287 out of 410 days: Tripods, Libertas, Victory

RRC 498/1. C. Cassius with M. Aquinus. Aureus, mint moving with Cassius 43-42, AV 8.41 g. M·AQVINVS·LEG· – LIBER – TAS Diademed head of Libertas r. Rev. C·CASSI – PR·COS Tripod with cauldron, decorated with two laurel branches. B. Cassia 12. C 2. Bahrfeldt 56. Sydenham 1302. Sear Imperators 217. Calicó 63.

I was thinking about tripods in a totally different framework when I came across the very smart work of Carsten Hjort Lange (again!).  In his 2009 book, Res Publica Constituta, he gives a new reading of the famous plaque from the Palatine in light of the use of tripods on the coinage of 42 BC (p. 172ff).  A great read, but too long to extract here just follow the link!

Greek influences

I also came across a reading of the Tripods on the Coins of Herod (same time frame) that I thought delightfully sensible:

Obverse of Bronze Coin, Jerusalem, 40 BC – 4 BC. ANS 1944.100.62799
From p. 110 of The Coins of Herod: A Modern Analysis and Die Classification edited by Donald Tzvi Ariel, Jean-Philippe Fontanille (Brill 2011). Image links to google books.

Further non-numismatic support for the idea that the tripod could be a general symbol of victory can be found here.

284 out of 410 days: Rostra

Egadi Ram 1. Click for link to RPM Nautical Foundation information page.

I was re-reading Tusa and Royal’s ‘landscape of the naval battle at the Egadi Islands (241BC)’ JRA 2012 and it struck me how right Eric Kondratieff was to draw a parallel between the iconography of this currency bar and rostra:

He made the argument for two rostra instead of two tridents on the basis of the Athlit Ram, a much more distant iconographic parallel, but that was before the Egadi Rams all came to light!  All of the Egadi Rams found thus far have a similar design on their driving center (see Tusa and Royal link above for the anatomy of the rams), but 1 provides the best visual parallel.  Given Egadi 1 has no specific provenience, it is harder to contextualize.  Tusa and Royal cautiously say:

“The clear differences in iconography, inscriptions and overall shape, combined with its unknown provenience, make an association of the Egadi 1 ram with the events of the First Punic War somewhat problematic.” (p. 45 n. 92)

And earlier they noted:

“Egadi 1 has the shortest driving center of the Egadi rams, being nearly identical in length to Egadi 5, yet has the longest tailpiece and the highest mid-length height and width. The reduction from the head to constricted waist is slightly greater than from the inlet. Given the ram’s significant increase in height from its constricted waist, it possesses the third tallest and second widest head. Its large head combined with a short driving center gives this ram a stubbier design than the others.” (p. 14)

Could it be earlier? Could it be later?  I’d speculate as to the former, but this is only a kneejerk instinct regarding the a likely general design trend from compact and short to long and thin.  Such speculation is likely unwarranted.  I could even argue against it via the ‘stubby’ appearance of the rostrum depicted on The Tomb of Cartilius Poplicola which dates to the 1st century BC (images are already up on my early post on prow stems).

William Murray, Age of Titans (2012), p. 52 gives a great illustration of a three-bladed waterline rams, just more confirmation of the rostra as the correct identification of the coin type.

Miscellaneous Post Scripts.

Another pre Egadi post Athlit publication that will be of interest to anyone interested in rams and rostra: http://luna.cas.usf.edu/~murray/actian-ram/WM-Murray-Recovering-Rams.pdf

Also on Duillus and innovations and the coinage, see Morello’s summary of his Italian publication with useful diagrams by Andrew McCabe: http://andrewmccabe.ancients.info/Corvus.html

Update 3 April 2014.

See now also my post about the rostrum on the coins of Ariminum.

277 out of 410 days: agri quaestorii and Rome’s first issue of cast bronze coins?

RRC 14/1. 358.81g. ANS 1969.83.385. Gift of E.R. Miles.

In CMRR, Crawford first uses the evidence of the Nemi finds to place the RRC 14 finds ‘no earlier than about 280’.  He then goes on: “One may speculate that the need to administer the agri quaestorii acquired in 290 (Lib. Col. 253, 17L; 349, 17 L) played a part in the decision to produce the first issue of cast bronze coinage.” (p.40-41).

To wrap my head around the plausibility of this I turned to Roselaar’s Public Land in the Roman Republic (2010).  She gives a good definition and survey of ager quaestorius (p. 121-127).  On 290 BC she says:


Even if we go ahead and concede the land around Cures was sold shortly after 290, I have a hard time following the logic of how the sale of land is made easier by the creation of coinage.

The other issue muddying the waters regards agrarian issues in this period is the parallel and in precise testimony that M’. Curius Dentatus distributed land. Viris Illustribus has a good mash-up of various accounts.  First after conquering the Samnites he says in a contio  ” I took so much land that it would have become a desert, if I had not taken so many men. I took so many men that they would have starved, if I had not taken so much land.” (33.2)  Then, he gives 14 iugera of land the people (which we do not learn) and only takes so much for himself saying, “there was no one for whom this amount was not sufficient”. (33.5-6)  The latter echoes a pithy saying of his found in Plutarch, but where we are offered no context for it. Valerius Maximus says only seven iugera were given out, but also makes a moral out of the general taking no more than the rest.  Pliny has the very same nugget:

The words, too, that were uttered by Manius Curius after his triumphs and the addition of an immense extent of territory to the Roman sway, are well known: “The man must be looked upon,” said he, “as a dangerous citizen, for whom seven jugera of land are not enough;” such being the amount of land that had been allotted to the people after the expulsion of the kings.

Then at the end of the mini bio in Viris Illustribus (link above) we’re told he’s given 500 iugera by the public for his services (33.10).

And, just to add to the mix we should remember that his campaigns in the Po is said to have led to the founding of the colony of Sena which would have also included land distributions (Polybius 2.19).  The Periochae of Livy don’t have a land distribution, but do have the colonial foundation.

Cato the Elder, and Cicero after him, loved Dentatus as the epitome of the rustic Roman, military man and farmer, happy to conquer everyone in sight and still eat a simple stew from a wooden bowl. [Cincinnatus, anyone!?] The literary sources care FAR more about the bon mot than the distribution.  I don’t think we can nail down a context for it.

Thus, I think this is just a fun rabbit hole with very little promise for finding a context for the aes grave.

That’s not to say Dentatus is completely useless to us when we’re thinking about early contexts for making coins:

6. in the four hundred and eighty-first year from the founding of the City, Manius Curius Dentatus, who held the censorship with Lucius Papirius Cursor, contracted to have the waters of what is now called Old Anio brought into the City, with the proceeds of the booty captured from Pyrrhus. This was in the second consulship of Spurius Carvilius and Lucius Papirius. Then two years later the question of completing the aqueduct was discussed in the Senate on the motion of the praetor. At the close of the discussion, Curius, who had let the original contract, and Fulvius Flaccus were appointed by decree of the Senate as a board of two to bring in the water. Within five days of the time he had been appointed, one of the two commissioners, Curius, died; thus the credit of achieving the work rested with Flaccus. The intake of Old Anio is above Tibur at the twentieth milestone outside the* Gate, where it gives a part of its water to supply the Tiburtines. Owing to the exigence of elevation, its conduit has a length of •43,000 paces. Of this, the channel runs underground for •42,779 paces, while there are above ground. substructures for •221 paces.

I’d not like to connect this aqueduct to any one issue but like the construction of Via Appia, big infrastructure projects and the establishment of colonies are easier if the state has an easy means of making payments.

Map of the course of the Aqua Anio Vetus

269 out of 410 days: Do you believe the pig story?

There comes a day in every young numismatist’s life when he or she asks the question is the pig story true?   Did the anyone, let alone the Romans, ever use pigs in battle against elephants?  Would it work?   And if it worked wouldn’t everyone have used it?  Fighting elephants was certainly the opposite of fun.

First off, let’s throw out the idea of Roman flaming pigs (regardless of what the video games offer you as options).  That is bad scholarship at least when it comes to the Roman account.  Here’s some of that bad scholarship (p. 87ff) and another one (p. 202). Don’t believe everything you read it books, even books with footnotes.  Lamentably, or admirably, Wikipedia is actually far better at reviewing the sources, than apparently some university presses.  Here’s the War Pig entry.

So why do numismatists think that pigs and elephants should date the above currency bar to the Pyrrhic War? Because of these two sentences in Aelian (on the nature of animals, 1.38):

 Ὀρρωδεῖ ὁ ἐλέφας κεράστην κριὸν καὶ χοίρου βοήν. οὕτω τοι, φασί, καὶ Ῥωμαῖοι τοὺς σὺν Πύρρῳ τῷ Ἠπειρώτῃ ἐτρέψαντο ἐλέφαντας, καὶ ἡ νίκη σὺν τοῖς Ῥωμαίοις λαμπρῶς ἐγένετο.

Ariete cornuto et suis grunnitu abhorret elephas. Sic Romanos Pyrrhi Epirotarum regis elephantos in fugam vertisse dicunt, victoriamque amplam ex eo bello retulisse.

The elephant fears the horned ram and the grunting of a pig. Thus, the Romans are said to have routed the elephants of Pyrrhus, king of the Epirotes and brought about brilliant victory for themselves.

I put up the Latin as that’s more readily available online for those who want to check out context. My translation is based on the Greek (not that it makes a huge difference).

This is not great historical evidence. And everyone gets so hung up on the pigs that they ignore the mention of rams completely. Aelian followed Pliny and other writers for most of his little anecdotes.  Pliny has squealing pigs and elephants, but no Pyrrhus. Let’s put this in context: Pliny is also our earliest source for elephants being afraid of mice.  And common on, did you really need a Mythbusters episode to debunk that?

The whole thing sounds like some marvelous tale.  And in fact it’s found in the some of the Alexander Romances:


The ‘secret’ of the elephant’s fear of a pig is attributed to Porus, the Indian King.

There is a better attested version of the elephant and pig story in Hellenistic history, but no Romans in sight.  Again, our sources are late and known for being magpies of wonderful tales:

 At the siege of Megara, Antigonus brought his elephants into the attack; but the Megarians daubed some swine with pitch, set fire to it, and let them loose among the elephants. The pigs grunted and shrieked under the torture of the fire, and sprang forwards as hard as they could among the elephants, who broke their ranks in confusion and fright, and ran off in different directions. From this time onwards, Antigonus ordered the Indians, when they trained up their elephants, to bring up swine among them; so that the elephants might thus become accustomed to the sight of them, and to their noise.

Aelian knew this story too (Latin trans.).

If it weren’t for the currency bar I’d throw the whole story out.  Dionysius offers some perfectly plausible accounts of the Roman tactics against elephants in the Pyrrhic War:

Outside the line they stationed the light-armed troops and the waggons, three hundred in number, which they had got ready for the battle against the elephants. These waggons had upright beams on which were mounted movable traverse poles that could be swung round as quick as thought in any direction one might wish, and on the ends of the poles there were either tridents or swordlike spikes or scythes all of iron; or again they had cranes that hurled down heavy grappling-irons. 7 Many of the poles had attached to them and projecting in front of the waggons fire-bearing grapnels wrapped in tow that had been liberally daubed with pitch, which men standing on the waggons were to set afire as soon as they came near the elephants and then rain blows with them upon the trunks and faces of the beasts. Furthermore, standing on the waggons, which were four-wheeled, were many also of the light-armed troops — bowmen, hurlers of stones and slingers who threw iron caltrops; and on the ground beside the waggons there were still more men.

When Pyrrhus and those with him had ascended along with the elephants, and the Romans became aware of it, they wounded an elephant cub, which caused great confusion and flight among the Greeks. The Romans killed two elephants, and hemming eight others in a place that had no outlet, took them alive when the Indian mahouts surrendered them; and they wrought great slaughter among the soldiers.

Elephants left a big impression on the Roman mind.  Of this there is no doubt.  But if pigs worked so well why not use it as a tactic elsewhere?

I find myself asking myself about the provenance of the BM specimen (acquired 1867 from the Sambon Collection).  Are there other specimens of this type of currency bar?  Are there more of them? Any with a decent archaeological provenance?  Is it all just to good to be true?

256 out of 410 days: Helmet Hair

So I was looking at the Neapolis coins that served as prototypes for the earliest coins in the name of Rome.  And, Apollo has a very flippy hairdo of a not terribly typical type.  Here’s another to prove I’m not making this up:

That flip was feeling familiar.  And not from just the Roman type (RRC 1/1):

Here’s a link to one more of these.  Anyway.  It struck me that that hair flip is visually quite related to the neck flap that appears on Roma’s helmet on certain early types like these:

Or to a lesser extent on these earlier bronzes (not to mention Rome’s first silver piece with bearded Mars and Horse’s Head probably also minted at Neapolis, modern Naples):

But that’s clearly not the direction of influence.  The culprit must be the pegasi of Corinth that became so common in S Italy at the end of the 4th century BC:

The interesting iconographic borrowing isn’t really the Roma helmets, but the Neapolis (and soon-to-be-Roman) Apollo who gets his flip and snaky tendrils by way of Athena’s Corinthian manifestation.

Update 4 March 2014:  Check out images of Roman types at Nick Molinari’s site, note especially the image of the RRC 2/1, known from only one specimen.

218 out of 410 days: Civic Virtues

This little coin, a silver sesterius of 45 BC or there about, has me worried about the chronological limits of my book project.  Yes, stopping in 49BC to leave the discussion of Caesar and the Civil Wars to another book does make good sense.  However, a good number of post-49BC coins are intimately thematically related to earlier coins in the series.  The issue of Palikanus taken as a whole is a good illustration of the “republican” characteristics of some of these later issues.

The above coin was thought to show a money pot or olla and a banker’s tessarae.  This at least was Wiseman’s suggestion, based on the banking interests of the moneyer’s family.

Wiseman, T. P. (1971) New Men in the Roman Senate, 139BC-AD14. Oxford p. 85-6.

His idea is largely endorsed by Crawford and even to an extent by Zehnacker.

Zehnacker, H. (1972) ‘La Numismatique de la République romaine: bilan et perspectives’, ANRW I.I (Berlin), 266-96, at 284: “En tout cas, l’appartenance au monde de la finance expliquerait trés bien le mélange caractéristique chez les monetales de noms illustres—des cadets de famille qui ont préféré l’argentaux honneurs—et de noms quasi inconnus—de parvenus”

Based on the themes of the rest of the series as a whole, I think L. R. Taylor’s original suggestion of voting urn and ballot is far more likely (VDRR p. 226).  The series celebrates:

Libertas and the Tribune’s Bench on the Rostra:

Obverse of RRC 473/1. 1944.100.3528

Reverse of RRC 473/1. 1944.100.3528

Honor and a Curule Chair flanked by Grain:

Obverse of RRC 473/2b. 1944.100.3533

Reverse of RRC 473/2b. 1944.100.3533

Then on the quinarius, Felicitas and Victory:

Given that all the other elements in the series celebrate civic virtues, even popular virtues, interpreting the smallest denomination in the series as a banking advert seems a bit of a stretch. A voting theme would harmonize much better.

All that said, there was a temple of Ops (wealth) in Roman.  If its not voting being represented, I’d go with another divine personification before assuming a reference to a family banking business.

Also the use of the genitive on all these is types is striking.

Perhaps I’ll just need to include a flash forward to work a few of this series in.

Update 24 January 2014:  So I was re-reading Witschonke 2012 on the possible uses of control marks at the Roman mint.  Really the very best thing on the subject.  Speculative in places by necessity, but logical and solid reasoning throughout.  It depends on the important work of Stannard (Metallurgy in numismatics vol. 3 1993: 45-68 pl 1-2) on the evidence for mint practices revealed by gauging, namely that the mint worked in batches.  What if money pot and tessarae (if that’s what they are) aren’t banking icongraphy but in fact minting iconography?   A claim to the rigorous control of the issue.  A celebration of Juno Moneta.  Something like this coin of c. 46BC:


190 out of 410 days: Silenus, Pan, and Dionysus (Father Liber)


There seems to me to be some logical inconsistency in how we identify Pan and Silenus on Roman Republican coins.  The type above is likely the first to depict either.  Crawford dates it to 91; Mattingly prefers 90 (2004: 248).  Quite logically the “Silenus” on the obverse is taken to pun on the moneyer’s name, D. Silanus.  The following year (according to both Crawford and Mattingly), C. Vibius Pansa strikes a coin that looks like this:


These coins might almost be called vanity pieces.  There were probably less than 10 dies created for the manufacture for these types, but his other coins with Apollo and Minerva in a Quadriga (RRC 342/4-5) used upwards of a 1000 dies.  Crawford assumes another name pun and identifies the head with pointy ears as Pan and the head with the ivy wreath as Silenus and sees them both as masks.  Notice the heads have no necks.  I find this problematic as Silanus’ Silenus and Pansa’s Pan have nearly identical iconography.  If we look beyond the coins to for comparative iconography it become clear that Pan and Silenus have a pretty distinctive iconography.  Pans are part goat and usually have more animalistic bodies, especially their lower halves.  Their heads are marked out by two goat horns rising from their forehead.  Silenoi or Papasilenus is an old satyr, pug-nosed, covered in a white flocked suit on stage, and horse ears like any satyr.  [Note: the ears are pretty much the only difference between a Silenus depiction and that of Socrates.]  Here is a perfect side by side:

Red jasper gem engraved with the conjoined masks of Pan and Seilenos; above is a star, below is a shepherd's crook.

Of course, rigid rules need not apply.  Perhaps the same image can represent both Silenus and Pan.  Compare for instance these coins of Panticapaeum:

The head on the coins of this city is often identified in catalogs as Silenus but because of the name of the community a visual pun is often assumed.

I am less convinced that a case can be made for the ivy crowded figure to be a Silenus.  The face is just too smooth, the nose to straight.  This seems very much like a head of Dionysus.  The hair style is the same as that found on the Thasian type used by the Romans in Macedonia:

Compare the hair roll over the forehead, the loop down in front of the ears, and the prominent back knot.  The two locks of hair hanging down have been slightly modified on the Roman type.  The front is left curly the back has been modified into a straight fillet, perhaps to emphasize the mask like qualities.  Notice that the two bunches of ivy berries at the top of the head and the ivy leaves below.  The typical five on the Thracian type have become just three but with lobes and berries.

Pansa’s silver types was echoed on a few of the bronzes of his fellow moneyer Q. Titius:

Copper alloy coin.

Copper alloy coin.

Q. Titius depicts a beardless Liber on his denarii with a very similar hair style:

These are the first representations of Liber (Roman Dionysus) on the silver coinage.  His first appearance at all was on an especially created denomination of the silver the bes or 2/3s coin = 8 unciae.

Even on this rare worn specimen the hair style can be made out.

The adoptive son of the Pansa just mentioned echoed elements of his father’s series in 48 BC (RRC 449).


I’ve put up this small selection just to note the later rendering of Dionysus and the Pan/Silenus mask.  On the series of 90/89BC (RRC 342), Ceres had been paired with Apollo who is now missing from the later series, replace with a youthful Dionysus.

Update 3 January 2014: Just another nice juxtaposition of Silenus (central figure; note: beard and balding forehead and hair suit) and Pan (right figure, note: two horns from top of his head)


Mirror with symposion scene; Baltimore, The Walters Art Gallery; Etruskische Spiegel V, Taf. 43. Discussed in T. P. Wiseman. ‘The God of the Lupercal’, JRS 85 (1995) 1-22, at 9-10 (with plates 1-111) and ‘Liber; Myth, Drama and Ideology in Republican Rome’ in The Roman Middle Republic (2000) 265-299.  Wiseman identifies Marsyas as a type of silenos.  Here we see him dancing being imitated by a little pan, labelled Painiscos, or ‘Paniskos’.



Also note regarding the name pun on Silanus’s coin the first illustated above, inWiseman 2000: 270 with fig. 6 & 7 that younger satyrs with no beard or a short beard are labeled SILANOS and SILANVS.

A Little Ciceronian Fear-Mongering


One of Cicero’s lines of argument in his speeches on the tribune Rullus’ agrarian proposal is that “giving away” the Campanian land threatens the food security of Rome.  He makes a direct connection between the defeat of the law and the sustainability of the annona.  We should understand by the annona the structure set up by the lex terentia et cassia, which made available to some number of Roman citizens 5 modii of grain each month (about 33 kg) at a reduced price, about 2 denarii per 5 modii.   The rhetorical tactic sets the hope of self sufficiency against the prospect of impending hunger.  A clever, if dastardly, approach to the problem.

He only mentions it once in his speech to the senate:

I pass over those things which there is no one who cannot complain of with the greatest weight and the greatest truth; that we have not been able to preserve the most important part of the public patrimony of the state, that which has been to us the source of our supply of corn (subsidium annonae), our granary in time of war, our revenue placed under custody of the seals and bolts of the republic; that we, in short, have abandoned that district to Publius Rullus, which itself by its own resources had resisted both the absolute power of Sulla, and the corrupting liberality of the Gracchi.

He brings up the idea three times in his speech before the people.  The first time is a direct echo of the passage in the Senatorial speech, using much the same vocabulary:

Will you allow the most beautiful estate belonging to the Roman people—the main source of your riches, your chief ornament in time of peace, your chief source of supply in time of war, the foundation of your revenues, the granary from which your legions are fed, your consolation in time of scarcity (solacium annonae)—to be ruined? 

The following passages drive home the precarious nature of other grain sources and how they cannot be relied upon:

Asia for many years during the Mithridatic war produced you no revenue. There was no revenue from the Spains in the time of Sertorius. Manius Aquilius even lent corn to the Sicilian cities at the time of the Servile war. But from this tributary land no bad news was ever heard. Other of our revenues are at times weighed down by the distresses of war; but the sinews of war are even supplied to us by this tributary land.

And then the kicker comes at the end of the speech.  [Some translators have left out the critical passage in their rendering, so here’s the Latin first, followed by my own modification of the public domain translation]:

ego ex concordia quam mihi constitui cum conlega, invitissimis eis hominibus qui nos in consulatuinimicos esse et fore aiebant, providi omnibus, prospexi annonae, revocavi fidem, tribunis plebis denuntiavi <ne> quid turbulenti me consule conflarent. 

I, by the concord which I have established between myself and my colleague, have provided against those men whom I knew to be hostile to my consulship both in their dispositions and actions. I have provided for everything; I’ve taken care of the grain distributions; and I have re-established good faith. I have also given notice to the tribunes of the people, to try no disorderly conduct while I am consul.

There seems to be a none-too-veiled threat here.  “If you want to eat, trust me.”

I think this passages are important contextualization of two later developments in the year.  First, the choice of Brocchus for Ceres on the obverse of his coin and a ‘law and order’ reverse type, symbolism rather removed from that of the tribunes.

[One might here reflect on the success of Sulla to divorce the plebeian aedileship from its associations with the radical politics of the tribunes.]

Cicero setting the tone at the beginning of the year as one of anxiety over the grain supply, possibly needless anxiety, may also contextualize Cato’s radical proposal and success passing such a proposal at the very end of the year:

Lentulus and his associates were executed, and Caesar, in view of the charges and accusations made against him to the senate, took refuge with the people and was stirring up and attaching to himself the numerous diseased and corrupted elements in the commonwealth. Cato was therefore alarmed and persuaded the senate to conciliate the poor and landless multitude by including them in the distribution of grain, the annual expenditure for which was twelve hundred and fifty talents. By this act of humanity and kindness the threatening danger was most successfully dissipated. 

If there is a moral in this, perhaps it is that Cicero’s fear mongering might be considered to have backfired on him as it set the landscape for more radical action instead of a preservation of the satis quo.

186 out of 410 days: More on Aediles and the Coins

This type of 63 BC borrows design elements from both of these coins of the period when Cinna controlled Rome. They were minted between 86-84 BC depending on whose chronology one follows.  Here are the two forerunners:

These two forerunners are the first two types struck by aediles the first by plebeian aediles, the second by curule aediles.   They both clearly identify the office of the issuer(s) on the obverse.  They also show on the obverse a goddess whose festival was tasked to each respective pair of aediles: the games of Cybele were the responsibility of the Curule Aediles, the games of Ceres the Plebeian.  Both reserve types also show the type of ceremonial seat on which the magistrate conducted his official business.  The subsellium for the plebeian aediles, the curule chair for the curule aediles.  Both types could be read as reflecting the honors and duties of each magistracy.  Perhaps an emphasis on constitutionality in a period when the constitution was in such a so precarious position?

Fast forward to the 60s as the type of Brocchus draws inspiration from both.  This can be seen as confirmation of a change in the honors and status of the plebeian aediles under Sulla.  Lily Ross Taylor many years ago pointed out the necessity of assuming such a change based on this passage of Cicero:

Now I am aedile elect, I consider what it is that I have received from the Roman people; I consider that I am bound to celebrate holy games with the most solemn ceremonies to Ceres, to Bacchus, and to Libera; that I am bound to render Flora propitious to the Roman nation and people by the splendour of her games; that it is my office to celebrate those most ancient games, which were the first that were ever called Roman games, with the greatest dignity and with all possible religious observance, in honour of Juno, Jupiter, and Minerva; that the charge of protecting all the sacred buildings and the whole city is entrusted to me; that as a recompense for all that labour and anxiety these honours are granted to me,—an honourable precedence in delivering my opinion in the senate; a toga praetexta; a curule chair; a right of transmitting my image to the recollection of my posterity.

Before Lily set the record rights some had assumed Cicero must be mistaken about the nature of his own office.   Clearly by 69 BC plebeian aediles had been upgraded to a better chair than the hard-benched subsellium.  Sulla’s constitutional changes seem like a good time for such a change, as the coins clearly show us that the subsellium was still in use in the mid 80s and the Ciceronian passage tells us the practice had changed by 70BC.  Thus we’re limited to a 15 year window for the change.

Schafer’s 1989 dissertation points out that IF Brocchus’ coin commemorates an ancestor’s aedileship that aedileship must be that of his father’s because it must have been after the reforms of Sulla.   Perhaps that’s even why its worth commemorating?  Could his father have been the first such plebeian aedile to have curule chair and fasces?     

And why would an aedile have fasces anyway?  Schafer notes these passages from Dionysius of Halicarnassus:

After this they also returned thanks to the gods worshipped in the city, and prevailed upon the patricians to pass a vote for the confirmation of their new magistracy [i.e. the tribune of the plebs]. And having obtained this also, they asked further that the senate should allow them to appoint every year two plebeians to act as assistants to the tribunes in everything the latter should require, to decide such causes as the others should refer to them, to have the oversight of public places, both sacred and profane, and to see that the market was supplied with plenty of provisions. Having obtained this concession also from the senate, they chose men whom they called assistants and colleagues of the tribunes, and judges. Now, however, they are called in their own language, from one of their functions, overseers of sacred places or aediles, and their power is no longer subordinate to that of other magistrates, as formerly; but many affairs of great importance are entrusted to them, and in most respects they resemble more or less the agoranomoi or “market-overseers” among the Greeks. …

The superintendence and oversight of the sacrifices and games performed during this festival [The Latin Festival] was committed to the tribunes’ assistants, who held, as I said, the magistracy now called the aedileship; and they were honoured by the senate with a purple robe, an ivory chair, and the other insignia that the kings had had.

This puts a lot of weight on the very last passage and the unspecified “other insignia” and the assumption that must include the fasces.  Dio was writing in the Age of Augustus and must seen plebeian aediles with the honors such as Cicero describes in the post Sullan period and then retrojected these back onto the earliest days of Roman history.  OR, he’s just saying they had these honors for the games but not their other duties…  In which case we need not assume any change under Sulla.

Why an aedile would have axes on his fasces is a mystery to me.  Their sphere of responsibilities were very much inside the pomerium.  The only explanation I can think of is Feriae Latinae the festival being held on the Alban Mount would take the aediles out of the city in their official capacity.  Perhaps that is where the axes come in.

Brocchus’ type was itself mimicked later, but not to symbolize the aedileship!  L. Livinius Regulus modifies it (without axes in the fasces) to symbolize his father’s praetorship, and perhaps also his own turn as Praefectus Urbi.

Finally, I’m interested in the fact that Brocchus is one of the earliest moneyers to feel it worthwhile to add IIIVir on his coinage to make clear his own magistracy.  Other pre-49 issues to do this are RRC 401, 407, 411, 413, 437.  IIIVir (or IIIIVir after Caesar increases the number) are more common during the Civil Wars: 440, 442, 444, 454, 463, 364, 472, 480,  484, 494, 525.   Crawford describes this as a whim of the moneyer, but I’d suggest that like the aedile labels above.  The emphasis on authority suggests a general concern for constitutionality in a time of constitutional crisis or at least destabilization.

In the case of Brocchus it seems that labelling his office helps remove any speculation that he might himself be the aedile to which the types refer.  I find it hard to believe that the type is ‘aspirational’  suggesting honors he wants but has not yet received.

The use of the curule chair as a symbol in its own right follows on from representations of the subsellium with figures seated on it.  The removal of the figures and the use of a just an object as a symbol seems to make the types refer more to the institution rather than the individual.

148, 149 out of 410 days: The Dating Game

Ideally, one dates coins by the hoard evidence.   People squirrel away pots of money and for whatever reason never come back for their savings.  These groups of coins help numismatists figure out which coins were minted in what sequence.  The numismatist takes all the hoards and tries to arrange them into a sequence of newest to oldest based on the contents.  They end up with a much more complicated version of a chart like this one with the coin makers down one side and hoards down the other with the number of attested specimens of each specimen listed:


The wear of the coins — a subjective judgment up to a point — can be used to bolster support for such a relative chronology.  So in our fictitious chart it would be reassuring if the coin of Bob was really worn and crummy  looking in the Greece hoard, but the specimens in the Bahamas and Cayman hoards were nice and shiny.  So far so good for accuracy.  But what about Gigi and Heidi?  Did they make coins at the same time?  Or, did one come before the other?  Would wear help in such a case?  Would we trust that kind of assumption?  What would we say if their coins looked really, really similar in all the fine details?  What would we say if the looked totally different, not just different subject, but as if artists with two totally polarized styles did the carving?  Would that make them less likely to have been made at the same time?  What criteria would we use to make the judgment?  Observation of stylistic similarities and differences often influences how coins are grouped in our relative chronologies.  The similarities or differences are not themselves wholly subjective, but the interpretation of their meaning is.   Even once one has a fairly decent relative chronology, it needs to be hung on an absolute dateline.

Look at the chart again.  Notice three hoards all close with coins by Frank: Exeter, Easton, and Edmonton.  And there sure are a lot of Frank’s coins left around, even in the Greece hoard.  Here the numismatist might assume that Imaginaria (the hypothetical state whose hypothetical coins we’re studying) was at war.   Wars are expensive.  Lots of coins get made to pay troops and suppliers, etc.  Lots of people also get scared and hide their coins.  And, lots of people also die, making it harder for them to come back and find their pots of coins.  Not great for them.  Very useful for the numismatist.  But can we be sure?   What would be really useful is if it turned out we had an exact date from some literary text that said that Eastalia (ancient Easton) was burned to the ground on 14 February 530 AND that a professional archaeologist found the Easton hoard under the layer of destruction firmly associated with this known historical event.  But that rarely happens.  Usually hoards are found by metal detector hobbyists in areas never likely to be professionally excavated let alone tied to a literary record.  More commonly we take stray finds of coins from controlled excavations in areas associated with major historical events to help establish a terminus ante quem for specific coin types and then tie that back into the relative chronology of the hoard evidence (e.g. Morgantina vel Numantia).

But that’s not all!  The Roman republican numismatist has many more tricks up his sleeve.  Meet our comrade: Prosopography.   It is the subtle art of constructing an Ancient Who’s Who.  It tries to figure out the inter-generational and marital relationships and career path of each known historical figure.   To do this it uses inscriptions and literary testimony and combines those with assumptions about typical naming customs in specific families, regulations governing the holding of public office and more.  Why would this help the numismatist date coins?  Well, if we know an Edgar was elected to a magistracy that had a minimum age requirement of 45 in 542 and we think the typical age for a moneyership was thirty, then maybe we can assume that the coins of Edgar were made about 527.   If it is the same Edgar and the time separating his magistracy and his moneyship were at the standard interval and if our assumptions about what that interval is are all correct.  Still, it’s better than outright guessing.  Ancient historians use the evidence they have.   We might also use this type of evidence to help our relative sequencing.  The order in which Isaac, Justin, and Kira held some later office might provide a clue to the order in which they held the moneyership.

There are also times when specific issues are tied to known historical events and that information is then tied back into our relative chronology.  Sometimes the coins are absolutely associated with an event but the historians and coins geeks like to fight about when the event really happened base on a wide range of evidence (e.g. founding of Narbo).  Other times the association of coins with a well dated historical event is based on assumptions about what the image meant to the original viewer (e.g. the oath scene on the coins TI.VETVR).  These historical arguments become relevant to the whole series as the relative chronology from the hoards is hung onto these apparently fixed points.

Surely it’s not so shaky as all this?  No, not completely.  We know there were three moneyers each year and so for the Roman Republic (not Imaginaria discussed above) we also get to divide our group of moneyers into ‘colleges’ and if we feel confident (on stylistic grounds?!) about those colleges then we can sequence our relative chronology into years more easily.  And, every once in a while we get a new big hoard with a useful closing date and it confirms and/or updates our preexisting arrangements (e.g. The Mesagne Hoard).  Good archaeological evidence also comes along periodically. And, scholars with bigger brains than mine have been working on the arrangement and refining the details for a very, very long time.   The relative chronology is likely to shift but not drastically so.  The absolute chronology is probably good within at least five years (so Crawford himself, RRC I p. 74 speaking about the 2nd century in particular).

The problem comes in how both numismatists and historians (and archaeologists too?) treat the years given to coins.  Certitude is a dangerous thing.  RRC for most types affixes a specific year.  Modern databases are great things but most aren’t programmed to accept the input of anything but a specific year or range of years.  None of the major coin databases I use have included data about post-Crawford dates.  This creates a default to Crawford.   However, updating the dates to new scholarship doesn’t really fix the intellectual problem.  The dating of any one coin in the series is usually based on dozens of assumptions about the plausibility of its place in the sequence and the relationship of that sequence to real time.   There is no one place any scholar, let alone student, can go to have all thought assumptions spelled out for the individual coin type.  The discussion and charts are condensed and focused on portions of sequence and their interrelationship.    It’s not a house of cards, but it is not bedrock either.  There is no open invitation to inspect the foundations in the minutia.

And the minutia is often what interests historians.

A few precious coins once in a rare while get their own independent date based on other criteria.  When the historian opens a coin catalog or database each type has a specific year or year range attached to it.  This then informs how the type is discussed along side literary accounts.  The archaeologist may even use these dates to determine the deposition dates of certain related finds.  Dates are one of the things that makes coins relevant to other discussions.  Change the date of a coin by a few years or even just change the sequence of two coins and the whole picture changes.

Crawford dates this coin to 134 BC.  Mattingly to 133 BC.  Not that big of a difference.  Both use this hoard  as the basis of their arguments.


However, this very similar coin showing the same monument is put five years later in 128 BC by Mattingly, but one year earlier, 135 BC, by Crawford.  Mattingly has the advantage of the “New Italy Hoard” to reverse the relative position of the two coins and suggest a gap between their issue. [Hersh, NC 1977: 24-27 with Crawford,  Survey Num. Research 1979: 172f. and which for some reason I can’t find in the Hoard Database. Grr.]


Thus we now think the representation of the monument became more elaborate not less in the second representation and that it was revived rather than continued. (I find a a satisfying logic in the fact that the earlier coin with its radical departure from traditional Roman coin iconography would say ROMA on it.)  Moreover, where do we fit this celebration of the Minucius who suppress the populist Maelius and then distributed his grain to the people at a low price for which he was honored with said monument.  (I link here to Livy, but there are also relevant references in Dion. Hal. 9.4, Pliny NH 18.15 and 34.21.)  Obviously there is some link between this narrative, the coin image used at this time, and the political circumstance surrounding Tiberius Gracchus’ famous tribunate of 133 BC.  But what?   We used to think it was the image used the year before Gracchus now we need to consider what it means for the imaged to be deployed in the same year and for the image to be revived five years later.   And then what about this coin of M. MARCI MN.F?


Everyone is pretty sure those big ears of grain popping up under victory recall an ancestor (even his father perhaps?!) who distributed grain at a cheap price as aedile (Pliny, NH 18, 15).  But as far as I can tell the hoards help us not a lick on the relative chronology between this assertion and the similar one made by the first Minucius coin above.   Mattingly fits it in the year before and sees the Minucius as an elaborate rebuttal to Marcius’ claim.   Crawford has it coming after.  The historian worried about the political climate at the time of the Gracchi would sorely like to know which.

Enough. For now.