Cicero Imperator

Silver cistophorus, Laodiceia ad Lycum. ANS 1967.144.1. Stumpf 92.a. (?Ex Leu and M&M 3 Dec 1965, lot 419?)

Reading a PhD dissertation draft on Asia Minor and came across a reference to this coin type and others issued in the name of Cicero during his time as governor in the province of Cilicia (51/0 BC).

Other known specimens include:

M TVLLIVS M F CICIIRON (sic) PROCOS above (STUMPF 91): Berlin 35/1909 = Hirsch 21, 16 Nov. 1908, 3550; M – TVLLIVS  / IMP above (STUMPF 92-93, PINDER 201): Paris 2726; Athens = Hierapytna hoard; Berlin (Löbbecke); Berlin 453/1891; ANS 1967.144.1 = Leu and Münzen und Medaillen; 3 Dec. 1965 (Niggeler), 419 (but TVLLIV / IMP)

[I disagree with the reading of the ANS specimen.  I think a small badly formed S is visible after the V.]

Anyway, I’m throwing it up here because these cistophori don’t get enough press in the average undergraduate or graduate classroom when Cicero’s governorship is discussed.

For more on this chapter in Cicero’s career the thing to read is:

Magnus Wistrand: Cicero Imperator. Studies in Cicero’s correspondence 51–47 BC. (Studia Graeca et Latina Gothoburgensia, XLI.) Pp. viii + 230. Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 1979. Paper.

To read about how Cicero became Imperator in his own words click here.

Reading time is short for this draft so I must crack on.  More later.  We sure want to connect this caduceus with our early discussions of its symbolism…Not to mention IMP as a coin legend.

keyword: Tullius

Laurel Branches vs Olive Branches

Obverse of RRC 494/24. 0000.999.3394
Obverse of RRC 494/24. ANS 0000.999.3394

I really shouldn’t open a coin database on a day I need to prep teaching, its far too distracting.  I’m keeping this post shortish just so I have a note of the issue.

We’ve talked else where about the symbolism of the caduceus and its association with peace.  Given that, when I first saw this coin my impression was that branch behind Caesar’s head was an olive branch, but it’s labelled by Crawford a laurel branch.  So after a bit of poking around I’m fairly convinced that republican engravers were quite sloppy about the difference between these two species in their numismatic representations.  So for instance it’s mostly context that let’s us say these are olive branches not laurel branches, i.e. representations of peace (supplication!?), not victory.

As an aside the Macedonian type is a great example supporting Clare Rowan’s thesis that Roman images of power were often created in the provinces (cf also the numismatic portrayals of the supplications of Bocchus and Aretas).

Similarly laurel branches are identified as such based on context:

So with comparative iconography really struggling to offer any help, how do we resolve the type of species and its symbolism on the Caesar coin?  We could rely on a semantic bleeding over from the caduceus.  Or we could use a bit of deductive reasoning.  Laurels connoting victory are usually laurel wreaths not branches.  Laurel branches are more often associated with the cult of Apollo and as there is no good reason to bring the cult of Apollo in the mean being the Caesar coin, we might conclude that an olive branch is more likely…

Update 1/17/16:

Both Laurel and Olive Branches are attested in ancient cases of Supplication:

Naiden, Ancient Supplication (OUP 2006) :



Added 1/19/16:

Pliny NH 15.40: The laurel itself is a bringer of peace, inasmuch as to hold out a branch of it even between enemy armies is a token of a cessation of hostilities. With the Romans especially it is used as a harbinger of rejoicing and of victory, accompanying despatches and decorating the spears and javelins of the soldiery and adorning the generals’ rods of office. From this tree a branch is deposited in the lap of Jupiter the All-good and All-great whenever a fresh victory has brought rejoicing, and this is not because the laurel is continually green, nor yet because it is an emblem of peace, as the olive is to be preferred to it in both respects, but because it flourishes in the greatest beauty on Mount Parnassus and consequently is thought to be also dear to Apollo, to whose shrine even the kings of Rome at that early date were in the custom of sending gifts and asking for oracles in return, as is evidenced by the case of Brutus…


234 out of 410 days: Dressing up as Mercury


A great image.  I’m putting it up here just as I don’t want to forget it.  I enjoy how both aspects of Mercury are emphasized: bringer of wealth (purse), as well as bringer of peace (caduceus).

The image is from Galinsky, Venus, Polysemy, and the Ara Pacis Augustae, AJA 96.3 (1992): 457-75, at p. 473.  Here’s what it says there about:


54 out of 410 Days: Sign of Tanit


The fabulous Dr. Hannah of Oxford pointed out in comments that this type (RRC 460/4) would be relevant to yesterday’s post. That Victory carrying a caduceus: with victory comes peace! Such a perfect summation of Roman ideological rhetoric during the Civil Wars. I’ve been turning a blind eye to everything post Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, because that’s when the book terminates, but, of course, it is still the same monetary system. The chaos of the symbolism of that later period through Augustus really does deserve its own book and I prefer the earlier periods, but I am missing out on some fun with the present schema.

This type is really intriguing to me because of the other side.

The RRC description reads “Lion-headed Genius terrae Africae (head surmounted by disk), holding ahkh in r. hand…” That is no ahkh, that is the sign of Tanit, the patron goddess of Carthage.  [A scholarly friend has suggested that there might in fact be a connection between the two symbols.]

A flickr search or a google image search can give you a sense of the variations on this symbol and its contexts. And the image as a whole is clearly the same as this statue in the Bardo:

The connection was made in 1918.  The publication is now in the public domain; see p. 241-242 for the relevant discussion.  The identification as Genius Terrae Africae comes from the resolution of the  “C . T . A”  legend on the coin above the figure’s head by Babylon.  I wonder if any other epigraphic parallels exist for this abbreviation or even the existence of this Genius in this form?   Crawford (and others? ) see a link with the “Genius of Carthage”  (Δαίμονος Καρχηδονίων) of Polybius 7.9.2.

Based on the abstract this might be relevant: Salcedo Garcés, Fabiola. – El relieve tetrarquico de Rapidum (Sour-Djouab, Argelia) : política y religión en el Africa romana. Antiquités africaines 1996 32 : 67-85.

Gabriela Vlahovici-Jones has given the type some discussion online.  She treats the deity as “Sekhmet holding ankh” without any reference to Tanit.

Much of the concern over the identity of the Genius Terrae Africae or the Genius generally in N. Africa, seems to be in scholarship on the Late Antique and the Church Fathers, so for example this discussion and notes.

Linderski, Jerzy. “Q. Scipio Imperator.” In Imperium sine fine: T. Robert S. Broughton and the Roman Republic. (1996), pp. 144–185 is probably the most through description of the coin series.

And while we’re at it, I might as well mention that the sign of Tanit is often combined with a symbol similar too (and perhaps the same as?) the caduceus.

British Museum

I’m no expert on North Africa so I’m going to stop here before I say anything stupid.

[Oh. And I think Victory is holding a shield not a patera (possibly even a Macedonian shield?)]

Bearer of Good News, Bearer of Peace

Reverse Image

The figure on this reverse type is usually seen as representing Sulla triumphator. He’s clearly labelled as Sulla, but the caduceus in his hand is curious. “Victory hoped for” is Crawford’s reading. He doesn’t want to align it with the agnomen Felix because of the chronology of the time, though felicitas in the imperial times is most definitely shown with this attribute:

I tend to agree with Crawford and am puzzled because a caduceus is a very odd thing for a triumphator to hold:

After a thorough reconnaissance had been made, it was ascertained after a few days that all was quiet as far as the Gauls were concerned, and the whole force was thereupon marched to Privernum. From this point there is a twofold story. Some state that the city was stormed and Vitrubius taken alive; other authorities aver that before the final assault the townsmen came out with a caduceus [Note] and surrendered to the consul, whilst Vitrubius was given up by his own men. (Livy 8.20)

No, I don’t think Sulla is suggesting his willingness to surrender! This passage is even more explicit:

3 An indication of this is found in the following word and act of each of the two peoples: Quintus Fabius, a Roman general, delivered a letter to the Carthaginians, in which it was written that the Roman people had sent them a spear and a herald’s staff [‘caduceus’ in the Latin], signs respectively of war and peace; they might choose whichever they pleased and regard the one which they should choose as sent them by the Roman people. 4 The Carthaginians replied that they chose neither one; those who had brought them might leave whichever they liked; that whatever should be left them they would consider that they themselves had chosen. 5 Marcus Varro, however, says that neither the spear itself nor the staff was sent, but two tokens, on one of which was engraved the representation of a staff [‘caduceus’ in the Latin again]; on the other that of a spear. (Gellius, Attic Nights, 10.27)

[Update 24 Sept. 2013 – The sending of the spear and caduceus is proverbial in the Hellenistic World. See Polybius 4.52.4 and 24.12.1 with Walbank’s Commentary on the former.]

The herald’s staff was certainly read most often as a peaceful symbol, one of reconciliation and concordia. Just to give a taste of this, here are two coins one from 70 BC representing ‘concord’ between Italy and Rome and another from 48 BC during the Civil Wars of Caesar and Pompey.

Reverse Image

Reverse Image

Sulla is victorious and an imperator on this coin, but he is also togate and bearing the caduceus and through the later I believe he may also be suggesting his potential harmonious return. It didn’t turn out that way, of course, but that may well have been how he wished to be seen. He certainly wished to be remember as one who restored order.

Gold coin.