Other names for (and stories about) the Augur’s Lituus

In Rome likewise a sacred hut of Mars, built near the summit of the Palatine, was burned to the ground together with the houses round about; but when the area was being cleared for the purpose of restoring the buildings, it preserved unharmed in the midst of the surrounding ashes the symbol of the settlement of the city, a staff curved at one end, like those carried by herdsmen and shepherds, which some call kalauropes and others lagobola. With this staff Romulus, on the occasion of taking the auspices when he was intending to found the city, marked out the regions for the omens. (Dion. Hal. RA 14.2.2).

We often see the lituus on republican coins and interpret it as a symbol of an augurship in the family or of the money himself.  I thought I’d just file this passage away here, so that I keep in mind that at lease in the Augustan era it was associated with the city founding and the pastoral origins of Romulus, and that Dionysius gives us here a variety of Greek names for the implement (Greek below).  In this fragment the survival of the lituus is compared to the survival of the sacred olive tree on the acropolis in Athens, a symbol of the life of the city itself.  This seems to me to indicate that the lituus might just be able to be read as a symbol of Rome itself…at least to some Greek scholars residing in Rome at the end of the first century.

Cf. Cic. Div. 1.30

And whence, pray, did you augurs derive that staff, which is the most conspicuous mark of your priestly office? It is the very one, indeed, with which Romulus marked out the quarter for taking observations when he founded the city. Now this staff is a crooked wand, slightly curved at the top, and, because of its resemblance to a trumpet, derives its name from the Latin word meaning ‘the trumpet with which the battle-charge is sounded.’ It was placed in the temple of the Salii on the Palatine hill and, though the temple was burned, the staff was found uninjured.

and Cic. Div. 2.80

Then dismiss Romulus’s augural staff, which you say the hottest of fires was powerless to burn, and attach slight importance to the whetstone of Attus Navius.

Omitte igitur lituum Romuli, quem in maximo incendio negas potuisse comburi; contemne cotem Atti Navi.

Greek of DH quoted above:

Ἐν δὲ τῇ Ῥώμῃ καλιάς τις Ἄρεος ἱερὰ περὶ τὴν κορυφὴν ἱδρυμένη τοῦ Παλατίου συγκαταφλεγεῖσα ταῖς πέριξ οἰκίαις ἕως ἐδάφους, ἀνακαθαιρομένων τῶν οἰκοπέδων ἕνεκα τῆς ἐπισκευῆς, ἐν μέσῃ τῇ περικαύστῳ σποδῷ τὸ σύμβολον τοῦ συνοικισμοῦ  τῆς πόλεως διέσωσεν ἀπαθές, ῥόπαλον ἐκ θατέρου τῶν ἄκρων ἐπικάμπιον, οἷα φέρουσι βουκόλοι καὶ νομεῖς οἱ μὲν καλαύροπας, οἱ δὲ λαγωβόλα καλοῦντες, ᾧ Ῥωμύλος ὀρνιθευόμενος διέγραφε τῶν οἰωνῶν τὰς χώρας, ὅτε τὴν πόλιν οἰκίζειν ἔμελλεν.

Dolphins at Cosa and Signia

HN Italy 210. First Cosan bronze issue. Image from Buttrey’s classic 1980 publication, to which it links.

This issue of Cosa imitates Rome’s first didrachm (RRC 13/1).  It’s date post 273BC (the founding date of Cosa) has sometimes been used to try to draw down the date of Rome’s first didrachm, the idea being that iconographic borrow would be unlikely over a gap of some 40-50 years.  The gap doesn’t bother me.

I was just intrigued by the dolphin addition to the design. Buttery says its there “bronze to identify Cosa as a port” (p. 22).  Need this be true?  I’m just recalling the dolphin neck terminus we find on the obverse of the coins of Signia:

Latium, Signia. Obol circa 280-275, AR 0.69 g. Head of Mercury r., wearing petasus; below neck, dolphin r. and below chin, caduceus. Rev. Mask composed of Silenus head l., and boar’s head r.; below, SEIC. Sambon 164. SNG ANS 115. Campana CNAI 1a. Historia Numorum Italy 343.

Segni is most certainly not on the sea.  And as I mentioned in passing in another post, Mercury isn’t particularly associated with nautical imagery and dolphins.  I’m wondering it is not a design element considered aesthetically pleasing at the bottom of a protome to ease the transition. Two examples an argument does not make.  I’ll keep my eye out for more.

256 out of 410 days: Helmet Hair

So I was looking at the Neapolis coins that served as prototypes for the earliest coins in the name of Rome.  And, Apollo has a very flippy hairdo of a not terribly typical type.  Here’s another to prove I’m not making this up:

That flip was feeling familiar.  And not from just the Roman type (RRC 1/1):

Here’s a link to one more of these.  Anyway.  It struck me that that hair flip is visually quite related to the neck flap that appears on Roma’s helmet on certain early types like these:

Or to a lesser extent on these earlier bronzes (not to mention Rome’s first silver piece with bearded Mars and Horse’s Head probably also minted at Neapolis, modern Naples):

But that’s clearly not the direction of influence.  The culprit must be the pegasi of Corinth that became so common in S Italy at the end of the 4th century BC:

The interesting iconographic borrowing isn’t really the Roma helmets, but the Neapolis (and soon-to-be-Roman) Apollo who gets his flip and snaky tendrils by way of Athena’s Corinthian manifestation.

Update 4 March 2014:  Check out images of Roman types at Nick Molinari’s site, note especially the image of the RRC 2/1, known from only one specimen.

213 out of 410 days: Mars or Achilles?


I’ve been writing too much to write here.  Rather ironically it is a brain befuddled by a respiratory infection that brings me back to blogging.  

I have already talked about the second coin type illustrated above.  It was produced by Pyrrhus and is said to represent his claim to have Achilles as an ancestor.  Thus the obverse is usually identified as Achilles.

The top coin is a Roman didrachm (RRC 25/1).  There is a another series (RRC 27) that is usually dated a little after with a similar head:


The Roman coins are invariably identified as Mars.  The logic is really no more complicated than this: Helmet = War Deity –> Male War Deity = Mars.  This Mars just happens to be beardless as compared to earlier bearded Mars:


[This is by our best reckoning the first silver Roman coin.]  Or late bearded Mars like these beauties:

Obverse of RRC 44/2. 1980.109.150

But if we go back up and look the ‘beardless Mars’ of the Roman coin and the ‘Achilles’ of the Pyrrhus coin, I think you’d agree we’d be hard pressed to actually claim there is any iconographic difference.  They match pretty well in their rugged Hellenistic faces and even share the gryphon motif of the helmet.  We need not make too much of that.  Gryphons appear on Corinthian helmets in this position on and off in Hellenistic coinage, regularly enough that we don’t need to attribute special significance to it.  Here’s a specimen from Syracuse.  And a gold Alexander stater of Sidon.

Are the two separate identifications warranted even with the close iconography?  Probably.  The Achilles attribute rests on the Thetis image on the reverse and the mythical connection.  If Rome copied the image or they simply share some common prototype there is no reason to think that it would be mean anything other than male war god, i.e. Mars to a Roman audience.

Update 2/5/2014:  A. Burnett, The Iconography of Roman Coin Types in the Third Century BC. Numismatic Chronicle 146 (1986) 67-75:






Like Father, Like Son

L. Valerius Flaccus, the moneyer of this coin, is likely to have been the son of the then or previous Flamen Martialis (priest of Mars):

War was to be waged against Aristonicus in the consulship of Publius Licinius and Lucius Valerius. The people was consulted as to whom it wished to have the management of that war. Crassus, the consul and Pontifex Maximus, threatened to impose a fine upon Flaccus his colleague, the priest of Mars, if he deserted the sacrifices. And though the people remitted the fine, still they ordered the priest to submit to the commands of the pontiff.

The Roman naming customs make it easy to elide the identities of family members. Many of the customs of the Roman state encouraged these associations, especially the Roman funeral.

It is likely that the son succeeded his father in this priesthood. At what date is uncertain. Here’s the entry in Magistrates of the Roman Republic:



Drummond in that 2008 article I mentioned in the last post raises the possibility already entertained by Broughton that Flaccus the younger is commemorating himself, not his father. BUT, then he pushes the idea even farther saying even if he meant to commemorate his father, it could be interpreted by later audiences as self commemoration (p. 396). This idea is important. It emphasizes that the image makers aren’t in control of the image and much of the reception depends on viewers evolving knowledge and assumptions about what is likely to be on a coin. This reminded me about a point Clare Rowan made in her blog. The ambiguity may be intentional or a fortuitous evolution. Neither Flaccus the elder or Flaccus the younger would be surprised or upset to have their individual accomplishments augment the acclaim of the other.

I selected this specimen as it is easier to see a few key details (rather than the ANS specimens). The face of Mars is in profile. His spear is pointed downwards diagonally behind him. The cape flows behind his nude body and the trophy rests over his left shoulder supported by his hand. This Mars type will be the basis for Augustus’ Romulus statue in his forum and its numerous copies. Like father, like son.