Nothing to do with coin striking

I’m very grateful to Prof. Sinclair W. Bell for reading the below post and sending me the following article which I had not read when I wrote the original post!  I’ve annotated my original post to highlight our agreements and disagreements.


—Original post with annotations based on Daoust–

I am very grateful to Dr. Jeremy Haag for sending me an email asking my thoughts on this relief.  I found I had quite a few… As often happens.


BM 1954,1214.1has since Vermuele been taken as a possible illustration of some mint workers.  This interpretation cannot stand.

Two men are pictured, both formerly enslaved. The man on the left, Philonicus was a lictor.  Lictors not only carried fasces but also carried another thinner rod perhaps what is called by Festus a commetaculum, or maybe it would be called a bacillum (staff) as in  Cic. Agr. 2.93.  Regardless of what the right Latin word is for this little rod, never the less we see it in the hands of lictors all the time!  There is a good case to be made that it’s “the get out of my way” stick–the stick that actually got used as opposed to the ceremonial bundle.

Details of above monument:

Museo Gregoriano Profano, Vatikanische Museen, Italien, Inv.-Nr. 9534
Museo Maffeiano, Verona, Italien, Pronao. Inv.-Nr. 28164
Villa Pelicano, Castellammare di Stabia, Italien, Inv.-Nr. 140/1012
Museo Maffeiano, Verona, Italien, Pronao. Inv.-Nr. 28165

Why did anyone ever think Philonicus might have not been a lictor?  Because they were misled by the idea that the Mariemont Relief represented a scene of emancipation rather than a scene from the circus with a presiding official and three desultores.

[Update: Daoust p. 239ff. is concerned, as Ashmole and Manning before him, that the axe shape is strange and describes it as archaic following Schäfer’s chronology (dang, I want that book on my shelves forever–pandemic book access is such a pain…).  Not having Schäfer to hand I can’t decide how convinced I am but I’m generally skeptical.  Some times representations of fasces are consistent (e.g. on Norbanus coinage), but often the die engravers are very casual about variations in style and not all iconography ‘evolves’ in the chronologically meaningful way–look at the mess Fittschen hair styles got us into for the Antonine dating.  I agree that the fasces are occupational; I do not believe the men worked for the Roman state as blacksmiths or reported to lictors, I believe Philonicus may have started life as a blacksmith and then became a lictor.]

The man on the right is Demetrius and he was owned by the late Philonicus and made the monument for both himself and his patronus [Update: Daoust concurs, p. 232-3]. I concur strongly with Manning that the tools are the right represent are to be associated with carpentry, a view endorsed by Roger Ulrich (p. 31 of his book Roman Woodworking).  The only thing I have to add is the observation that some of the tools are also depicted in the fresco of Icarus from the House of Vettius, namely bow-drill, adze.


[Update: Daoust p. 237 also mentions this fresco and sees in it Icarus using a tool like the ‘knife’ in the relief–what he identifies as a mortise chisel.  This was my very first thought as well for the identity of the tool on the relief, so I am tempted.  I shied away from this interpretation as I couldn’t find a good parallel image in Ulrich but this may be about which profile of the chisel is shown.  I was inclined to emphasize its knife-like qualities  because of the similarity in profile to knives in cutler iconography.  I grant these are not exact parallels, but neither is the chisel (yet…)]

[Is it a knife?!]
One of the mysteries is why the adze and tanged paring chisel, the lowest two tools on the right hand side are shown without handles, whereas the drill is shown with its finely turned spoke and the knife is also shown with a handle (Daoust, p. 238 also emphasizes this point).  I have a speculation, but I’m going to wait to share until we’ve dealt with the pediment.


Manning has already observed that the tongs do not hold a flan but instead had a flange to ensure closure and improve grasp [Update: on this feature of tongs and relationship to the production of small tools, Daoust p. 236].  The really kicker though is the two part anvil. One part anvils are known in Roman art, but two part anvils  like the one seen here are very common.  The top portion of the anvil is NOT a die.

Museo della Civilta Romana (1964) 617 Nr. 50
Türkische Schule, Izmir, Republik Türkei, Inv.-Nr. 80
Aquileia, (Aquileia), Udine (Provinz), Italien; Filmnummer: 0783_B03; Negativnummer: Alinari 46962

[Daoust p. 236 refers to this type of relief of a blacksmith expert in lock making for comparative evidence of tools and product both appearing on such occupationally themed memorials.]

Archäologische Staatssammlung, München, Deutschland, Inv.-Nr. 1981,4404
Museo Nazionale Romano – Museo delle Terme
CIL 13, 02965 = SIRIS 00747 = RICIS-02, 00607/0202 = CAG-89-02, p 666; EDCS-10501963


Grabstele des Schmieds Kleobios, Staatliche Museen, Antikensammlung Berlin Sk 790

So do we have three professions held by two men here? Maybe.  Maybe Philonicus started off as a blacksmith became a lictor upon being freed and then set up Demetrius in business as a carpenter.  Lictors are essentially bully-boys or body guards and Philonicus does have a meathead look to him and who better than a blacksmith to make a lictor?

But I also think it just possible that Demetrius was a blacksmith specializing in the creation of carpentry tools especially hard to make stuff like drill bits and precise knives.  It’s a simpler explanation, two professions instead of three AND it fits with the last two tools being shown with out handles.

[Update: Daoust believes the tympanum must refer to both men and a share profession.  This is logical.  p. 234 following. He emphasizes on p. 235 that the hammer is a a cross-pene type and thus for finer work.  I’d put less emphasis on on this as identifying the type of blacksmith or try to marshal more comparative evidence to support it.  That said I don’t have Zimmer, G. 1982. Römische Berufsdarstellungen, AF 12. Berlin: Gebr. Mann Verlag to hand and if I did I might be more convinced.]

Smiths with specializations are known:

Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli

As are those that specialize in blades.  Tomb 29 from Ostia might be a good comparison point.

Further images

Tomb relief showing a smith in the act of working with his helper. Imperial times. Roma, Museo della Civilta Romana; Roma, Museo della Civilta Romana. Di Tanna, A., “I Collegi degli artigiani”, Archeo: Attualita del Passato, 140 (1996)





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