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.

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

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.

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.

Contemplative War Goddesses

File:Acropole Musée Athéna pensante.JPG

One difference (besides the birds) between the Vespasian restoration and the Republican original discussed the other day  is certainly the posture of the goddess Roma herself.  On the imperial aurei she sits erect with a shorter scepter.  On the republican denarii she leans forward and the spear extends far over her shoulder.   She lets it take her weight.  Her arm which holds it rests on her thigh.  Her gaze is seems full occupied by scene before her.   She is at rest, almost a mournful pose, certainly a contemplative one.  In that, it strongly reminds me of the above Greek relief from Athens in the Acropolis Museum.

The gem, an imprint of which can be seen here:, does not have the same contemplative pose.  Like on the aurei she sits upright holding her scepter instead of letting it hold her.   The birds are intermittent.  [A. Furtwängler, Beschreibung der geschnittenen Steine im Antiquarium, Königliche Museen Berlin (1896) Cat. no. 9561.]

There is also this gem [] with Roma and wolf and twins plus tree and Victory, over all a very different composition.


Them Birds

Reverse of RIC II, Part 1 (second edition) Vespasian 954. 1944.100.41630

This ‘restoration’ issue of Vespasian takes its inspiration from this republican type (RRC 287/1):

The birds seem to have changed.  Crawford calls the ones on the prototype ‘non-descript’ but the birds on the Vespasian aureus seem to be pretty certainly eagles.  Did the republican engraver just do a bad job of representing the species or has the Imperial engraver ‘improved’ the type for symbolic reasons.  The republican specimens can have some pretty misshapen birds on them:

The literary sources only have woodpeckers associated with the wolf and twins narrative (Ovid, Fasti 3.37 and 54).  One type of woodpecker with a crest was known as Mar’s Woodpecker hence the connection (Pliny NH 11.44).  But that doesn’t mean other birds aren’t found in art.  More than I want to list here. But just as a taster.  Here’s an eagle on a glass paste to which we might compare the Ostian Altar:

Ulvinden med Romulus og Remus. Hellenistisk-romersk paste

And another glass paste with a ‘non-descript’ bird on a grape vine (NOT the ficus Ruminalis then):

Opaque blue glass oval engraved gem

This last is a pretty common type of image.  Sometimes the grape vine has a bird, sometimes not.

Then there are the other republican coins (RRC 39/3 and 235/1) and that mirror we discussed ages ago that should be brought into the discussion but I’ll leave it there for now.  Except for just wondering if this weird BM gem with a mysterious head in the scene might not be Roma’s head, like a reverse scaling of the Roma plus wolf-and-twins motif above:

Sard gem engraved with Faustulus, with a tunic, skin cloak and staff, finding the she-wolf and Romulus and Remus under a rock, above which is a tree and a helmeted head (?).

Update 2/5/2014:  The important bibliography on this is 

A. Dardenay, Les intailles républicaines figurant la louve romaine: essai d’identification des modèles iconographiques.  Pallas 76, 2008, 101-113.

Of course, I had this on file the whole time but didn’t remember the relevance until today….

Leaving Roma Behind

On the denarius series the reverse is more flexible than the obverse and we see more variation soon there.  The first big break in the design of both is likely to be this type of c. 137 or 136 BC:

This type can be seen as borrowing from earlier Roman coin types and is thus at once a radical change and a conservative choice.  [Note that Mattingly thinks this is the second big change in the reverse, hypothesizing that the coins with the wolf, twins, Faustulus and fig tree where made the previous year (2004: 214).]  It will be nearly two decades before the obverse changes again this time borrowing from the bronze coinage, i.e. keeping the choice in the familiar repertoire:

Obverse of RRC 281/1. 1944.100.561

Then, about five years on another Janiform head:

Obverse of RRC 290/1. 1941.131.96


This feels again like a throw back to to earlier silver designs on Roman diadrachms and the reverse of a ship makes the whole type echo the standard Janus/prow type of the as.  The same year, or perhaps the next year, this unusual obverse appears:

Obverse of RRC 291/1. 1944.100.3323


Does the legend identify this female divinity as Roma in a different guise that we’ve seen her previously?  Maybe.  Or perhaps another goddess entirely is intended.

The next year sees even more experimentation on the obverse:

Obverse of RRC 292/1. 1944.100.599

Obverse of RRC 293/1. 1992.41.10


From this point onward — 113/112 if you want to follow Crawford, 110 Mattingly — the obverse design remains flexible and expressive just as the reverse had been since c. 137.  Conservative types re occur throughout the series on both obverse and reverse, but after the mid seventies (RRC 387/1) the Roma and biga combination fails to re occur again together.  In fact after this Roma appears more often on the reverse than the obverse.  She’s not seen on the obverse again until 53BC (RRC 435/1)!



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):


Seated Roma

This is an Athenian coin from 89/88 BC in the crisis of Mithridatic Wars.  Notice that one of the moneyers is KOINTOS, i.e. someone named Quintus.  At this time and in the years just before the Athenians were adding and erasing and replacing various symbols in this position on their coinage to indicate their loyalties (Callatay 2011: 65 [Again, I just love this article of his AND how he puts his work in the public domain!]).

The dating makes the identification of the iconography pretty rock solid.  I wish I could see what she’s seated on.  It almost looks like she’s enthroned.  Is there something she’s holding across her lap? (maybe a sword?)


While looking for a clear image of this or a related type, I also came across the beautiful specimen with a very clear representation of Cybele.  Even on a very small scale key iconographic details can be made visible if they are critical to the meaning of the symbol:

Look at how exaggerated the headdress and lotus are of this little tiny Isis:


If the figure above being crowned by Nike is Roma and no particularly distinctive attributes are visible we have to assume the scene as a whole would be unmistakable to a contemporary viewer.