218 out of 410 days: Civic Virtues

This little coin, a silver sesterius of 45 BC or there about, has me worried about the chronological limits of my book project.  Yes, stopping in 49BC to leave the discussion of Caesar and the Civil Wars to another book does make good sense.  However, a good number of post-49BC coins are intimately thematically related to earlier coins in the series.  The issue of Palikanus taken as a whole is a good illustration of the “republican” characteristics of some of these later issues.

The above coin was thought to show a money pot or olla and a banker’s tessarae.  This at least was Wiseman’s suggestion, based on the banking interests of the moneyer’s family.

Wiseman, T. P. (1971) New Men in the Roman Senate, 139BC-AD14. Oxford p. 85-6.

His idea is largely endorsed by Crawford and even to an extent by Zehnacker.

Zehnacker, H. (1972) ‘La Numismatique de la République romaine: bilan et perspectives’, ANRW I.I (Berlin), 266-96, at 284: “En tout cas, l’appartenance au monde de la finance expliquerait trés bien le mélange caractéristique chez les monetales de noms illustres—des cadets de famille qui ont préféré l’argentaux honneurs—et de noms quasi inconnus—de parvenus”

Based on the themes of the rest of the series as a whole, I think L. R. Taylor’s original suggestion of voting urn and ballot is far more likely (VDRR p. 226).  The series celebrates:

Libertas and the Tribune’s Bench on the Rostra:

Obverse of RRC 473/1. 1944.100.3528

Reverse of RRC 473/1. 1944.100.3528

Honor and a Curule Chair flanked by Grain:

Obverse of RRC 473/2b. 1944.100.3533

Reverse of RRC 473/2b. 1944.100.3533

Then on the quinarius, Felicitas and Victory:

Given that all the other elements in the series celebrate civic virtues, even popular virtues, interpreting the smallest denomination in the series as a banking advert seems a bit of a stretch. A voting theme would harmonize much better.

All that said, there was a temple of Ops (wealth) in Roman.  If its not voting being represented, I’d go with another divine personification before assuming a reference to a family banking business.

Also the use of the genitive on all these is types is striking.

Perhaps I’ll just need to include a flash forward to work a few of this series in.

Update 24 January 2014:  So I was re-reading Witschonke 2012 on the possible uses of control marks at the Roman mint.  Really the very best thing on the subject.  Speculative in places by necessity, but logical and solid reasoning throughout.  It depends on the important work of Stannard (Metallurgy in numismatics vol. 3 1993: 45-68 pl 1-2) on the evidence for mint practices revealed by gauging, namely that the mint worked in batches.  What if money pot and tessarae (if that’s what they are) aren’t banking icongraphy but in fact minting iconography?   A claim to the rigorous control of the issue.  A celebration of Juno Moneta.  Something like this coin of c. 46BC:


A Liberal Roman?

P. Licinius Nerva’s coin is pretty famous.  At least as an illustration of how the Romans voted.  It seems to celebrate voting reforms that protected the secrecy of the ballot, namely the voting bridges and the urn.  It dates to circa 110 BC [Mattingly, 113/112 Crawford].  It is a unusual coin, one of only a handful that refer directly to the rights of the citizen body that were under contemporary discussion.


With the Saturninus coin of the last post we don’t seem to have any reflection of his ‘radical’ views or concerns over agrarian policies and the grain supply.   This is often the case when we have coins of a known  historical figure.  Memorable deeds usually happened well after a man’s moneyership.  

We only know about one other incident in Nerva’s life.   As governor of Sicily he began mass emancipation of slaves claiming to be held illegally.  In the end that didn’t turn out so well for him and he probably ended up butchering those he originally freed or intended to free, but even so the initial decision is pretty radical in Roman term.  I suspect many of his peers would have thought him very very stupid indeed for trying such a thing.

Here’s Diodorus’ account (36.3 from Photius’ epitome).  Note how the initial impetus is problems with recruitment of soldiers in Asia to fight in Northern Italy!




The Epitome of Cassius Dio put a different spin on the affair.  [I am inclined to put more emphasis on the Diodorus account.]:

Publius Licinius Nerva, who was praetor in the island, on learning that the slaves were not being justly treated in some respects, or else because he sought an occasion for profit, — for he was not inaccessible to bribes, — sent round a notice that all who had any charges to bring against their masters should come to him and he would assist them. 2 Accordingly, many of them banded together, and some declared they were being wronged and others made known other grievances against their masters, thinking they had secured an opportunity for accomplishing all that they wished against them without bloodshed. The freemen, after consultation, resisted them and would not make any concessions. 3 Therefore Licinius, inspired with fear by the united front of both sides and dreading that some great mischief might be done by the defeated party, would not receive any of the slaves, but sent them away, thinking that they would suffer no harm or that at any rate they would be scattered and so could cause no further disturbance. But the slaves, fearing their masters because they had dared to raise their voices at all against them, organized a band and by common consent turned to robbery.

Connecting ideology behind the coin to the ideology to his actions as propraetor seems a stretch, I admit! That said, most everyone is happy to do it to some degree for the Brutus coins of c. 54 BC.