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.

260 out of 410 days: Profile versus 3/4s Profile

Above: Detail from Athenian red-figure clay vase, about 475-425 BC. Paris Musée du Louvre G365 © Musée du Louvre [Image links to Beazley archive]

I’m not worrying about the image above, I just think it is a pretty picture and one that can help students enter the iconographic and narrative thought world in which man-faced bull coinage was stuck.  

I am worrying about the dating of RRC 2/1: Thurian-style Athena obverse, full man-faced bull, walking right in profile, star above.  An image of which can be found on Molinari’s website, here.  Scroll down to #355, clicking on it provides a better resolution.  There is only one known specimen.  I’ve talked about how problematic that can before, twice in fact it seems.

I was adding a note in my current chapter draft about HN Italy 753 being the prototype for the reverse of  this first ROMANO coin (so HN Italy says), and decided to have another scroll through Molinari’s collection of Neapolis man-faced bull images (MFB hereafter). The thing is that even though HN Italy 753 has an eight-rayed star above the MFB on some specimens, the MFB has a 3/4 profile head. A similar 3/4 profile head is found on all  the full-bodied MFBs on bronzes of Neapolis, as far as I can tell.  [Other images are available via Luigi Graziano’s project].

Whoever carved the dies for RRC 2/1 was more familiar with a MFB in profile, rather than in 3/4s profile.  That makes it seem rather unlikely to me that he was looking at a bronze of Neapolis, let alone was also someone engraving dies for the Neapolis mint.  

I suspect somewhere in Molinari’s great collection of images one could find a better possible parallel, say something like the Hyira silver coins.  Obviously no star and wrong placement of ethnic, but overall a better ‘model’.  Crawford sees a sea-horse/sea monster/pistrix or whatever you want to call it on Athena’s helmet.  That might be another point when comparison shopping.

Obviously dating based on iconographic models is problematic anyway.  We need a few good hoards.  But don’t we always.


Update 8/27/14:  My thinking on this has developed a bit. See this more recent post.

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.

254 out 410 days: Aes Grave Iconography

Bronze Quincunx, Hatria, 300 BC. ANS 1954.263.176

So I was skimming the ANS catalogue trying to collect my thoughts about the Italian context for early Roman coinage.  Most of the examples of cast coinage from non-Roman mints seems comfortably familiar. Wheels, Tridents, Anchors, Clubs are all motifs found at Rome and elsewhere.  I particularly like the animals, roosters and sleeping dogs especially.  But then I came across this specimen above: “Female Head in Murex Shell”.  So different!  Even if the other side, a Pegasus, is by contrast strikingly familiar in a numismatic context.  Anyway the unexpected-thing-in-a-shell motif reminded me of course of our discussion of gem stone themes, earlier.  It certainly fits that motif well.

Carnelian ring stone

The British Museum also have a good selection of this type of gem.  Note especially the Mule coming out of the murex shell.

Postscript 5 March 2014.  There is no image of that mule coming out of a shell on the BM site, but I just wonder if it isn’t more likely to be an ass.  The ass is known for its generous male genital endowment and Henig argues that the shell is a symbol of a female sexual organs.   You see why I wonder about it being a mule… Anyway, in furhter support of Henig’s fertility theory of the shell motif, there is the other BM specimen (illustrated) where two rabbits issue forth from the shell.

238 out of 410 days: A Fashion for Ships

One shouldn’t really talk about those Fonteian coins as I was doing yesterday without adding in this coin of Q. Lutatius Cerco (quaestor, but whose quaestor?).  It was minted between the two other issues with full ship reverses.  It is given by Crawford a historical not legendary interpretation.  It’s seen as a celebration of the navel victory of C. Lutatius Catulus in 241 BC.  It clearly inspired by the first Fonteian coin and in turn inspires the design of the second.  The element it adds to the design are the overlapping shields above the oars.  This is a feature also seen on sculptural reliefs.  The reason this seems important to me is that the supposed doliolum of symbolic importance on the stern of the second Fonteian coin, looks to me as just another shield added for decoration:

Silver coin.

On some specimens like this one that haven’t been rubbed smooth it even seems to have the same line decoration.  I’ve not been able to find a parallel of a shield placed in this position on a ship depicted in other media. (Largely because looking for one is a distraction from the book!)

I should have also brought the Lutatius coin into my previous discussion of prow stems.

Postscript.  Do those two big stars on Roma’s helmet recall the dioscuri/penates?  Notice the stars over the Penates heads on Mn. Fonteius’ coin.

Update 2/12/14:  

Reverse of RRC 342/7b. 1969.83.492


Notice the dioscuri caps in front of the prows on this rather rare variation on the standard design of the as.  There is a victory palm above.  Perhaps further evidence that there is some association between navel victory (victories?) and the Dioscuri?

Update 4/29/14: Compare the placement of the rear shield on this representation:

Link to Getty Cast of Roman Bireme without a stern shield but with a similar stern terminus.

Another Getty Image.

and another.


237 out of 410: Similar Images, Different Interpretations?

This is a lovely example of the coin of C. Fonteius.  Notice the care taken with the details.  The dog or wolf’s head on the ram about prow is particularly impressive.  It’s even clearer on this specimen.  The ship has been given a crew and a prominent helmsman.  The rudder is emphasized as is the aplustre and the fillets off of it.  His brother or cousin Mn. Fonteius made a similar coin a few years later:

The is another version of this second issue that looks a little different:

Silver coin.

My unscientific survey suggests there are fewer of these in trade today, even though the British Museum has a number of examples.  The differences are small, but significant. PP is added to the obverse, resolved Penates Publici.   The other difference is the oval shape in the stern of the ship.  Crawford in 1971 identified this as a doliolum containing the sacra of Troy and hypothesized a connection between the Dioscuri, the penates publici and these sacra.

I find this plausible if not one hundred percent certain.  My issue comes with the identification of RRC 290/1 the earlier coin.  Crawford happily extends the Dioscuri interpretation back to the janiform head on 290, but gives a completely different reading of the ship.  He sees it as connected to Telegonus the founder of Tusculum’s overseas origins.  This seem a stretch.  The two coins produced in the same family with nearly identical images should, I think, have the same explanation.  If one represents the arrival of the sacra from Troy, so does the other.

Here’s the comparative image Crawford discusses:


Update 2/11/14:

The three quarters perspective used on RRC 307/1 is a familiar style for depicted Roman galleys in Pompeian frescoes:

Roman Galleys


How early were the Penates associated with the Aeneas narrative?  Apparently some time before the third century at least: