269 out of 410 days: Do you believe the pig story?

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):

 Ὀρρωδεῖ ὁ ἐλέφας κεράστην κριὸν καὶ χοίρου βοήν. οὕτω τοι, φασί, καὶ Ῥωμαῖοι τοὺς σὺν Πύρρῳ τῷ Ἠπειρώτῃ ἐτρέψαντο ἐλέφαντας, καὶ ἡ νίκη σὺν τοῖς Ῥωμαίοις λαμπρῶς ἐγένετο.

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:

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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:

 At the siege of Megara, Antigonus brought his elephants into the attack; but the Megarians daubed some swine with pitch, set fire to it, and let them loose among the elephants. The pigs grunted and shrieked under the torture of the fire, and sprang forwards as hard as they could among the elephants, who broke their ranks in confusion and fright, and ran off in different directions. From this time onwards, Antigonus ordered the Indians, when they trained up their elephants, to bring up swine among them; so that the elephants might thus become accustomed to the sight of them, and to their noise.

Aelian knew this story too (Latin trans.).

If it weren’t for the currency bar I’d throw the whole story out.  Dionysius offers some perfectly plausible accounts of the Roman tactics against elephants in the Pyrrhic War:

Outside the line they stationed the light-armed troops and the waggons, three hundred in number, which they had got ready for the battle against the elephants. These waggons had upright beams on which were mounted movable traverse poles that could be swung round as quick as thought in any direction one might wish, and on the ends of the poles there were either tridents or swordlike spikes or scythes all of iron; or again they had cranes that hurled down heavy grappling-irons. 7 Many of the poles had attached to them and projecting in front of the waggons fire-bearing grapnels wrapped in tow that had been liberally daubed with pitch, which men standing on the waggons were to set afire as soon as they came near the elephants and then rain blows with them upon the trunks and faces of the beasts. Furthermore, standing on the waggons, which were four-wheeled, were many also of the light-armed troops — bowmen, hurlers of stones and slingers who threw iron caltrops; and on the ground beside the waggons there were still more men.

When Pyrrhus and those with him had ascended along with the elephants, and the Romans became aware of it, they wounded an elephant cub, which caused great confusion and flight among the Greeks. The Romans killed two elephants, and hemming eight others in a place that had no outlet, took them alive when the Indian mahouts surrendered them; and they wrought great slaughter among the soldiers.

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?

258 out of 410 days: Fighting Cocks and Sacred Chickens

This post is dedicated to the most estimable Prof. Kellogg, who has taught many to always listen to the sacred chickens.

RRC 12/1; Asta Stermberg XVIII lot 275, image from sesterzio.eu.
RRC 12/1 5lb Currency Bar 270BC, Rostrum Tridens, Chickens eating corn, Stars. British Museum; 1940s incendiary bomb damage at side. Photo from Andrew McCabe’s Flickr set.

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:

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The Callimachus epigram is of interest:

Euaenetus, who set me up, says – for I know not – that in return for a victory of his I am offered – a bronze cock – to the Tyndaridae : I believe the son of Phaedrus, son of Philoxenides.

φησὶν μεστήσας Εὐαίνετος (οὐ γὰρ ἔγωγε
γινώσκω) νίκης ἀννί μετῆς ἰδίης
ἀγκεῖσθαι χάλκειον ἀλέκτορα Τυνδαρίδηισι:
πιστεύω Φαίδρου παιδὶ Φιλοξενίδεω. (Greek from Perseus)

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:

Suessa Aurunca, Bronze circa 265-240, 5.45 g. Helmeted head of Minerva l. Rev. Cockerel r. SNG Copenhagen 588. Historia Numorum Italy 449. From the Giancarlo Silingardi collection, with export licence issued by the Republic of Italy.
Teanum Sidicinum, Bronze circa 265-240, 7.02 g. Head of Minerva l., wearing crested Corinthian helmet. Rev. TIANO Cock standing r.; in upper field l., star. Sambon 1004. SNG Copenhagen 594 (this obverse die). SNG ANS 626. AMB 56 (this coin). Historia Numorum Italy 435.
Aquinum. Bronze c.265-240, 5.87 g. Helmeted head of Minerva l. Rev. Cock r.; behind, star. ANS 114. SNG Cop. 101. SNG France 228. H.N. 432
Cales, Bronze circa 265-240, æ 5.53 g. Helmeted head of Minerva l. Rev. CALENO Cock standing r.; in field l., star. Sambon 916. SNG Lloyd 53. SNG Copenhagen 323. SNG ANS 193., HNI 435.

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.

Capture

 

Update 4/25/16:

Notice the stance of these two fighting cocks and the imperial eagle above.

Rectangular brown glass paste intaglio: eagle flying above two fighting cocks.
BM 1814,0704.2062

 

 

255 out of 410 days: Ramo Secco Finds

ANS 1949.100.2; Acquired From: J. P. Morgan coll.Purchased June 10, 1949; Previous Collection: J. P. Morgan = Sangiorgi, 15 Apr. 1907 (Strozzi), 3; found at Fabbro near Orvieto, see maps below.

So I was happy to find today that there was in fact an update to Crawford’s 1985 map:

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This is newer map was published in 2004 by Diana Neri

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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!