Agathocles, Neapolis, Tarentum and Rome, c. 300-294 BC

coin25
“287. Apollo right, four dolphins surrounding, dotted border / MFB right with head in profile, trident above, NEOΠOΛITΩN in ex. (Sambon 650). Circa 300-275 BC. Æ 18mm (7.25 gm). Laureate head of Apollo right; four dolphins around / Man-headed bull standing right; trident above. SNG France 884; SNG ANS 463; HN Italy 577.(Source: Classical Numismatic Group: cngcoins.com )” From: manfacedbulls.wordpress.com

It’s the day before classes begin.  And, I’m very happy to have gotten most of my class prep for the semester out of the way earlier this month.  The transition from Istanbul to Brooklyn was temporarily all consuming, along with other personal matters of a rather happy sort.  Anyways, I’m not sure the future of this blog post-sabbatical, but today it seems useful once again.  Here’s hoping in between classes and meetings there will be many more moments to obsess about coins.

Back in March Nick Molinari pointed out to me the coin above and how it is a good parallel to RRC 2/1. That lead me to put a note about in my book manuscript.  Yesterday, I came across the passage and found a marginalia by a helpful reader “explain or cut”.  I realized I hadn’t really thought it through it myself.

Of course, the most unusual feature of the above coin isn’t the profile instead of 3/4s head of the man-faced bull, but instead the dolphin wreathing the obverse head as commonly found on the coinage of Syracuse.  Here’s Andrew Burnett on the phenomenon in silver (SNR 56 (1977); image links to full article):

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Here’s a link to images of the silver (see nos. 455-459) from Neapolis  and an example of the Tarentine gold staters.  The problem comes with trying to reconstruct what the heck Syracusan imagery is doing on the coinages of these two cities at this particular time.  Our historical understanding of Agathocles policy is Southern Italy is severely hamstrung by the loss of Diodorus’  continuous narrative after 302 BC.  Meister in the CAH VII part I, p. 405ff. does his best to reconstruct a narrative but its perhaps over full.  He’s convinced that Agathocles is trying to build a series of alliances against Carthaginian power: “a carefully considered plan lay behind the Syracusan ruler’s Italian policy – he clearly aimed to consolidate the entire forces of the western Greek world under his hegemony for the planned new confrontation with Carthage” (p. 406).  True? False? We just don’t have the sources to make this kind of claim.  I suspect that Meister is too influenced in this by his belief in the so-called Philinus Treaty, in which Carthage promised to stay out of Italy and Rome out of Sicily c. 306 BC.

What do we know?  There seems to be near continuous campaigning by Agathocles or his generals, c. 300-294 BC.  Our first source is Trogus 23.1-2.  He says that Agathocles was inploratus (beseeched, begged, implored) to come to Italy, but doesn’t specify by whom and then goes onto talk about his engagement with Brutti.  A passage of Strabo suggests that Tarentum is likely to have been the beseecher (6.3.4):

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And yet how Tarentum might have benefited from Agathocles’ war with the Brutti is not at all clear.  Trogus leaves us in media res with Agathocles leaving the Bruttian campaign unexpectedly to return to Sicily on account of illness.  We pick up the narrative a year or two (?) later with Diodorus 21.2-3.  Agathocles captures Corcyra from Macedonian forces and then ‘returns’ to the forces he’s left in Italy only to find his Etruscan and Ligurian mercenaries have been behaving badly towards his son.  He kill 2000 mercenaries and for some reason this alienates the Brutti (whom he’s subsequently subdue?!).  A botched attempt to capture the town leads to a night attack that sends Agathocles once again back to Syracuse.  c. 295 he’s back in Italy capturing Croton and giving Iapygians and Peucetians ‘pirate’ ships (Diod. 21.4). c. 294 he’s in the territory of the Brutti besieging Hipponium, the future Vibo (Diod. 21.8).  And both years Stilpo his naval captain is harassing Bruttian coastline (21.4 & 8). [Link to Diodorus]

These data points are really minimal.  It’s probably not too much of a stretch to take the Tarentine gold staters as confirmation of the Tarentine/Agathocles relationship mentioned by Strabo.  There are other examples of the Tarentine’s referring to their foreign allies on their coins, although these are invariably controversial in interpretation.

It’s logical to slip the Neapolis coins in this same 300-294 BC window and hypothesize some sort of diplomatic arrangement between Neapolis and the Syracusan king.  The silver has three different known initials on it suggesting perhaps issues over a number of years? [A die study would clear up that question.] Bronze types (that illustrated above and HN Italy 578) have naval imagery on them (trident and dolphin respectively) and we can notice that Agathocles seems particularly eager to control shipping lanes in the course of his Italic and concurrent campaigns.  So perhaps we might speculate that the arrangement with Neapolis was related to some sort of naval agreement.

As primarily a Romanist my real question is how does Rome particularly fit into this mess?  My feeling is the RRC 2/1 is likely to have been engraved at Neapolis by the same engraver who did HN Italy 577 and 578 in roughly the same time frame.  The  rendering of the legends and the man-faced bull are the primary points of the overlap.  And the absence of this profile man-faced bull otherwise on the Neapolis speaks for a tight chronology.  So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the campaigns of Agathocles in Italy are some of our best dating evidence for RRC 2/1, c.300-294BC, given we have no available hoard evidence and only a single known specimen.

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Update 8 January 2015:  Just ILL-ed Spadea, Roberto. “Crotone tra i Dionisi ed Agatocle.” pp. 107-120 in Krise und Wandel : Süditalien im 4. und 3. Jahrhundert v. Chr. : internationaler Kongress anlässlich des 65. Geburtstages von Dieter Mertens, hrsg. von Richard Neudecker. Wiesbaden : Reichert, 2011.   This uses hoard evidence from 2005 to look at Agathocles impact on Croton.  Tangentially related but always good to see hoards being worked into the historical narrative.

For a reconstruction of Agathocles’ Italian engagements that emphasizes tensions with Rome, see Decebal Nebu, “Agathocles and the Italic Powers at the Beginning of the 3rd Century B.C.” Revista Pontica  43 (2010): 37-50.

260 out of 410 days: Profile versus 3/4s Profile

Above: Detail from Athenian red-figure clay vase, about 475-425 BC. Paris Musée du Louvre G365 © Musée du Louvre [Image links to Beazley archive]

I’m not worrying about the image above, I just think it is a pretty picture and one that can help students enter the iconographic and narrative thought world in which man-faced bull coinage was stuck.  

I am worrying about the dating of RRC 2/1: Thurian-style Athena obverse, full man-faced bull, walking right in profile, star above.  An image of which can be found on Molinari’s website, here.  Scroll down to #355, clicking on it provides a better resolution.  There is only one known specimen.  I’ve talked about how problematic that can before, twice in fact it seems.

I was adding a note in my current chapter draft about HN Italy 753 being the prototype for the reverse of  this first ROMANO coin (so HN Italy says), and decided to have another scroll through Molinari’s collection of Neapolis man-faced bull images (MFB hereafter). The thing is that even though HN Italy 753 has an eight-rayed star above the MFB on some specimens, the MFB has a 3/4 profile head. A similar 3/4 profile head is found on all  the full-bodied MFBs on bronzes of Neapolis, as far as I can tell.  [Other images are available via Luigi Graziano’s project].

Whoever carved the dies for RRC 2/1 was more familiar with a MFB in profile, rather than in 3/4s profile.  That makes it seem rather unlikely to me that he was looking at a bronze of Neapolis, let alone was also someone engraving dies for the Neapolis mint.  

I suspect somewhere in Molinari’s great collection of images one could find a better possible parallel, say something like the Hyira silver coins.  Obviously no star and wrong placement of ethnic, but overall a better ‘model’.  Crawford sees a sea-horse/sea monster/pistrix or whatever you want to call it on Athena’s helmet.  That might be another point when comparison shopping.

Obviously dating based on iconographic models is problematic anyway.  We need a few good hoards.  But don’t we always.

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Update 8/27/14:  My thinking on this has developed a bit. See this more recent post.

Dioscuri and Desultores

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This is a didrachm of one of Rome’s colonies, Suessa Aurunca.  This type is usually dated to the time of 1st Punic War.  The colony had been established in 313 BC as part of the Samnite Wars (Livy 9.28).  The place makes little mark on the literary narrative, appearing in such sleepy contexts as Cato’s recommendation on where to get a wagon or a mill.

The type is identified as a Dioscurus, i.e. either Castor or Pollux without his brother.  My first impression is that it looked rather like a desultor to me.

Obverse of RRC 480/21. ANS 1937.158.296 . Image links to a selection of other coin types also showing desultores.

This got me wondering what we actually know about desultores.  Less than you might think, I can assure you!  And many of our references are metaphorical (e.g. Cicero, Pro Murena 57).   There are only about 13 references in Latin literature.  The only certain testimony we have of their performance is during Julius Caesar’s triumphal games, and here they seem to be performances by elite youth (Suet. Iul. 39).   That they show up on the republican series more than once suggests they were a significant feature of Roman religious festivals or other celebrations, but which and when is up for debate.  Perhaps my favorite reference is their use in a piece of Augustan era Roman jurisprudence by Labeo preserved in the Justinian digest (19.5.20).

What about the Suessa coin above?  Dioscurus or desultor?  The confusion is more understandable when we look at this passage from Hyginus:

LXXX. CASTOR: Idas and Lynceus, sons of Apharesu from Messene, had as promised brides Phoebe and Hilaira, daughters of Leucippus. Since these were most beautiful maidens – Phoebe being a priestess of Minerva, and Hilaira of Diana – Castor and Pollux, inflamed with love, carried them off. But they, since their brides-to-be were lost, took to arms to see if they could recover them. Castor killed Lynceus in battle; Idas, at his brother’s death, forgot both strife and bride, and started to bury his brother. When he was placing the bones in a funeral monument, Castor intervened, and tired to prevent his raising the monument, because he had won over him as if he were a woman. In anger, Idas pierced the thigh of Castor with the sword he wore. Others say that as he was building the monument he pushed it on Castor and thus killed him. When they reported this to Pollux, he rushed up and overcame Idas in a single fight, recovered the body of his brother, and buried it. Since, however, he himself had received a star from Jove [Zeus], and one was not given to his brother, because Jove said that Castor and Clytemnestra were of the seed of Tyndareus, while he and Helen were children of Jove, Pollux begged that he be allowed to share his honor with his brother. This was granted him. [From this comes the expression “redeemed by alternate death”; and even the Romans preserve the practice. When they send out bareback riders, one man has two horses, and a cap on his head, and leaps from one horse to the other, just as Pollux takes turns with his brother.]

Thus, at least to Augustan era eyes, confusing the iconography of the Dioscuri and Desultores was no surprise.   Back to the mid third century.  I think it unlikely to have a Dioscurus without his brother and without another identifying mark like the star.  The palm branch is agonistic imagery and there is no reason that the coin can’t be an agonistic type.

I find myself surprised that the coins of Latin colonies are not more discussed in standard accounts of early Roman coinage.  In some ways the coins of Suessa, at least in the bronze seem to form a missing link of sorts between Rome and Neapolis, producing significant numbers of Apollo/man-faced bull coins that circulated with Neapolis coins [HN Italy 450] and the overstriking at Neapolis with this type of the new design of Minerva (Roma!?) and cock (symbol of fighting prowess, bravery, like a fighting cock or perhaps of Mercury?) [HN Italy 449].  All this musing is a spin off of my reading: “A hoard of bronze coins of the 3rd century BC found at Pratica di mare (Rome)” by Maria Cristina Molinari  in Proceedings to the XIV International Numismatic Congress, Glasgow 2009 (31 August – 4 September, (ed. N. HOLMES), Glasgow 2011

Update 3/28/18:

Desultores are pretty popular on intaglios too…  Notice the close link to the coin type.

Fürtwangler 1896:

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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.