Visual Parallels, Debunking Historical Allusions

Crawford in RRC says of this coin: “The obverse type recalls the standard obverse type of the coinage of Lipara, captured by C. Aurelius Cotta, Cos. 252; the reverse type alludes to the triumph celebrated in consequence.”  He echoes Broughton in the MRR: “On coins of L. Cotta, perhaps celebrating the taking of Lipara, see Gueber CRRBM 1.200f.; Cesano, Stud. Num. 1 (1942) 158.”   Looking at the coins of Lipara doesn’t instill confidence in this claim:

I have a hard time believing I’m the first to see this, but the parallel with Malaka in Spain is nearly perfect, right down to the wreath and the placement of the tongs behind the head:

The mint of Malaka is well studied, but I’ll need to read up a bit on the dating of the obverse proto-type.  I think we can be sure the Spanish coin is the prototype, and not visa versa, as the Malakan bronze has Punic lettering.

So if the Lipara connection is a red herring, why this type?  So far I’m hard pressed to find a Cotta with a Spanish connection.  The poor L. Aurelius Cotta, cos. 144, was denied the opportunity to go to Spain (Val. Max. 6.4.2).

Perhaps the Malaca connection is also a red herring.  Maybe there is no attempt to recall a spanish Familial connection, only that it provided an attractive model for representing Hephaistos, the smith god, for some other reason…  One to think about.

[The ANS does list specimens in its collections for all these types, but they are just not imaged yet, hence the reliance on non-academic sources.  There are also academic images here but they do not allow direct links and the image quality is pour.]

Tools for Reaping

Pretty consistently on the Roman Republican Series the attribute of Saturn is identified as the harpa.  In fact the logic is a little circular, if its Saturn it must be the harpa and if there is a harpa with a bearded divinity it must be Saturn.

The harpa is a tool otherwise usually associated with Perseus who used it to cut off the head of Medusa and it is a regular numismatic symbol like Heracles’ club, though not precisely as common.  Here they are together:

My problem looking at the Saturns is that the later ones clearly have the traditional harpa on them.  See above, as well as this slightly earlier type:

But the object behind the heads of the divinity on all of these is clearly something different:

Whatever this implement is it clearly has ‘teeth’ and is a single curved piece, not a blade with a hook or prong, such as we associate with the word harpa.   Of course, at its most basic the word just means sickle or curved blade in Greek, the general equivalent of falx, falxis in Latin.  And yet, surely we can come up with some vocabulary discuss the shift in attributes of Saturn without rounding them all down to a generalization.  The earlier Saturn is clearly associated with something other than the tool of Perseus with which he is bestowed in the imperatorial period.  What is that earlier tool?  At first I saw the teeth and shape quite literally as a jawbone.  There are jawbones on some Greek coins, but they don’t look much like the tool:

My guess is that its some piece of agricultural equipment probably for reaping and that it has a specific name.  At some point Saturn’s agricultural associations perhaps became a little less critical and his attribute took on a more mythological, apotropaic form.

In the interests of completeness I should also mention that there is this other early coin with Saturn not as an obverse type but as a reverse type.  If I’m right, the tool in the hand should be be the toothed one, not the Perseus-style harpa, but frankly I’ve not yet seen one clear enough in that detail to say it looks like much of anything specific:

Saturn as an agricultural god of reaping would certainly have resonance for a number of these earlier moneyers, to say nothing of agrarian issues generally in the Republic.

Update 1/13/21:

From Schaefer’s Binders.
The photos of ?-B and 1-A in the Schaefer binder are actually better lit for seeing details than the official Gallica images.

Give a Girl a Hand, Won’t You?

Do you think that nice Roman general is gently lifting up that distressed provincial woman? Is this our Roman good deed of the day? Is the moneyer celebrating his grandfather’s lending a helping hand to Sicily during the slave revolts?  I think not.  Let’s look at another specimen:

Reverse Image

No eye contact. In fact the heads are facing in different directions.  I’m thinking the standard interpretation is a little too romanticized, influenced perhaps by ideologies espoused by modern apologists for colonialism.  This looks to me like a figure group composition based on the Achilles-Penthesilea model which became pretty popular in the Imperial period:


The moneyer would rather have a grandfather that conquered Sicily rather than one that just put down a mess of slaves.  And, given the scale of the rebellion and how it included non-slaves (Diod. 34/5.2.48 amongst other passages), that representation need not be considered a complete fiction.

Update 1/11/16: More comparative iconography:

gem with amazons

Architectural Coins

So the internet went out in the middle of my edits and I found myself crawling the walls waiting to get to JSTOR to read all about Tzetzes and Stesichorus.  I paced in the living room and ate some cheese.  Not very productive.  A version of Crawford’s words came back to me: “What can I productively do the next time the internet goes down for 15 minutes”.  I opened a damned book.  Radical I know.  Paper.  I looked up ‘coins’ in Stewart’s Statues in Roman Society.  [I do like the pretty pictures…]  He describes how the Romans distort representations of temples to emphasize the interior cult figure.  The columns spread out and statue grows and the whole image is a symbol of the sanctuary and cult practice.  He then goes on to say the “earliest clear numismatic representation of this kind of temple is on a denarius of M. Volteius in 78 BC. It shows the first temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.  Before long the cult statue was displayed within the building.” He then goes on to talk about coins in 36 BC.  I opened RRC and started scratching my head.  Sure there is a temple on the coin (above), but I’m not sure what that it relates to cult statues, except perhaps in how the columns are widened to make visit the three cella doors thus making clear that this temple is the temple in which the Capitoline Triad are honored. And, it might represent the first temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, but I’m equally not sure we can know that to be true.   At the time the coin was made the temple had been destroyed and not yet rebuilt.   It represents the idea of the temple more than the temple itself.  I almost wonder if Stewart didn’t mean to refer to this coin:

This seems to be the first of the type he’s describing and is illustrated on the same plate in RRC.  All that said, this image and the earlier appear to come out of nowhere in the RRC (Like so much of the iconography).  I haven’t yet checked on Hellenistic precedents, but I am intrigued that early architectural images seem to be on bronze (346/3 and 348/6).  There are suggestions of architecture on earlier specimens (291/1), but not with the same prominence.  And then there is the question if we should think of monuments as architectural (242/1 and 243/1).  ….  So much more to say, but that colleague finally texted and I have an academic ‘date’ in Manhattan in an hour.  Gotta motor.

Much later addendum (11/11/13): Today, again, I became obsessed with architecture on coins.  No great revelations other than examples prior to the 1st century BC and scholarly discussion there of is thin on the ground.  Here’s some types that might be relevant to future discussion.  (Or not, but I enjoyed finding them!)

The coinage of Sidon in the late 5th century shows the city defenses.  Most specimens show three towers it seems, this beauty has five:

This might be an early temple from Samaria from the 4th century:

Otherwise, other pre Imperial non Roman temples are all probably influenced by Roman precidents.  Such as this coin of Paestum (HN Italy 1252):


Or the coins of Juba I of Mauretania:



A little update 3/21/2014: I came back to this post just to add the coin below, but I was surprised I hadn’t already mentioned here the work of Elkins.  He’s the scholar who has the most to say about the development of architectural types on coins and will become the standard reference.  And, that said here’s a fun early type:

Mantinea, Drachm (Silver, 5.69 g 2), c. 370-360s. Bearded warrior, nude from the waist down, wearing traveling hat, cuirass and special shoes, dancing a ‘war’ dance to right, holding upright spear in his right hand and another transversely over his left shoulder with his left. Rev. Jugate busts of the Dioscouri to left on top of a low altar ornamented with triglyphs and metopes. BMC 6. MG 238. SNG Cop 246. Traité III 957, pl. CCVI, 34. On obv. see see. L. Lacroix, Les Monnaies de Mantinée et les traditions arcadiennes, Bull. Ac. R. Belg. 1967, pp. 303-311.