The Diadem on Anti-Autocratic Coin Types

(M. Valerius) Messalla. Denarius, 3.69g. (h). Rome, 53 BC. Obv: Helmeted bust of Roma right, spear over shoulder, MESSAL F before. Rx: Curule chair; PATRE COS above, scepter and diadem below, S – C on either side. Crawford 435/1. Gemini XI, lot 374.

This seems to be the earliest coin (c.53BC) in which the symbols of Hellenistic kingship, the diadem and the scepter, are used in such a way as to suggest their rejection in favor of the traditional symbols of Roman power in this case the curule chair.  For this coin, the context is the threat of Pompey assuming sole control of the Roman state.

We see a similar iconographic strategy on a coin of Brutus after the murder of Julius Caesar:

M. Junius Brutus and Casca Longus. Denarius, mint moving with Brutus 43-42, AR 3.81 g. CASCA – LONGVS Wreathed head of Neptune r.; below, trident. Rev. BRVTVS IMP Victory walking r. on broken sceptre and holding palm branch over l. shoulder and broken diadem with both hands. Crawford 507/2. NAC 51, lot 113.

The question in my mind is should a similar interpretation also apply to this type:

Denarius, mint moving with Brutus and Cassius 43-42, AR 3.90 g. C·CASSEI·IMP Laureate head of Libertas r. Rev. M·SERVILIVS – LEG Crab, holding aplustre in its claws; below, rose and untied diadem. Crawford 505/3. Ex SKA Bern 1, 1983, 254 and NAC 9, 1996, 763 sales. NAC 63, lot 530.

The auction houses invariably photograph this specimen with the orientation shown above, but Crawford had his plates printed at the 90 degree rotation of the reverse:


Crawford is silent on the symbolism of diadem saying only: “Part of one issue of Cassius records his capture of Rhodes after a battle at Myndus, opposite the island of Cos; the rose of Rhodes and crab of Cos both figure, together with an aplustre as a symbol of victory” (p. 741).  I must say, the aplustre doesn’t seem very victorious to me as it is clutched in the claws of the crab.  Or perhaps its just Cos offering the naval victory to Cassius…

I also think I prefer symbolically the crab and aplustre read as over and above the more diminished Rhodian rose and the diadem, just as the curule chair symbolically sits over the diadem and sceptre in the first type above.

The Cassius coin is often connected to this quote from Plutarch’s Life of Brutus:

“Cassius, having taken Rhodes, behaved himself there with no clemency; though at his first entry, when some had called him lord and king, he answered that he was neither king nor lord, but the destroyer and punisher of a king and lord.”

I’m not sure this is specifically the allusion the die engraver was aiming at but it is certainly a reflection of the same rhetorical impulse.

1/17/16: on Crabs on coins:

Ripped from the Stage?

A. Postumius A. f. Sp. n. Albinus. Denarius serratus 81, AR 4.05 g. Draped bust of Diana r., with bow and quiver over shoulder; above head, bucranium. Rev. Togate figure standing r. over rock, holding aspergillum over bull; between them, lighted altar. Babelon Postumia 7. Sydenham 745. Crawford 372/1. NAC 54 (2010) lot 919.

Peter Wiseman has put much scholarly energy into expounding how stage performances have influences our received narrative histories [for instance this book].  Not everyone believes this, but it is certainly a good starting point to introduce some skepticism into one’s reading of ancient histories.  I’m editing the section of the book on the coin above and have amongst my marginalia a note to find out whether it has been suggested that Plutarch’s narrative (from Juba) is ultimately derived from a stage production (Roman Questions 4):

Why do they, as might be expected, nail up stags’ horns in all the other shrines of Diana, but in the shrine on the Aventine nail up horns of cattle?  Is it because they remember the ancient occurrence?For the tale is told that among the Sabines in the herds of Antro Curiatius was born a heifer excelling all the others in appearance and size. When a certain soothsayer told him that the city of the man who should sacrifice that heifer to Diana on the Aventine was destined to become the mightiest city and to rule all Italy,  the man came to Rome with intent to sacrifice his heifer. But a slave of his secretly told the prophecy to the king Servius, who told Cornelius the priest, and Cornelius gave instructions to Antro to bathe in the Tiber before the sacrifice; for this, said he, was the custom of those whose sacrifice was to be acceptable. Accordingly Antro went away and bathed, but Servius sacrificed the heifer to Diana before Antro could return, and nailed the horns to the shrine. This tale both Juba and Varro have recorded, except that Varro has not noted the name of Antro; and he says that the Sabine was cozened, not by Cornelius the priest, but by the keeper of the temple.

It seems ripe for staging with far more characters and drama than another version.  Also notice how much of the action happens off stage and the drama is the dialogue between characters, except the final sacrifice.  It’s the trope of the cunning slave that really gets me me thinking in the direction of ancient theater.  But all my searches have turned up nothing.  I really wanted to put a footnote in and don’t really want to work up and defend the idea further myself.  So I think its out of the book for now.  Not the coin.  Just the theater angle.

I did come across an intriguing suggestion from C. J. Smith (Roman Clan 2006: 39):

A peculiar story in Plutarch, but taken from Juba and Varro, is suggestive of the kind of myth-making in the late Republic; it is connected with the foundation of the temple of Diana, founded by Servius Tullius, and has a Sabine duped by a Cornelius over the sacrifice of a heifer; evidence from coins may suggest that the same story was told of a Postumius. n.98

n. 98 – Plut. QR 4 = Mor. 264CD; Juba FGrH 275 F12. Cf. Livy 1.45.3 with Ogilvie (1965) 183–4; Val. Max. 7.3.1; Vir. ill. 7.10–14; Zonar. 7.9. There was a prophecy that the outstanding heifer in Antro Curiatius’ herd would, when sacrificed in the temple of Diana on the Aventine, bestow on the city of the one who sacrificed it dominion over Italy, but Cornelius the priest told Curiatius to bathe before sacricifing, and then Servius sacrificed the animal and hung its horns (cornua, hence Cornelius) in the temple. For a coin with a bust of Diana on the obverse and a scene of sacrifice on the reverse, see RRC 372; the moneyer was A. Postumius Albinus, who was related to the annalist. Livy gives the story without the names, and it seems that only Juba had got the story in full, since Varro’s version is slightly different again.

My basic line in the book is there is good evidence for an affinity between the gens Postumia and Diana from multiple moneyers.

Unrelated gossip: I heard it on the Classics grapevine that T.P. Wiseman was the model for Albus Dumbledore as J.K. Rowlings, Professor at Exeter.  Fun thought, even if not true.

I will always associate Harry Potter with Numismatics as on 8 July 1999, the release date of the third book, I was attending the Institute For Classical Studies, University of London, Summer Schools in Numismatics, led by Meadows and Williams with Crawford and Burnett and co making guest appearances.  One of my fellow students was a Glaswegian. I confessed to liking what was at the time a children’s book that had made the nightly news, not world phenomenon.  He in turn bragged that he wording the cafe where Rowlings wrote the first two novels.  Can’t remember his name.  I loved children’s literature before Rowlings and enjoy it even more that her success means publishers give other authors longer word counts and cross market to adults more readily.

Now, If only I had a longer word count for my book!

Literary Topoi and Historical Facts

From: Miles, R. (2011). Hannibal and Propaganda. In Dexter Hoyos (Eds.), A Companion to the Punic Wars, (pp. 260-279). Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

This passage above suggests that it is a ‘fact’ that one of Pyrrhus’ advisors made such a comparison. The story is known from Cassius Dio (9.40.27):

The same man, when, upon his retreat, he beheld the army of Laevinus much larger than it had been before, declared that the Roman legions when cut to pieces grew whole again, hydra-fashion. This did not, however, cause him to lose courage, but he in turn arrayed his forces, though he did not join battle.


and Plutarch:

It is said, too, that Cineas, while he was on this mission, made it his earnest business at the same time to observe the life and manners of the Romans, and to understand the excellences of their form of government; he also conversed with their best men, and had many things to tell Pyrrhus, among which was the declaration that the senate impressed him as a council of many kings, and that, as for the people, he was afraid it might prove to be a Lernaean hydra for them to fight against, since the consul already had twice as many soldiers collected as those who faced their enemies before, and there were many times as many Romans still who were capable of bearing arms.

Appian pulls these two traditions together:

The Senate made answer to Cineas as Appius advised. They decreed the levying of two new legions for Laevinus, and made proclamation that whoever would volunteer in place of those who had been lost should put their names on the army roll. Cineas, who was still present and saw the multitude hastening to be enrolled, is reported to have said to Pyrrhus on his return: “We are waging war against a hydra.” Others say that not Cineas, but even Pyrrhus himself said this when he saw the new Roman army larger than the former one; for the other consul, Coruncanius, came from Etruria and joined his forces with those of Laevinus.

Appian makes clear that bon mot was not a fixed point in the received tradition.  He knew it from at least two different sources with different variations.  We can’t be sure if Appian’s sources were riffing on Silenus’ motif or faithfully recording an actual piece of rhetoric from the time or if the metaphor is just so pervasive that it provides a nice plausible exclamation in any history.

Heck.  There are dozens upon dozens of popular histories to day that still use the metaphor.  The loose use of the metaphor is found in many earlier Greek works including Plato’s Republic, p426E.

All that said, this Florus passage (going back to a lost bit of Livy?) might be the best evidence that some lost historian made something of the Pyrrhus = Hercules, Rome = Hydra symbolism on a more meaningful level that a simple metaphor.

For Pyrrhus said, “I plainly see that I am sprung of the seed of Hercules, when I see all these heads of foes cut off springing up again from their blood as they sprang from the Lernaean hydra.”

Perhaps tellingly for the attribution to Pyrrhus, Plutarch uses it when discussing the actions of Alexander.

The use of metaphor in relationship to Pyrrhus is not irrelevant to a discussion of Silenus, but I’d hesitate to move it from a conversation about the historiographical tradition and into one about propaganda.

Note also how the hydra in Pyrrhus tradition is not a negative characterization of Rome, not emphasizing her monstrosity or destructive capacity, but instead resilience and depth of martial resources, especially her manpower base.  It’s a complement.

In Praise of Roman Fides

ἔτι δὲ καὶ καθ᾽ἡμᾶς ἱερεὺςχειροτονητὸς ἀπεδείκνυτο Τίτου, καὶ θύσαντες αὐτῷ τῶνσπονδῶν γενομένων ᾁδουσι παιᾶνα πεποιημένον, οὗ τἆλλαδιὰ μῆκος ἡμεῖς παρέντες ἀνεγράψαμεν ἃ παυόμενοι τῆςᾠδῆς λέγουσι:

 πίστιν δὲῬωμαίων σέβομεν,

τὰν μεγαλευκτοτάταν ὅρκοις φυλάσσειν:

μέλπετε κοῦραι,

Ζῆνα μέγαν Ῥώμαν τε Τίτον θ᾽ἅμα Ῥωμαίων

τε πίστιν 

ἰήϊε Παιάν,ὦ Τίτε σῶτερ.

Moreover, even down to our own day a priest of Titus is duly elected and appointed, and after sacrifice and libations in his honour, a set hymn of praise to him is sung: it is too long to be quoted entire, and so I will give only the closing words of the song:

 “And the Roman faith we revere, which we have solemnly vowed to cherish; sing, then, ye maidens, to great Zeus, to Rome, to Titus, and to the Roman faith: hail, Paean Apollo! hail, Titus our saviour!”

This is from Plutarch’s Flamininus 16.4.  After yesterday’s post I couldn’t help but share this gem.  I like how both passages are topped and tailed by the word pistis, using word placement to frame and contextualize the rest of the content.  Posts on Pistis and Fides.