Hermes and the Dioscuri


On the Bronze coins of Amisos from the time of Mithridates, I think it likely that the winged bust of a youth is Hermes (Mercury).  On the coins of Amisos of this period the obverse and reverse are closely thematically tied one to another (Eros/Quiver, Perseus/harpa or pegasus, Dionysus/Cista Mystica, Athena/Perseus slaying Medusa, Herakles club and quiver, Amazon (?) in a leather persian cap/quiver and un strung bow, Artemis/tripod, etc…).

Hermes gave the Dioscuri their horses and is the bringer of good fortune (i.e. horn of plenty) the literary testimony is slim but solid.  Which in turn made me thing about RRC 14/1 and RRC 25/4 in the aes grave series!

Southesk Gem Collection

Or how I lost sometime today.  Here’s the digitization.

Here are the images that caught my eye for various reasons.  The first is the specimen now in Berlin that sparked my interest for its mention in Dardenay 2008.Capture5

And from this old catalogue I learned it had a friend and both were purchased in Rome.  COMVNIS is a pretty common inscription because it seems to have been the name of potter(y).  The stamp usage is tracked by The Roman Economy Project on fineware, but the name turns up lots of examples on vessels, especially lamps, in Clauss Slaby Database.  (Scholarship on the possible connection.)  The gem may just be testimony to another use of the same name.  It clearly derives from the coin (RRC 235/1).  With the tree rendering, but also connects with intaglios of the last post.  Below the V.F.S. would usually stand for vivus fecit sibi.  “He made for himself while living” common on funerary monuments, but unless this was made as a tomb offering that’s nonsensical as a resolution.  Vibi filius Spurius, Spurius, son of Vibius would also work.

Notice the head is rendered differently one wears a turreted crown and the other a helmet.  I am inclined to see both as personifications of Roma.

That head in the field needs more thinking about especially in relationship to the Medici sard recorded in Gori with three heads and other symbols.



These remainder caught my eye for one reason or another.  C16 contextualizes well RRC 287/1, for which by the by, I found a glass paste precedent in Berlin.


E39 is just a nice typical shepherd with wolf and twins.  E35 Below is a type much discussed by Alfoldi 1950 in relationship to RRC 398/1.  He interprets the scene as one of Rhea Silva.


And here we have yet another instance of the Crepereii’s Goddess


For good measure we should always have some elephant scalp personifications of Africa, though I’m not sure I’ve seen it in cameo before…


And this sow and shrine reminded me for all the world of the Ara Pacis relief:


Finally I wanted to think about gems with this type of design as they relate to RRC 401/1, there are better parallels for the type which I’ve discussed earlier, but nonetheless good to think with.



A leafless tree and a head


Chabouillet, Anatole. Catalogue général et raisonné des camées et pierres gravées de la Bibliothèque impériale. Paris : 1858, n°1531.

I think it likely by the by that this gem was originally in the Medici collection based on Gori’s illustrations.

Most of the trees on the intaglios are leafy and bear no visual relationship to RRC 235/1.

Notice also that the tree has a bird in it.  The catalogue says a woodpecker but this is a stretch of an assertion.  I’ve been obsessed by the bird question before.

This is by far the closest visual parallel I’ve found.  And interestingly it provides a parallel also for the head on this Sard in the Etruscan style for the BM (1814,0704.1319).


I’ve discussed this gem before on this blog.

wolf and twins



Crossed Swords


I got thinking about RRC 423/1 because of the preceding post.  I wanted to recall other images of Romans facing Romans.  As I was browsing the CRRO entry (linked in last sentence),  I noticed a few specimens with crossed swords.  Crawford notice this as well: “On one reverse die the soldiers are crossing swords (Bologna, Cat. 367)”.

Besides the one in trade illustrated above,  I spotted one in Paris and one in the BM 2002,0102.4306 (why oh why do they not yet have stable URLs?!).

Didn’t bother to check whether they are all the same die.  I wonder if this crossed sword interpretation might help us think about what the design means.  I have often thought it might represent an oath scene or some sort…

Roman Men, Sabine Women


This book cover came across my twitter feed today.  It riffs on RRC 344/1 and its depiction of the Rape of the Sabine Women.  The reverse design re-imagined with more modern assumptions of bodies made me look at the bodies of the original more closely.   I realized that because of the direction of the women’s arms I’d always read the type as the their being carried off stage left.  This isn’t the case.  The two men face each other and make eye contact.  There feet and legs suggest they are run towards each other not off in the same direction.  The scene is the “we got them, now what?” moment of the seizure and rape.  I want to think more about this…

ὦ ἀγαθέ, or the creeping of the philosophical into historiography

δὲ Βροῦτος αὐτῷ πάλιν παραστὰς, “Ἴθι, ἀγαθὲ,” ἔφη, “τοῖς λήροις τούτων χαίρειν φράσας…”

and Brutus was standing with him again saying, “Go my good friend, be done with the non-sense of these people…” (Nic. Aug. 87; Toher trans.)

I read the above and started to fret a little over the vocative ἀγαθὲ.  It felt unfamiliar and maybe an odd translation.   Nope. Totally standard translation according to the LSJ:

ὦ ἀγαθέ, my good friend, as a term of gentle remonstrance, Pl.Prt.311a, etc.

Huh, I thought, maybe this is a philosophical thing?  Ya sure you betcha!  One use in Isaeus.  But then lots of Plato and always with Socrates teasing and guiding the other interlocutors to the ‘right’ conclusion away from some ‘preposterous’ one (Republic, Phaedrus, Crito).

Where else does it show up?  Well in the mock philosophic dialogue of Athenaeus!

[Bye-the-bye, it’s also all over early Christian writers and has some antecedents in the NT, probably a philosophical influence but not really my area, so I leave it be]

So what I like about this all is that Nicolaus the Peripatetic is bring his vocabulary of Philosophic dialogue into his life of Augustus.  BUT, of course, we know that Brutus is deceiving Caesar at this moment!  So is Nicolaus constructing ὦ ἀγαθέ as a bit of sophistry?   Is Plato playing with sophistic rhetoric when he uses it in his Socratic dialogues?

Interestingly, Appian uses ὦ ἀγαθέ in moralizing discussions between friends deliberating correct action:

στενῆςδὲτῆςἐξόδουπάμπανοὔσηςΒλάτιοςἔφητῷΔασίῳ, τοὺςἄλλουςλαθών·
οὐσώσεις, ἀγαθέ, τὴνπατρίδα;δὲκαὶτοῦτ’εὐθὺςἐκβοήσαςἐμήνυεν. …

As they were going out by a very narrow passage Blatius said to Dasius in a low tone, “Are you not willing to save your country, good sir?” The latter immediately repeated the words in a loud voice… (App. Hann. 45, White trans.)

ἐπανερομένουδὲτοῦΚασσίου· “τίδ’, ἂνἡμᾶςκαλῶσινὡςστρατηγούς, τίποιήσομεν, ἀγαθὲΒροῦτε; “ἀμυνῶτῇπατρίδι,ἔφη, “μέχριθανάτου.

Then Cassius asked him further, “What if we are summoned there as praetors, what shall we do then, my good Brutus?” “I will defend my country to the death,” he replied. (App. BC 2.113, White trans)

These instances are so similar that they feel like Appian must have a common model for both.  His usage feels much more platonic, that Nicolaus’ sophistic tongue and cheek usage.