I came across the passage of Crawford below and decided I might kick the main discussion of the type above out of the chapter I’m working on at the moment (Rome and Italy) and put it in the previous one (The Legendary Past).
Since Crawford wrote this passage (RRC II.714) thinking about Lycophron and Roman foundation legends has developed. Here’s Wiseman’s translation of the relevant passage from his Remus:
Coin geeks will know Aphrodite Castnia from the coins of Metropolis in Thessaly [links to an example with a side story from the collector illuminating acquisition practices]. Literary buffs will be more likely to reference Callimachus Iambus 10; Kerkhecker 1999: 207:
The lion and goddess seem to me very much in the South Italian and Sicilian repertoire of iconography (cf. Velia and Syracuse for Lions among other mints), evoking power and divine protection, but not necessarily an intersection with a specific foundation narrative.
And I’m still moving away from Russo’s suggestion that RRC 16, 17, and 23 form a series, amongst other reasons already discussed, because of Crawford’s comments about the different circulation patterns of RRC 16 and 17 in CMRR, p. 38 with App. 9 (p. 285) listing hoards.
I was writing up my thoughts for the book on the symbolism of the cock on coinage during the First Punic War this morning. [An issue touched upon in an earlier post, here.] The idea that in the Greek world the cock need not be directly linked to Hermes, but more generally be a symbol of bellicosity and manliness, is well summarized by this book.
This might help explain the pairing of cock and Minerva (Athena) on coins of Suessa, Teanum, et al (for images see earlier post). But I was still playing around with the Mercury association in my mind, when I came across the glass paste above.
Here we see the epitome of manhood, the victorious young athlete standing before a terminal Herm. He has his prize crown and palm-frond and in thanksgiving for his victory he offers the god a cock. [Just like the victor in the Callimachus epigram quoted in the previous post!] The cock symbolizes at once his victory and his virility. A Herm’s most notable feature was its phallus. Although we are often think of Mercury (Hermes) as first the god of commerce, we must remember he ended up as such by his status as the fecund god, the wealth-bringer. Just as cock is slang for male genitalia today, so in the ancient world the cock encapsulated a similar semantic range of meaning as the phallus: power, especially masculine power, the (pro)creative power that leads to wealth and to overcoming one’s adversaries.
Anyway, the glass paste is a ‘gem’ of a summation of the symbolism of the cock, so I thought I’d share. Okay, back to my other writing.
When two cocks appears facing each other on gems it is most often a representation of a cock fight, thus a type of agonistic scene, often with victory imagery incorporated into the design:
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.