190 out of 410 days: Silenus, Pan, and Dionysus (Father Liber)


There seems to me to be some logical inconsistency in how we identify Pan and Silenus on Roman Republican coins.  The type above is likely the first to depict either.  Crawford dates it to 91; Mattingly prefers 90 (2004: 248).  Quite logically the “Silenus” on the obverse is taken to pun on the moneyer’s name, D. Silanus.  The following year (according to both Crawford and Mattingly), C. Vibius Pansa strikes a coin that looks like this:


These coins might almost be called vanity pieces.  There were probably less than 10 dies created for the manufacture for these types, but his other coins with Apollo and Minerva in a Quadriga (RRC 342/4-5) used upwards of a 1000 dies.  Crawford assumes another name pun and identifies the head with pointy ears as Pan and the head with the ivy wreath as Silenus and sees them both as masks.  Notice the heads have no necks.  I find this problematic as Silanus’ Silenus and Pansa’s Pan have nearly identical iconography.  If we look beyond the coins to for comparative iconography it become clear that Pan and Silenus have a pretty distinctive iconography.  Pans are part goat and usually have more animalistic bodies, especially their lower halves.  Their heads are marked out by two goat horns rising from their forehead.  Silenoi or Papasilenus is an old satyr, pug-nosed, covered in a white flocked suit on stage, and horse ears like any satyr.  [Note: the ears are pretty much the only difference between a Silenus depiction and that of Socrates.]  Here is a perfect side by side:

Red jasper gem engraved with the conjoined masks of Pan and Seilenos; above is a star, below is a shepherd's crook.

Of course, rigid rules need not apply.  Perhaps the same image can represent both Silenus and Pan.  Compare for instance these coins of Panticapaeum:

The head on the coins of this city is often identified in catalogs as Silenus but because of the name of the community a visual pun is often assumed.

I am less convinced that a case can be made for the ivy crowded figure to be a Silenus.  The face is just too smooth, the nose to straight.  This seems very much like a head of Dionysus.  The hair style is the same as that found on the Thasian type used by the Romans in Macedonia:

Compare the hair roll over the forehead, the loop down in front of the ears, and the prominent back knot.  The two locks of hair hanging down have been slightly modified on the Roman type.  The front is left curly the back has been modified into a straight fillet, perhaps to emphasize the mask like qualities.  Notice that the two bunches of ivy berries at the top of the head and the ivy leaves below.  The typical five on the Thracian type have become just three but with lobes and berries.

Pansa’s silver types was echoed on a few of the bronzes of his fellow moneyer Q. Titius:

Copper alloy coin.

Copper alloy coin.

Q. Titius depicts a beardless Liber on his denarii with a very similar hair style:

These are the first representations of Liber (Roman Dionysus) on the silver coinage.  His first appearance at all was on an especially created denomination of the silver the bes or 2/3s coin = 8 unciae.

Even on this rare worn specimen the hair style can be made out.

The adoptive son of the Pansa just mentioned echoed elements of his father’s series in 48 BC (RRC 449).


I’ve put up this small selection just to note the later rendering of Dionysus and the Pan/Silenus mask.  On the series of 90/89BC (RRC 342), Ceres had been paired with Apollo who is now missing from the later series, replace with a youthful Dionysus.

Update 3 January 2014: Just another nice juxtaposition of Silenus (central figure; note: beard and balding forehead and hair suit) and Pan (right figure, note: two horns from top of his head)


Mirror with symposion scene; Baltimore, The Walters Art Gallery; Etruskische Spiegel V, Taf. 43. Discussed in T. P. Wiseman. ‘The God of the Lupercal’, JRS 85 (1995) 1-22, at 9-10 (with plates 1-111) and ‘Liber; Myth, Drama and Ideology in Republican Rome’ in The Roman Middle Republic (2000) 265-299.  Wiseman identifies Marsyas as a type of silenos.  Here we see him dancing being imitated by a little pan, labelled Painiscos, or ‘Paniskos’.



Also note regarding the name pun on Silanus’s coin the first illustated above, inWiseman 2000: 270 with fig. 6 & 7 that younger satyrs with no beard or a short beard are labeled SILANOS and SILANVS.

Italic Horserider Imagery



Note To Self: When considering the issue of L. Manlius Torquatus below (111 BC according to Mattingly), don’t forget that there are earlier Italic precedents for the reverse design, such as the AE quinrunx of Larinum above, dated by HN Italy to c. 210-175 BC.

You will want to order from ILL the relevant literature on Larinum (listed in HN Italy) and look for other similar Italic imagery.

Notice how the Torquatus coin even places all three elements of the legend in a similar location to that of the Larinum coin. His name for the ethnic, EXSC for the five pellets, and then, most strikingly, the Q for the V behind the riders head. [See three images down for a specimen of the quinrunx showing the V.]

The obverse of the above Larinum specimen looks more like a Minerva than an Ares in the Corinthian helmet. HN Italy queries lists as “Mars(?)”. Other specimens are more ambiguous or masculine:

But then see these long necked specimens (1) and (2)… The four specimens in the ANS seem very masculine indeed, especially the ‘fat necked’ SNGANS.1.131 and SNGANS.1.132.

Update 26/11/2013: Just adding this glass paste for comparison. It is dated by the Thorvaldsens Museum to the republican period.  This rider doesn’t have the same helmet but otherwise shares many design elements right down to the the shield details.

Rytter med spyd og skjold. Romersk republikansk paste

They also given this a republican date:

Kriger til hest. Romersk republikansk paste

Second update 27 February 2014: The coinage of Tarentum (Taras) also needs to brought into discussion (esp. HN Italy 1013):





Most of the rider imagery from Tarentum has the shield behind the rider, making this type stand out.  Even here, the horse is rendered differently from above imagery, but it is certainly in the same visual repertoire.

Also see this newer post for comparative evidence.

Bocchus Monument, Sulla’s Monuments

Hölscher in 1980 proposed that this monument was the base of the Bocchus Monument, so well known from literary descriptions (Plutarch, Marius 32,  Sulla 6).  The best discussion of the literary sources is Mackay.  If this is true the statues on the top of this base would look something like this:

Reverse Image

This coin was struck by Sulla’s son, Faustus and probably copied his father’s seal ring (cf. Marius 10, Sulla 3).  So far so good by way of background.  It has been suggested that the base is not the original base BUT was restored after Sulla’s return.  The logic being that Marius would not have let such an offensive monument remain standing when he controlled the city.  The two trophies of the relief are seen as representations of the Sullan trophies of Chaeronea (again see Mackay, link above), just like on this coin:

Reverse Image

[There is also a regular denarius with the same design, but I am showing the aureus because it’s prettier.]  This image is also associated with a Sullan seal ring by Crawford based on Dio 43.18.3 and the iconography is also seen on the Athenian New Style Tetradrachms (BM specimen):


Already Crawford brought in the Sant’Omobono relief into the discussion, with reference to the other block:

He sees an analogy between the two wreaths hanging out from the palm branch and the two trophies.  I’m interested in same detail but because of how it echoes the iconographic strategy of a later coin type (Pompeian?).



Notice how the four wreaths hang from the palm branch to presumably symbolize multiple victories.  And, NOW, as I type this and check my RRC entry for 436/1, I see that Crawford saw the exact same connection…. [Insert footsteps-of-giants sentiment here.]

Not everyone thinks the Sant’Omobono Reliefs are the Bocchus Monument.  Detractors include: Hafner German. – Zu den vermeintlich sullanischen Waffenreliefs von S. Omobono. Rivista di archeologia 1989 XIII : 46-54 and Alexander Thein’s unpublished dissertation on Sulla of 2002.  Another dissenting opinion is  Reusser, C. 1993, Der Fidestempel auf dem Kapitol in Rom und seine Ausstattung: ein Beitrag zu den Ausgrabungen an der Via delMare und um das Kapitol 1926–1943, Rome, p. 121-37.

Santangelo gives a concise up-to-date survey of the literature and its conclusions (p. 2-3, n. 7), but also see his later discussion at  p. 206.

Minor reference updates 27 August 2013 & 16 June 2014

2/15/2016 addition:

Flower, Art of Forgetting, p. 113: