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.

Different Trumpets for Different Troops

To add to the confusion the sound of a trumpet was heard from the theatre. It was a Roman trumpet which the conspirators had procured for the purpose, and being blown by a Greek who did not know how to use it, no one could make out who gave the signal or for whom it was intended.

I’d like to read up one day on the use of musical instruments in warfare and variations among different ancient peoples.  And I just find this bit of Livy (25.10) describing Hannibal’s taking of Tarentum rather amusing.

Roma Aeterna in the 3rd Century BC?

Reverse of RRC 39/4. ANS 1969.83.100.
Obverse of RRC 39/4. ANS 1969.83.100

So I don’t think I’ve ever thought particularly hard about this uncia type although the types of RRC 39 are exceptionally fascinating as a group (see my previous comments on the semiuncia).  I ended up here because I was trying to better understand the context of a passage in Dionysius today:

Yet this village [sc. Pallatium, Evander’s foundation,] was ordained by fate to excel in the course of time all other cities, whether Greek or barbarian, not only in its size, but also in the majesty of its empire and in every other form of prosperity, and to be celebrated above them all as long as mortality shall endure. (D. H. 1.31.3)

So this seems related to the idea of Rome as the Eternal City, but I realized I knew next to nothing about the origins of this concept.  Turns out its right in Dionysius’ own day with the earliest Latin articulation being Tibullus (c.55-19BC):

Romulus aeternae nondum formaverat urbis (Elegies 2.5.23)

This brought me to a survey article written in 1965 that included this intriguing paragraph on the iconography of aeternitas (p. 29):



I’m not endorsing (yet) this interpretation of the type, but it a sharp observation and a intriguing possibility I’d like to think about another day when I have more time!   From a numismatic perspective one would have to also consider in this context all the other republican issues which juxtapose the sun and the moon: RRC 309/1, 310/1, 390/1, 474/5, and 494/20b.

Update on 10/11/15:

Dionysius’ reception of the concept of Rome as the Eternal City is some what problematized by his version of the Marcus Curtius story as preserved in the fragmentary books (14.11).  He says Curtius had to throw himself into the gap to give Rome more strong young men.  Livy’s version instead says the self sacrifice will result in Rome being Eternal (7.5).  The date of book 7’s composition is debatable.

Update 10/12/15:  I want to think more about how Gowing’s argument may fit into all this:

Gowing, Alain M. – Rome and the ruin of memory. Mouseion (Canada) 2008 8 (3) : 451-467 ill. [rés. en franç.]. • The importance attached to buildings is reflected in Roman culture generally, but nowhere better documented than in the Augustan program of restoration. A significant portion of that program existed to preserve the legacy and memory of Rome as manifested in buildings. Yet Romans were aware that no building could last forever ; the impermanence of buildings, especially in comparison with the immortality conferred by literary endeavours, is a standard trope in Latin literature. The eternity to which the phrase « urbs aeterna » – first attested in the poetry of Tibullus and Ovid – refers does not reside in buildings, but in the timeless landscape Camillus remembers and describes in his speech in Livy 5, 54, 2-3.  [Abstract and Citation from L’Année Philologique]

Measuring Sticks, Decempeda, Pertica etc…

Denarius, Sicily circa 209-208, AR 4.48 g. Helmeted head of Roma r.; behind, X. Rev. The Dioscuri galloping r.; below, staff and ROMA in tablet. Sydenham 208. Crawford 78/1. NAC 33 (2006), lot 204.

A while back when I first looked at this type I asked a colleague who works on science and technology in the ancient world and their representations in literature what he thought about Crawford’s suggestion that this “staff” is actually a measuring tool, specifically the decempeda.   He wrote back that he thought it a plausible identification and added:

“It doesn’t have ten divisions, but I don’t think that matters; it’s clearly some kind of ruler. Also called ‘pertica’: see Propertius 4.1.127-130 for association with land confiscation. And ps.-Vergil Dirae (‘Curses’) line 45.”   The key line reads:

nam tua cum multi uersarent rura iuuenci,
    abstulit excultas pertica tristis opes.

Even though many bullocks ploughed your fields, the merciless measuring-rod stole your wealth of land.

What the literary tradition suggests is a generally negative connotation of symbol.  An emphasis on the confiscation aspects of its application.  Could this really be a numismatic symbol?  Is it just a staff?  I’ve been a bit ambivalent, until today.

I was skimming for a good Caesar coin or two in the ANS database for my next class and came across this beauty.  Outside the time frame of my book project, but still very interesting indeed.

Reverse of RRC 525/4c. 1941.131.338
Reverse of RRC 525/4c. ANS 1941.131.338

Here we have a young Ti. Sempronius Gracchus (quaestor designate!) trading on the reputation of his famous name by aligning himself with contemporary land distributions, particularly to Caesar’s veterans.  Notice the Legionary standards set right next to a plow and our measuring stick.

The flip side of confiscations is always distributions.  The power of the measuring stick as political symbol is its appeal to those to benefit from the rearrangement of property holdings.  Its power as a literary device is just the opposite.

What resonance would the symbol have in Sicily c. 209-208BC?  The Romans certainly engaged in some territorial redistributions on the island as rewards to their allies.  I do not want to say RRC 78 refers to any one such confiscation and allocation, but as an illustrative example, I provide a passage from Livy (26.21) that will be quite familiar to numismatists already:

Not the least conspicuous feature of the spectacle was the sight of Sosis the Syracusan and Moericus the Spaniard who marched in front wearing golden crowns. The former had guided the nocturnal entry into Syracuse, the latter had been the agent in the surrender of Nasos and its garrison. Each of these men received the full Roman citizenship and 500 jugera of land. Sosis was to take his allotment in that part of the Syracusan territory which had belonged to the king or to those who had taken up arms against Rome, and he was allowed to choose any house in Syracuse which had been the property of those who had been put to death under the laws of war. A further order was made that Moericus and the Spaniards should have assigned to them a city and lands in Sicily out of the possessions of those who had revolted from Rome. M. Cornelius was commissioned to select the city and territory for them, where he thought best, and 400 jugera in the same district were also decreed as a gift to Belligenes through whose instrumentality Moericus had been induced to change sides. After Marcellus’ departure from Sicily a Carthaginian fleet landed a force of 8000 infantry and 3000 Numidian horse. The cities of Murgentia and Ergetium revolted to them, and their example was followed by Hybla and Macella and some other less important places. Muttines and his Numidians were also roaming all through the island and laying waste the fields of Rome’s allies with fire. To add to these troubles the Roman army bitterly resented not being withdrawn from the province with their commander and also not being allowed to winter in the towns. Consequently they were very remiss in their military duties; in fact it was only the absence of a leader that prevented them from breaking out into open mutiny. In spite of these difficulties the praetor M. Cornelius succeeded by remonstrances and reassurances in calming the temper of his men, and then reduced all the revolted cities to submission. In pursuance of the senate’s orders he selected Murgentia [i.e. Morgantina], one of those cities, for the settlement of Moericus and his Spaniards.

317 out of 410 days: Private Commerce at the start of the Hannibalic War

 He further embittered the senate against him by his support of C. Claudius; he alone of all the members was in favour of the measure which that tribune introduced. Under its provisions no senator, no one whose father had been a senator, was allowed to possess a vessel of more than 300 amphorae burden. This was considered quite large enough for the conveyance of produce from their estates, all profit made by trading was regarded as dishonourable for the patricians. The question excited the keenest opposition and brought Flaminius into the worst possible odium with the nobility through his support of it, but on the other hand made him a popular favourite and procured for him his second consulship.  (Livy 21.63.3-4)

This passage not incorrectly gets cited widely as evidence about restrictions on Senators engaging in commerce (exempli gratia).  Nothing wrong with that.  The same chapter of Livy gets discussed most often for the narrative tradition that blames Flaminius for the disaster at Lake Trasimene in the Hannibalic War.  Flaminius brings down divine wrath by not following proper religious procedures in his second consulship, because he’s afraid the nobles angered by his restriction of their potential financial gain will block his leaving for his province by claiming bad auspices.  Thus, he sneaks out to his province as a privatus.   So, by extension the disaster at Trasimene is all a result of a consul supporting popular legislation.  Moral of the story: a factious nobility is a threat to the well-being of the state.  Not a bad Augustan age moral really.

But here’s my question.  Why, oh why, did some tribute or the electorate in general care a rat’s ass about senators engaging in commerce? What the heck made this legislation ‘popular’ in any sense? Why at this moment in time?  The Gauls had been quieted.  The Adriatic shipping ways were strongly in Roman control.  Sicily and Sardinia had standing governors.  The Romans still probably thought at this moment that imminent war with Carthage and the Barcids would be fought in Spain and Africa.  Is this Livy’s interpretation of a list of legislation, elections, and events?  Or someone else’s?  Perhaps restrictions on senatorial commerce could be seen as popular with the equites if there is any grounds for understanding them as a merchant class at this point in time, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that reading.

[I got here as I was ruminating on the state of finances at Rome during the early years of the Hannibalic War.]

295 out 410 days: Third Century Quaestors and The Fleet

[If you click on the title of a post it will take you to a full page view of that post making it easier to read the images of text clippings.]


This is again from the Tusa and Royal article I keep coming back to (p. 44).  Prag is Jonathan Prag of Merton College, Oxford.  I came back to this passage after reading this portion of Walbank’s Commentary:


The Livy Epitome (15.8)  is really so short as to be down right useless:

Quaestorum numerus ampliatus est, ut essent octo.

The number of quaestors was doubled so that there were eight.

But Lydus, On Magistrates (1.27) is more interesting:



Modern critical edition, translation, and commentary available here (p. 41-45).

Relevant bibliography:

Le Bohec, Yann. – La marine romaine et la première guerre punique. Klio 2003 85 (1) : 57-69 carte.

Harris W. V. – The development of the quaestorship, 267-81 B.C. Classical Quarterly 1976 XXVI : 92-106. Abstract: There were two new quaestorships in 267, not four, as usually supposed, and they probably shared some of the duties of the quaestores urbani. Two more quaestorships were added for Sicily and Sardinia, and in 197 the total was probably raised to ten, a figure maintained until Sulla. The quaestores classici of 267 probably represented a tightening of Roman control in Italy.

268 out of 410 days: South Italian Digital Archive

I was worrying about the conflicting testimony in Livy and Diodorus over Cleonymus of Sparta’s Italian adventures.  Oakley has a good overview of the problem but there is more that can be said on the historiographical side. Barnes also has a take on the matter.

Amongst other things is a place called Thuriae, not Thurii mind you, that features in Livy’s narrative:

During the year a fleet of Greek ships under the command of the Lacedaemonian Cleonymus sailed to the shores of Italy and captured the city of Thuriae in the Sallentine country. The consul, Aemilius, was sent to meet this enemy, and in one battle he routed him and drove him to his ships. Thuriae was restored to its former inhabitants, and peace was established in the Sallentine territory.

[In case you’re wondering, the Sallentine territory or peninsula is the heel of Italy’s boot.]

This little mystery led to finding this 1932 publication that suggests it is the same as Turi, outside of Bari.

The interesting thing about this publication is how it ended up on the web.  The provincial administration of Brindisi seems to have decided in 2012 to scan and archive online pretty much every last regional publication.  Here’s the announcement.  There is as far as I can find no easy portal for searching through all the old newspapers and journals to find the relevant bits, but the archive is hiding lots of numismatic tidbits.   For instance, here’s the publication of the Salvatore Hoard.

The best I’ve found to mine its depths is to use Google site search.  Just go to the google homepage and enter a likely term in Italian, say ‘didramma’, and then ‘’.  Leave off the quotes.

Postscript.  I just don’t think the Cleonymus of Polyaenus’s Stratagems is the same character.  It’s just too early a date for the Romans to control Apollonia and Epidamnus.