Left to Right, Right to Left

Bronze Coin, Frentani. ANS 1957.172.36. SNG ANS 1.129. HN Italy 621.

Check out the legends on each side of this coin.  They are both FRENTREI, but with the Rs looking for all the world like Ds and the F like an 8.  Oscan isn’t really that far off the Latin or Greek alphabet:

It’s main difference is that its written right to left (like Hebrew and Arabic), rather than left to right (like English and kin).  I like the above specimen because it has the same name written in different directions on each side.  L>R on the obverse; R>L on the reverse.  It’s as if we get a little window into the moment of evolution of the language among the Frentani.

It uses a locative ending like the first coin of Larinum to show a Roman influence.  The coins of Larinum during the Hannibalic War period continue to be of influence for the swap between Oscan and Latin and the D/R letter forms (see Rutter in HN Italy, no. 624).

post script.  Doesn’t the little beanie hat style of Mercury’s wings remind you a little of how they were rendered on Suessa’s bronzes… or at Teanum ?

291 out of 410 days: San Martino in Pensilis Hoard


The San Martino in Pensilis hoard and Andrew Burnett’s analysis thereof is probably the most important new information on third century Roman and Italian Silver issues from the last decade.  Highlights included:

  • Evidence of a significant gap (ballpark 300-260BC) between Rome’s first and second silver issues
  • The first Roma and Pistis Locrian coin in a hoard context
  • 30 ‘fresh’ coins of Teanum, Cales, and Suessa!  (No Cora specimen, alas.)

My scanned photocopy was really crappy, so I’m just delighted to realize that it’s available open access via Persée.  No more squinting for me today!  I’m also intrigued by the location of this hoard, just north of the Gargano (if you go, you must try the mysterious and delicious Lesina eel!).  It’s just down the road from Larinum (see earlier posts).  The Frentani became allied to the Romans in 304 BC and somewhere around the mid third century Larinum shifted from minting Neapolis type bronzes with Greek legends, to Roman type bronzes with Latin legends (well Oscan language, Latin Alphabet) (HN Italy 622 vs. 623).

San Martino in Pensilis - View

What aid did Ptolemy render to Pyrrhus?

reverse of ANS 1997.9.159
Gold stater, Taras, c. 280 BC. ANS 1997.9.159. Vlasto 35. HN Italy 983.

There is a tight series of gold issues from Pyrrhus’ arrival in Tarentum (HN Italy 983-992).  They share common controlmarks and are signed by the same magistrates.   A variety of denominations are known: stater, 1/2 stater, 1/4, 1/3, 1/8, 1/10, 1/12, and 1/16.  A variety of dieties appear on the obverse, Zeus, Apollo, Athena, Heracles.  The reverses types include a biga, a dolphin rider,  a biga of dolphins, an owl, and on three denominations an eagle, such as that illustrated above.

This eagle bears much in common with an eagle to appear at the end of the century on Roman gold:

RRC 44/3. ANS 1967.153.4.

Here is a link to a variety of illustrated specimens of the Roman issue. When writing about this issue Meadows has made a very strong case that the iconography reflects Ptolemaic support.  I give only a little quote here (1998: 128):


Could it mean the same thing at Tarentum?  I think it very likely indeed.  Hammond 1988 makes a strong case that the Ptolemy that sent military aid to Pyrrhus for his campaign in Italy was Philadelphus base on this portion of Justin:

11 Nor was Pyrrhus of Epirus neglected by him, a king who would be of great assistance to whichsoever side he attached himself, 12 and who, while he desired to spoil them one by one, sought the favour of all. 13 On going to assist the Tarentines, therefore, against the Romans, he desired of Antigonus the loan of vessels to transport his army into Italy; of Antiochus, who was better provided with wealth than with men, a sum of money; and of Ptolemaeus, some troops of Macedonian soldiers. 14 Ptolemaeus, who had no excuse for holding back for want of forces, supplied him with five thousand infantry, four thousand cavalry, and fifty elephants, but for not more than two years’ service. 15 In return for this favour, Pyrrhus, after marrying the daughter of Ptolemaeus, appointed him guardian of his kingdom in his absence; lest, on carrying the flower of his army into Italy, he should leave his dominions a prey to his enemies.

The relationship between Ptolemy II and Pyrrhus has been documented at more length by Adams 2008.

The numismatic evidence strengthens the claims of both Hammond and Adams AND suggests that it was far more than troops and elephants that Ptolemy II sent to Italy.

Update 4/6/2014: I was very happy to read this paragraph in  2013 paper supporting a Pyrrhic dating for the eagle type at Taras on the silver.[Image links to full paper.]

Capture HN Italy 933



Postscript 5 March 2014.  If one is worrying about the use of the ‘Ptolemaic’ eagle in Italy, then this type of Larinum (c. 210-175, HN Italy 626) should also be thrown into the mix.  Inspired by the Roman gold in all likelihood:

Reverse of Bronze triens, Larinum. ANS 1944.100.2090. Image links to both ANS specimens of this type.

I’ve discussed coins of Larinum from this period before, here.  And of course:

RRC 23/1; Double unit, Neapolis (?) after 276 or Messana (?), Æ 14.35 g. ROMANO Head of Minerva l., wearing Corinthian helmet decorated with griffin; behind, helmet. Rev. ROMA – NO Eagle standing l. with open wings on thunderbolt. From the RBW collection. Follow link for important discussion and references.  Cf. also coins of Mamertinoi (a nice specimen).  Contra Mattingly 2004: 103 who makes too much of the angle of the eagle’s head to my mind.

A. Burnett, The Beginnings of Roman Coinage, AIIN 36 (1989): 33-64, at 37 says:




Update 11 March 2014: Just a note to self.  Consider also the coinage of Alba Fucens, Latin colony of 303 BC.  HN Italy identifies three types, all silver obols (241, 243, and 244) that have Athena in a Corinthian helmet and an eagle on a thunderbolt, dating to c. 280-275.  Crawford CMRR p. 47 sees the issue and those of Norba and Signia as likely struck to pay troops in the War against Pyrrhus.

Silver obol, Alba Fucens. ANS 1944.100.2059. SNG ANS.1.112.

The Stazio and Mertens’  literature is on order from ILL. The Italian Wikipedia has an article on the Monetaziono di Alba Fucens. There is an odd specimen in trade that I’d like to understand what’s going on with the mark behind the eagle better, looks like a fillet or maybe a striking artifact of some kind, image #1 and image #2.  Also see HN Italy p. 11 and 180 for a little discussion of how the eagle and fulmen have been interpreted as symbols of Alexander the Molossian.  I’d like to learn more about this coin type as well sometime.  It’s a small bronze (Athena, Attic Helmet/close winged eagle and MOΛOΣΣΩN).   

Update 4/4/2014:


Update 5/26/14:

The scholar who seems to be most actively writing about Eagles on Coins in Italy is Carroccio.  Most of his relevant papers are online with obvious titles, but the note the issue also comes up in his 2008 piece on Moneta Apula… also online on academia.edu.

Italic Horserider Imagery



Note To Self: When considering the issue of L. Manlius Torquatus below (111 BC according to Mattingly), don’t forget that there are earlier Italic precedents for the reverse design, such as the AE quinrunx of Larinum above, dated by HN Italy to c. 210-175 BC.

You will want to order from ILL the relevant literature on Larinum (listed in HN Italy) and look for other similar Italic imagery.

Notice how the Torquatus coin even places all three elements of the legend in a similar location to that of the Larinum coin. His name for the ethnic, EXSC for the five pellets, and then, most strikingly, the Q for the V behind the riders head. [See three images down for a specimen of the quinrunx showing the V.]

The obverse of the above Larinum specimen looks more like a Minerva than an Ares in the Corinthian helmet. HN Italy queries lists as “Mars(?)”. Other specimens are more ambiguous or masculine:

But then see these long necked specimens (1) and (2)… The four specimens in the ANS seem very masculine indeed, especially the ‘fat necked’ SNGANS.1.131 and SNGANS.1.132.

Update 26/11/2013: Just adding this glass paste for comparison. It is dated by the Thorvaldsens Museum to the republican period.  This rider doesn’t have the same helmet but otherwise shares many design elements right down to the the shield details.

Rytter med spyd og skjold. Romersk republikansk paste

They also given this a republican date:

Kriger til hest. Romersk republikansk paste

Second update 27 February 2014: The coinage of Tarentum (Taras) also needs to brought into discussion (esp. HN Italy 1013):





Most of the rider imagery from Tarentum has the shield behind the rider, making this type stand out.  Even here, the horse is rendered differently from above imagery, but it is certainly in the same visual repertoire.

Also see this newer post for comparative evidence.