301 out of 410 days: Pistis again

οἱ δ᾽ εἰσελθόντες χρόνον μέν τινα διετήρουν τὴν πόλιν καὶ τὴν ἑαυτῶν πστιν

… διορθοῦσθαι παρὰ τοῖς συμμάχοις τὴν αὑτῶν πστιν.  (Polybius 1.7.6 and 10)

The very first episode actually narrated in Polybius’ Histories doesn’t really let the Romans come off that well.  The garrison they sent to Rhegium seizes the city for themselves rather than protecting it.  This episode is set by Polybius in the back drop of the Pyrrhic War and he says after the war, as soon as they could, the Romans laid siege to the town and punished mercilessly their own garrison.    The episode begins and ends with references to pistis (= fides = [good] faith).   Now, Polybius is probably hazy on the details.  See Walbank’s commentary (follow link above) for the nitty gritty details, but key points therefrom include:

” Dion. Hal. xx. 4 records that the garrison was against Bruttians, Lucanians, and Tarentines, and was sent in the consulship of C. Fabricius (282).”

“The Roman reduction of Rhegium (cf. 6. 8) is in 270; Dionysius (xx. 16) and Orosius (iv. 3. 3–6) attribute it to the consul C. Genucius, but his colleague Cn. Cornelius Blasio triumphed de Regineis (act. tr.).”

So 12 years is an awful long time to leave this rogue garrison hanging out in S. Italy…  I also find the triumphal fasti entry interesting.  We usually talk about funny business with the triumph in the civil wars and allied rebellions of the Late Republic but this appears to be a really early case of a Roman claiming to have defeated a foreign enemy when fighting other Roman, or former Roman, soldiers. And of course it made me think about this coin and its broadly Pyrrhic context and Locri’s status as a neighbor of Rhegium.  The whole episode was quite an object lesson for the Locrians…:

Reverse of Silver stater, Locri Epizephyrii. 1944.100.7030
Reverse of Silver stater, Locri Epizephyrii. Pistis (= fides = fidelity) crowns Roma. ANS 1944.100.7030

Related earlier posts on Locri, on Pistis.

Metapontum and early Latin Coinage

Crawford’s suggestion of a Metapontum as the mint for the first Roman didrachm is very much out of favour.  Here’s the relevant footnote in RRC vol. 1 p. 46 n. 9 third (!) paragraph:


Here’s Vagi in the brilliant new Essays Russo 2014 (p. 80):


And so we find Russo’s son also following his father in the catalog of the JD collection part II:

 We have decided to share Rutter’s opinion who in Historia Numorum Italy attributes these coins to the Naples mint contrary to Crawford who assigns them to the mint of Metapontum. That said however, we have decided to refer to the coin as an obol and not as a litra as suggested by both Rutter and Crawford. The reasons for this decision are very simple: we obviously agree that this coin belongs to Crawford’s series 13, which was intended for trades with Magna Grecia. On this basis, it seems only logical that we refer to it as an obol and not a litra. Its weight and its general appearance are consistent with coaeval obols of Camapianian mints such as: Fistelia, Peripoloi Pitanai and Allifae, which most probably were circulating along with this coin.

JD collection of Roman Republican Coins.
Obol, Neapolis 320-300, AR 0.66 g. Head of Mars r., wearing Corinthian helmet; behind, oak spray (?). Rev. Head of horse r.; behind, corn ear and before, ROMANO downwards. Fiorelli Annali 1846, p. 23 and pl. I, fig, 29. Garrucci pl. 77, 18. Bahrfeldt RN 1900, pp. 33-34, 31 and pl. 26, 1 (possibly this obverse die). Sydenham 2. Crawford 13/2. Historia Numorum Italy 267.

So I got thinking about this because of how Norba borrows Metapontum’s type for its obol during the Pyrrhic War:

HN Italy 248

There is only one of these coins known, but it comes with a good archaeological provenance. The original report is online here. And also here.

L. Cesano, Monete rinvenute negli scavi di Norba, in NSA 1904, 423-426

PANVINIROSATI, FRANCO. Moneta unica di Norba. In: Archaeologia Classica, Vol. 11 (1959), pp. 102-107, pi. 40.

On sacred context, but not the coin itself:  S. Quilici Gigli, Norba: la topografia del sacro, in Ostraka 20, 2012, pp. 411-419.

Vagi makes a very plausible explanation for the corn-ear with the horse head to allude to the Festival of the October Horse, a harvest festival in honor of Mars.  Metapontum is a red herring for the Roman series, but what does Metapontum have to do with the Latin obols?  Why do we find her type borrowed on the coins of Norba?

Also RRC 13/2 as an obol perhaps helps set a precedence that influenced the denominational choice for the Latin mints (Norba, Signia, and Alba Fucens) of the Pyrrhic War.

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.


What aid did Ptolemy render to Pyrrhus?

reverse of ANS 1997.9.159
Gold stater, Taras, c. 280 BC. ANS 1997.9.159. Vlasto 35. HN Italy 983.

There is a tight series of gold issues from Pyrrhus’ arrival in Tarentum (HN Italy 983-992).  They share common controlmarks and are signed by the same magistrates.   A variety of denominations are known: stater, 1/2 stater, 1/4, 1/3, 1/8, 1/10, 1/12, and 1/16.  A variety of dieties appear on the obverse, Zeus, Apollo, Athena, Heracles.  The reverses types include a biga, a dolphin rider,  a biga of dolphins, an owl, and on three denominations an eagle, such as that illustrated above.

This eagle bears much in common with an eagle to appear at the end of the century on Roman gold:

RRC 44/3. ANS 1967.153.4.

Here is a link to a variety of illustrated specimens of the Roman issue. When writing about this issue Meadows has made a very strong case that the iconography reflects Ptolemaic support.  I give only a little quote here (1998: 128):


Could it mean the same thing at Tarentum?  I think it very likely indeed.  Hammond 1988 makes a strong case that the Ptolemy that sent military aid to Pyrrhus for his campaign in Italy was Philadelphus base on this portion of Justin:

11 Nor was Pyrrhus of Epirus neglected by him, a king who would be of great assistance to whichsoever side he attached himself, 12 and who, while he desired to spoil them one by one, sought the favour of all. 13 On going to assist the Tarentines, therefore, against the Romans, he desired of Antigonus the loan of vessels to transport his army into Italy; of Antiochus, who was better provided with wealth than with men, a sum of money; and of Ptolemaeus, some troops of Macedonian soldiers. 14 Ptolemaeus, who had no excuse for holding back for want of forces, supplied him with five thousand infantry, four thousand cavalry, and fifty elephants, but for not more than two years’ service. 15 In return for this favour, Pyrrhus, after marrying the daughter of Ptolemaeus, appointed him guardian of his kingdom in his absence; lest, on carrying the flower of his army into Italy, he should leave his dominions a prey to his enemies.

The relationship between Ptolemy II and Pyrrhus has been documented at more length by Adams 2008.

The numismatic evidence strengthens the claims of both Hammond and Adams AND suggests that it was far more than troops and elephants that Ptolemy II sent to Italy.

Update 4/6/2014: I was very happy to read this paragraph in  2013 paper supporting a Pyrrhic dating for the eagle type at Taras on the silver.[Image links to full paper.]

Capture HN Italy 933



Postscript 5 March 2014.  If one is worrying about the use of the ‘Ptolemaic’ eagle in Italy, then this type of Larinum (c. 210-175, HN Italy 626) should also be thrown into the mix.  Inspired by the Roman gold in all likelihood:

Reverse of Bronze triens, Larinum. ANS 1944.100.2090. Image links to both ANS specimens of this type.

I’ve discussed coins of Larinum from this period before, here.  And of course:

RRC 23/1; Double unit, Neapolis (?) after 276 or Messana (?), Æ 14.35 g. ROMANO Head of Minerva l., wearing Corinthian helmet decorated with griffin; behind, helmet. Rev. ROMA – NO Eagle standing l. with open wings on thunderbolt. From the RBW collection. Follow link for important discussion and references.  Cf. also coins of Mamertinoi (a nice specimen).  Contra Mattingly 2004: 103 who makes too much of the angle of the eagle’s head to my mind.

A. Burnett, The Beginnings of Roman Coinage, AIIN 36 (1989): 33-64, at 37 says:




Update 11 March 2014: Just a note to self.  Consider also the coinage of Alba Fucens, Latin colony of 303 BC.  HN Italy identifies three types, all silver obols (241, 243, and 244) that have Athena in a Corinthian helmet and an eagle on a thunderbolt, dating to c. 280-275.  Crawford CMRR p. 47 sees the issue and those of Norba and Signia as likely struck to pay troops in the War against Pyrrhus.

Silver obol, Alba Fucens. ANS 1944.100.2059. SNG ANS.1.112.

The Stazio and Mertens’  literature is on order from ILL. The Italian Wikipedia has an article on the Monetaziono di Alba Fucens. There is an odd specimen in trade that I’d like to understand what’s going on with the mark behind the eagle better, looks like a fillet or maybe a striking artifact of some kind, image #1 and image #2.  Also see HN Italy p. 11 and 180 for a little discussion of how the eagle and fulmen have been interpreted as symbols of Alexander the Molossian.  I’d like to learn more about this coin type as well sometime.  It’s a small bronze (Athena, Attic Helmet/close winged eagle and MOΛOΣΣΩN).   

Update 4/4/2014:


Update 5/26/14:

The scholar who seems to be most actively writing about Eagles on Coins in Italy is Carroccio.  Most of his relevant papers are online with obvious titles, but the note the issue also comes up in his 2008 piece on Moneta Apula… also online on academia.edu.