Symbolic Uses of the Pileus

I’ve ended up talking to my former PhD student about the pileus quite a bit over the past year.  I’m creating this post to have place to store references.

Livy 38.55; 187BCE: Ser. Sulpicius next consulted the senate as to who was to conduct the inquiry, and they fixed upon Q. Terentius Culleo. There are some writers who assert that this praetor was so attached to the family of the Cornelii that at the funeral – they say he died and was buried in Rome – he preceded the bier wearing a cap of liberty, just as though he were marching in a triumphal procession, and at the Porta Capena he distributed wine sweetened with honey to those who followed the body, because amongst the other captives in Africa he had been delivered by Scipio.

Plutarch, Numa 7.5: Now before this time the Romans called their priests “flamines,” from the close-fitting “piloi,” or caps, which they wear upon their heads, and which have the longer name of “pilamenai,” as we are told, there being more Greek words mingled with the Latin at that time than now.

287 out of 410 days: Tripods, Libertas, Victory

RRC 498/1. C. Cassius with M. Aquinus. Aureus, mint moving with Cassius 43-42, AV 8.41 g. M·AQVINVS·LEG· – LIBER – TAS Diademed head of Libertas r. Rev. C·CASSI – PR·COS Tripod with cauldron, decorated with two laurel branches. B. Cassia 12. C 2. Bahrfeldt 56. Sydenham 1302. Sear Imperators 217. Calicó 63.

I was thinking about tripods in a totally different framework when I came across the very smart work of Carsten Hjort Lange (again!).  In his 2009 book, Res Publica Constituta, he gives a new reading of the famous plaque from the Palatine in light of the use of tripods on the coinage of 42 BC (p. 172ff).  A great read, but too long to extract here just follow the link!

Greek influences

I also came across a reading of the Tripods on the Coins of Herod (same time frame) that I thought delightfully sensible:

Obverse of Bronze Coin, Jerusalem, 40 BC – 4 BC. ANS 1944.100.62799
From p. 110 of The Coins of Herod: A Modern Analysis and Die Classification edited by Donald Tzvi Ariel, Jean-Philippe Fontanille (Brill 2011). Image links to google books.

Further non-numismatic support for the idea that the tripod could be a general symbol of victory can be found here.

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:


Libertas with Arms Outstreched


All the coins of C. Egnatius Maxsumus (c. 75-76BC) have a personification of Libertas.  Beside this representation above he also showed her riding in a biga accompanied by Victory and as a bust on the obverse of another coin.  Those representations are pretty standard and like this one the identification as Libertas is made by the inclusion of a pileus, the hat given to freed slaves. Here’s the whole reverse.   The pileus is above her in the architectural representation:

Reverse of RRC 391/2. 1944.100.1970

There’s lots to be curious about this representation.  If as Crawford says this is the temple of Jupiter Libertas why are there two cult figures?  Also, this is the first time a divinity is shown in their temple like this — a time that will become standard throughout the Roman empire for centuries.  The die cutter has gone to a lot of trouble to show the details of these figures the radiate(?) crown of Jupiter, the height of his staff, the different dress of the two figures, and their respective gestures.  The gesture of Libertas is an Orans type usually associated with priestesses in both Greek and Roman iconography. Here’s a Vestal from the early second Century AD (said to be from the Roman Forum now in the Terme Museum):

But given that the figure is just the same size and representation as Jupiter it must be a goddess and Libertas remains the best identification.  Later, Pietas will be similarly represented on coins:

Reverse of Silver Denarius, Rome, AD 196 - AD 211. 1944.100.51304

It rather understandable that Pietas could be personified through the action of prayer.  It is harder to find a divinity thus represented.  Unless we consider archaic cult figures.  Perhaps most famous is Artemis of Ephesus with her out stretched arms:

But also used in depictions of Artemis Anaitis:

Reverse of Bronze Coin, Attuda. 1944.100.47738

It is also know from some terracottas thought to represent Tanit:

Even with attributes in her hands this cult image of Athena from Abydos has a similar pose:

While I don’t put much stock in the idea that this specimen (or many other architectural coin types, with a few key exceptions) can be taken to be ‘accurate’ representations of buildings, it does seem to me the die cutter is going out of his way to represent particular cult statues here, perhaps ones of some antiquity or rendered in an archaizing fashion.

[A huge thanks to all my social media friends who shared their thoughts on this image with me!]