292 out of 410 days: Signia

Kombination af to masker og et vildsvinehoved. Romersk ringsten
Combination of two masks and a wild boar’s head. Roman ringstone, 100-300 Cornelian. 1,1 x 1,6 cm. Inventory number: I1538. Thorvaldsens Museum.

Sometimes I tell myself I’m too obsessed with the connection between gems and coins.  And then one of my hunches pays off and the obsession comes back full swing.  In case the above image doesn’t set off exciting alarm bells in your head, allow me to remind you what the coins of Signia, a Latin Colony, during the Pyrrhic War looked like:


Latium, Signia. Obol circa 280-275, AR 0.64 g. Head of Mercury r., wearing petasus; below neck, dolphin r. Rev. Mask composed of Silenus head l., and boar’s head r.; below, SEIC. Campana CNAI 1b (this reverse die). BMC 3 (this reverse die). Historia Numorum Italy 343 var.

[I link to this particular specimen just so I can point out that it reappeared back on the market with a brand new patina, all nice and shiny and toned just one year later, and fetched a much higher price.  I think it looked just lovely before some one decided to ‘fix’ it.]

Let me assure you that the gem above is by no means a one off.

Beazley Archive Reference Number: 716; Description: Heads of a BOAR and a man conjoined. Inscribed in Greek THIE. Current Collection: Walters Art Museum, Baltimore: 42.1070; Previous Collections: Story-Maskelyne, M.H.: The Marlborough Gems (1870): no. 716. Material: Jasper

And based on descriptions without images the Thorvaldsens Museum has a number more similar gems, Inventory numbers: I1537,  I1539,  I1722, I1536.   The last two are of particular interest as they are glass pastes which suggests the image had resonance with members of a variety of different social classes.

This particular type even made the BBC!

Roman intaglio
From a 30 March 2010 article ‘Guernsey, the Roman Empire’s trading post’. Image links to article.

What the heck does it mean?  Was it the badge of some particular noble?  Or like grylloi is it a humorous, apotropaic emblem? Or a philosophic meditation on the theme of man and beast?  Or all these things?  or something else entirely?

OR! the penny drops!  Is it a visual pun?!  Signia in Latin is also the plural form of the neuter noun meaning: standard, seal, sign, signal, proof, indication from the verb signo to mark, stamp, designate, sign, seal.  The type chosen is a very very common seal type.  [This is why I blog by the way. It took writing the whole damn post for that penny to drop and me to make the obvious connection.]  This is a really exciting idea to me.  Name puns are all over Roman Republican coinage to show its early early adoption is Latium is especially good. I think it provides a missing link of sorts between the ideas I explored in this earlier post discussing Republican habits, the Abdera series, and Timeaus.  [I’ve talked about puns a lot on this blog, but that post is the best of the lot I think.]

For follow-up later: Henig has some clever things to say about gems usually.  There are two possibly related gems (CG72 and CG 354)  in the Fitzwilliam that he’s written up in his 1994 catalogue.  Must get those pages from ILL…  Strangely none returned in BM, Met, or Boston MFA searches all of which have robust gem collections.

As an aside, I find it funny that Mercury on the obverse is wearing a necklace or similar band.  At first I thought at first it might be an unfortunate die break, but it shows up on a different die as well, but not all of the dies.  Also what the heck does Mercury have to do with dolphins?  Could it have anything to do with bizarre composite deity on the coins of Bursio who has wings and a trident (RRC 352/1)?  I doubt it.  But finding any representation Hermes or Mercury with any nautical attributes is tricky.

Update 4/11/2014:  If more canting types from Italy are sought, consider Rutter’s note at HN Italy 446, an obol of  the Saunitai with a javelin head on the reverse, σαύνιον = javelin.  He gives a date of c. 325.

Update 7/12/2017:

Another example of this gem type from Gori:


cf. also this other Gori plate.


184 out of 410 days: The Aedile’s Feet


Capture.JPGI’ve been reading Schafer’s 1989 dissertation on sella curulis und fasces.  Many nice little observations and details here and there.  This coin has the distinction of being the first to display the curule chair and to be the first minted by a curule aedile.  The head of Cybele recalls the oversight of her games by the curule aediles.  Schafer also wants to connect the lion’s feet on the curule chair as a fantastic detail linking to the role of lions in the cult of Cybele, a detail added to the coin to make the connection between obverse and reverse that much more obvious.  He bases this assertion on the absence of such feet on other representations of the chair.  I’m not so sure it is that unlikely that some sella curulis weren’t so adorned.

I’m interested in how the moneyer has used symbols and words together to communicate his message.  The P. FOVRIVS is written onto the chair itself making the individual and the status of the object absolutely clear.  This isn’t any old curule chair its Furius’ chair!

Then on the obverse at the end of the legend AED CVR is a foot.  The foot is the visual symbol for the moneyer’s cognomen, Crassipes  = crassus + pes = thick foot, i.e. probably clubfooted.  The cognomen is known in other families in the Imperial period but primarily used by the gens Furii.  Why is another matter.  If it refers to the congenital birth defect it may be that the family had the genetic mutation that made the disorder more common.  Or perhaps some ancestor just had a fat, swollen foot from a war wound or some more mundane reason.  All that said the foot is clearly being used as a symbol of the name which appears on the reverse.  Who was AED CVR? Crassipes obviously!  There’s his foot.

The other thing this issue is good for is illustrating how spelling varients in proper names.  He is always FOVRIVS  with an O before the U, where as we later see the gens switching to just Furius.  That said, the engravers swap between the CRASSVPES and CRASSIPES spelling.  The varients crop up elsewhere but its curious that the moneyer himself didn’t seem to impose a single spelling of his cognomen on his coinage.  I usually get quite sniffy if my name is misspelled or mispronounced.

There is, I should mention, a good chance that this moneyer is some relation to Cicero’s later son-in-law, a Furius Crassipes of unknown praenomen.

164 out of 410 days: a Dolabella in Sicily during the 2nd Punic War?


For the type illustrated (RRC 73/1) above Crawford does not speculate in RRC as to the moneyer indicated by the pick-axe = dolabra = dolabella.  The use of this symbol as a plausible indication of the moneyer’s cognomen is demonstrated by these coins of Cn. Cornelius Dolabella (RRC 81, redated and relocated by Russo to 130-128 BC in Spain):


The likely moneyer of the earlier coin seems to me to be lurking in plain sight in Zonaras’ epitome of Cassius Dio:

After Marcellus had left Sicily, Hannibal sent a force of cavalry there, and the Carthaginians despatched another. They won several battles and acquired some cities; and if the praetor Cornelius Dolabella had not come against them, they would have subjugated all Sicily. 

This connection or lack of connection may go back to Münzer in RE.  Here is Broughton on the subject:



Here is the Livy in question:

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, one of those cities, for the settlement of Moericus and his Spaniards.

Of course, that then would open the sticky issue of how long this Cornelius (Dolabella?) was in Sicily and the chronology of the early denarii.  This passage about the settlement of the Spaniards in Morgantina is critical because we date the start of the denarius to 211 based on deposits found in the excavation of that site below the destruction level.  Dating the issue is problematic.  It appears in four hoards but all closing in the 70s or later.  Crawford justifies his dating thus:

The Sicilian origin of the four issues is adequately attested by their close stylistic link with the issue with corn-ear, their early date both by this link and by their heavy weight-standard [i.e. 4.5 g.]  (RRC vol 1. p. 17)

Badian did not include Zonaras’  Dolabella in his study of the Dolabellae of the Republic. He mentions in passing the consul of 283, but begins properly with the consul of 159, briefly speculating that his father would be the Cn. Cornelius Dolabella who was made Rex Sacrorum in 208 and died in 180 (Livy 27.36.5).  The rex sacrorum could be the same as Zonaras’  Dolabella.  If he were in his early 40s in 211BC in Sicily, he would have then died in his early 70s.

One strike against Livy’s Cornelius being a Dollabella is the praenomen Marcus which is otherwise unattested in this branch of the family.  So if Zonaras or Livy is likely to be wrong it is easy to see why Zonaras has previously been dismissed, being so late and so abbreviated. That said, Dio has access to sources other than Livy. An abbreviated praenomen can be miss-transcribed.  And with the coin as extra weight, I’m tempted to lean away from Livy towards Zonaras on this point.

We, of course, are then right to ask what happened to the M. Cornelius Cethegus credited with suppressing the Sicilian revolts after Marcellus’ departure?  We’d have to leave him in the province that was assigned to him that year in the first place, Apulia (Livy 25.41).

As an aside, I am interested to note that one Wikipedia entry on the gens Cornelii lists this Dolabella with no citation, whereas another excludes him.

Saturn, Saturninus


When Saturninus that rascally tribune of the very end of second century was a moneyer he chose types that punned on his name.  A pun that is emphasized by the abbreviation of his cognomen. It’s a rather conservative type for a man we don’t generally think of for his conservatism.  Quadrigas had already been recently revived by L. Conelius Scipo Asiaticus [103 BC Mattingly].

Reverse of RRC 311/1d. 1896.7.44

and puns too were the fashion of the time.  Compare this bull (= taurus) used by L. Thorius Balbus.  Crawford thinks the bull might be a symbol of Juno on the obverse (see p. 719 n. 8 of vol 2 of RRC). Maybe it is both.  [102 BC Mattingly]

Reverse of RRC 316/1. 1937.158.34

Anyway, the interesting thing is the Saturn, Saturninus association. It makes the choice of Saturn for the obverse of the Piso Caepio coin seem a little odd in light of our literary sources:


Here’s the Broughton, MRR entry for them under 100BC, Quaestors:


We might also note the use of Saturn as an obverse in 103BC [Mattingly], the year of Saturninus’ first Tribunate, by L. Memmius Gallus:

Obverse of RRC 313/1b. 1937.158.31

Mattingly has Saturninus’ offices as follows:

104 – Quaestor in charge of Grain Supply from Ostia 

103 – First Tribunate

101 – Moneyership

100 – Second Tribunate

We usually think of moneyerships being held before these other offices, but the dates of the other offices are well fixed.  So perhaps Saturninus had his ‘out of order’.  Otherwise his coins would need to be slipped back into the series earlier that 104 and that is apparently hard to reconcile with all the rest of evidence.