It strikes me that that the cast bronze types of Ariminum bear a marked similarity to the types of the Roman currency bars. Ariminum became a Latin colony in 268 BC and the cast bronze dates to sometime after that date. The one type I couldn’t find to illustrate has a shield as the reverse type. Its as seems to be heavier than the Roman (350-400g) and it divides the as into a base-10, instead of base-12 fractions. It shares these characteristics with Hadria and Vestini (Crawford, CMRR, p. 43 & HN Italy p. 17).
Ariminum types above all represent different denominations. [Scale can be so deceptive in online images!] Shield = quincunx, Sword and scabbard = quadrunx, trident = teruncius, dolphin = biunx, rostrum = uncia, shell = semuncia.
This suggests they were created as a series at one moment in time. Perhaps they took their inspiration from the currency bars? With the exception of the shell all of these are well known images on the bars. Below is a collection of images to refresh your memory. And one more specimen of Ariminum, the trident of which better parallels the bars.
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):
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:
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?
This post is dedicated to the most estimable Prof. Kellogg, who has taught many to always listen to the sacred chickens.
These fabulous currency bars appear in many a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate the Roman practice of divination prior to battle via the consumption of grain by sacred chickens. If the birds eat, the gods are happy for the Romans to engage in combat. The most famous incident is the Sea Battle of Drepana (249BC) when Claudius Pulcher is said to have been so enraged that the birds wouldn’t eat that he cast them into the sea, saying: ‘If they won’t eat, let them drink!’. Anyway, great story and thanks to this excellent account by another blogger, I’ve got no need to review the sources here.
The idea that the bars show sacred chickens is only loosely endorsed by Crawford, who with uncharacteristic ambivalence, records the type as ‘two chickens facing each other and apparently eating; between, two stars’. He is more definite in vol. 2, p. 218:
This ἀλέκτωρ isn’t a sacred chicken, but a cock! A symbol of virility and bellicosity. Look again at the currency bars above, those birds have some impressive combs and plumage, visible even with corrosion on the bars. The kicker is when we look at the pattern of coin iconography at Roman colonies and allied communities struck in the 1st Punic War, notice the combination of star and cock:
There are also coins of this same type from Caiatia (HN Italy 433) and Telesia (HN Italy 457). Discussion can be found in Crawford’s Coinage and Money (1985), p. 47. They all seem to be carved by a single die engraver and I’d not be surprised to find obverse die links. As a group they are all are overstruck by Neapolis coins from the 250s (Taliercio III,a; cf. discussion by Burnett and Crawford 1998 in essays for M. Jessop Price).
Anyway, the iconographic choice on the currency bars probably has less to do with religious ritual and more to do with selecting a symbol of military prowess. The head-down, two cock rendering of the motif probably has more to do with the design challenges of the oblong bar. The two birds echo the double design of the other side.
And, just by-the-by. the Latin for chicken, as in sacred chicken, is pullus, which is well distinguished from the gallus, or cock.
Notice the stance of these two fighting cocks and the imperial eagle above.
It broadens the picture some and removes other disputed finds. The great shame is that it still doesn’t give a picture of any Illyrian finds… I was happy to see that the find spot of the ANS specimen above could be located on both maps!