Hercules Revived

Denarius 19/18, Rome. Moneyer M. Durmius. M DVRMIVS – III VIR Bust of young Hercules to r., wearing diadem and carrying club on r. shoulder. Rev. CAESAR AVGVSTVS SIGN RECE Kneeling, bare headed Parthian to r. holding signum to which is attached a vexillum marked X. 3,82 g. RIC 314. BMC 59. C. 433b. Ex L. A. Lawrence Coll., Auction Glendining, London, 7 December 1950, lot 359. UBS auction 78, lot 1299.

My favorite thing about numismatic databases are the things that pop up that I wasn’t looking for.  This is a great example.  There aren’t many known specimens, but there are two in the British Museum (example 1, example 2). Its obverse clearly echoes a much earlier republican didrachm (RRC 20/1).

Anonymous moneyer. AR Didrachm (6.85g) minted at Rome, 270-265 BC. Diademed head right of young Hercules, with long sideburn; club and lion’s skin over right shoulder. Reverse : ROMANO. She-wolf standing right, head reverted, suckling the twins Romulus and Remus. Sear 24; RSC 8; Craw 20/1; Syd 6. Provenance: The Hunter Collection; Ex Superior Stamp & Coin, NYINC Auction, December 8-9, 1995, lot 847. Ira and Larry Goldberg auction 72, lot 4115.

It’s always interesting to see an awareness of earlier types surfacing after such an extended period–over two centuries regardless of how one wishes to date RRC 20/1.  That said, it also raises questions about why this earlier type might have been attractive in this moment under Augustus.  Hercules is usually associated with his rival Antony.  As is Hellenistic Kingship. The connotations of the obverse type seem at odds with the Augustan program.  Perhaps this explains its rarity? Perhaps the moneyer thought better of the design choice?  A choice which at first which might have been attractive simply because of its antiquity and Augustus’ own rhetoric of conservative restoration?

The Diadem on Anti-Autocratic Coin Types

(M. Valerius) Messalla. Denarius, 3.69g. (h). Rome, 53 BC. Obv: Helmeted bust of Roma right, spear over shoulder, MESSAL F before. Rx: Curule chair; PATRE COS above, scepter and diadem below, S – C on either side. Crawford 435/1. Gemini XI, lot 374.

This seems to be the earliest coin (c.53BC) in which the symbols of Hellenistic kingship, the diadem and the scepter, are used in such a way as to suggest their rejection in favor of the traditional symbols of Roman power in this case the curule chair.  For this coin, the context is the threat of Pompey assuming sole control of the Roman state.

We see a similar iconographic strategy on a coin of Brutus after the murder of Julius Caesar:

M. Junius Brutus and Casca Longus. Denarius, mint moving with Brutus 43-42, AR 3.81 g. CASCA – LONGVS Wreathed head of Neptune r.; below, trident. Rev. BRVTVS IMP Victory walking r. on broken sceptre and holding palm branch over l. shoulder and broken diadem with both hands. Crawford 507/2. NAC 51, lot 113.

The question in my mind is should a similar interpretation also apply to this type:

Denarius, mint moving with Brutus and Cassius 43-42, AR 3.90 g. C·CASSEI·IMP Laureate head of Libertas r. Rev. M·SERVILIVS – LEG Crab, holding aplustre in its claws; below, rose and untied diadem. Crawford 505/3. Ex SKA Bern 1, 1983, 254 and NAC 9, 1996, 763 sales. NAC 63, lot 530.

The auction houses invariably photograph this specimen with the orientation shown above, but Crawford had his plates printed at the 90 degree rotation of the reverse:


Crawford is silent on the symbolism of diadem saying only: “Part of one issue of Cassius records his capture of Rhodes after a battle at Myndus, opposite the island of Cos; the rose of Rhodes and crab of Cos both figure, together with an aplustre as a symbol of victory” (p. 741).  I must say, the aplustre doesn’t seem very victorious to me as it is clutched in the claws of the crab.  Or perhaps its just Cos offering the naval victory to Cassius…

I also think I prefer symbolically the crab and aplustre read as over and above the more diminished Rhodian rose and the diadem, just as the curule chair symbolically sits over the diadem and sceptre in the first type above.

The Cassius coin is often connected to this quote from Plutarch’s Life of Brutus:

“Cassius, having taken Rhodes, behaved himself there with no clemency; though at his first entry, when some had called him lord and king, he answered that he was neither king nor lord, but the destroyer and punisher of a king and lord.”

I’m not sure this is specifically the allusion the die engraver was aiming at but it is certainly a reflection of the same rhetorical impulse.

1/17/16: on Crabs on coins: