Cicero Imperator

Silver cistophorus, Laodiceia ad Lycum. ANS 1967.144.1. Stumpf 92.a. (?Ex Leu and M&M 3 Dec 1965, lot 419?)

Reading a PhD dissertation draft on Asia Minor and came across a reference to this coin type and others issued in the name of Cicero during his time as governor in the province of Cilicia (51/0 BC).

Other known specimens include:

M TVLLIVS M F CICIIRON (sic) PROCOS above (STUMPF 91): Berlin 35/1909 = Hirsch 21, 16 Nov. 1908, 3550; M – TVLLIVS  / IMP above (STUMPF 92-93, PINDER 201): Paris 2726; Athens = Hierapytna hoard; Berlin (Löbbecke); Berlin 453/1891; ANS 1967.144.1 = Leu and Münzen und Medaillen; 3 Dec. 1965 (Niggeler), 419 (but TVLLIV / IMP)

[I disagree with the reading of the ANS specimen.  I think a small badly formed S is visible after the V.]

Anyway, I’m throwing it up here because these cistophori don’t get enough press in the average undergraduate or graduate classroom when Cicero’s governorship is discussed.

For more on this chapter in Cicero’s career the thing to read is:

Magnus Wistrand: Cicero Imperator. Studies in Cicero’s correspondence 51–47 BC. (Studia Graeca et Latina Gothoburgensia, XLI.) Pp. viii + 230. Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 1979. Paper.

To read about how Cicero became Imperator in his own words click here.

Reading time is short for this draft so I must crack on.  More later.  We sure want to connect this caduceus with our early discussions of its symbolism…Not to mention IMP as a coin legend.

99, 100, 101 out of 410 days: The first Imperator, or ‘EMBRATUR’

Obverse Image

Back on 14 August 2013 I was rambling on about Sulla’s numismatic peers especially in relation to the use of the self-identifier IMPERATOR.  I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the first instance of this honorific on coins being attributed to Fimbria.  Not that after murdering his commander and taking his army and sacking Troy I thought he wasn’t an arrogant enough @$$hole to do so.  [I really dislike Fimbria: he’s my least favorite Roman and they were generally a bad lot.]  It’s just he didn’t strike me as very creative or trend-setting.  Why would Sulla be copying him?  Did they really come up with it each independently?  Well, turns out we have C. Papius C. f. Mutilus to thank for this innovation.  Yup.  That’s right.  One of the most notable of the Social War generals.   A Samnite enemy of Rome eventually defeated by Sulla.  His coinage is pretty famous too:

So it doesn’t really say Imperator as that’s Latin.  It says, reading right to left, EMBRATUR, in Oscan, but the title has the same meaning in a  very closely related language and cultural milieu.

The coins struck in Mutilus’ name use the same types as those used by the Marsic confederation and are clearly part of the same series, but Mutilus’ ability to use the coinage for the promotion of his own standing and especially his honorific title clearly had a lasting impact.

[A. Burnett raises the possibility of Mutilus inspiring Sulla briefly in general terms on p. 170 of his ‘The coinage of the Social War’ In Coins of Macedonia and Rome: Essays in Honor of Charles Hersh, edited by A. Burnett, U. Wartenberg, and R. Witschonke, 165-172. London: Spink)]


I’m rushing to finish a chapter prior to leaving for Turkey and am generally frantic, but this observation was so fun I couldn’t not share!

Sulla’s Numismatic Peers

Reverse Image

Sulla struck a significant series of coins in gold and silver during his return from the East after brokering a peace deal with Mithridates at the Dardenelles and marching on Rome. On that coinage, he identifies himself by the title “Imperator”, the acclamation given to a commanding general after his first major successful battle by his own troops (i.e. Roman citizens under arms).

Reverse Image

He wasn’t the first to use this title on a coin to mark out his authority.  That honor goes to the murderous, mutinous Fimbria (he even sacked Troy!):

object image

What’s noticeable is how Sulla doesn’t get to monopolize this honor amongst even his followers:

Reverse Image

This specimen was probably minted in Massalia as C. Valerius Flaccus, proconsul in Gaul, sets out againt Sertorius c. 82 BC.  Notice how like Fimbria (HIS BROTHER’S MURDERER!) – sorry for shouting I got excited – he combines the title with the iconography of the legionary standard.  His Wikipedia page is remarkably thorough and well written, although again I didn’t check the accuracy.

Reverse Image

This type was issued by Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius.  On the other type in this series he includes his initials so we we’re sure, but keeping the ‘I’ for Imperator at the end:

Reverse Image

Metellus’ career and pedigree certainly rivaled that of other men of his generation.  What does all this tell us?  Mostly that Sulla may have set norms but that his peers did not assume they could not match him.

Update:  Also see now my post of 27 September 2013.