Bearer of Good News, Bearer of Peace

Reverse Image

The figure on this reverse type is usually seen as representing Sulla triumphator. He’s clearly labelled as Sulla, but the caduceus in his hand is curious. “Victory hoped for” is Crawford’s reading. He doesn’t want to align it with the agnomen Felix because of the chronology of the time, though felicitas in the imperial times is most definitely shown with this attribute:

I tend to agree with Crawford and am puzzled because a caduceus is a very odd thing for a triumphator to hold:

After a thorough reconnaissance had been made, it was ascertained after a few days that all was quiet as far as the Gauls were concerned, and the whole force was thereupon marched to Privernum. From this point there is a twofold story. Some state that the city was stormed and Vitrubius taken alive; other authorities aver that before the final assault the townsmen came out with a caduceus [Note] and surrendered to the consul, whilst Vitrubius was given up by his own men. (Livy 8.20)

No, I don’t think Sulla is suggesting his willingness to surrender! This passage is even more explicit:

3 An indication of this is found in the following word and act of each of the two peoples: Quintus Fabius, a Roman general, delivered a letter to the Carthaginians, in which it was written that the Roman people had sent them a spear and a herald’s staff [‘caduceus’ in the Latin], signs respectively of war and peace; they might choose whichever they pleased and regard the one which they should choose as sent them by the Roman people. 4 The Carthaginians replied that they chose neither one; those who had brought them might leave whichever they liked; that whatever should be left them they would consider that they themselves had chosen. 5 Marcus Varro, however, says that neither the spear itself nor the staff was sent, but two tokens, on one of which was engraved the representation of a staff [‘caduceus’ in the Latin again]; on the other that of a spear. (Gellius, Attic Nights, 10.27)

[Update 24 Sept. 2013 – The sending of the spear and caduceus is proverbial in the Hellenistic World. See Polybius 4.52.4 and 24.12.1 with Walbank’s Commentary on the former.]

The herald’s staff was certainly read most often as a peaceful symbol, one of reconciliation and concordia. Just to give a taste of this, here are two coins one from 70 BC representing ‘concord’ between Italy and Rome and another from 48 BC during the Civil Wars of Caesar and Pompey.

Reverse Image

Reverse Image

Sulla is victorious and an imperator on this coin, but he is also togate and bearing the caduceus and through the later I believe he may also be suggesting his potential harmonious return. It didn’t turn out that way, of course, but that may well have been how he wished to be seen. He certainly wished to be remember as one who restored order.

Gold coin.

Victory inscribing a Shield


The personification of Victory (Nike, Victoria) is an exceptionally common motif in the Roman Empire.  I appears on large imperial monuments (Trajan’s column, Marcus Aurelius’ column), on small domestic items such as lamps, and all over imperial and provincial coinage.

I’m hard pressed to think of a Hellenistic precedent; perhaps there is one lurking out there… Thus, I was surprised to find a very early example of the type amongst the quinarii of the mid 90s BC (97 BC according to Crawford, 94 BC according to Mattingly).  

Shaggy Haired Deities


The deity on the obverse of this is always identified as Jupiter.  Based, I suppose, primarily on the reverse which is clearly Jupiter in a quadriga with his lightening bolt and scepter. However, the iconography, especially the three thick locks of hair down the neck, looks an awful lot like typical representations of Saturn from the same period:



Of course, these are all likely to be the work of the same die cutter and that could account for most of the visual similarity.  Nevertheless it strikes me that if that die cutter had wanted to differentiate two different deities on these obverses, he would have done so in a more dramatic fashion.

Amazon on a Pile of Arms

Reading a draft of a chapter by a friend, I was completely taken by the use of the Amazon-on-a-Pile-of-Arms Type to personify Aetolia. He pointed out how the arms start out a Gallic arms to which a large Macedonian shield is added, as on the specimen above. I love how this illustrates that the Romans are simply deploying an already fully formed numismatic iconographic vocabulary on their own coins. I am also captivated by the diversity of this basic reverse type on the Aetolian issues:

The usual assumption is that the type is modeled on a statue dedicated at Delphi to commemorate the defense of the sanctuary by the Aetolians against Gauls. However the variations in the reverse mean that we can’t see to an exact one to one match between the two. The gold specimen with Artemis and the Nike is most intriguing. Perhaps a reference to Artemis’ epiphany to defend Delphi?

Anyway. Where does this Amazon-on-a-Pile-of-Arms Type show up on Roman coins? All over!

And of course it also comes to be adopted as the personification of Britannia, which has itself Roman origins. What we shouldn’t do is conflate the Roma seated on a curule chair with this image, as the symbolism of the two has different connotations:

The arms represent conquest, the curule chair just rule.

I need to find out what artistic precedents the Aetolian type is based on…

Update 8/12/2013. 

Reverse Image


I found it asserted in an old gem catalogue (see p. xv under cat. no. 45) that Roma on a pile of arms derives from the Athena on the coinage of Lysimachus.  It is certainly might be a basic prototype for personifications of Aetolia and Roma seen above but she is clearly enthroned with her own shield beside her, a very different symbolism than being atop the spoils of war.

Type vs Specimen

I’ve stared at this particular specimen of this particular type so much that when I came across an image of a different specimen in a book this morning part of me wanted to say oh that’s not the right image.  This can happen with famous or just easily accessible specimens of types.  The historian or student can start to think the one illustrative example IS the type.  This leads to some unfortunate readings.

Silver coin.

One of my favorite Roman historians have used the above image to argue that the Italic Bull is raping the Roman Wolf. [No, no I’m not going to give you a page reference for this.  I don’t really want to be bitchy about it.I got frustrated by my own cageyness when I came back to find the reference….]Capture.JPGI’ve even read it on student exams.  But other specimens make clear that only significant penetration on this type is an old fashioned goring with the horns:



The lesson is that unless one has seen as many specimens of a type as possible its really very dangerous to start generalizing.  A lazy die cutting can turn into a whole (sexualized!?) reading.

There are ten Flamininus specimens according to C. Botrè, “Lo statere d’oro di Tito Quinzio Flaminino: una coniazione straordinaria,” RIN 96 (1994/1995): four in museums: Athens, Berlin [??], London and Paris; and six in private hands including: WAW, 109 = Hunt I, 111, the Ley collection piece = Triton III; 30 November 1999, 815; LEU 81, 187NAC 39 (16.05.2007), 85.  His face may be fatter or thinner, rougher or smoother, hair wilder or sedate based on the specimen.  The controversy over how this image fits into Hellenistic portraiture traditions and/or Roman aesthetic conventions is not going to be resolved soon, but any discussion should be based on the examination of all possible specimens.

A Divine Explanation

I just ordered up via ILL a piece of German scholarship which from the abstract seems to redate some early Roman coins (aes grave with a prow and the quadrigati) and connected them with the events of 241BC. I’ll reserve judgement on that until I see the article. However, it also reminded of this portion of Ovid’s Fasti, calendar of the Roman year in poetic form:

I spoke these words to the god [sc. Janus] who holds the key.

‘Indeed I’ve learned much: but why is there a ship’s figure

On one side of the copper As, a twin shape on the other?’

‘You might have recognised me in the double-image’,

He said, ‘if length of days had not worn the coin away.

The reason for the ship is that the god of the sickle

Wandering the globe, by ship, reached the Tuscan river.

I remember how Saturn was welcomed in this land:

Driven by Jupiter from the celestial regions.

From that day the people kept the title, Saturnian,

And the land was Latium, from the god’s hiding (latente) there.

But a pious posterity stamped a ship on the coin,

To commemorate the new god’s arrival.

I myself inhabited the ground on the left

Passed by sandy Tiber’s gentle waves.

Here, where Rome is now, uncut forest thrived,

And all this was pasture for scattered cattle.

My citadel was the hill the people of this age

Call by my name, dubbing it the Janiculum.

Asses did stay in circulation for a very very long time and were minted very sporadically during the late Republic. Ovid’s Augustan age testimony provides evidence that worn base metal coins had become the norm but that the types were generally known. The prow however did not hold a particular meaning for a contemporary viewer. Ovid has the god explain that the prow commemorates Saturn’s arrival. This would have seemed plausible because Saturn was the god of the treasury, even if it is unlikely to have been the original inspiration. Crawford suggests the visual inspiration comes from this beautiful type of Antigonos Doson, c.227 BC (See RRC p. 42 esp. n. 5):

Reverse Image

Naval imagery first appears on Roman coins, unsurprisingly, when they become more adept as a military power. And it has even been argued that naval imagery on aes signatum commemorated the very battle in which the bronze itself was captured in the form of rams, armor, and other spoils from the Carthaginian enemies. However awareness of symbolism slips away as particular images stop resonating with contemporary audience, hence Ovid’s deduced explanation.

Where in the world is Decius Mus?

To get inspiration for writing the book today I opened up Rosenstein’s latest, very readable, introduction to the Imperial Republic. He starts at Sentinium and how P. Decius Mus’ self-sacrifice provided a turning point in Rome’s conquest of Italy.  He and his father and his son, all bearing the same name, became a standard exempla of dedication unto death to the fatherland; Cicero mentions them thirty times in his extant works (cf. Van der Blom, p. 101).  And yet unlike so many exempla with wide communal resonance, they appear no where on the republican series that we can see.  Noteworthy by their absence.  Crawford thinks the line died out and without ancestors numismatic commemoration was unlikely.  Interestingly the lack of commemoration was so keenly felt that the Emperor Trajan made up a type to ‘restore’ in his name (see image above).  The image he chose to augment with Decius’ name is this type:

The carnyx and shield clearly link the otherwise completely standard type with Celtic victories.  And, the Decii did engage with the Celts as well as the Samnites, but it is unlikely that Trajan has any ‘inside’ knowledge 300 years later about who made the original type.  Instead it is filling a void in the numismatic record.  The Decii deserved a coin type so the must have had one.  Did Trajan do the same for other republican heroes?   There are some modern copies for Cocles.  I’ve not see an authentic specimen yet, but two are listed in RIC so perhaps they do exist:



Philip VI Andriscus Overstrike


I don’t want to reiterate what appears in the Triton catalogue on this specimen, as you can read it yourself by clicking on the image.  In the article I linked to earlier today, Callataÿ mentioned the phenomenon of these coins of a “pretender” to the Macedonian throne being overstruck on denarii.

The one above is apparently using this type as its flan:

The Crawford type is re-dated by the overstrike, just pushed down a couple of years.  It’s striking [always my favorite numismatic pun] that two of the known specimens of Andriscus are known to have been overstruck on the this same type.   Here’s the link to the other one.  The obverse dies are linked but the reverses are unique.  Another un-die-linked specimen is overstruck on a Thesalian League type.  Of course, Callataÿ is right that it shows use of the denarius in the East, at least sufficient to allow Andriscus to produce a (small?) series.

The other minor mystery is whatever is Andriscus wearing on his head.  Macedonian head gear is always a wee bit baffling, but more on that some other time:


This is the coin type that occupied me much of last Thursday.  The interest comes from it being a potentially non-Italian instance of an oath-taking scene.  Such scenes appear during the Hannibalic War on both Roman coinage and that of certain Campanian cities which sided with the Punic forces.

And was resurrected by the Romans probably about 137 BC:

But was then famously the iconography was taken over by the Italian allies during the Social War in the 80s BC when they broke with Rome.

The swearing of an oath on a pig to seal a treaty is well attested as part of Italic culture, perhaps most famously at the Caudine Forks incident.  The legend of the type had previously been read on less clear specimens as FETIA and thought to refer to the fetiales, the priests associated with religious declarations of war and solemnizing the peace.  All these ‘oath scene’ coins have been associated with the fetiales in the past.  That’s somewhat problematic as such an oath could be sworn by the generals without such priests (again, see Cicero on the Caudine Forks oath).

Anyway, the new specimen above clearly reads EETI- and all the other reverse die specimens I’ve seen could be read the same way.  EETIA must be Latin as the letter combination is unattested in Greek.  It’s none too common in Latin.  If the word begins EETI- one thinks of the various legendary kings and heros named Eëtion.   They are associated with the Greek mainland or Asia Minor.  Leypold said he bought his specimen in Amisus and because small bronzes don’t tend to travel far its usually attributed to that location or the general region.   No other specimens find spots are known.   The lack of a diadem or garland on the obverse head has lead to the assumption it was a portrait of a Roman commander.  Speculation then commences about possible Roman commanders active in Asia Minor.  The Roman certainly experimented with coinage in the region.

As we puzzle out the legend we might recall that “Accian” Vowels, i.e. the reduplication of vowels to indicate their long vowel length, do appear on Republican coins.  [This type of vowel is discussed by Lucilius.]

And, even on provincial issues from Macedonia:

For the type of the last see BM catalogue.

One other clue might be visable on this rather awful specimen:

On this specimen one can see what I think might be a Q under the obverse head.   Q or PRO Q is a relativelycommon addition special issues and military coinage of this period.  We’ve seen two examples already above.  Here are two more from the Crawford sequence:

I grabbed this last example because of the placement under the bust.  If there wasn’t the assumption that it was from Asia Minor, I would have speculated Italic or at least Western Mediterranean origins.  The type is closer to the Campanian imagery of two figures holding a pig above the ground than any of the Roman or Marsic scenes.

But finally, given that there only seems to be one obverse die and maybe about four reverse dies amongst all the specimens, not to mention the scarcity of the type, this must be a very low volume production.  Why put all this energy into its manufacture?!  Who benefited?  Is it purely an ideological statement?  If so, towards whom is it aimed?