RRC 1/1 and the Myth of Palaeopolis

This is a more polished piece of text.  It was originally drafted for a longer version of my forthcoming ANS-CUP book.  That longer version wasn’t right for the series and ended up in the “archive” (meaning my languishing files of unpublished academic writing).  I then thought that this might be part of a series of articles on early Roman History and Coinage, but last January as I started really working on revising existing drafts of the material and polishing for publication, I decided that this particular material just wasn’t ‘new’ enough for a peer-reviewed journal and I’ve no interest in writing a second book type treatment.  I’m moving on in my writing and research for formal publication.

BUT… all that said, I like this piece a lot AND some of you may well like it too!

RRC 1/1 and the Myth of Palaeopolis

Our understanding of the historical context for Rome’s first coin issue has been clouded by sensibilities of Augustan hindsight.  What follows in this section a historiographical critique of the available literary sources followed by an integration numismatic evidence in light of that critique.  The two major literary sources, Livy and Dionysius, are both problematic, but in very different ways.  Livy follows a tradition that inserts a fictious state, Palaeopolis, into the narrative.  Dionysius’ narrative survives only in a few rhetorical fragments.  Both are products of the Augustan period and both are seeking to explain events of the late of fourth century in light of Rome’s later supremacy.

Livy’s account, our most detailed, works hard to exonerate the Neapolitans of any significant hostility towards Rome.  Throughout his narrative, the Neapolitans are barely mentioned: Palaeopolis is the hostile community.  When the Neapolitans appear, it is to emphasize that they were wholly cut off from communicating with or supporting the Palaeopolitans by the position of the Roman army (8.23.10, cf. 8.25.5).  Livy speculates that it is the Samnites’ disregard for their treaties with Rome that inspires the Palaeopolitans to harass Romans living in the region (8.22.7), but assures his readers that it was pressure from Nola that led to the Samnite and Nolan garrisoning of Palaeopolis, not the desire of the Greek population (8.23.1).  Eventually the bad behavior of this garrison, especially towards the women and children, leads the Greek statesmen to despair at the idea of accepting even more Samnite “help” and to concoct a successful plot to betray the city to Rome (8.25.6-8.26.5).  Throughout the narrative there is an emphasis on strong ethnic divisions in the city with the Greeks being the least culpable of Rome’s adversaries: “the force from Tarentum composed of Greeks, they [sc. Palaeopolitans] were prepared to welcome, being Greeks themselves, and through their means they hoped to resist the Samnites and the Nolans no less than the Romans.” Livy then concludes with the following admission that he is aware of differing accounts and that he is using retrospective logic to reconstruct what he himself deems most probably:

I am quite aware that there is another view of this transaction, according to which it was the Samnites who surrendered, but in the above account I have followed the authorities whom I consider most worthy of credit. Neapolis became subsequently the chief seat of the Greek population, and the fact of a treaty being made with that city renders it all the more probable that the re-establishment of friendly relations was due to them. As it was generally believed that the enemy had been forced by the siege to come to terms, a triumph was decreed to Publilius. Two circumstances happened in connection with his consulship which had never happened before – a prolongation of command and a triumph after he had laid down his command. (Livy 8.26.6-7, Roberts trans. [public domain])

Notably, Livy’s account agrees with the records of the Augustan age fasti triumphales:

Q(uintus) Publilius Q(uinti) f(ilius) Q(uinti) n(epos) Philo II ann(o) CDXXVII / primus pro co(n)s(ule) de Samnitibus / Palaeopolitaneis K(alendis) Mai(is) 

Quintus Publilius, son of Quintus, grandson of Quintus, Philo for the second time [triumphed] in the year 177, as the first proconsul, over the Samnites and the Palaeopolitans on the Kalends of May[1]

These are the only historical references to Palaeopolis, “the old city”, and its co-existence and separate identity from Neapolis, “the new city”.  Oakley in his commentary on Livy is unilateral, “It is absurd to believe that in 327 there was a sovereign state called Palaeopolis.”  He goes on to suggest how this error might have crept into the annalistic tradition and thus been preserved in Livy.[2]  First, Palaeopolis might be synonymous with Parthenope, the “original” name of the settlement.  Second, It may describe the region of the city located on the slightly higher ground of the Pizzofalcone promontory, just on the opposite side of the ancient harbor from the main center of the city.[3]  The name Parthenope is first attested in a fragment of Lutatius (fl. 100 BCE), perhaps derived from Timaeus (fl. 260 BCE), that says Parthenope was the original colony founded by Cumaeans on the site, then destroyed by the mother-city, and subsequently re-founded with the name Neapolis in response to an oracle.[4]  The story provides aetiological explanations for the name ‘New City’ and the city’s cult of the siren Parthenope.  In common usage, however, the name Parthenope is not distinguished in any temporal or physical sense from the city of Neapolis, but is used instead as a poetic synonym popularized by Vergil’s Georgics (c. 29 BCE).[5]  It is just possible, if unattested, that the slightly higher ground of the Pizzofalcone promontory could have been a district of the poleis, colloquially called the ‘the old city’.[6]   However, we have no reason to believe that this area played a significant role, separate from the rest of the city, during the conflict with Rome.[7]

My contention is that Palaeopolis is a convenient alter ego adopted in order to retroactively absolve Neapolis of any anti-Roman past.  Livy could not quite believe that after siding with the enemy it could have been granted such a favorable treaty with the Romans and be allowed to remain the leading Greek city on the Tyrrhenian seaboard.  However, even Livy himself is not ready to commit to a complete separation of Neapolis and Palaeopolis.  Geographically, he says it is not far from where now Neapolis is (haud procul inde ubi nunc).  And, he goes on saying the two cities are inhabited by the same people (duabus urbibus populus idem habitabat)!  Then, he narrates the origins of this populus, giving an origin story, similar to that given to Neapolis alone in all our other ancient sources.[8]

The death knell for any putative ‘Palaeopolis’ can be found in the long fragments of Dionysius’ account of the Samnite wars including the Roman embassy to Neapolis, and their decision to side against the Romans and accept Samnite aid.[9]  Dionysius has significantly different interests from Livy in his more fulsome, if now fragmentary, treatment of the wars.[10]  Dionysius is exceptionally concerned to display the strategy employed to repress a potential mutiny in the winter camps of Campania and the linger effects of this potential mutiny, a matter treated with less seriousness and with few consequences by Livy.[11]  Dionysius also shows an interest in the narration of geographical and logistical matters nearly wholly absent from Livy.[12]  On the specific engagement of Rome and Neapolis, the variations between the two accounts abound, beyond even Dionysius’ apparent unawareness of a community named Palaeopolis, separate and distinct from Neapolis.   The Dionysius fragment comes from Porphyrogenitus’ compilation entitled, On Embassies.  Unlike in Livy the injured party are not Romans living in Campania and the Falernian territory, but the Campanian friends of the Romans (τοὺς φίλους αὐτῶν Καμπανοὺς).  These friends approach the Roman Senate and this causes a delegation to be sent to Neapolis to propose a mediated resolution, not a call to arms.  Livy insists that the fetials are sent to Palaeopolis demanding redress, i.e. in his account Rome immediately moves to a threat of arms.[13]  Dionysius has the Roman ambassadors address the Neapolitans at the same time as the Tarentines and Nolans.[14]  These two additional sets of ambassadors ask the Neapolitans to reject an alliance with the Romans or their friends and reaffirm their friendship with the Samnites.  Dionysius then reconstructs at length how the Neapolitans go about their decision-making.  He emphasizes a division between the elite and the people with the former mostly supporting Rome, but being swayed eventually to leave the decision to a popular assembly (ἐπὶ τῷ δήμῳ and εἰς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν), not the boulē.  The persuasive arguments before the assembly are (1) the treachery of the Romans (an echo of Dionysius’ earlier interests in the potential mutiny!); (2) the strength of the military resources to be provided to the Neapolitans; and (3) the recovery of Cumae and grant of agricultural lands in Campania.  This last point is likely a reference to Cumae being admitted into the Roman franchise, civitas sine suffragio, in 338 BCE.[15]  Still the elite are not swayed. but the people are: ‘the worse overpower their betters’ (καὶ τελευτῶντες ἐκράτησαν οἱ κακίους τῶν κρειττόνων).  The Roman ambassadors must take back to Rome word of the impending conflict.

In the next fragment of Dionysius, we rejoin events with the Roman ambassadors laying out their complaints directly to the Samnites, among the alleged crimes is the following:

Roman Antiquities 15.7.3:

when the Neapolitans were afraid to declare war against us, you devoted all your zeal and efforts to encouraging them, or rather compelling them, to do so, and are paying all the expenses and are holding their city with your own forces.

ἐν δὲ τῷ παρελθόντι ἐνιαυτῷ Νεαπολίτας δεδιότας ἀναδεῖξαι τὸν καθ᾿ ἡμῶν πόλεμον ἁπάσῃ σπουδῇ καὶ προθυμίᾳ χρώμενοι παρωρμήσατε, μᾶλλον δ᾿ ἠναγκάσατε, καὶ τὰς δαπάνας ἐπιχορηγεῖτε καὶ τὴν πόλιν δι᾿ ὑμῶν αὐτῶν ἔχετε.

Later in the same speech comes the demand to withdraw from Neapolis the forces sent there (15.7.5: πρῶτον μὲν ἀπάγειν ὑμᾶς ἀξιοῦμεν τὴν ἀποσταλεῖσαν Νεαπολίταις συμμαχίαν).  Then Dionysius puts the following rebuttal into the mouths of the Samnites (15.8.3, 5):

As for the city of Neapolis, in which there are some of our troops, far from wronging you if we as a state contribute some aid toward the safety of those who are in danger, it is rather we ourselves who seem to be greatly wronged by you. For, though this city had become our friend and ally, not just recently nor from the time when we made our compact with you, but two generations earlier, in return for many great services, you enslaved it, though you had been wronged in no respect. Yet not even in this action has the Samnite state wronged you; rather it is some men connected by private ties of hospitality, as we learn, and friends of the Neapolitans who are aiding that city of their own free will, together with some also who through lack of a livelihood, perhaps, are serving as mercenaries.

περὶ δὲ τῆς Νεαπολιτῶν πόλεως, ἐν ᾗ τῶν ἡμετέρων τινές εἰσιν, τοσούτου6 δέομεν ἀδικεῖν ὑμᾶς, εἴ τινα τοῖς κινδυνεύουσι βοήθειαν εἰς σωτηρίαν κοινῇ παρεχόμεθα, ὥστ᾿ αὐτοὶ δοκοῦμεν ὑφ᾿ ὑμῶν ἀδικεῖσθαι μεγάλα. φίλην γὰρ ἡμῶν καὶ σύμμαχον οὖσαν τὴν πόλιν ταύτην οὐκ ἔναγχος οὐδ᾿ ἀφ᾿ οὗ τὰς πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐποιησάμεθα ὁμολογίας, ἀλλὰ δευτέρᾳ γενεᾷ πρότερον διὰ πολλὰς καὶ μεγάλας εὐεργεσίας, οὐθὲν ἀδικηθέντες ὑμεῖς 5κατεδουλώσασθε. οὐ μὴν οὐδὲ τούτῳ γε τῷ ἔργῳ τὸ κοινὸν ὑμᾶς τῶν Σαυνιτῶν ἠδίκησεν· ἰδιόξενοι δέ τινές εἰσιν, ὡς πυνθανόμεθα, καὶ φίλοι τῶν Νεαπολιτῶν οἱ κατὰ τὴν ἑαυτῶν προαίρεσιν τῇ πόλει βοηθοῦντες καί τινες καὶ δι᾿ ἀπορίαν ἴσως βίου μισθοφόροι. ὑφαιρεῖν8 δὲ τοὺς ὑπηκόους ὑμῶν οὐθὲν δεόμεθα·

The rebuttal seems intentionally contradictory and thus weak compared to the construction of the Roman claim: “yes, we have some troops there, but we’re old friends with them, and you’re the ones in the wrong, but it is not really our troops, just some individual relationships and maybe some mercenaries.” We have no further information surviving from Dionysius about the course of the war and its resolution.  Yet, in what does survive we seem to have a subtler form of apologetic from that created by Livy and the Fasti by means of the creation of Palaeopolis. It was not the leaders of Neapolis which rebelled from Rome, only the populus, and in the end event the populus did not take up arms against Rome, they only admitted a garrison from which the Romans then ‘rescued’ them.  In Livy’s narration a segment of the population also “come to their senses” and surrenders the city to the Romans.  The key difference is that for Livy the sensible portion are the Greeks as an ethnic group, not simply the ruling class as in Dionysius.

In the passage quoted above, Livy expresses his incredulity that late fourth century Rome would have preserved and even honored a rebellious ally.  We need not share this incredulity.  Multiple sources, not least the numismatic evidence, point to Neapolis as an important link between communities of different ethnic groups in the region.  As we just saw, this is very much how Dionysius imagines Neapolis’ position in the course of events, a city to be wooed and courted by all sides.  From the numismatic evidence, Rutter has shown through extensive die links that all the Campanian coinage struck after 420 BCE was likely produced at Neapolis on behalf of those communities whose names those coins bear.[16]  Die-links provide concrete evidence the two issues were produced in the same mint or that two mints were closely sharing resources, the former being the more likely scenario.  These links include Neapolis didrachms with coins of the Campani, the people of Capua.[17]  Another issue of the Campani shares at least two obverse dies with a Cumae issue.[18]  And a die used to strike Neapolis didrachms was recut from a die used to strike coins in the name of the Hyrians.[19]  These issues are likely to date to last decade of the fifth century.  Around the first decade of the fourth century, another Neapolitan didrachm issue shares obverse dies with Nola.[20]  Moreover, throughout this period Neapolitan die cutters were unmistakably drawing inspiration from other regional mints, such as Thurii and Syracuse.[21]   In sum, the coins testify to close cooperation between the Greek-speaking communities of the coast (Neapolis, Cumae) and the Oscan-speaking communities of the interior (Capua, Nola), even as our historical sources emphasize violent conflict.[22]  Both Strabo and Diodorus also comment on the mixed ethnic character of Neapolis, and how old magistrate lists are filled with Italic as a well as Greek names.[23]  Velleius Paterculus seems to argue against such an understanding of Neapolis, choosing to emphasize its pure Greekness, uncorrupted by the Samnite influences as Cumae it mother-city was.  Yet, the very need for such an assertion itself suggests a common alternate understanding of the ethnic character of Neapolis. Dionysius and Livy comment on how Neapolis is–or is not–‘acting Greek’ throughout their narratives.[24]  Neapolis served a vital function in connecting regional populations one to another, and also to the wider Mediterranean world via its harbor.[25]  It provided not just ‘inspiration’, but tangible assistance in the production of coinage for a variety of communities, long before Rome appears on its doorstep.

That Rome preserved Neapolis and offered a generous treaty is unsurprising, especially in light of Rome’s concern with securing her own position in Campania and in relation to the Samnites.  “Palaeopolis” is the earliest Greek community to appear on the Roman triumph lists and appears in addition to a victory over the Samnites. It will be just over 45 years—that is more than a generation, almost two—before another Greek community, Tarentum, appears there.[26]  Neapolis was just too useful to be destroyed (assuming along with Livy that the Romans were capable of this), or even to be left as a disgruntled, hostile foe.  The Romans chose wisely; Neapolis remained loyal through the wars with Pyrrhus and first two Punic Wars.[27]  Not until the strategic placement of a maritime colony of veterans at Puteoli in 194 BC was Neapolis’ regional significance effectively eclipsed.[28]

It is equally unsurprising that a Rome-Neapolis treaty of the late fourth century should result in coinage.  As we’ve just seen, Neapolis served as the primary regional mint in Campania strike coins in the name of a number of regional communities with various ethnic identities from the late fifth century onwards.[29]  Rome was entering a region where there was a numismatic ‘habit’.  We cannot know whether the Romans asked for the coins or whether the Neapolis offered to create them.  The resulting issue was a series of small bronze pieces produced from very few dies, meaning this first ‘Roman’ issue is unlikely to have had any significant economic function.  There simply would not have been enough struck to represent a major state expenditure of any kind.  It uses the Greek alphabet for the legend, ΡΩΜΑΙΩΝ (‘of the Romans’) and the type and fabric are typical of Neapolis (fig. 2).[30]  The coin would have circulated easily with other Campanian issues.  By issuing coins for the Romans, Neapolis was effectively treating Rome as no different than any of its other regional powers.  Our literary sources attempt to read Roman exceptionalism into this period and to create tidy narratives with an us/them structure, be those Greeks versus Samnites or elites versus the masses.  The first Roman coin tells a different story.  It suggests a strategic negotiation of power between Naples and Rome which left both with greater regional influence.


FIGURE 1Berlin 18214344.  Acquired from Friedrich Imhoof-Blumer in 1900. RRC 1/1 = HN Italy 251, shortly after 326 BCE, Bronze, 3.54 grams, 16 mm.   Obverse: Head of Apollo, Reverse: forepart of a Man-Faced Bull with eight-rayed star on the shoulder, above [ΡΩ]ΜΑΙΩΝ (‘of the Romans’).


FIGURE 2:  Taliercio Ic, 5, c. 325-320 BCE [image from man-faced bulls project].   Obverse: Head of Apollo, Reverse: forepart of a Man-Faced Bull with eight-rayed star on the shoulder, above ΝΕΟΠΟΛΙΤΕΩΝ (‘of the Neapolitans’).

[1] Degrassi 1954: 95; cf. Braccesi 1977-78 and Sumi 2005: 246-7.

[2] Oakley 1998: 643-5.

[3] cf. BNP s.v. ‘Neapolis [2]’.

[4] FRH 32 F 6 with commentary by Smith.

[5] Verg. Georg. 4.564, cf. Plin. NH 3.62: “On the coast stands Naples, itself also a colony of the Chalcidians, named Parthenope from the tomb of one of the Sirens” litore autem Neapolis Chalcidensium et ipsa, Parthenope a tumulo Sirenis appellate.

[6] Oakley 1998: 644, noting the comparative naming practices of areas within other Greek poleis (Polyb. 1.38.9 and Strabo 3.4.8).

[7] Oakley 1998: 645: “D.H. seems to imply that the garrison was to be placed in Neapolis itself, and that L.’s narrative is not easily applied to the strong hold of Pizzofalcone.”

[8] A colony of Cumae itself a colony of Chalcis: Ps. Scym. 236-243, Lutatius (FRH 32 F 6), and Vell. Pat. 1.4.1-2.  Strabo, 5.4.7, like Livy, mentions Pithacusa in relation to the foundation, but is generally the most confused (cf. 14.2.10), favoring a narrative of waves of settlers, rather than a singular origin story associated with Cumae.  Plin. NH 3.62 calls it just a Chalcidian settlement.

[9] 15.5-6 parallels Livy 8.22.5-10, 15.7-10 parallels Livy 8.23.1-13.  Oakley 1998: 641-2 asserts Dion. Hal.’s narrative here has the ‘stamp of authenticity’ and ‘goes back to a Greek source, perhaps a local chronicle’.

[10] The fragments are preserved in the work of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus; on the particular challenges of working with fragments from this collection see Toher 2017: 58-60.

[11] Dion. Hal. 15.3 and 4 cf. Livy 7.38.

[12] Dion. Hal. 15.4.  The description bears some similarities to the style of Caesar’s Commentaries, on which Riggsby 2006, esp. chapter 1.

[13] On the discrepancies between these specific accounts, Rich 2011: 220-1; contra Oakley 1998: 647-9, he believes Dion. Hal.’s account situates events in 326 BCE and whereas Livy’s account would place these events in 327 BCE.  Also cf. p. 213 where he notes emissaries in Livy who are certainly fetials being described in certain sources as legates or messengers.

[14] Oakley 1998: 645 see this element of Dionysius’ version echoed elsewhere in Livy: 8.23.1 and 25.5-8.

[15] Livy 8.14. Oscan-speaking Campanians had taken control of Cumae in 421 BCE: Livy 4.44, Diod. 12.76, Vell. 1.4; yet Strabo emphasizes its Greek character in his own day (5.4).

[16] Rutter 1979: 95-100 and passim.

[17] HN Italy 478, cf. HN Italy 554

[18] HN Italy 476, cf. HN Italy 532

[19] HN Italy 553, cf. HN Italy 540.

[20] HN Italy 563, cf. HN Italy 605

[21] HN Italy 554, 557, 559-561.

[22] See footnote 14 above.

[23] 5.4.7 and 16.18.1

[24] 15.5.1-3: “[actions] unbecoming to Greeks”, “greatly admired the Greeks”, “fight as befitted Greeks”; cf. Livy 8.22.4 with a negative connotation given to Greekness: gente lingua magis strenua quam factis.

[25] Cf. Ruffo 2010.

[26] Degrassi 1954: 98 on L Aemilius Barbula’s triumph in 280/79 BCE.

[27]  Zon. 8.4; Polyb. 1.20.14; Livy 23.14.

[28] Salmon 1970: 97-9.

[29] Rutter 1979: 75, 82-83; cf. Crawford 1983a.

[30] Taliercio 1998, 1986, and Campana 1996.  A good English introduction to the history and types discussed here can be found in Taylor 2010 (a pre-publication, online document: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1676285). HN Italy identifies 568 = Taliercio Ib as the prototype for RRC 1/1, if this is accurate, then Ib.8 is the closest stylistic rendering, but Taliercio Ic, 5 must be considered as well (HN Italy 569) as it has an eight-, not four-pointed star, such as is visible on most RRC 1/1 specimens.  The most complete illustrated critique of the typology is found in an independent online publication: https://manfacedbulls.wordpress.com/neapolis/.

Further bibliography

Kent, Patrick. “The Neapolitan affair: war without armies in early Italy.” The Ancient World 44, no. 1 (2013): 44-54.

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