323 out of 410 days: A Slight Rotation

The JD collection of Roman Republican Coins part II – session II; A. Licinius Nerva. Denarius 47, AR 3.88 Babelon Licinia 24. Sydenham 954a. Sear Imperators 30. Crawford 454/1.

This beautiful specimen has been photographed just like most specimens are.  This orientation of the reverse is necessary to have it match Crawford’s description, ‘Horseman galloping, r., with r. hand dragging naked warrior, who holds shield in l. hand and sword in r. hand.”  The difficulty with the photography and this description is that it ignores the ground line.  Here’s the same image slightly rotated.


The warrior is kneeling.  He may be wearing pants.  He’s clearly a ‘long haired barbarian’.  The horse is rearing.   And, the most likely interpretation of the scene is that the barbarian is stabbing the horse.   If you remember from a couple of posts ago, having two horses cut out from under him (and living to fight on) was part of the heroic career of Sergius.  Facing horse stabbing enemies is part of the motif of the brave Roman warrior.   And, it shows up in artistic representations left right and center.   I don’t have to collect the information because one military historian, Prof. Michael P. Speidel (University of Hawaii – nice work if you can get it!), has collected a whole chapter’s worth of examples.  I kid you not, chapter 17 of his book, Ancient Germanic Warriors (Routledge 2004) is called ‘Horse Stabbers’.   While his presentation of the evidence is strictly non-chronological and I don’t always agree with his interpretation of the evidence, he cites all his primary sources and does a fine job of making clear that Romans (and the Greeks) thought a horse stabber was a very scary thing indeed.

Does this help with answering which heroic ancestor this was?  Not particularly.  But Brennan, Praetorship (2000) 228, 246, esp. n. 38 and 39 on p. 344, relies on  Obsequens 22 and Frontinus Str. 2.5.28 to suggest that Licinius Nerva the Macedonian Praetor of c. 142 (Liv. Per. 53, Var. R. 2.4.1-2 and Eutrop. 4.15) was engaged in difficult combat with the Scordisi and perhaps the Iapydes on the Northern frontier of his province.

319 out of 410 days: A Misguided Celebration of Archaeology


Yenikapi is Istanbul’s major new transportation interchange center.  It links the Marmaray (the new train under the Bosporus) with two of the city’s existing subway lines and has easy foot transfers to the ferry ports and tram and bus systems.  It’s fabulous.  It could teach NYC not just a thing or two, but dozens upon dozens of things.  It also happens to be on the site of the Theodosian harbor.   You can still look down into the massive open air pit filled with hundreds of crates of finds, bones, amphora, and the detritus of everyday life.  And some awesome exposed piers with reused marble facing.  It should be on every history and transport buff’s must see list for Istanbul.

The artistic displays in the station are meant to celebrate the layers of history exposed by the building of the station.  Mostly this is very successful.  However, the display pictured above makes me mad.  Not for the loose interpretation of stratigraphy or historical inaccuracies.  It’s art.  It’s an impression.  It doesn’t have to be true in a scholarly sense, to be true the spirit of the thing.  A transportation hub isn’t a museum.  [Although they do that pretty well in some places in Rome…]

What infuriates me is the sprinkling of fake gold coins throughout the model to make is glittery and appealing.

Treasure hunting is a huge problem in Turkey, not unlike many countries.  I’m not talking about the professional looting of antiquities.  That’s a problem but it’s an organized crime executed by people who know exactly what they are doing.   By contrast, treasure hunting comes from a lack of public education about the value of archaeology for its own sake.  There are no gold coins hidden under the pictures of birds in the Roman mosaics.   Smashing necropolis with sledgehammers or bulldozing Hellenistic foundations will not lead to a pot of gold.

Turkey’s museums are doing an awesome job educating visitors about problems with both looting and treasure hunting.   But, the average Turk who might think about treasure hunting is not the target audience of those museums. The display at Yenikapi will be seen by millions upon millions of Turks and foreign visitors.  The impression it gives is one that gold coins are the bread and butter of archaeology at all levels and all civilizations.  This can only but feed the imagination of the misinformed.

We need to do a better job educating the general public about the historical, cultural, and social value of archaeological finds, not as treasure but as time capsules that can open up a whole new world of knowledge.   Knowledge we can all partake in.  Discovers that cause awe and wonder.  Insights that will enrich our lives.

This display does not help.

Sergius, The Disabled Veteran

Reverse of RRC 286/1. 1941.131.92
RRC 286/1. ANS 1941.131.92.

Really some of Pliny’s best writing in the Natural History:

But, although these cases exhibit great achievements of valour, yet they involve still greater achievements of fortune; whereas nobody, in my judgement at all events, can rightly rank any human being above Marcus Sergius, albeit his great-grandson Catiline diminishes the credit of his name. Sergius in his second campaign lost his right hand; in two campaigns he was wounded twenty-three times, with the result that he was crippled in both hands and both feet, only his spirit being intact; yet although disabled, he served in numerous subsequent campaigns. He was twice taken prisoner by Hannibal (for it was with no ordinary foe that he was engaged), and twice escaped from Hannibal’s fetters, although he was kept in chains or shackles on every single day for twenty months. He fought four times with only his left hand, having two horses he was riding stabbed under him. He had a right hand of iron made for him and going into action with it tied to his arm, raised the siege of Cremona, saved Piacenza, captured twelve enemy camps in Gaul: all of which exploits are testified by his speech delivered during his praetorship when his colleagues wanted to debar him from the sacrifices as infirm—a man who with a different foe would have accumulated what piles of wreaths! inasmuch as it makes the greatest difference with what period of history a particular man’s valour happens to coincide. What civic wreaths were bestowed by Trebbia or Ticino or Trasimeno? what crown was won at Cannae, where successful flight was valour’s highest exploit? All other victors truly have conquered men, but Sergius vanquished fortune also.

Just reminded me of conversations about how Veterans are treated depending on the public’s perception of the war in question.  WWII vets as the greatest generation vs. Vietnam vets fighting for POWs to be remembered.  The stigma of PTSD for the soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

At least Sergius got a coin in the end.  Notice he holds his sword in his left hand.  (As well as the decapitated head.)

Shame about his great grandson.

Update 2/7/2018:

VAN LOMMEL, K. Heroes and outcasts : ambiguous attitudes towards impaired and disfigured Roman veterans. The Classical world. 109, (1)1, 91-117, ISSN: 00098418.

317 out of 410 days: Private Commerce at the start of the Hannibalic War

 He further embittered the senate against him by his support of C. Claudius; he alone of all the members was in favour of the measure which that tribune introduced. Under its provisions no senator, no one whose father had been a senator, was allowed to possess a vessel of more than 300 amphorae burden. This was considered quite large enough for the conveyance of produce from their estates, all profit made by trading was regarded as dishonourable for the patricians. The question excited the keenest opposition and brought Flaminius into the worst possible odium with the nobility through his support of it, but on the other hand made him a popular favourite and procured for him his second consulship.  (Livy 21.63.3-4)

This passage not incorrectly gets cited widely as evidence about restrictions on Senators engaging in commerce (exempli gratia).  Nothing wrong with that.  The same chapter of Livy gets discussed most often for the narrative tradition that blames Flaminius for the disaster at Lake Trasimene in the Hannibalic War.  Flaminius brings down divine wrath by not following proper religious procedures in his second consulship, because he’s afraid the nobles angered by his restriction of their potential financial gain will block his leaving for his province by claiming bad auspices.  Thus, he sneaks out to his province as a privatus.   So, by extension the disaster at Trasimene is all a result of a consul supporting popular legislation.  Moral of the story: a factious nobility is a threat to the well-being of the state.  Not a bad Augustan age moral really.

But here’s my question.  Why, oh why, did some tribute or the electorate in general care a rat’s ass about senators engaging in commerce? What the heck made this legislation ‘popular’ in any sense? Why at this moment in time?  The Gauls had been quieted.  The Adriatic shipping ways were strongly in Roman control.  Sicily and Sardinia had standing governors.  The Romans still probably thought at this moment that imminent war with Carthage and the Barcids would be fought in Spain and Africa.  Is this Livy’s interpretation of a list of legislation, elections, and events?  Or someone else’s?  Perhaps restrictions on senatorial commerce could be seen as popular with the equites if there is any grounds for understanding them as a merchant class at this point in time, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that reading.

[I got here as I was ruminating on the state of finances at Rome during the early years of the Hannibalic War.]