93 of 234 days: Liberalitas and the gens Thoria

Detail of BM specimen

My favorite detail of the attributes of Liberalitas is her money shovel. Sometimes its called an abacus (wrong) or accounting board (a plausible, but potentially misleading term). This tool was used to ensure each individual got the same number of coins in distributions of imperial largesse. On the Arch of Constantine you can see the tool in action on a larger scale than on the coins. Notice the coin board has 9 recesses and the coins from it are being dumped into the outstretched toga of the man below it.

“Constantine and his attendants distributing largess to the Roman people (largitio). Relief of the frieze on the eastern side (Constantinian frieze). Marble. 312—315 CE.” © 2017. Photo: Ilya Shurygin. (Source)

This blog post is just to remind myself to try to squeeze the lex Thoria in with the other meager data points on the gens Thoria should I ever circle back to them. And to think about the logistics of the distribution of money to the poor in the Republic, albeit short lived. I wonder how much of the ritual and symbolism of Liberalitas from the empire could be transposed back onto the late second century experiment in state pay outs. (more images below)

This passage was what got me thinking in this direction this morning…

…a law was enacted to permit the holders to sell the land about which they had quarrelled; for even this had been forbidden by the law of the elder Gracchus. At once the rich began to buy the allotments of the poor, or found pretexts​ for seizing them by force. So the condition of the poor became even worse than it was before, until Spurius Thorius, a tribune of the people, brought in a law providing that the work of distributing the public domain should no longer be continued, but that the land should belong to those in possession of it, who should pay rent for it to the people, and that the money so received should be distributed; and this distribution was a kind of solace to the poor, but it did not help to increase the population. By these devices the law of Gracchus — a most excellent and useful one, if it could have been carried out — was once for all frustrated, and a little later the rent itself was abolished at the instance of another tribune. So the plebeians lost everything …

Appian BC 1.27

The only mention of this earlier on this blog was on the grain supply time line post. I have thought and read more about it and wrote some notes about the same time I made that timeline, they should be in the drafts file of the first version of my coin book, but I won’t go dig those out now.

But what I really want to do is point out that this Spurius Thorius may be a near relation to Lucius Thorius, a moneyer just over a decade later. Spurius’ legislation seems ‘popular’ in character, but Lucius died fighting Sertorius under Metellus Pius.

A Thorius Flaccus was Proconsul in the early to mid 20s BCE and issued bronze coins in both Nicaea and Nicomedia including some with his own portrait.

I’ve blogged about the Lanuvium connection of the Thorii before because of their use of Juno Sospita imagery, and I’ve written about Lucius Thorius as an issuer of small change (1st post, 2nd post). I mention in both instances, Lucius’ reputation as an Epicurean and tried to reconcile Cicero’s characterization with his clear engagement in public affairs, even to the extent of dying in a civil war.

Round up of some typical distribution scenes on imperial coinage all but one include the money shovel:

ANS Specimen: “CONG I DAT POP S C – Nero, bare-headed and togate, seated right, on platform, left; official seated right on another platform extending congiarium to citizen with small boy behind him; Minerva, head left, holding owl and spear, and Liberalitas on right, holding tessera”
Wein Specimen: “Trajan, togate, seated left on platform on right, on lower platform in front of him, an officer is inscribing a tessera to give to citizen on left, holding out fold of toga to receive it; in the background, a tripod and Liberalitas, standing left, holding up an abacus”
RIC 3 Ant 74b: no money shovel: the coins flow from the cornucopia!
RIC 3 Ant. 75c

non coin portion.

I’m working a half day today. Kiddos turn 8 tomorrow and beloved needs some help pulling off three days of festivities. Coins can wait. I have between now and noon to give more attention to the money and moneyers of the 80s BCE. I also have a convo with a colleague to talk about career stuff. It’s good on sabbatical to step back and think about what work I want to do long term. I need to get on UK logistics and even a little Rome logistics.

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