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:


A Little Ciceronian Fear-Mongering


One of Cicero’s lines of argument in his speeches on the tribune Rullus’ agrarian proposal is that “giving away” the Campanian land threatens the food security of Rome.  He makes a direct connection between the defeat of the law and the sustainability of the annona.  We should understand by the annona the structure set up by the lex terentia et cassia, which made available to some number of Roman citizens 5 modii of grain each month (about 33 kg) at a reduced price, about 2 denarii per 5 modii.   The rhetorical tactic sets the hope of self sufficiency against the prospect of impending hunger.  A clever, if dastardly, approach to the problem.

He only mentions it once in his speech to the senate:

I pass over those things which there is no one who cannot complain of with the greatest weight and the greatest truth; that we have not been able to preserve the most important part of the public patrimony of the state, that which has been to us the source of our supply of corn (subsidium annonae), our granary in time of war, our revenue placed under custody of the seals and bolts of the republic; that we, in short, have abandoned that district to Publius Rullus, which itself by its own resources had resisted both the absolute power of Sulla, and the corrupting liberality of the Gracchi.

He brings up the idea three times in his speech before the people.  The first time is a direct echo of the passage in the Senatorial speech, using much the same vocabulary:

Will you allow the most beautiful estate belonging to the Roman people—the main source of your riches, your chief ornament in time of peace, your chief source of supply in time of war, the foundation of your revenues, the granary from which your legions are fed, your consolation in time of scarcity (solacium annonae)—to be ruined? 

The following passages drive home the precarious nature of other grain sources and how they cannot be relied upon:

Asia for many years during the Mithridatic war produced you no revenue. There was no revenue from the Spains in the time of Sertorius. Manius Aquilius even lent corn to the Sicilian cities at the time of the Servile war. But from this tributary land no bad news was ever heard. Other of our revenues are at times weighed down by the distresses of war; but the sinews of war are even supplied to us by this tributary land.

And then the kicker comes at the end of the speech.  [Some translators have left out the critical passage in their rendering, so here’s the Latin first, followed by my own modification of the public domain translation]:

ego ex concordia quam mihi constitui cum conlega, invitissimis eis hominibus qui nos in consulatuinimicos esse et fore aiebant, providi omnibus, prospexi annonae, revocavi fidem, tribunis plebis denuntiavi <ne> quid turbulenti me consule conflarent. 

I, by the concord which I have established between myself and my colleague, have provided against those men whom I knew to be hostile to my consulship both in their dispositions and actions. I have provided for everything; I’ve taken care of the grain distributions; and I have re-established good faith. I have also given notice to the tribunes of the people, to try no disorderly conduct while I am consul.

There seems to be a none-too-veiled threat here.  “If you want to eat, trust me.”

I think this passages are important contextualization of two later developments in the year.  First, the choice of Brocchus for Ceres on the obverse of his coin and a ‘law and order’ reverse type, symbolism rather removed from that of the tribunes.

[One might here reflect on the success of Sulla to divorce the plebeian aedileship from its associations with the radical politics of the tribunes.]

Cicero setting the tone at the beginning of the year as one of anxiety over the grain supply, possibly needless anxiety, may also contextualize Cato’s radical proposal and success passing such a proposal at the very end of the year:

Lentulus and his associates were executed, and Caesar, in view of the charges and accusations made against him to the senate, took refuge with the people and was stirring up and attaching to himself the numerous diseased and corrupted elements in the commonwealth. Cato was therefore alarmed and persuaded the senate to conciliate the poor and landless multitude by including them in the distribution of grain, the annual expenditure for which was twelve hundred and fifty talents. By this act of humanity and kindness the threatening danger was most successfully dissipated. 

If there is a moral in this, perhaps it is that Cicero’s fear mongering might be considered to have backfired on him as it set the landscape for more radical action instead of a preservation of the satis quo.

Saturn, Saturninus


When Saturninus that rascally tribune of the very end of second century was a moneyer he chose types that punned on his name.  A pun that is emphasized by the abbreviation of his cognomen. It’s a rather conservative type for a man we don’t generally think of for his conservatism.  Quadrigas had already been recently revived by L. Conelius Scipo Asiaticus [103 BC Mattingly].

Reverse of RRC 311/1d. 1896.7.44

and puns too were the fashion of the time.  Compare this bull (= taurus) used by L. Thorius Balbus.  Crawford thinks the bull might be a symbol of Juno on the obverse (see p. 719 n. 8 of vol 2 of RRC). Maybe it is both.  [102 BC Mattingly]

Reverse of RRC 316/1. 1937.158.34

Anyway, the interesting thing is the Saturn, Saturninus association. It makes the choice of Saturn for the obverse of the Piso Caepio coin seem a little odd in light of our literary sources:


Here’s the Broughton, MRR entry for them under 100BC, Quaestors:


We might also note the use of Saturn as an obverse in 103BC [Mattingly], the year of Saturninus’ first Tribunate, by L. Memmius Gallus:

Obverse of RRC 313/1b. 1937.158.31

Mattingly has Saturninus’ offices as follows:

104 – Quaestor in charge of Grain Supply from Ostia 

103 – First Tribunate

101 – Moneyership

100 – Second Tribunate

We usually think of moneyerships being held before these other offices, but the dates of the other offices are well fixed.  So perhaps Saturninus had his ‘out of order’.  Otherwise his coins would need to be slipped back into the series earlier that 104 and that is apparently hard to reconcile with all the rest of evidence.

73 out of 410 days: Pompey and Freedmen

Romans had a practice of granting manumission to some slaves.  Those receiving such grants held a separate status from the citizens, i.e. free men.  As freedmen they had more limited legal rights and defined obligations to their former masters, now their patrons.   That’s pretty basic, but the social function of this group certainly evolved over time and we might think about the attitudes and social conditions that preceded the evolution of the imperial freedmen.  I came across two passages today that got me thinking along those lines:

 These things I have heard; I have heard also that this theatre was not erected by Pompey, but by one Demetrius, a freedman of his, with the money he had gained while making campaigns with the general. Most justly, therefore, did he give his master’s name to the structure, so that Pompey might not incur needless reproach because of the fact that his freedman had collected money enough for so huge an expenditure.


While these men kept up their conflict, Pompey, too, encountered some delay in the distribution of the grain. For since many slaves had been freed in anticipation of the event, he wished to take a census of them in order that the grain might be supplied to them with some order and system. This, to be sure, he managed fairly easily through his own wisdom and because of the large supply of grain; but in seeking the consulship he met with annoyances and incurred some censure.

These passages would need to be contextualized by say Sulla’s mass manumission of the so called Cornelii, some 10,000 individuals, or the power he gave to Chrysogonus.  

The basic moral seems to be that benefiting too many freedman or one freedman too much is viewed with suspicion.  On the other hand our imperial sources may be reading too much of their present social reality back on to their accounts of the Republic.   

Contrast how Plutarch does not mention distributions to freedmen, but instead emphasizes that there was so much grain available it was give to foreigners as well — yet another group whose influence was a site of socio-political anxiety in the Late Republic.  Cf. the careers of Theophanes of Mitylene and Balbus.

I was getting a little lost in the literary accounts of 56-55 BC.  This post is just a little break to try to return to the coins.

68 out of 410 days: Boundary Rituals

I was reading this description of the pomerium.  And all of a sudden I couldn’t help but think about the ritual of beating the bounds still used in many English (and Irish?) parishes today.  Clicking on the picture above will give you a basic history with images. There is a good scholarly reflection on the revival/restoration of the historic practices here.  I like how this modern take accepts that each deployment of the ritual must be meaningful in the contemporary context and thus evolves overtime.

This was because I was hemming and hawing over how to talk about this coin of 81 BC, if at all:

Is it just about generalized ideas of bounty and stability in the aftermath of the Civil Wars?  Or is there some specific reference to Sulla’s extension of the pomerium or the establishment of his colonies throughout Italy?  Should we see the reverse as a peaceful genre scene or the illustration of a religious ritual?  The latter seems more likely given themes on the Roman Republican coin series generally, but on the other hand a more generalized symbolism would be more typical than the documentation of a very specific contemporary event or series of events.

I’m leaning toward a more general symbolism because the figure is clearly in a tunic, not a toga or other ritual garb.  And especially as it seems to be a direct echo of this earlier issue (100BC by Mattingly’s reckoning), with the exception of the addition of the driver:

Ryan 2009 has a good take on this issue, calling it a «aktualitätsbedingte Familienthematik » = “a family type of contemporary significance” linking it both to historical agrarian legislation by the family AND current events.