Doliola, yet again


In the past, I have been so interested in why Crawford’s 1971 interpretation of RRC 290/1 was wrong that until today I think I missed all that was right and interesting about his argument after one throws out the iconography portions.

I think he’s really on to something to link the traditions around the two Doliola especially as reported by Plutarch to the Dioscuri and their amphorae in Italic and Spartan imagery.  This is a very smart and convincing hypothesis.

Here’s a basic run down:

More examples of the iconographic link between amphorae and Dioscuri:



313 out of 410 days: Janiform Heads

Image result for culsans

I’m worrying about the janiform heads on the quadrigati and prow bronzes today and how they might relate to each other and Roman cult practices.  This is bringing me back to a number of different posts on related subjects and has led me to some other goodies as well.

First, the three earlier posts to catch you up on my thinking:

145 out of 410 days: Argos Panoptes?

237 out of 410: Similar Images, Different Interpretations?

Dei Penates Publici and the Dioscuri

Here’s Meadows succinct footnote in his Mars Eagle essay on scholarly views:


[More recently there is W. Hollstein’s ‘Ovids « Fasti » und das « aes grave » mit der Prora’ in Noctes Sinenses ; Festschrift fur Fritz-Heiner Mutschier zum 65. (2011), 59-67.  I’m not convinced by the idea of the types as references to 241 BC, but he raises many interesting observations.]

[Image lost]

“Head terracotta two-faced deity, from Vulci. III-II century. B.C. Vulci Archaeological Museum. The head comes from a rich votive deposit, found at the North Gate of the city, whose materials are stored partly in Rome, in the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia. The image of the god Janus takes the type of the Roman Empire, characterized by thick beard (perhaps influenced by coin types), rather than the Etruscan youth.”  (cf. first image above)

I was leaning towards a ‘Penates as Dioscuri, Dioscuri as Penates’ reading and then I came across the bizzare late passage below.   Over 700 years after the coins.  This is the only know association of Janus with Penates, and yet looking at the coins and the young Etruscan bifrons deity, Culsans, I’m almost tempted to believe Procopius that on some level the identity of Janus was tangled up in Roman minds with that of the Penates…and the Dioscuri… and probably the Lares too.  I’m no scholar of religion.   I’ve no idea how this worked in the experiences of individual Romans, but the iconographic borrowings and overlaps seem clear enough…

Procopius’ Histories (5.25.20):

ὁ δὲ Ἴανος οὗτος πρῶτος μὲν ἦν τῶν ἀρχαίων θεῶν, οὓς δὴ Ῥωμαῖοι γλώσσῃ τῇ σφετέρᾳ Πένατες ἐκάλουν.

At that time some of the Romans attempted secretly to force open the doors of the temple of Janus. This Janus was the first of the ancient gods whom the Romans call in their own tongue “Penates.” And he has his temple in that part of the forum in front of the senate-house which lies a little above the “Tria Fata”; for thus the Romans are accustomed to call the Moirai. And the temple is entirely of bronze and was erected in the form of a square, but it is only large enough to cover the statue of Janus. Now this statue, is of bronze, and not less than five cubits high; in all other respects it resembles a man, but its head has two faces, one of which is turned toward the east and the other toward the west. And there are brazen doors fronting each face, which the Romans in olden times were accustomed to close in time of peace and prosperity, but when they had war they opened them. But when the Romans came to honour, as truly as any others, the teachings of the Christians, they gave up the custom of opening these doors, even when they were at war. During this siege, however, some, I suppose, who had in mind the old belief, attempted secretly to open them, but they did not succeed entirely, and moved the doors only so far that they did not close tightly against one another as formerly.

And just for the record we can’t assume that that statue in the temple of Janus as it is described for us was in anyway an ‘original’ representation of the God:

And then besides, King Numa dedicated the statue of the two-faced Janus; a deity who is worshipped as presiding over both peace and war. The fingers, too, are so formed as to indicate three hundred and sixty-five days,or in other words, the year; thus denoting that he is the god of time and duration. (Pliny NH 34.33)

If the fingers represented the days of year and counted 365 then Pliny and by extension Procopius were looking at a statue created after Caesar’s reform of the calendar presumably from the Augustan restoration of the temple (so Graf in Brill’s New Pauly, s.v. Ianus).

Update 2/15/2016:

From this article.



The Problem of the Oscan Legend at Nuceria

Poor drawing from Millingen of BM specimen. Image links to catalogue entry without image.  Note: Millingen describes this coin as AE in his text and that agrees with our knowledge of the type, but on the plate he identifies it as AR.

HN Italy 609 transcribes the pesky reverse legend of this type: r[e]gvinumra/valanum. The online BM catalogue concurs.  The old BMC reads as follows:



This raises some questions in my mind about the readings of the first and penultimate letters on the first line.  The old catalog reads them as R (Oscan for /d/) and D (Oscan for /r/).  Rs and Ds cause no amount of confusion in their Oscan reversal, notably in antiquity at Larinum.  The new catalogues (HN Italy and BM online) both read the same letter in both positions… r  … by which I assume they mean an Oscan D …  you see how the confusion can creep in!

I thank Dan Diffendale for reminding me of Crawford’s  Imagines Italicae, vol. 2, p. 906 and sharing images via Twitter (7/30/2018).


There is even some discussion of the legend on the Italy Wikipedia page.

Mario Torelli in his Studies in the Romanization of Italy (1995) proposes a resolution of the mystery. His interest comes from a desire to resolve the names of deities on cippi from Bantia, one of which reads RAVE:





 His argument is complex and he quickly shifts into aligning the Dioscuri as the Penates, an issue we’ve discussed before.  His resolution doesn’t seem immediately obvious to me, as it seems to require us to believe the name of the gods was broken in the middle and written on two lines and does not explain the full text.  It comes down to the two inscriptions sharing at most a three letter sequence in common.

I’d really like to see a publication of the coin type with high quality images of the specimens and some discussion detailed reasoning by an Oscan expert, something I am most certainly not!

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
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:


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.



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



Dioscuri and Desultores


This is a didrachm of one of Rome’s colonies, Suessa Aurunca.  This type is usually dated to the time of 1st Punic War.  The colony had been established in 313 BC as part of the Samnite Wars (Livy 9.28).  The place makes little mark on the literary narrative, appearing in such sleepy contexts as Cato’s recommendation on where to get a wagon or a mill.

The type is identified as a Dioscurus, i.e. either Castor or Pollux without his brother.  My first impression is that it looked rather like a desultor to me.

Obverse of RRC 480/21. ANS 1937.158.296 . Image links to a selection of other coin types also showing desultores.

This got me wondering what we actually know about desultores.  Less than you might think, I can assure you!  And many of our references are metaphorical (e.g. Cicero, Pro Murena 57).   There are only about 13 references in Latin literature.  The only certain testimony we have of their performance is during Julius Caesar’s triumphal games, and here they seem to be performances by elite youth (Suet. Iul. 39).   That they show up on the republican series more than once suggests they were a significant feature of Roman religious festivals or other celebrations, but which and when is up for debate.  Perhaps my favorite reference is their use in a piece of Augustan era Roman jurisprudence by Labeo preserved in the Justinian digest (19.5.20).

What about the Suessa coin above?  Dioscurus or desultor?  The confusion is more understandable when we look at this passage from Hyginus:

LXXX. CASTOR: Idas and Lynceus, sons of Apharesu from Messene, had as promised brides Phoebe and Hilaira, daughters of Leucippus. Since these were most beautiful maidens – Phoebe being a priestess of Minerva, and Hilaira of Diana – Castor and Pollux, inflamed with love, carried them off. But they, since their brides-to-be were lost, took to arms to see if they could recover them. Castor killed Lynceus in battle; Idas, at his brother’s death, forgot both strife and bride, and started to bury his brother. When he was placing the bones in a funeral monument, Castor intervened, and tired to prevent his raising the monument, because he had won over him as if he were a woman. In anger, Idas pierced the thigh of Castor with the sword he wore. Others say that as he was building the monument he pushed it on Castor and thus killed him. When they reported this to Pollux, he rushed up and overcame Idas in a single fight, recovered the body of his brother, and buried it. Since, however, he himself had received a star from Jove [Zeus], and one was not given to his brother, because Jove said that Castor and Clytemnestra were of the seed of Tyndareus, while he and Helen were children of Jove, Pollux begged that he be allowed to share his honor with his brother. This was granted him. [From this comes the expression “redeemed by alternate death”; and even the Romans preserve the practice. When they send out bareback riders, one man has two horses, and a cap on his head, and leaps from one horse to the other, just as Pollux takes turns with his brother.]

Thus, at least to Augustan era eyes, confusing the iconography of the Dioscuri and Desultores was no surprise.   Back to the mid third century.  I think it unlikely to have a Dioscurus without his brother and without another identifying mark like the star.  The palm branch is agonistic imagery and there is no reason that the coin can’t be an agonistic type.

I find myself surprised that the coins of Latin colonies are not more discussed in standard accounts of early Roman coinage.  In some ways the coins of Suessa, at least in the bronze seem to form a missing link of sorts between Rome and Neapolis, producing significant numbers of Apollo/man-faced bull coins that circulated with Neapolis coins [HN Italy 450] and the overstriking at Neapolis with this type of the new design of Minerva (Roma!?) and cock (symbol of fighting prowess, bravery, like a fighting cock or perhaps of Mercury?) [HN Italy 449].  All this musing is a spin off of my reading: “A hoard of bronze coins of the 3rd century BC found at Pratica di mare (Rome)” by Maria Cristina Molinari  in Proceedings to the XIV International Numismatic Congress, Glasgow 2009 (31 August – 4 September, (ed. N. HOLMES), Glasgow 2011

Update 3/28/18:

Desultores are pretty popular on intaglios too…  Notice the close link to the coin type.

Fürtwangler 1896:


Dei Penates Publici and the Dioscuri

Obverse of RRC 455/2a. 1944.100.3299

So later in the day I’m still thinking about those pesky penates and their iconography.  The most indisputable example is from late in the Republican series, c.47 BC, the image above.  It has two heads side by side just like the earlier issues and labels them very clearly. Diadems instead of laurel crowns but otherwise very similar and clearly labeled.  The other time they appear on the obverse of a coin is just one year (according to Mattingly) after the Fonteius coin I discussed in the last post.  Notice the abbreviation DPP = Dei Penates Publici.

Obverse of RRC 312/1. 1937.158.28

One of the things that is said quite often is that the iconography of the DPP is elided with that of the Dioscuri.  The best proof of this is actually that Fonteius coin with its PP inscription and the stars over the foreheads.  The text passage that is usually cited is this one from Dionysius:

In this temple there are images of the Trojan gods which it is lawful for all to see, with an inscription showing them to be the Penates. They are two seated youths holding spears, and are pieces of ancient workmanship. We have seen many other statues also of these gods in ancient temples and in all of them are represented two youths in military garb. 

No mention of the Dioscuri here.  Just a visual description.  One that in fact sounds awfully like that which we see on this coin representing the Lares Praestites (early post):

Reverse of RRC 298/1. 1937.158.17

Then there is question of the degree to which we want to argue in reverse like this.  We’re basing (with good reason I think) each earlier image on the next more clearly labelled instance of the same iconography.  So the first Penates/Ship coin by a Fonteius (RRC 290/1) has a janiform laureate head not two jugate heads.  In this it looks quite a bit like this  MUCH early didrachm standard obverse:

Obverse of RRC 28/3. 1941.131.15

How do we know this earlier image is of the Dioscuri, not say the Dei Penates?

Then finally there is the issue of saying the Dioscuri connection the coins is an indication of their connection with Tusculum.  What do the Dioscuri have to do with Tusculum?  They were honored there but not really any more than other towns as far as I can tell.  Here’s the often cited Cicero passage:

“And what of those other instances? As when, for example, the statue of Apollo at Cumae and that of Victory at Capua dripped with sweat; when that unlucky prodigy, the hermaphrodite, was born; when the river Atratus ran with blood; when there were showers frequently of stone, sometimes of blood, occasionally of earth and even of milk; and finally, when lightning struck the statue of the Centaur on the Capitoline hill, the gates and some people on the Aventine and the temples of Castor and Pollux at Tusculum and of Piety at Rome — in each of these cases did not the soothsayers give prophetic responses which were afterwards fulfilled? And were not these same prophecies found in the Sibylline books?

The penates on the other hand are most often associated with Lavinium, if anywhere other than Rome.  And if the ship is carrying the Trojan gods to Italy on the reverse of those Fonteii coins, it seems like Tusculum might be the big red herring in the conversation.  Until we add in this aureus of 43 BC (as per Woytek’s Arma et nummi, 2003):

Gold coin.

The stars and pilei make clear the Dioscuri emphasis and the reverse is a most unusual representation of the walls of Tusculum with its main gate.  The walls and height of Tusculum was proverbial and usually linked to some legendary origin (Telegonus or Circe):  Hor. Ep. 1.29‐30. Ov. Fast. 3.92, Sil. Ital. 12.535, Hor. Od. 3.29.8, Prop. 2.32.4, and Sil. Ital. 7.692.  The representation is similar to but different from the DPP.  Does it help us resolve the Fonteian coins?  I’m not sure, but it keeps Tusculum strongly in the mix.

Update 4/16/2014:  Note this claim in Torelli 1995: 114:



Discussion of the inscription can be found here.

Lavinium - Lamina

Weinstock 1960 is here.

Key Bibliography: Galinsky 1969: 141-169.

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: