Accounts of the discovery of the Vicarello votive deposit (hoard)

Translations are machine assisted with heavy human editing.

From Marchi as quoted in Coloni 1967/8:

“I made the decision to create baths for “ten to twelve of the patients” in pools that received the water “from below up … at the distance of just over half a meter from the source …, the primitive manhole (?, chiusino) which was located in the only existing pool, we agreed should be demolished, in order to connect the water with the new bathing pools: and it was only a few minutes that the pistons (steam pump) sent the spring water out of the well, when under the surface we began to discover that the manhole was cluttered with ancient metal … The water from the source was found to be a little less than forty degrees of the Reaumur thermometer, so that the first of the men who put it inside, barely managed to remove that small quantity which lay on a ridge of tile, which divided the manhole in two levels an upper and a lower and an upper  … (then) a second worker went down both to destroy the part that was largely corroded by the heat and the force of the water and also to begin to bring out the metal that was ascending under that same partition. The work lasted several hours; thirteen workers took it in turns, all of whom came out badly burned and the metal retracted sufficed to fill 2  large tubs. On 22 January last, when the excavation was completed, we arrived at the site to take account of what had happened and to examine the metal. … ”

There is a little more but I am not completely certain of the meaning Italian phrasing, but believe it wonders at the miracle of discovery

Coloni also quotes De Rossi while bemoaning exact stratigraphy was not recorded as the material was removed:

“The layers of that heap of votive gifts kept exactly the chronological order, so that at first coins and vases of the imperial age were discovered, then coins of the Roman republic and of the surrounding peoples, bars and cast, and gradually passed from the aes signatum to aes rude, after which the metal ceased and even then the researches ceased, or rather, the search for objects that attracted the greed of the seekers failed. Under the metal clumps of rock appeared, which were considered to be the bottom of the basin. I am grateful to P. Tongiorgi, director of the Kircherian Museum, for having called my attention to some of the remains of these breccias that came to his museum along with most of the aes rude mentioned. I have learned that those stones are all flints, foreign to the nature of the volcanic rocks of the place; and in all the pieces, without exception, I saw visible traces of artificial cuts. Several are evidently knives, scrapers, small arrows and wedges, or from the paleolithic or neolithic age; the rest are fragments produced by the work that could belong to either era”.

Tognetti’s account of the ‘recovery’ of the gold and silver portion of the finds:

“Fr. Marchi wondered that not even the smallest silver and gold coin could be found among so many copper coins, and only a few silver pots of a few ounces each. Later it became simple to explain, as I understood it from the mouth of Fr. Francesco Tongiorgi.

Fr. Marchi died (10 February 1860).  One day a stranger, but who later was identified presented himself to Fr. Tongiorgi, who had recently become the new Director of the Kircherian Museum, and showed him some vases of gold and silver, found, as he said, recently in some excavations, and for which (so much was their value and rarity!) demanded no less than 20,000 scudi, or about 100,000 Italian liras.

As soon as Father Tongiorgi held them in his name, reading the name of Apollo in some, he began to suspect that they were part of the treasure of Vicarello. But he soon put down all doubt; because seeing that one of the silver jars had a broken off handle.  It was precisely that broken handle that Fr. Marchi had had since 1852, when he first went to Vicarello. That handle was kept in a display case in the Museum, and Fr. Tongiorgi found that it fit perfectly, and thus was part of that treasure.  He then requested the name of the stranger bringing the artifacts and  it soon came to be discovered that he was one of Vicarello’s workers in 1851-1852. Then Fr. Tongiorgi asked for some time in which to prepare an answer and immediately took himself to Fr. General Pietro Beckx, who in turn had recourse to S. Padre Pius IX.  The latter, hearing all the facts well, replied that the theft was so clear, that we with all rights could agree the guilty party in court. However, he continued, that wretch who would certainly be sentenced to jail for life, is the father of a large family. We concern ourselves with more than just him, but also his wife and children. Take all the objects, and I will pay the 100,000 lire: then one half of those remain at the Kircher, the other half with go to the Vatican Museum. And so it was done. “

Coloni himself writes (p. 43):

“The history of Vicarello’s vases is not over, because, on July 25th 1948, L’Osservatore Romano gave the sad news that – three days before – the gold jars had disappeared from the window in the room of the bronzes of the Vatican Etruscan Museum where they were kept and for all the work that has been done by the Vatican State police and
of the Italian State had not been recovered. I fear that they have been melted down: however it will not be bad that they are kept in mind if, on a happy day, they should reappear. We have luckily the photographs.”

Coloni then goes on to describe tracking down other vases that came out of the deposit and were illegally sold to other buyers, ending up in Cleveland, BM, V&A etc…

Praeneste Aes Rude in Funerary and Ritual Deposits

Fernique 1878 :


“In the peperino sarcophagi some aes rude were recovered, ten of them also containing toilet articles…”


In the second trench, at a depth of 250 cm, there is a layer composed of amphorae debris, bricks and calcareous stones, below which was a layer of peperino blocks regularly cut, but which were not joined with cement, and formed, to a large extent, a kind of pavement, and nowhere have we found two superimposed layers: these blocks of peperino covered terracottas, many of which were intact. It appeared, therefore, that they had been covered with some care, and the workmen were surprised to find a layer of virgin soil about 50 centimeters thick, below which there were still many objects of the same nature and two pieces of aes rude. The ground had been stirred in antiquity and it was necessary to go farther, for at a depth of nearly 6 meters there were found a few ex-voto objects and a small Greek coin, badly preserved. It is impossible to see the trace of a legend.  The obverse had a bearded head of Jupiter, laureate (?), facing right; on the reverse a prancing horse turned to the right; it is undoubtedly a coin of Campania or Apulia.”

This could be a Syracusan coin of the time of Timoleon and the Third Democracy, circa 339/8-334 BCE, BUT that seems unlikely as I doubt a ~27mm diameter Greek bronze would be described as small.  So, ding ding ding, I think we have an ID it really has to be a coin of ARPI (HN Italy 644, ~17mm)–Fernique had good instincts with the Apulia claim.


But now lets meditate on the fact that this was UNDER the layer with aes rude.  This puts aes rude in use after the period in which this type was struck, ~325-275 BCE.   It also gives a terminus post quem for all those terracotta votives!


“The third trench was shallower than the other two; we met virgin soil only 4 meters down. It was there that I found, six or seven hundred intact objects, besides a great quantity of debris. These terracottas were contained in a kind of conduit dug in virgin soil and filled with topsoil. The channel was 40cm wide by 50cm deep, and did not have a regular direction. The workmen assured me that they had found it on this site during the first excavations, between the second and third trenches. At 60cm below this duct, a larger one was discovered, which crossed it almost at right angles. We could verify that it sank under the ground up to a distance of 4 meters. Thus, in this trench, the terracotta formed only one bed and were for the most part contained in a kind of conduit. In this place we have discovered about ten pieces of aes rude of assorted sizes.”

Here I like the importance of the work staff and how their local knowledge and expertise is acknowledged.


“A chemical analysis of the pieces of aes rude was conducted by a professor of chemistry at the University of Rome. It was found that two pieces of aes rude contained no trace of lead and that the alloy consisted only of copper and tin. However, in previous analyzes of aes rude from Vicarello, it had been noticed that the oldest fragments did not contain lead”


SD, IQR, and MAD for RRC 14 and 18 weights

I’m thinking about trend lines and what it means that three different statistical measures of variation return different results.  I’ve slowed down in my drafting of the actual chapter so I’m going to blog a little to see if I can’t figure out what I think.

In plain English (or my attempt thereof):

SD measures how spread out all weights are from the average (mean).

IQR measures how spread out out the middle 50% of the weights are from the midpoint (median).

MAD is the average distance between the mean and the individual weights.

IQR and MAD are less likely to be effected by data outliers.

Here are pics (again sorry about the boring grey):



If we just looked at SD we could say that the trendline of RRC 14 regardless of dataset was flatter.  I.e. that the overall pattern that small denominations were made with less conformity to a weight standard would be a more pronounced feature of RRC 18.  OR to put it another way SD makes RRC 18 looks  it becomes slopier faster in the lower denomination if over all has less variation than RRC 14.   Maybe only that last point is relevant maybe the angle of the trendline is less historically meaningful?



IQR starts to get messy.  According to CRRO data RRC 18 demonstrates more variation than RRC 14, whereas Haeberlin suggests the reverse.  Both of these things cannot be true of the original population (all RRC 18 and all RRC 14 made).  One dataset must be a more accurate reflection of the original population than the other.  Which do I believe?

Haeberlin is bigger.  But he might have been more dismissive of outlier.  BUT IQR is supposed to be less effected by outliers.

CRRO is smaller.  But maybe the weights are more ‘modern’ (as long as the objects were re weighed  and not just copied off of ancient tags which lets be realistic they may well have been).  It shows more variation by every measure in all instances.  Is its data not uniform because the sample sizes are too small?  OR because museum collections record everything?

Here for Haeberlin, RRC 14 has a flatter trend line than RRC 18. BUT for CRRO,  RRC 18 has a flatter trendline than RRC 14.  Again both cannot be true of the original population.



MAD is just as messy.  Again we have a historical impossibility: CRRO data RRC 18 demonstrates more variation than RRC 14, whereas Haeberlin suggests the reverse.

Here for Both CRRO and Haeberlin, RRC 14 has a flatter trendline than RRC 18.  This agrees with the picture of the SD but not the IQR.  However here as compared to SD the trend is much more pronounced.

I find myself leaning towards Haeberlin.  Why?  I like the consistence through all three measures.  Is this a good reason?  I am doubtful of that.  The larger sample size is also comforting.  But is he accurate? I think so.  I did some weighing in Copenhagen and it was reassuring.  I need to cross reference my notes on my reweighing with the printed weights in Haeberlin still but the curator thought Haeberlin’s weights were those on the tags and if so then they were pretty close to my reweighing……..  Okay I’ll let this sit a bit in my brain.


Histograms again

I had a great data crunching / writing day yesterday.  This is for my metrology paper on early aes grave (RRC 14 and 18).  Then I got off the charts and bar graphs with trendlines and onto histograms.  Excel has a lovely function (buried deep in the bowels of the programming) that lets you change the number of bins.  This changes the shape of the data.  All are true, but all also give a different impression.

Here are the weights of RRC 14/1 as reported  by Haeberlin 1910 in both a 20-bin histogram and also a 10-bin histogram.  (I obsessively tried out each number of bins from 4 to 25, but I won’t put them all up–its a little obscene.  It would be so cool if one could create a little video of these shifting pictures.)  The 10-bin histogram shows the strong tendency for weights to be in this 304-336g range, but the 20-bin helps us see better that steep drop off after 344g and the difference in the data shape between too light specimens and too heavy specimens.

I cannot actually put multiple histograms for each type into this article but I do want to communicate the way the histogram is just helping us see the shape of the data, not necessarily a static picture.  I sort of feel I need to know more about exploratory statistics, but I also want to get better at drawing pictures and communicating what we can see in the numbers. The numbers themselves often put people off, as do statistical concepts/formulae/jargon.

I’m writing here in hopes it might dawn on me as I write which picture or pictures are most important for this article.  Inspiration has not struck.  I’m going to keep throwing in charts and cut later.  We’ll see where I end up.

(Sorry the charts are boring gray, but they will be cheaper to publish that way, even if poor for the blog.)


A Very Minor Thanksgiving ‘Disaster’ Story

This story is included here as it may amuse some fellow numismatists.

Like the good numismatist I am I love shiny things, especially silver shiny things.  I don’t collect coins BUT I do let myself buy silver plate serving dishes for my holiday table.  My favorite are ones that look Victorian (like my house), but hide early oven safe super strong Pyrex; they usually cost about 20 bucks at the antiques malls and are highly functional.   I blame my grandmother for giving me some delightfully silly silver plate water goblets she got for her wedding in the fifties when she was divorcing my grandfather in my early teen years.   I now serve my kiddos and their friends ‘decoys’ in these goblets.  [Decoy is our family name for any drink with a garnish and ice cubes you serve to kids when adults are having adult beverages.]

Anyway, I wanted all my silver plate be extra shiny for the big feast day and I’m avoidant of the time and work of traditional polishing in volume.  So, of course I start my biggest stock pot boiling with a mixture of baking soda and strips of aluminum foil and plan on dunking each piece.  However, this year I have acquired an extra big dish and I’m rushing through the utensils and I start dripping water on the stove.

It’s a gas range so no big deal, I think.  WRONG.  It has a hard wired burner igniters.  Baking soda is a salt and thus conductive of electricity.   It closes the circuit.  All the circuits on all the burners!  Which now won’t stop sparking!  We can’t cut the power because our oven is on the same circuit breaker and that would mean no turkey (a 28 pound bird this year!).  The stove is now unusable and we are expecting 24 loved ones to arrive for dinner shortly.

My beloved calls in a kindly neighbor and with only minimal electrocution of their fingers they together manage to disassemble the built in countertop stove, cut the power there, reassemble, and then move to manual lighting of the burners.

Next year I plan to polish the silver plate at least a day ahead and be a little more careful.    Maybe I’ll even try just doing in the bath tub and pour in kettlefuls of boiling water.  I’ll let you know.


Cicero decries ‘lying’ Monuments

Ancestral inflation is nothing new, but the passage below is just a nice parallel for the fake “TER” (third triumph) claimed on RRC 415/1 (61 BCE).

N.B. Crawford tries to make this coin accurate by having it refer to times hailed imperator.  He says the (false) three triumph tradition is a ‘late’ but ILLRP 392 which he cites as support is dated to the c. 57-56 BCE and associated with the restoration of the Fornix Fabianus.

Boston MFA Specimen

Cic. Att. 6.1.17:

“As to the statue of Africanus—what a mass of confusion! But that was just what interested me in your letter. Do you really mean it? Does the present Metellus Scipio [cf. RRC 459 and 460] not know that his great-grandfather was never censor? Why, the statue placed at a high elevation in the temple of Ops had no inscription except COS, while on the statue near the Hercules of Polycles there is also the inscription COS CENS, and that this is the statue of the same man is proved by attitude, dress, ring, and the likeness itself.

“But, by Hercules, when I observed in the group of gilded equestrian statues, placed by the present Metellus on the Capitol, a statue of Africanus with the name of Serapio inscribed under it, I thought it a mistake of the workman. I now see that it is an error of Metellus’s. What a shocking historical blunder!

“That statement of mine about Flavius and the Fasti, if it is a blunder, is common currency.  You were quite right to raise the question.

“I followed the opinion which runs through nearly all historians, as is often the case with Greek writers. For example, do they not all say that Eupolis, the poet of the old comedy, was thrown into the sea by Alcibiades on his voyage to Sicily? Eratosthenes disproves it: for he produces some plays exhibited by him after that date. Is that careful historian, Duris of Samos, laughed out of court because he, in common with many others, made this mistake? Has not, again, every writer affirmed that Zaleucus drew up a constitution for the Locrians? Are we on that account to regard Theophrastus as utterly discredited, because your favourite Timaeus attacked his statement?

But not to know that one’s own great-grandfather was never censor is discreditable, especially as since his consulship no Cornelius was censor in his lifetime.”

(I’ve tweaked the Public Domain translation to reflect Shackleton Bailey’s readings)