Sicilian Ears of Wheat

Reverse of RRC 69/6c. 1969.83.264
Reverse of RRC 69/6c. ΑΝS 1969.83.264

“The issue with com-ear occurs in the Serra Orlando hoard; here as on the denarius and bronze the com-ear is a symbole parlant for Sicily.”  (Crawford 1974: 16)  Clearly, the ear of wheat is a symbol of Sicily (Hersh 1993: 141).  But there is some difference between the selection of the symbol because of a canting pun or because already by the Hannibalic War the Romans were thinking of Sicily as a ‘bread-basket’. See, for example, this discussion of the symbol in a chapter on Sicilian identity. Crawford doesn’t explain how he thinks the visual pun works and so what follows is only speculation.

The Latin word for wheat is triticum.  

There is a tradition that the ‘original’ name of Sicily was Trinacria.  “(Τρινακρία/Trinakría, Hellanicus FGrH 51 F 79b), later Sicania (Σικανίη/Sikaníē, Hdt. 7,170; Σικανία/Sikanía, Thuc. 6,2,2) and only then Sicelia (Σικελία). The change of name reflects the successive immigration of the Sicani and Siculi; however, Trinacria is probably an unhistorical construction from the Homeric Thrinacia (Hom. Od. 11,107; 12,127; 12,135; 19,275), taking into account the triangular shape (tría ákra) of the island.” (So Olshausen in Brill’s New Pauly).

Maybe the adjectival form of triticum in the feminine, triticia, is close enough for a canting pun, but I’m not one hundred percent convinced.

Would the name Trinacria be widely known?  Jacoby’ collection of the fragments of Timaeus suggests it was in use in the West (FGrH vol. 3b.566, F164 ln.4)  But when we go to the source text, Diodorus, it’s hard to be sure that particular word was actually Timaeus’ contribution.  [I give the big block quote at the end of this post.]

In Latin authors its mostly used in poetic authors, and not before Catullus.  By contrast the early poets Ennius, Naevius, and Plautus all just use the name Sicilia.

But perhaps Crawford has a different Latin or Greek near homophone in mind which I just have yet realized.

An aside. One of my favorite Turkish phrases is jeton düştü!  The penny dropped!  In this case, perhaps I should say, jeton düşmedi. The penny has not dropped.  I’m not really sure the idiomatic phrase really carries over from English to Turkish but my Turkish teacher seemed to suggest as much and as a numismatist how can I resist using it.

Timaeus, for example, bestowed, it is true, the greatest attention upon the precision of his chronology and had due regard for the breadth of knowledge gained through experience, but he is criticized with good reason for his untimely and lengthy censures, and because of the excess to which he went in censuring he historian given by some men the name Epitimaeus or Censurer. Ephorus, on the other hand, in the universal history which he composed has achieved success, not alone in the style of his composition, but also as regards the arrangement of his work; for each one of his Books is so constructed as to embrace events which fall under a single topic.Consequently we also have given our preference to this method of handling our material, and, in so far as it is possible, are adhering to this general principle. And since we have given this Book the title “On the Islands,”in accordance with this heading the first island we shall speak about will be Sicily, since it is both the richest of the islands and holds first place in respect of the great age of the myths related concerning it.

The island in ancient times was called, after its shape, Trinacria,then Sicania after the Sicani who made their home there, and finally it has been given the name Sicily after the Siceli who crossed over in a body to it from Italy. …


268 out of 410 days: South Italian Digital Archive

I was worrying about the conflicting testimony in Livy and Diodorus over Cleonymus of Sparta’s Italian adventures.  Oakley has a good overview of the problem but there is more that can be said on the historiographical side. Barnes also has a take on the matter.

Amongst other things is a place called Thuriae, not Thurii mind you, that features in Livy’s narrative:

During the year a fleet of Greek ships under the command of the Lacedaemonian Cleonymus sailed to the shores of Italy and captured the city of Thuriae in the Sallentine country. The consul, Aemilius, was sent to meet this enemy, and in one battle he routed him and drove him to his ships. Thuriae was restored to its former inhabitants, and peace was established in the Sallentine territory.

[In case you’re wondering, the Sallentine territory or peninsula is the heel of Italy’s boot.]

This little mystery led to finding this 1932 publication that suggests it is the same as Turi, outside of Bari.

The interesting thing about this publication is how it ended up on the web.  The provincial administration of Brindisi seems to have decided in 2012 to scan and archive online pretty much every last regional publication.  Here’s the announcement.  There is as far as I can find no easy portal for searching through all the old newspapers and journals to find the relevant bits, but the archive is hiding lots of numismatic tidbits.   For instance, here’s the publication of the Salvatore Hoard.

The best I’ve found to mine its depths is to use Google site search.  Just go to the google homepage and enter a likely term in Italian, say ‘didramma’, and then ‘’.  Leave off the quotes.

Postscript.  I just don’t think the Cleonymus of Polyaenus’s Stratagems is the same character.  It’s just too early a date for the Romans to control Apollonia and Epidamnus.

A Liberal Roman?

P. Licinius Nerva’s coin is pretty famous.  At least as an illustration of how the Romans voted.  It seems to celebrate voting reforms that protected the secrecy of the ballot, namely the voting bridges and the urn.  It dates to circa 110 BC [Mattingly, 113/112 Crawford].  It is a unusual coin, one of only a handful that refer directly to the rights of the citizen body that were under contemporary discussion.


With the Saturninus coin of the last post we don’t seem to have any reflection of his ‘radical’ views or concerns over agrarian policies and the grain supply.   This is often the case when we have coins of a known  historical figure.  Memorable deeds usually happened well after a man’s moneyership.  

We only know about one other incident in Nerva’s life.   As governor of Sicily he began mass emancipation of slaves claiming to be held illegally.  In the end that didn’t turn out so well for him and he probably ended up butchering those he originally freed or intended to free, but even so the initial decision is pretty radical in Roman term.  I suspect many of his peers would have thought him very very stupid indeed for trying such a thing.

Here’s Diodorus’ account (36.3 from Photius’ epitome).  Note how the initial impetus is problems with recruitment of soldiers in Asia to fight in Northern Italy!




The Epitome of Cassius Dio put a different spin on the affair.  [I am inclined to put more emphasis on the Diodorus account.]:

Publius Licinius Nerva, who was praetor in the island, on learning that the slaves were not being justly treated in some respects, or else because he sought an occasion for profit, — for he was not inaccessible to bribes, — sent round a notice that all who had any charges to bring against their masters should come to him and he would assist them. 2 Accordingly, many of them banded together, and some declared they were being wronged and others made known other grievances against their masters, thinking they had secured an opportunity for accomplishing all that they wished against them without bloodshed. The freemen, after consultation, resisted them and would not make any concessions. 3 Therefore Licinius, inspired with fear by the united front of both sides and dreading that some great mischief might be done by the defeated party, would not receive any of the slaves, but sent them away, thinking that they would suffer no harm or that at any rate they would be scattered and so could cause no further disturbance. But the slaves, fearing their masters because they had dared to raise their voices at all against them, organized a band and by common consent turned to robbery.

Connecting ideology behind the coin to the ideology to his actions as propraetor seems a stretch, I admit! That said, most everyone is happy to do it to some degree for the Brutus coins of c. 54 BC.