The VB signature

VB series. Victoriatus, uncertain mint circa 211-208, AR 3.34 g. Laureate head of Jupiter r. Rev. Victory crowning
trophy; in lower field, VB ligate and in exergue, ROMA. Sydenham 113. Crawford 95/1a. NAC 61 (05/10/2011) lot 396 .

So I love maps and I was just adding a beautiful map from Fronda’ Between Carthage and Rome to yesterday’s post when I notice a place called Vibinum.  I’ll happily admit its not a topographical location whose historical significance I’ve ever considered, although modern Bovino is quite pretty indeed.  Here’s Fronda on its possible position during the 2nd Punic War (2010: 86 n. 152):


It occurs to me that of the VB series whose mint is usually listed as unknown is found in large numbers in the Canosa hoard.  Anyway. VB is probably just some junior official.  No coins of Vibinum are known or much else about it for that matter!  Just thought I’d share the wild speculation for kicks. (And because the specimen above is just so beautiful!)


When Mommsen attributed this type to Vibo Valentia, he did not have the benefit of any strong dating evidence.  Vibo was not founded until 192 (planned 194; Livy 34.53 and 35.39) and once it was founded it used Valentia on its coins not Vibo.

Literary Topoi and Historical Facts

From: Miles, R. (2011). Hannibal and Propaganda. In Dexter Hoyos (Eds.), A Companion to the Punic Wars, (pp. 260-279). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

This passage above suggests that it is a ‘fact’ that one of Pyrrhus’ advisors made such a comparison. The story is known from Cassius Dio (9.40.27):

The same man, when, upon his retreat, he beheld the army of Laevinus much larger than it had been before, declared that the Roman legions when cut to pieces grew whole again, hydra-fashion. This did not, however, cause him to lose courage, but he in turn arrayed his forces, though he did not join battle.


and Plutarch:

It is said, too, that Cineas, while he was on this mission, made it his earnest business at the same time to observe the life and manners of the Romans, and to understand the excellences of their form of government; he also conversed with their best men, and had many things to tell Pyrrhus, among which was the declaration that the senate impressed him as a council of many kings, and that, as for the people, he was afraid it might prove to be a Lernaean hydra for them to fight against, since the consul already had twice as many soldiers collected as those who faced their enemies before, and there were many times as many Romans still who were capable of bearing arms.

Appian pulls these two traditions together:

The Senate made answer to Cineas as Appius advised. They decreed the levying of two new legions for Laevinus, and made proclamation that whoever would volunteer in place of those who had been lost should put their names on the army roll. Cineas, who was still present and saw the multitude hastening to be enrolled, is reported to have said to Pyrrhus on his return: “We are waging war against a hydra.” Others say that not Cineas, but even Pyrrhus himself said this when he saw the new Roman army larger than the former one; for the other consul, Coruncanius, came from Etruria and joined his forces with those of Laevinus.

Appian makes clear that bon mot was not a fixed point in the received tradition.  He knew it from at least two different sources with different variations.  We can’t be sure if Appian’s sources were riffing on Silenus’ motif or faithfully recording an actual piece of rhetoric from the time or if the metaphor is just so pervasive that it provides a nice plausible exclamation in any history.

Heck.  There are dozens upon dozens of popular histories to day that still use the metaphor.  The loose use of the metaphor is found in many earlier Greek works including Plato’s Republic, p426E.

All that said, this Florus passage (going back to a lost bit of Livy?) might be the best evidence that some lost historian made something of the Pyrrhus = Hercules, Rome = Hydra symbolism on a more meaningful level that a simple metaphor.

For Pyrrhus said, “I plainly see that I am sprung of the seed of Hercules, when I see all these heads of foes cut off springing up again from their blood as they sprang from the Lernaean hydra.”

Perhaps tellingly for the attribution to Pyrrhus, Plutarch uses it when discussing the actions of Alexander.

The use of metaphor in relationship to Pyrrhus is not irrelevant to a discussion of Silenus, but I’d hesitate to move it from a conversation about the historiographical tradition and into one about propaganda.

Note also how the hydra in Pyrrhus tradition is not a negative characterization of Rome, not emphasizing her monstrosity or destructive capacity, but instead resilience and depth of martial resources, especially her manpower base.  It’s a complement.

311 out of 410 days: Greek Coins in the West


So I was reading Pere Pau Ripollès’ fascinating ‘The X4 Hoard (Spain): Unveiling the Presence of Greek Coinages during the Second Punic War’ (2008) this morning. I fervently wish I’d read it before now.  The problem with real publication, rather than this blogging non-sense, is its not easy after the fact to rethink and amend and correct your former ideas.  Also real publication takes a very long time, so by the time it is out there for the world one’s intellectual engagement with the content has already moved on to something else or ‘evolved’ as Mr. Obama’s position has done on some issues.  I’m thinking about my piece in this book.  I’ll put a clean copy up on one of these days.

Anyway.  Pere Pau Ripollès goes along way towards illuminating circulation of Greek coinage in the Western Mediterranean.  He tentatively still supports Crawford’s 1985 thesis that any Greek coins arrived with the Romans, although saying ‘this may be too categorical’.  I’m inclined to see the evidence he collects as requiring this hypothesis to be seriously re evaluated.  As he himself says in his conclusion the Greek coinage found in the hoards of Sicily are more similar to those in Spain than either is to Italy where there is a greater dearth of such Eastern coinages in the hoards.

One of the coins in Hoard X4 that he publishes is of the same type as that illustrated above.


This coin type, Crawford suggests, is the inspiration for the prows on Roman bronze series (See RRC p. 42 esp. n. 5; earlier post).  It’s nice then to see that some specimens did in fact reach the Western Mediterranean relatively swiftly after its production.

I also note the rendering of the ram on this type (red circle above) is not unlike that found on the Athlit Ram.

And, while were talking about things I said in print I no longer believe, I can’t stand by a 260s date for the Heracles and Wolf and Twins didrachm after all the reading I’ve done for this new book.  It fits better at the end of the First Punic War.  I’m not sure how much that messes with my use of it as comparative evidence in the chapter linked above, but it does have some impact…

290 out of 410 days: The Impression Elephants Make

From L. Ambrosini, ‘Un donario fittile con elefanti e Cerbero dal santuario di Portonaccio a Veio’. Image links to PDF with more images and references.


I ended up at this article by way of this coin type from Etruria:

ETRURIA. Val di Chiana. Æ 18 mm (4.68 gm). Head of an African right / Elephant right with bell hanging from neck, Etruscan letter below. SNG ANS 36. SNG Morcom 44. HN Italy 69.
From catalogue: Commentary on this enigmatic issue has focused on the significance of the elephant, which appears to be Indian rather than African. This zoological observation seems to rule out a reference to the Carthaginian elephants and thus poses a challenge to dating this coin to the time of the Second Punic War. Yet E.S.G. Robinson, in NC 1964, pp. 47–48, proposed an interpretation that overcomes these difficulties. He submitted that the association of the elephant with an African head, probably representing the animal’s driver, points to an African origin. Rather than dating the coin issue to the time of Hannibal’s invasion, Robinson drew attention to the disaffection of Rome’s Etruscan allies in 208–207, centered on the town of Arretium, and suggested that the coin types expressed the seditious hope that Hasdrubal would arrive to reinforce his brother. In these historical circumstances, the elephant was a symbol, perhaps copied from earlier coin types, rather than a portrayal from life.

There are a number of these coins in the ANS collection and also a good selection in the database.  The main publication is:

Baglione, M.P. 1976. Su alcune serie parallele di bronzo coniato. In Contributi introduttivi allo studio della monetazione etrusca. Atti
Convegno Napoli 1975: 153-180. Roma.

Baglione records 158 known specimens at that time, the vast majority in public collections.  Baglione endorses (if I’ve read the Italian right!) Robinson’s dating and notes that W. V Harris, Rome in Etruria and Umbria (Oxford 1971) p. 140 also follows Robinson’s interpretation. I’m wary of dating by type alone and would like some new good hoard or excavation evidence to confirm this hypothesis.  I’d also think a little die study might be of use to get an idea of the size of the issue: it seems at first glance that we’re looking at multiple dies for each letter under the elephant (four different Etruscan letters are well attested) and a number of obverse dies.   Elephants do appear elsewhere in the Second Punic War on the coinage of rebelling Italic communities.  The most impressive example being the aes grave of Meles in Samnium which copy the Barcid silver coinage (Robinson, Essays Mattingly, 1956: 40, fig. 3A; HN Italy 441-42 (but no illustrations)).

I’m more interested in the unusual votive offering.    Ambrosini draws the parallel with the famous plate in the Villa Giulia (inv. 23949) with a depiction of a war elephant and her cub.  There is a second similar plate from maybe Sardinia that I can’t put my hand on a reference at this moment. from Corsica:


Roma mediorepubblicana; Aspetti culturali di Roma e del Lazio nei secoli IV e III a.C (Rome 1973), no. 33 = Villa Guilia and no. 34 = Corsica.

The votive offering confirms the theme of elephant and cub in a military context.  That, of course, made me think of that passage in Dionysius that I quoted in a previous post about how the Roman’s wounded a cub to gain a tactical advantage over Pyrrhus’ use of elephants.

Update 3-19-2018:

Note that Cassius Dio believes that Etruria was recruited by Pyrrhus. But this account has been dismissed by scholars.

Let us remember that Ptolemaic Egypt supplied not only the elephants but also some 9,000 troops, both cavalry and infantry.