified by a strong ‘might.  The idea never gained that much traction in serious academic circles.  Crawford rejects it.  Scullard is most cautious in the CAH, but toys with the idea more in his general histories.  Hoyos in a more recent popular history tosses the idea out.



The idea goes back to E.G. S. Robinson and his 1956 article on the Punic coins of Spain in Essays Mattingly (p. 39):


The idea however holds on in many popular works, for example, in places where it would be visually convenient to have a picture of Hannibal:


My issue is that the assumption that these are portraits goes back to Robinson’s perception of race, as he himself says.

And, race is a social construct. [Can’t quite believe this?  Click on the top image of this post.]

I’ve been wrestling somewhat with perceptions of race on a personal level with my time in Turkey.  We’ve had a large number of dear friends and family as visitors, all of whom have found Turkey and the different culture groups who live here to be a warm, loving society.  However, some of our white American visitors have made clear in casual comments that they perceive Turks as non-white, a different race from themselves.  I found this pretty surprising.  Until I open my mouth, I get mistaken for a Turk fairly regularly (or when I’m not with my red-headed life partner that is).  It never occurred to me to think of myself as living with a different race, even if it is certainly a different culture and predominant religious orientation from my own.

Or, am I the one unwittingly just passing as ‘white’? I don’t know my biological father, but he may well have been Ashkenazi.  On one truly awful blind date in my college days, I was told by a nice Jewish boy over cake and coffee that I could be certain that “when they come for us, they’re coming for you too”.

In the 1950s it was exceptionally common to think of Semitic peoples as a distinctive race.  If you dare, go ahead and Google “Are Jews White”.  The results aren’t pretty.  If you want something safer to read on the subject you could start with this Princeton University Press publication:

The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity by Eric L. Goldstein

Robinson’s certitude that the Barcid coinage were portraits is dependent on his ability to “know” what a “African Semite” looked like.

Robinson was part of the same milieu as Mattingly and Altheim.  Altheim’s work from the mid-1930s onward was funded by Himmler’s Ahnernerbe, the scientific institute tasked with demonstrating the hypothesized historical predominance of the Aryan race.  Altheim solicited and received funds for research aimed at demonstrating the Aryan origins of Rome.  His subsequent publications are clearly marked by this most unfortunate bias (Momigliano 1945: 130).  Mattingly translated Altheim’s still influential History of Roman Religion into English. I don’t claim to know how Robinson felt about race politics, but he certainly worked in a milieu that was comfortable using ancient history as a means of justifying a particular Euro-centric world view.

This approach was not an invention of his peers or even his generation.  I’ve been ‘enjoying’  Bury’s History of Greece to the Death of Alexander (1900) before bed of late.  It is rife with comments disparaging Semitic and Persian societies and directly connecting the Greco-Roman world to the ‘success’ of Modern Europe.


If Classics today is going to go forward as a academic pursuit with any integrity at all we need to own the demons of our past.   It is not enough to say it’s not likely to be a Barcid portrait we need to own that that interpretation has its origins in a worldview that wanted to see the Punic as “Other”.  Not Other in relation to Rome alone, but Other in relationship to Western, Aryan, Europe.