Roma and the Parazonium

Crawford 403
Q. Fufius Calenus and Mucius Cordus. Denarius serratus 70, AR 3.98 g. Jugate heads of Honos and Virtus r. Rev. Italia, holding cornucopia, and Roma, holding fasces and placing r. foot on globe, clasping their hands; at side, winged caduceus. Babelon Fufia 1 and Mucia 1. Sydenham 797. Crawford 403/1. NAC 54, lot 922.

Crawford called the object in Roma’s left hand on this coin a fasces.  This doesn’t make a huge amount of sense as one doesn’t carry fasces in the crook of one’s arm, but instead with the axe high over one’s shoulder.  The classic example is the Brutus coin (RRC 433/1).  Moreover the republican coin series has a pretty definite iconography of what fasces should look like on a coin and specimens of RRC 403/1 just don’t fit the type.  The long stick may well be a scepter.  This would make some sense, if one agrees that those fillets off Roma’s head indicate she’s wearing a diadem. The diadem and the scepter probably deserve a post of their own, exploring particularly the appropriation of Hellenistic regal iconography for the personification of Roma.  Alternatively, the fillets may be only the fillets of a victory crown without any regal connotations. For now, however, I’m just concerned with the little blob circled in red above.

This is likely to be a parazonium. What, one might ask, is a parazonium?  Well, besides being a numismatic term for iconography better known from the imperial period, it is a dagger or short sword worn on the left hand side off the girdle. Our only literary testimony is Martial Epigrams 14.32:

Capture Capture1

The word itself is derived from the Greek, although it is pretty rare in Greek texts as well: in the TLG it shows up only in a fifth century CE lexicon and one equally late hagiography.  I don’t think this type is our earliest examples of Roma with a parazonium; it’s already part of her iconography on RRC 335/1 (one example, another example) and probably also on RRC 391/3.  What this type does do nicely is suggest that the parazonium is already perhaps a linking piece of iconography between virtus and Roma.  On the imperial coinage by the time of Nero the parazonium is a common attribute for reverse personifications of virtus.

RRC 403/1

The Crowning Moment

Ex Slg. Sir Arthur Evans (= Katalog Burlington Exhibition 1903) Tf. 101, 82, Slg. Jameson 449 und Slg. Walter Niggeler (=Auktion Leu + M&M Basel 1965) 82. Cf. SNG ANS 531. 7.15 g.

So I read this bit of Polybius (below) and landed right back at this coin (above):

For Hiero and Gelo not only gave seventy-five silver talents, partly at once and the rest very shortly afterwards, to supply oil in the gymnasium, but dedicated silver cauldrons with their bases and a certain number of water-pitchers, and in addition to this granted ten talents for sacrifices and ten more to qualify new men for citizenship, so as to bring the whole gift up to a hundred talents. They also relieved Rhodian ships trading to their ports from the payment of customs, and presented the city with fifty catapults three cubits long. And finally, after bestowing so many gifts, they erected, just as if they were still under an obligation, in the Deigma or Mart at Rhodes a group representing the People of Rhodes being crowned by the People of Syracuse. (5.88.5-8)

The context is c.226BC and Rhodes’ use of its recent earthquake to solicit diplomatically expedient gifts.  [Link to some relevant scholarship]

A) It’s good context for the above coin on the personification of political bodies in honorific art forms in 3rd Century BC.

B) It might suggest that the coin type imitates a statue group or potential statue group or the known style of a type of statue group.  This isn’t crazy lots of coin types derive from statues of one sort or another.

C) It made me think about who crowns whom in Hellenistic art in what context.  Under the Empire cities shake hands rather than crown one another.   Nike crowns everybody.  She’s kind of a whore that way.  It’s kind of her M.O.  Ditto Eros (Cupid). Then this came to mind:

Nice Picture, but don’t believe the Flickr caption.

The crowning obviously honors and emphasizes the status of the crowned, but what about the crowner?  Does it diminish the status of Syracuse to bestow the crown?  Or in fact is it a statement of inherent superiority if one can crown another?  We need only think of Napolean’s anxiety about being crowned by the Pope and thus his decision to crown himself and his queen.

On a more serious note, Walbank as always is full of goodness:


IG xi.2 199 b 1.23 (Delos, 273 BC) is available at PHI Greek Inscriptions:


As is [Demosthenes] 18.91 “On The Crown”:

it be resolved by the People of Byzantium and Perinthus to grant to the Athenians rights of intermarriage, citizenship, tenure of land and houses, the seat of honor at the games, access to the Council and the people immediately after the sacrifices, and immunity from all public services for those who wish to settle in our city; also to erect three statues, sixteen cubits in height, in the Bosporeum, representing the People of Athens being crowned by the Peoples of Byzantium and Perinthus; also to send deputations to the Panhellenic gatherings, the Isthmian, Nemean, Olympian, and Pythian games, and there to proclaim the crown wherewith the Athenian People has been crowned by us, that the Greeks may know the merits of the Athenians and the gratitude of the Byzantines and the Perinthians.

Update 1/5/2016: My thoughts on this are maturing.  I think there must have been a very typical statue group that was developed for such a representation and the Nero/Agrippina is a late example of the general type.  This informs how I am thinking about types like RRC 419/2 and other crowning scenes on coins. Cf. Also the Corinth Crowning Ptolemy group attested by Athenaeus drawing on Kallixeinos and discussed by Pollitt (here and here).

Update 5/1/14:  This isn’t precisely related to the rest of this post, but I wanted to be able to find this passage again when thinking about the Locrian coin (Pliny, NH 34.32):


This demonstrates Romans receiving honors from S. Italian Cities for their role as protector a decade before Locri’s coin.   I also like the sentence about this being a means of establishing foreign clients.  I doubt the Thurians saw it that way!

1/20/16:  Constantine and the Tyche of Constantinople

File:Glittica romana, costantino e la tyche di costantinopoli, sardonice IV sec.JPG

234 out of 410 days: Dressing up as Mercury


A great image.  I’m putting it up here just as I don’t want to forget it.  I enjoy how both aspects of Mercury are emphasized: bringer of wealth (purse), as well as bringer of peace (caduceus).

The image is from Galinsky, Venus, Polysemy, and the Ara Pacis Augustae, AJA 96.3 (1992): 457-75, at p. 473.  Here’s what it says there about:


200 out of 410 days: The Personification of Drunkenness



This little silenos figure on a lid of cista no. 45 in the Pierpont Morgan Library collection is labelled EBRIOS.  Ebrius is the Latin adjective meaning ‘drunk’.   Think English inebriation.  Not an inappropriate name for a dionysiac character.  I wonder if there is any relation to the river name where Ovid says the Bacchic throng discovered honey (Fasti, book 3):

liba deo fiunt, sucis quia dulcibus idem               735
     gaudet, et a Baccho mella reperta ferunt.
ibat harenoso satyris comitatus ab Hebro
     (non habet ingratos fabula nostra iocos);
iamque erat ad Rhodopen Pangaeaque florida ventum:
     aeriferae comitum concrepuere manus.               740
ecce novae coeunt volucres tinnitibus actae,
     quosque movent sonitus aera, sequuntur apes;
colligit errantes et in arbore claudit inani
     Liber, et inventi praemia mellis habet.


144 out of 410 days: Missing Cybele


Returning to the book has been a jarring experience today. I managed to exhibit huge internal resistance.  For example, it seemed very important today to refine my file and image backup system and clear my hard drive of duplicate files using the latest search software.   Anyway.  Not knowing where to start or even which chapter I wanted to tackle next, I opened the very first item in my file of scholarship to be reviewed and incorporated as relevant.

Alföldi, A. (1976). “The giant Argus and a miracle of Apollo in the coin-propaganda of Cinna and Carbo.” In In Memoriam Otto J. Brendel: Essays in Archaeology and the Humanities, 115-119. Mainz.

This is mostly on the bronzes of L. Rubrius Dossenus (RRC 348).  However, very confusingly he says “Another reference to this function [sc. Rubrius’ theoretical aedileship] is given hy the representations on his quadrans: the head of Kybele on the obverse and her lion on the reverse announce the ludi Megalenses, celebrated in honor of the Magna Mater.”   No such coin is listed by Crawford for this money and I can find no other reference to such a quadrans.  How did Alföldi come to think one existed?

My searches led me a reference to the type above on this website.  The anonymous author of that website is certain the image represents Cybele and to be sure the iconography is be close. The author even wants to go so far as to down date the coin (and the rest of the series?!) from Crawford’s suggested 217-215 BC to 204 BC when the cult of the Magna Mater was introduced to Rome. [See my earlier post with links and also Bowden, H. (2012). “Rome, Pessinous, and Battakes: Religious Encounters with the East.” In C. Smith and L. M. Yarrow (Eds.), Imperialism, Cultural Politics, and Polybius, 252-62. Oxford.]

Crawford simply identifies the observe as “Female bust, r., draped and wearing turreted crown” but on p. 719 of his second volume he suggests that the head may be the personification of the city of Rome herself.  He seems to be imagining something along the lines of the Tyche of Antioch.

This struck me as a rather radical suggestion regarding a means of representing Rome, in contrast to the iconography of Roma or the Genius of Rome.  The underlying assumption of both the website and RRC is that the mural or turreted crown represents a specific thing: Cybele or Tyche or a City Goddess.  All of these are right and there is some decent scholarship explaining how they connect one to another. Reading up on this I was struck by this passage in the article just linked:

As “turrita” (with the mural crown) in Virgil’s Aeneid (6.785), the Magna Mater stands for the rule of the urbs Roma over the entire world (orbis).

Here’s the Vergil passage with Anchises in the underworld prophesying to Aeneas:

Behold, my son, under Romulus’ command glorious Rome

will match earth’s power and heaven’s will, and encircle

seven hills with a single wall, happy in her race of men:

as Cybele, the Berecynthian ‘Great Mother’, crowned

with turrets, rides through the Phrygian cities, delighting

in her divine children, clasping a hundred descendants,

all gods, all dwelling in the heights above.

en huius, nate, auspiciis illa incluta Roma
imperium terris, animos aequabit Olympo,
septemque una sibi muro circumdabit arces,
felix prole uirum: qualis Berecyntia mater
inuehitur curru Phrygias turrita per urbes               
laeta deum partu, centum complexa nepotes,
omnis caelicolas, omnis supera alta tenentis.
huc geminas nunc flecte acies, hanc aspice gentem
Romanosque tuos. 

Vergil’s metaphor certainly equates Rome’s walls with Cybele’s turreted crown, thus drawing the two together.  I’m not sure we can push this back into the late 3rd century, but the goddess on the coin may very well have recalled more than one association in the minds of its earliest viewers.

Update 17/1/2014, just adding a finer specimen: 

This specimen also makes me wonder about reverse figure.  Is this a ludic scene recalling riding competitions at religious festivals?  The figure seems to have a whip but no other weapons.  Is this an early precursor of the desultor and rider types seen later in the republic?  The whole series has unusual types…  Best image of the series as a whole.

Update 31/1/2014:

A nice parallel to the Virgil Passage:


Part of the fresco narrative the origins of Rome from the family tomb of T. Statilius Taurus on the Esquiline.  Now on display in Palazzo Massimo.

Update 27 February 2014: Note this turreted goddess on Sicilian coinage, Acra (SNGANS 902):