Mithridates on the Republican Coin Series?

A page of my image notes from my pre-blog days. The images are all from the ANS. Click to be taken to ANS collection of RRC 405/5 specimens. Or click on the title of this post to see all the images at a higher resolution within the post itself.

It may not be immediately obvious but this little spate of blog posts are all coming out of my efforts to wrap my head around representations of Monarchy on the Republican Coin Series, a topic I’m attempting to work up for a conference paper submission today.

Gem scholars have long recognized the stylistic connection between Mithridates Tetradrachms and this republican coin type. Cf. Vermeule 1970: 206.


Crawford proposed Mercury as an other possible identification of the intended deity.  The iconographic parallel is striking but I find myself ambivalent about whether it is just an artistic choice of style or an intended reference to the Pontic king.  It’s part of a complicated series perhaps alluding the the cult of Fortuna at Praeneste and/or other Italic cults.  How it fits into the series as a whole has alluded explanation.

I would just note that with the new dating based on the Messange Hoard of RRC 405 to 58 BC, this potential regal allusion comes in the midst of a spate of such allusions to foreign kings on the reverses of the series:

  • Perseus of Macedon (reverse of RRC 415/1; 62 BC)
  • Aretas of Nabataea (reverse of RRC 422/1; 58 BC)
  • Ptolemy V of Egypt (reverse of RRC 419/2; 58 BC)
  • Bocchus of Mauritania and Jugurtha of Numidia (reverse of RRC 426/1; 56 BC)
  • Bacchius of Judaea (reverse of RRC 431/1; 55 (or 54?) BC)

192 out of 410 days: Oscan in Asia Minor?


This coin is only known from one unique specimen in Paris.  {Irritatingly the digital catalogue entry has the wrong image linked to it as of 7/20/18}   Its authenticity seems guaranteed by the accuracy of the Oscan language inscription, which at the time of its first documentation was not yet fully understood.  Photos on the internet are hard to find.  The wikipedia entry is okay.  Heck, I’m impressed it has an entry or sub-entry.  I’ve taken the image above from Wyler’s 2008 article.

Mostly I’m writing this post to make a note of Mattingly’s rather under-acknowledged theory that this is not a Social War coin at all, but a product of the Mithridatic Wars (2004: 189-192). The usual explanation is that the Italians copied the type from the bronze of Amisos:

And that thus it represents tangible proof of the suggestions in the literature that the Italians sought (and perhaps obtained?) support from Mithridates (Diod. 37.2.10; Athenaeus 5.213C).  My enemy’s enemy is my friend, as they say.  On Dionysus imagery during the Social War, see:

Pobjoy, M., ‘The First Italia’ in K. Lomas and E. Herring (eds.), The Emergence of State Identities in Italy in the First Millennium BC (London: Accordia Research Institute, 2000), 187-211.

Anyway, Mattingly focuses on this passage from Plutarch’s Lucullus:

Mithridates was now resolved upon the speediest possible flight, but with a view to drawing Lucullus away, and holding him back from pursuit, he dispatched his admiral, Aristonicus, to the Grecian sea. Aristonicus was just on the point of sailing when he was betrayed into the hands of Lucullus, together with ten thousand pieces of gold which he was carrying for the corruption of some portion of the Roman army.

He thinks that the Parisian specimen is one of these pieces of gold and that the Oscan was used to unsettle the Italian troops in Lucullus’ army and encourage them all the more to revolt.

This seems even more far fetched, than the Social War explanation.  Really the problem comes down to there only being one of these gold coins.  We have no comparative evidence or geographical data, let alone archaeological context.  We remain in the realm of speculation.  Anyway, just to make this post a little more complete, we should note that a similar bust of Dionysus does appear on the Italian’s silver coinage:

COMPASS Image Caption: Bull goring a wolf