218 out of 410 days: Civic Virtues

This little coin, a silver sesterius of 45 BC or there about, has me worried about the chronological limits of my book project.  Yes, stopping in 49BC to leave the discussion of Caesar and the Civil Wars to another book does make good sense.  However, a good number of post-49BC coins are intimately thematically related to earlier coins in the series.  The issue of Palikanus taken as a whole is a good illustration of the “republican” characteristics of some of these later issues.

The above coin was thought to show a money pot or olla and a banker’s tessarae.  This at least was Wiseman’s suggestion, based on the banking interests of the moneyer’s family.

Wiseman, T. P. (1971) New Men in the Roman Senate, 139BC-AD14. Oxford p. 85-6.

His idea is largely endorsed by Crawford and even to an extent by Zehnacker.

Zehnacker, H. (1972) ‘La Numismatique de la République romaine: bilan et perspectives’, ANRW I.I (Berlin), 266-96, at 284: “En tout cas, l’appartenance au monde de la finance expliquerait trés bien le mélange caractéristique chez les monetales de noms illustres—des cadets de famille qui ont préféré l’argentaux honneurs—et de noms quasi inconnus—de parvenus”

Based on the themes of the rest of the series as a whole, I think L. R. Taylor’s original suggestion of voting urn and ballot is far more likely (VDRR p. 226).  The series celebrates:

Libertas and the Tribune’s Bench on the Rostra:

Obverse of RRC 473/1. 1944.100.3528

Reverse of RRC 473/1. 1944.100.3528

Honor and a Curule Chair flanked by Grain:

Obverse of RRC 473/2b. 1944.100.3533

Reverse of RRC 473/2b. 1944.100.3533

Then on the quinarius, Felicitas and Victory:

Given that all the other elements in the series celebrate civic virtues, even popular virtues, interpreting the smallest denomination in the series as a banking advert seems a bit of a stretch. A voting theme would harmonize much better.

All that said, there was a temple of Ops (wealth) in Roman.  If its not voting being represented, I’d go with another divine personification before assuming a reference to a family banking business.

Also the use of the genitive on all these is types is striking.

Perhaps I’ll just need to include a flash forward to work a few of this series in.

Update 24 January 2014:  So I was re-reading Witschonke 2012 on the possible uses of control marks at the Roman mint.  Really the very best thing on the subject.  Speculative in places by necessity, but logical and solid reasoning throughout.  It depends on the important work of Stannard (Metallurgy in numismatics vol. 3 1993: 45-68 pl 1-2) on the evidence for mint practices revealed by gauging, namely that the mint worked in batches.  What if money pot and tessarae (if that’s what they are) aren’t banking icongraphy but in fact minting iconography?   A claim to the rigorous control of the issue.  A celebration of Juno Moneta.  Something like this coin of c. 46BC:


Bearer of Good News, Bearer of Peace

Reverse Image

The figure on this reverse type is usually seen as representing Sulla triumphator. He’s clearly labelled as Sulla, but the caduceus in his hand is curious. “Victory hoped for” is Crawford’s reading. He doesn’t want to align it with the agnomen Felix because of the chronology of the time, though felicitas in the imperial times is most definitely shown with this attribute:

I tend to agree with Crawford and am puzzled because a caduceus is a very odd thing for a triumphator to hold:

After a thorough reconnaissance had been made, it was ascertained after a few days that all was quiet as far as the Gauls were concerned, and the whole force was thereupon marched to Privernum. From this point there is a twofold story. Some state that the city was stormed and Vitrubius taken alive; other authorities aver that before the final assault the townsmen came out with a caduceus [Note] and surrendered to the consul, whilst Vitrubius was given up by his own men. (Livy 8.20)

No, I don’t think Sulla is suggesting his willingness to surrender! This passage is even more explicit:

3 An indication of this is found in the following word and act of each of the two peoples: Quintus Fabius, a Roman general, delivered a letter to the Carthaginians, in which it was written that the Roman people had sent them a spear and a herald’s staff [‘caduceus’ in the Latin], signs respectively of war and peace; they might choose whichever they pleased and regard the one which they should choose as sent them by the Roman people. 4 The Carthaginians replied that they chose neither one; those who had brought them might leave whichever they liked; that whatever should be left them they would consider that they themselves had chosen. 5 Marcus Varro, however, says that neither the spear itself nor the staff was sent, but two tokens, on one of which was engraved the representation of a staff [‘caduceus’ in the Latin again]; on the other that of a spear. (Gellius, Attic Nights, 10.27)

[Update 24 Sept. 2013 – The sending of the spear and caduceus is proverbial in the Hellenistic World. See Polybius 4.52.4 and 24.12.1 with Walbank’s Commentary on the former.]

The herald’s staff was certainly read most often as a peaceful symbol, one of reconciliation and concordia. Just to give a taste of this, here are two coins one from 70 BC representing ‘concord’ between Italy and Rome and another from 48 BC during the Civil Wars of Caesar and Pompey.

Reverse Image

Reverse Image

Sulla is victorious and an imperator on this coin, but he is also togate and bearing the caduceus and through the later I believe he may also be suggesting his potential harmonious return. It didn’t turn out that way, of course, but that may well have been how he wished to be seen. He certainly wished to be remember as one who restored order.

Gold coin.