A group of colleagues read a piece of mine coming out in RBN 2020 and asked why I hadn’t given more data on Frequency.  A really fair criticism as the Esty model I use relies heavily on assumptions about the shape of coin data.  So I’m playing around with how to display that data this afternoon.  Here’s our old favorite Crepusius (n = 3366; d = 437):


Here’s how he looked back in 1997 and 2011 when used by Esty:


But wait what’s going on!? Clearly our data sets don’t match.  Esty is drawing on counts that I don’t (yet) have access to that were provided privately by Buttrey to Esty and never published!  So somewhere out there are unpublished notes of Buttrey on observed specimens that would need to be reconciled with RRDP to get more accurate counts… That’s a pain.

Okay moving on to other issues I”ll be back with more frequencies momentarily.

RRC 361





Drawing in Perspective and Representations of Roman Tools

Image links to Coin Archives Record

Shortly there will be better photos of this coin more widely available after the release of the Witschonke collection images for the ANS.  The obverse and the type of token is well summarized in a blog post by Clare Rowanwith references to further scholarship by Carbone, Stannard and others.

CNG listed the Reverse as a  “Harrow (or miner’s axe?)”;  The ANS presently has it as “Plow?” and another senior scholar assured me it was an axe.  I’m not convinced.

I’ve been reading Ulrich’s Roman Woodworking and I think this tool is a far better fit with representations of the adze.

The adze is a planing type tool. This is an amazing discussion and collection of images.  All the comparative images below are taken form this website.  The thing to notice about the adze is how the handle curves towards the blade.  Axe handles are typically straighter and longer.

Adze found on Abydos

The objection to it being an adze rather than an axe is that the blade on the coin is than angle of the cutting blade to the handle.  This is explained by Roman perspective and is seen in other representations of the adze.  On the below tomb the wide blade is represented with the two handled grip, the artist has chosen to emphasize width over true profile.  The photographer above has achieved the same effect by viewing angle.

Grave stele of P. Ferrarius Hermes from Pisa (Matthäus, 1984, Fig. 15)

The adze in operation is represented on the Telephos Frieze from the interior of the Great Altar of Zeus at Pergamon:

[Highlighting added to adze] Boatbuilders on the Telephos frieze from the Pergamon altar (Schwarzmaier, Scholl, and Maischberger, 2012, Fig. 180.24)
Updated later same day

Ulrich was kind enough to write back and confirm in his opinion that it is most certainly an adze.  He mentioned the representation under Icarus’ work bench on the Vettius fresco as another perspective drawing of a Roman adze.


Thinking more about the Telephos frieze … I got wondering if the Adze might be symbolic of boat builders generally.  Perhaps!


Egyptian boat building scene 7th century BCE (Brooklyn Museum)






Thinking about 363 control-marks

This morning I am desperate to read this article and have written to one of the authors hoping for a PDF.  (If you have one do send it along PLEEEEASSSSSEEEEE). I now have a copy and am reading!

Debernardi, Campana, Lippi, Passehl, I DENARI DI L.CENSOR CON SIMBOLI/LETTERE (RRC 363/1a-c), Monete Antiche Nov.Dic. 2018, pp. 25-47.

While trying to see if I could find a PDF on-line, I did find this very interesting blog post.  Because things sometimes disappear online and I really don’t want to lose this information, I’m going to fully quote it on this blog to create my own permanent archive.

Update. The final published table is a little different than that from the blog:



An Unprecedented Important Collection of Cr. 363/1a-b

Artemide Aste @ 08 ott 2018
It is fortunate that the specialized collection of denarii of L.CENSOR with symbols, presented here, can be accompanied by a study never undertaken so far. The paper I denari di L.CENSOR con simboli/lettere (RRC 363/1a-c) will appear in Monete Antiche Nov-Dec 2018 and its authors have kindly agreed to provide us a preprint, from which this summary is drawn. They were welcome to profit from an in person examination of this collection at our place. Additional data and information are presented and discussed in the paper.
L. MARCIVS CENSORINVS was in the IIIvir monetales college with P. CREPVSIVS and M. LIMETANVS. This triumvirate is the most investigated in the whole RR period thanks to the coinage of Crepusius, whose corpus of 3000+ specimens was gathered by Ted Buttrey over the course of his whole lifetime. The authors of the new paper have greatly benefited from his results and have put the whole IIIvirate production of this college under a new light and interpretation.
In fact, it features very peculiar characteristics; it is the only one where all the moneyers produced an issue under their single names and also, in parallel, a joint issue (RRC 360/1). Under their new framework, the authors are able to address all of these features and, of special interest here, the reason for L.CENSOR having this signed, very tiny section, in addition to his bulk of un-marked coins (20 dies against about an estimate of 900).
These coinages were produced in Rome under the Marian faction, during the First Civil War between the Marians and Sulla. At the end of 84 BC, the Marians were preparing, with a levy of 100.000 men, for the fight against Sulla, who landed at Brundisium from the East in the Spring of 83. For this large army one can estimate a requirement of 15 million of denarii, which matches very well with the production of the IIIvirate under discussion.

The most important results of the paper are therefore:

      1. a one-year pre-dating of this triumvirate (83 BC instead of 82 BC), which fits very well with the need of cash for the big army
      2.  the big Capitol fire of 6 July 83 BC strongly influenced the coinage of that year, because the Mint was completely destroyed. The arson started at the Temple of Juppiter, destroying also the Tabularium, to which the mint was in close connection (Coarelli). The Mint and Tabularium were rebuilt by Q .Lutatius Catulus and re-opened in 78 BC.
      3. The IIIvirate leader was L.Censorinus, because of his name appearing alone at the obverse of the series RRC 360/1, which is the first produced just after the fire in an emergency mint. The veiled Moneta (cf. lot 235 and lot 236, the latter produced at the very beginning of the series, with numeral VI) on the obverse is kind of proof; Moneta is depicted exactly the same on RRC 396/1,and the veil is a sign of mourning for the destroyed temple and mint.
      4. An updated catalog, based on a Corpus of 176 specimens, augments the known symbols (obv) and letters/numerals by five, and the known pairs from 24 to 37, as depicted in the table above. The new pairs are highlighted bold, provided by a progressive number (PN) and by the known specimens (SN). In the right column, the RRC Table XXIX is reported for comparison.

In this way, the few dies of L.CENSOR with symbols finds a reasonable framework for the first time: they were the first dies produced after the fire, to test a new system of control-marks, thereafter immediately applied to RRC 360/1 and, exactly in the same way, in the Crepusius coinage. In fact, Crepusius re-uses most of the symbols of Censor, and combine them with letters and numerals, all ingredient present in “Censor’s experiment”. This is the most reasonable way to understand the otherwise inexplicable mixture of combinations that RRC tries to describe with its 1a/1b/1c. In fact, this is a single production, and to split it into free parts is rather a stretch, inasmuch as all of the dies are linked together. The four unsigned dies (Nil) of Censor that survived the fire were mixed with twenty or so dies with symbols/letters. The aim was to mark the dies so that to have a better control on them, now placed in a less secure temporary mint. That experiment ended RRC 363/1 and precisely date “our coins” to the first half of July 83 BC. Then RRC 360/1 followed, expressing the mourning for the big Capitol fire and also the need of giving a collegial certification of the restarted mint production by all the three moneyers. After a month or so, it was stopped and Crepusius started to mint his coinage, exploiting in full the experience acquired by Censor’s experiment.

Among the coins presented here, many are not listed in RRC’s Table XXIX (Pair Number 5, 13, 15, 17, 23, 35 offered for the first time in a public sale) and some are not in any public collections: PN 23 is only in Paris and in such poor condition that it led Crawford astray.


RRDP, Buttrey and Crepusius


Here’s today’s puzzle.  So I knew that RRDP (Schaefer) has better coverage than Buttrey on Crepusius, but what I’d not really appeciated until I started drawing tables of this article was how their combined observations might change the picture.

One of the things I’ve learned as I get older is that if I write as I think rather than try to think first then write, it is A) more fun, B) faster, C) I learn more. This is how the blog works it is my pre-writing/thinking/note holding space.  I’m allowed to be silly here and not know everything as a I explore a problem. This version of the table is where I ended my work day on Friday about 6 pm when my beloved brought home tacos.  It cost me two bowls of frozen strawberries as bribes to get my kiddos to let me finish it after 5pm — when “mama is supposed to be done working!!”. That means I’ve not really thought about what I’m seeing yet.

Plain white boxes and numbers = Dies seen in RRDP AND by Buttrey

Grey boxes with underlined number = dies seen in RRDP, BUT NOT by Buttrey

Outlined white boxes with numbers in brackets = presumed die numbers NOT seen in either RRDP or Buttrey.

(none of the above surprises me)

Black boxes with white numbers in italics = dies not seen in RRDP, but attested by Buttrey.

Why so many about 449?!  Why so many period?!  The grey seems nicely scattershot across the field in a plausibly random manner.  The missing high numbers bother.  And if you look at the last three lines, you’ll notice that very little about 463 is present at all in RRDP.  WHY?!

My first hunch is that it might have to do with collections access, so I’m going to take a look at what sources Buttrey had that RRDP may not (yet) have integrated.

This is an active post further additions forthcoming…

So Buttrey built so much on Hersh that he didn’t feel it necessary to record collections. Here’s his statement and the end of his series.





Location of coins not in RRDP archives

(according to Hersh and Buttrey, links are to confirmed specimens)

146 – D-9002. Paris.

180 – Not in Hersh, BERLIN

195 – Oxford

245 – Hersh’s own collection (Now ANS, said to be from Mesagne Hoard)

265 – D-8813. Paris.

352 – Not in Hersh, COPENHAGEN (Buttrey lists as obv. uncertain)

354 – Gnecchi coll., Museo Nationale, Rome (Hersh lists as a ‘hybrid’)

360 – Enrico Leuthold (Milan) Priv. Coll. (Hersh lists as a ‘hybrid’ and ‘fourrée’)

375 – Gnecchi coll., Museo Nationale, Rome

449 – Duc de Luynes Coll., Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

This is one of the five RRC 361 coins from the Arbanats Hoard; Luynes 6238 to 6242 = REP-21861 to REP-21865.  Thanks to Charles Parisot and the magic of twitter for bringing this to my attention.

450 – Not in Hersh, TURIN, Fava 367 – why not in RRDP, RRDP contains Fava….?

467 – Museum of Antiquities, Castello Carignano, Turin. Shouldn’t this have Fava no?!

469 – Gnecchi coll., Museo Nationale, Rome

472 –D-8774. Paris.

475 – [General Coll., Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. 1270] AND D-8775. Paris.

Paris 1270 reads 477 to my eye, maybe 478?! (but not same as die as Paris 8968):


476 – Not in Hersh, ANS

477 – Vatican 2460 AND D-8968. Paris.

479 – Not in Hersh, Buttrey says in Hersh’s own collection (BM now)

485 – Vatican 2444

487 – Gnecchi coll., Museo Nationale, Rome

492 – Museo Nationale, Rome.

493 – Not in Hersh, D-8975 Paris. READING UNCERTAIN COMPARE DIES

494 – Oxford

495 – Not in Hersh, D-8976 Paris.

496 – Museo D’Arte, Castello Sforzesco, Milan. 1177.

498 – BM 2714

500 – Gnecchi coll., Museo Nationale, Rome

501 –D-8969.Paris. AND Vatican 2447.

502 – Not in Hersh, Buttrey says in Hersh’s own collection (now in BM)

503 –D-8970. Paris.

506 – BM 2715.

507 – Not in Hersh, ANS

509 – Not in Hersh, D-8937. Paris. Buttrey says misread by Hersh as X 508. Ambiguous check against 508 die!

511 – D – 8972. Paris. 

The whimper of small denominations


What can I say, I’m a historian and I like timelines.  They help me think about change over time [a groan-worthy unintended pun] and what patterns might be meaningful.    So I started wondering about control-mark patterns alongside how much bronze was struck and when (and maybe v v speculatively, WHY?!).

That very rare AS of Sulla in c. 82 is the last as until we get to Spain post Rubicon c. 45 …

And if you believe that the Sulla AS was struck in camp and thus not at Rome itself the last republican As of the Roman mint is Macer’s SC issue!!

Which given Macer’s backstory is really absolutely a picture perfect end point for the people’s coinage / small change of the republic.

Of course, the people (small p rather than big P, Populus) just make their own coins and that is the story Stannard has been telling us

Control-marks (it’s a disease!)

Really! I think anyone spending enough time with the Roman republican coin series is going to end up infected with this obsession–perhaps episodic, perhaps just a steady growth–but its nearly unavoidable.  I say this as a warning that you might not wish to read this.  You think you’re immune, but you’re not.

Anyway.  I’m trying to contextualize the types I’m writing up from the Schaefer archive for this article and I realized I needed a better big picture.  Others have done this type of work before (thinking fondly of RBW esp.), but sometimes getting into the numbers and patterns just helps me get my head in the problem.

Here’s the timeline version. (you’re going to want to click on it to make it bigger, but, again, I did warn you that you might wanna avoid this whole topic…)


Thick outline means its likely intended to be one control mark per die at least for a defined portion of the issue.  Shading means reverse and obverse control marks are paired in some logical way.  L = Letter system, N = Number System, S = symbol system present in a given year.  Issues have been assigned to year in deference to Mattingly, Hersh Walker, Hollstein, and Lockyear over Crawford. Years are still in the vast majority of cases APPROXIMATE, as is sequence.  Yellow is me getting my eye into gaps.

Of the 65 issues that are control marked (in this period–I’m not dealing with RRC 22/1):

37, or 57% seem intended to be one die per control mark

19, or 29% seem to have no such intention

9, or 14% fall into the ‘its complicated’ category broadly defined

Of these 65 issue, the systems used are:

75% – letter based

38% – number based

37% – symbol based

17% – engage in some sort of logical pairing between reverse and obverse

34% – mix two or more systems (letter, number, and/or symbols)

Letters are always in fashion, symbols appear briefly c. 100 BCE, but number and symbols don’t start regular use until c. 92 BCE or shortly after.  After 81 BCE numbers are more popular than letters.

Here’s my other tabulation view which I used to build timeline (because if you’ve read this far in this post you probably actually like this sort of thing):