164 out of 410 days: a Dolabella in Sicily during the 2nd Punic War?


For the type illustrated (RRC 73/1) above Crawford does not speculate in RRC as to the moneyer indicated by the pick-axe = dolabra = dolabella.  The use of this symbol as a plausible indication of the moneyer’s cognomen is demonstrated by these coins of Cn. Cornelius Dolabella (RRC 81, redated and relocated by Russo to 130-128 BC in Spain):


The likely moneyer of the earlier coin seems to me to be lurking in plain sight in Zonaras’ epitome of Cassius Dio:

After Marcellus had left Sicily, Hannibal sent a force of cavalry there, and the Carthaginians despatched another. They won several battles and acquired some cities; and if the praetor Cornelius Dolabella had not come against them, they would have subjugated all Sicily. 

This connection or lack of connection may go back to Münzer in RE.  Here is Broughton on the subject:



Here is the Livy in question:

M. Cornelius was commissioned to select the city and territory for them, where he thought best, and 400 jugera in the same district were also decreed as a gift to Belligenes through whose instrumentality Moericus had been induced to change sides. After Marcellus’ departure from Sicily a Carthaginian fleet landed a force of 8000 infantry and 3000 Numidian horse. The cities of Murgentia and Ergetium revolted to them, and their example was followed by Hybla and Macella and some other less important places. Muttines and his Numidians were also roaming all through the island and laying waste the fields of Rome’s allies with fire. To add to these troubles the Roman army bitterly resented not being withdrawn from the province with their commander and also not being allowed to winter in the towns. Consequently they were very remiss in their military duties; in fact it was only the absence of a leader that prevented them from breaking out into open mutiny. In spite of these difficulties the praetor M. Cornelius succeeded by remonstrances and reassurances in calming the temper of his men, and then reduced all the revolted cities to submission. In pursuance of the senate’s orders he selected Murgentia, one of those cities, for the settlement of Moericus and his Spaniards.

Of course, that then would open the sticky issue of how long this Cornelius (Dolabella?) was in Sicily and the chronology of the early denarii.  This passage about the settlement of the Spaniards in Morgantina is critical because we date the start of the denarius to 211 based on deposits found in the excavation of that site below the destruction level.  Dating the issue is problematic.  It appears in four hoards but all closing in the 70s or later.  Crawford justifies his dating thus:

The Sicilian origin of the four issues is adequately attested by their close stylistic link with the issue with corn-ear, their early date both by this link and by their heavy weight-standard [i.e. 4.5 g.]  (RRC vol 1. p. 17)

Badian did not include Zonaras’  Dolabella in his study of the Dolabellae of the Republic. He mentions in passing the consul of 283, but begins properly with the consul of 159, briefly speculating that his father would be the Cn. Cornelius Dolabella who was made Rex Sacrorum in 208 and died in 180 (Livy 27.36.5).  The rex sacrorum could be the same as Zonaras’  Dolabella.  If he were in his early 40s in 211BC in Sicily, he would have then died in his early 70s.

One strike against Livy’s Cornelius being a Dollabella is the praenomen Marcus which is otherwise unattested in this branch of the family.  So if Zonaras or Livy is likely to be wrong it is easy to see why Zonaras has previously been dismissed, being so late and so abbreviated. That said, Dio has access to sources other than Livy. An abbreviated praenomen can be miss-transcribed.  And with the coin as extra weight, I’m tempted to lean away from Livy towards Zonaras on this point.

We, of course, are then right to ask what happened to the M. Cornelius Cethegus credited with suppressing the Sicilian revolts after Marcellus’ departure?  We’d have to leave him in the province that was assigned to him that year in the first place, Apulia (Livy 25.41).

As an aside, I am interested to note that one Wikipedia entry on the gens Cornelii lists this Dolabella with no citation, whereas another excludes him.

148, 149 out of 410 days: The Dating Game

Ideally, one dates coins by the hoard evidence.   People squirrel away pots of money and for whatever reason never come back for their savings.  These groups of coins help numismatists figure out which coins were minted in what sequence.  The numismatist takes all the hoards and tries to arrange them into a sequence of newest to oldest based on the contents.  They end up with a much more complicated version of a chart like this one with the coin makers down one side and hoards down the other with the number of attested specimens of each specimen listed:


The wear of the coins — a subjective judgment up to a point — can be used to bolster support for such a relative chronology.  So in our fictitious chart it would be reassuring if the coin of Bob was really worn and crummy  looking in the Greece hoard, but the specimens in the Bahamas and Cayman hoards were nice and shiny.  So far so good for accuracy.  But what about Gigi and Heidi?  Did they make coins at the same time?  Or, did one come before the other?  Would wear help in such a case?  Would we trust that kind of assumption?  What would we say if their coins looked really, really similar in all the fine details?  What would we say if the looked totally different, not just different subject, but as if artists with two totally polarized styles did the carving?  Would that make them less likely to have been made at the same time?  What criteria would we use to make the judgment?  Observation of stylistic similarities and differences often influences how coins are grouped in our relative chronologies.  The similarities or differences are not themselves wholly subjective, but the interpretation of their meaning is.   Even once one has a fairly decent relative chronology, it needs to be hung on an absolute dateline.

Look at the chart again.  Notice three hoards all close with coins by Frank: Exeter, Easton, and Edmonton.  And there sure are a lot of Frank’s coins left around, even in the Greece hoard.  Here the numismatist might assume that Imaginaria (the hypothetical state whose hypothetical coins we’re studying) was at war.   Wars are expensive.  Lots of coins get made to pay troops and suppliers, etc.  Lots of people also get scared and hide their coins.  And, lots of people also die, making it harder for them to come back and find their pots of coins.  Not great for them.  Very useful for the numismatist.  But can we be sure?   What would be really useful is if it turned out we had an exact date from some literary text that said that Eastalia (ancient Easton) was burned to the ground on 14 February 530 AND that a professional archaeologist found the Easton hoard under the layer of destruction firmly associated with this known historical event.  But that rarely happens.  Usually hoards are found by metal detector hobbyists in areas never likely to be professionally excavated let alone tied to a literary record.  More commonly we take stray finds of coins from controlled excavations in areas associated with major historical events to help establish a terminus ante quem for specific coin types and then tie that back into the relative chronology of the hoard evidence (e.g. Morgantina vel Numantia).

But that’s not all!  The Roman republican numismatist has many more tricks up his sleeve.  Meet our comrade: Prosopography.   It is the subtle art of constructing an Ancient Who’s Who.  It tries to figure out the inter-generational and marital relationships and career path of each known historical figure.   To do this it uses inscriptions and literary testimony and combines those with assumptions about typical naming customs in specific families, regulations governing the holding of public office and more.  Why would this help the numismatist date coins?  Well, if we know an Edgar was elected to a magistracy that had a minimum age requirement of 45 in 542 and we think the typical age for a moneyership was thirty, then maybe we can assume that the coins of Edgar were made about 527.   If it is the same Edgar and the time separating his magistracy and his moneyship were at the standard interval and if our assumptions about what that interval is are all correct.  Still, it’s better than outright guessing.  Ancient historians use the evidence they have.   We might also use this type of evidence to help our relative sequencing.  The order in which Isaac, Justin, and Kira held some later office might provide a clue to the order in which they held the moneyership.

There are also times when specific issues are tied to known historical events and that information is then tied back into our relative chronology.  Sometimes the coins are absolutely associated with an event but the historians and coins geeks like to fight about when the event really happened base on a wide range of evidence (e.g. founding of Narbo).  Other times the association of coins with a well dated historical event is based on assumptions about what the image meant to the original viewer (e.g. the oath scene on the coins TI.VETVR).  These historical arguments become relevant to the whole series as the relative chronology from the hoards is hung onto these apparently fixed points.

Surely it’s not so shaky as all this?  No, not completely.  We know there were three moneyers each year and so for the Roman Republic (not Imaginaria discussed above) we also get to divide our group of moneyers into ‘colleges’ and if we feel confident (on stylistic grounds?!) about those colleges then we can sequence our relative chronology into years more easily.  And, every once in a while we get a new big hoard with a useful closing date and it confirms and/or updates our preexisting arrangements (e.g. The Mesagne Hoard).  Good archaeological evidence also comes along periodically. And, scholars with bigger brains than mine have been working on the arrangement and refining the details for a very, very long time.   The relative chronology is likely to shift but not drastically so.  The absolute chronology is probably good within at least five years (so Crawford himself, RRC I p. 74 speaking about the 2nd century in particular).

The problem comes in how both numismatists and historians (and archaeologists too?) treat the years given to coins.  Certitude is a dangerous thing.  RRC for most types affixes a specific year.  Modern databases are great things but most aren’t programmed to accept the input of anything but a specific year or range of years.  None of the major coin databases I use have included data about post-Crawford dates.  This creates a default to Crawford.   However, updating the dates to new scholarship doesn’t really fix the intellectual problem.  The dating of any one coin in the series is usually based on dozens of assumptions about the plausibility of its place in the sequence and the relationship of that sequence to real time.   There is no one place any scholar, let alone student, can go to have all thought assumptions spelled out for the individual coin type.  The discussion and charts are condensed and focused on portions of sequence and their interrelationship.    It’s not a house of cards, but it is not bedrock either.  There is no open invitation to inspect the foundations in the minutia.

And the minutia is often what interests historians.

A few precious coins once in a rare while get their own independent date based on other criteria.  When the historian opens a coin catalog or database each type has a specific year or year range attached to it.  This then informs how the type is discussed along side literary accounts.  The archaeologist may even use these dates to determine the deposition dates of certain related finds.  Dates are one of the things that makes coins relevant to other discussions.  Change the date of a coin by a few years or even just change the sequence of two coins and the whole picture changes.

Crawford dates this coin to 134 BC.  Mattingly to 133 BC.  Not that big of a difference.  Both use this hoard  as the basis of their arguments.


However, this very similar coin showing the same monument is put five years later in 128 BC by Mattingly, but one year earlier, 135 BC, by Crawford.  Mattingly has the advantage of the “New Italy Hoard” to reverse the relative position of the two coins and suggest a gap between their issue. [Hersh, NC 1977: 24-27 with Crawford,  Survey Num. Research 1979: 172f. and which for some reason I can’t find in the Hoard Database. Grr.]


Thus we now think the representation of the monument became more elaborate not less in the second representation and that it was revived rather than continued. (I find a a satisfying logic in the fact that the earlier coin with its radical departure from traditional Roman coin iconography would say ROMA on it.)  Moreover, where do we fit this celebration of the Minucius who suppress the populist Maelius and then distributed his grain to the people at a low price for which he was honored with said monument.  (I link here to Livy, but there are also relevant references in Dion. Hal. 9.4, Pliny NH 18.15 and 34.21.)  Obviously there is some link between this narrative, the coin image used at this time, and the political circumstance surrounding Tiberius Gracchus’ famous tribunate of 133 BC.  But what?   We used to think it was the image used the year before Gracchus now we need to consider what it means for the imaged to be deployed in the same year and for the image to be revived five years later.   And then what about this coin of M. MARCI MN.F?


Everyone is pretty sure those big ears of grain popping up under victory recall an ancestor (even his father perhaps?!) who distributed grain at a cheap price as aedile (Pliny, NH 18, 15).  But as far as I can tell the hoards help us not a lick on the relative chronology between this assertion and the similar one made by the first Minucius coin above.   Mattingly fits it in the year before and sees the Minucius as an elaborate rebuttal to Marcius’ claim.   Crawford has it coming after.  The historian worried about the political climate at the time of the Gracchi would sorely like to know which.

Enough. For now.

71 out of 410 days: What’s in a Name?

Gold coin.This coin of Pompey is probably a small issue struck as a commemorative piece and/or gift on the occasion of his second triumph.  The choice of legends are particularly revealing about both the date of issue and also the impression Pompey wished to convey. Three passages are needed for context.  First, Granius Licinianus 36.2.4:

And Pompeius, when he was 25 years old and still a Roman knight – something which no-one had previously done – celebrated a triumph as pro-praetor from Africa, on the fourth day before the Ides of March. Some writers say that on this occasion the Roman people were shown elephants in the triumph. But when he came to enter the city, the triumphal arch was too small for the four elephants yoked to his chariot, although they tried it twice.

I include this for how it emphasizes his having served with Praetorian imperium as a private citizen and because it shows the close connection between Elephants and Africa in the Roman mind.  Next up is Plutarch, Life of Pompey 13.4-5.

[When Sulla] perceived that everybody was sallying forth to welcome Pompey and accompany him home with marks of goodwill, he was eager to outdo them. So he went out and met him, and after giving him the warmest welcome, saluted him in a loud voice as “Magnus,” or The Great, and ordered those who were by to give him this surname. Others, however, say that this title was first given him in Africa by the whole army, but received authority and weight when thus confirmed by Sulla. Pompey himself, however, was last of all to use it, and it was only after a long time, when he was sent as pro-consul to Spain against Sertorius, that he began to subscribe himself in his letters and ordinances “Pompeius Magnus”; for the name had become familiar and was no longer invidious.

Here we get some accounts of how Pompey came to be called ‘the Great’, its connection to his African campaign, and when he himself embraced the name.  What’s missing from this passage are the associations with Alexander which were well known in antiquity and today.  Finally, Cicero, For the Manilian Law 62.6-7 (cf. Cicero, Phillipics, 11.18-19):

What was ever so unusual, as, when there were two most gallant and most illustrious consuls, for a Roman knight to be sent as proconsul to a most important and formidable war? He was so sent—on which occasion, indeed, when someone in the senate said that a private individual ought not to be sent as proconsul, Lucius Philippus is reported to have answered, that if he had his will he should be sent not pro consule, but proconsulibus.

The final statement puns on the double meaning of pro consule: it can be translated either ‘not instead of one consul, but instead of both’ or ‘not with the rank of proconsul, but instead of both consuls’.  Its this controversial appointment, again as a private citizen, that the reverse legend celebrates and associates with the triumphal figure.


Today was the long slog through typing in the text I wrote long hand yesterday and adding citations and edits as appropriate.  Lots of progress just not inspiring.   I have between three and six more coin types I want to incorporate into the chapter all of which I’ve written about here on the blog at one time or another.   Tomorrow, fresh, longhand, I could have something like a full rough draft.

66 out of 410 days: Hairy Goats and My Notes


The last time I was in Oxford some 14 months ago, I think, I snapped this image with my camera phone in the Sackler Library.  I was so happy to find an example of the iconography of this coin in a published excavation report of site finds.  [Update 8/24/13:  The image above looks more like a sheep to me than a goat the longer I look at it here on the blog.  It’s the curly horns.  I think rest below are  really goats.] Something I stumbled upon on the new arrivals shelf.  An Italian publication I seem to recall.  What I can’t seem to find is any record at all of what the book was or from what site.


If I knew where it was I could say something about the context of the image, perhaps even a divinity associated with the area of the find.  Alas, what we have here is a failure of the information pack rat system.  What I’m very happy to say is that its a popular motif… you guessed it! … on SEAL rings.

A. Furtwängler, Beschreibung der geschnittenen Steine im Antiquarium, Königliche Museen Berlin (1896) Cat. no. 6811;  no. 7525; BM 1917,0501.513; Gold finger-ring with an engraved sard: Eros riding a goat.; BM 1923,0401.1121; Edinburgh Tassie 2258

It is also popular on Lamps:

Mould-made pottery lamp decorated on the discus with a Cupid riding a goat. The nozzle has an air-slit, and is mainly missing. The handle is mainly missing. The lamp stands on a base-ring. Covered with a brown slip.

And the also this figurine from Cyprus:

Eros riding a goat

Crawford thinks its likely to be Dionysiac.  Perhaps.  Erotes are floating around with goats on many a Dionysiac sarcophagus, or Seasons sarcophagus.  But this might actually have more to do with the cult of Venus/Aphrodite:

Pausanias tells us that this is Aphrodite Pandemos, All Encompassing Aphrodite, usually translated Common or Vulgar Aphrodite:

Behind the portico built from the spoils of Corcyra is a temple of Aphrodite, the precinct being in the open, not far from the temple. The goddess in the temple they call Heavenly; she is of ivory and gold, the work of Pheidias, and she stands with one foot upon a tortoise. The precinct of the other Aphrodite is surrounded by a wall, and within the precinct has been made a basement, upon which sits a bronze image of Aphrodite upon a bronze he-goat. It is a work of Scopas, and the Aphrodite is named Common. The meaning of the tortoise and of the he-goat I leave to those who care to guess.  

What kind of connotations would “Pandemos” in the mids 80 BC? If that is, in fact, the reference. Certainly populist ones…

Update 8/23/13: Here’s a great study about what Pandemos might mean in a different community.  Those working on Cyprus have connected the Eros on Goat terracottas with the cult of Aphrodite/Astarte.  Muller took a different approach and associated this the ‘sport of Eros’ i.e. the motif of erotes playing with the attributes of other gods and other activities.  Thus he sees the coin as referring to the infancy of Zeus.  This is usually dismissed because the goat is male and Zeus’s goat was a nanny-goat.

Like Father, Like Son

L. Valerius Flaccus, the moneyer of this coin, is likely to have been the son of the then or previous Flamen Martialis (priest of Mars):

War was to be waged against Aristonicus in the consulship of Publius Licinius and Lucius Valerius. The people was consulted as to whom it wished to have the management of that war. Crassus, the consul and Pontifex Maximus, threatened to impose a fine upon Flaccus his colleague, the priest of Mars, if he deserted the sacrifices. And though the people remitted the fine, still they ordered the priest to submit to the commands of the pontiff.

The Roman naming customs make it easy to elide the identities of family members. Many of the customs of the Roman state encouraged these associations, especially the Roman funeral.

It is likely that the son succeeded his father in this priesthood. At what date is uncertain. Here’s the entry in Magistrates of the Roman Republic:



Drummond in that 2008 article I mentioned in the last post raises the possibility already entertained by Broughton that Flaccus the younger is commemorating himself, not his father. BUT, then he pushes the idea even farther saying even if he meant to commemorate his father, it could be interpreted by later audiences as self commemoration (p. 396). This idea is important. It emphasizes that the image makers aren’t in control of the image and much of the reception depends on viewers evolving knowledge and assumptions about what is likely to be on a coin. This reminded me about a point Clare Rowan made in her blog. The ambiguity may be intentional or a fortuitous evolution. Neither Flaccus the elder or Flaccus the younger would be surprised or upset to have their individual accomplishments augment the acclaim of the other.

I selected this specimen as it is easier to see a few key details (rather than the ANS specimens). The face of Mars is in profile. His spear is pointed downwards diagonally behind him. The cape flows behind his nude body and the trophy rests over his left shoulder supported by his hand. This Mars type will be the basis for Augustus’ Romulus statue in his forum and its numerous copies. Like father, like son.

Disappearing Axes

Reverse Image

Fasces are bundles of rods that symbolizes the authority and dignity of a magistrate. (I find Drogula pretty convincing with how he nuances their function and meaning.) What seems uncontroversial is that fasces with axes were carried outside the pomerium (the sacred boundary of the city) and without axes inside the city. The difference being that when one commanded troops one had more summary authority than in a civic context. Marshall makes a relevant point about the understanding of the symbolism, especially in relation to the axes themselves:



He then advocates a very practical reading that both the axes and rods were actually used for punishment and executions and thus any symbolism would be a reaction to their use. Above is the first use of the symbol on the Roman coin series in 83 BC by a partisan of Cinna, Norbanus. This was followed shortly by this coin of 81 BC:

Reverse Image

And then this one later in 63 BC:

Reverse Image

Even on this famous scene of the first consul of 509BC, struck 54 BC, the fasces all have axes:

Reverse Image

And then the next time they show up in 44 BC, the Axes are removed:

Reverse Image

And it stays gone during the ensuing Civil Wars:

Reverse Image

Somewhere in the Wars between Caesar and Pompey Axes went out of symbolic fashion…


I didn’t mention this coin of c. 70/69 BC because I just don’t think Roma is holding fasces. I think it’s a scepter and we can see the hilt of her sword as well. It’s just not how you hold a set of fasces and the two ends are differentiated as on other types. There is no stripping on any specimens to suggest rods are being portrayed:

Silver coin.