The Adventures of Laevinus


Yesterday I spent nearly the whole day worrying about M. Valerius Laevinus and his adventures of 215-210 BC.  That is from when he was sent to the Adriatic to keep Philip occupied until his return to Rome to accept the consulship.  It was a good day.  I even reread an essay I wrote as a grad student in November 1998.  I knew things then apparently that I no longer know.  So strange.  I rather like the me of sixteen years ago.  Anyway.  The reason is of course to figure out how the coins sit along side the narrative evidence.  The two issues in question are RRC 100 and RRC 101.  There is no doubt that Laevinus’ career resulted in the production of these coins.

Reverse of RRC 100/3. 1944.100.200
Reverse of RRC 100/3. ANS 1944.100.200.
Quinarius, Corcyra (?) 211-210, AR 2.12 g. Helmeted head of Roma r.; behind, V. Rev. The Dioscuri galloping r.; below, monogram KPO – ΓA ligate. Sydenham 185. Crawford 101/2. Ex NFA sale XXVII, 1991, 256. NAC 61 (5/10/2011) lot 451
Victoriatus, Corcyra (?) 211-210, AR 2.50 g. Laureate head of Jupiter r. Rev. Victory crowning trophy; in
centre field, monogram KOR and in outer r. field, GA ligate. Sydenham 118. Crawford 101/1. Privately purchased from Alex J. Malloy in 1980. NAC 61 (5/10/11) lot 450

The triens of the CA series is regularly overstruck on coins of Oeniadae and the Acarnanian League (Crawford 1974: p. 115, table XVIII, entry 91, specimens a-t and entry 95, specimens a-i).  Laevinus sacked Oeniadae and a host of other Acarnanian places in the immediate follow up to his radical diplomatic arrangement with the Aetolian League.  He had a base on Corcyra and the KOR ligature on the silver is also found on Corcyra’s own coinage:

Drachm. Head of Aphrodite l., KOP monogram behind. Rv. Pegasos flying l. 2.40 grams. BMC 378. Ex Lockett Collection.

Other specimens of Corcyra, here.  Besides the map above, I also pulled together the literary sources on Laevinus’ exploits [links to PDF of translations].

The thing that has me a bit concerned is the association of the CA with Canusium.  Canusium had a mint but it used KA on its own coins. The style of RRC 100 is similar to Luceria, where a bent bar L was used on both earlier local coinage and Roman issues from the same mint.   Crawford follows Bahrfeldt ZfN 1895: 87 who in the style of his time says no more than:

“Die Heimath der letzteren ist ohne Frage Canusium, in deren Gegend noch jetzt vielfach Stücke dieser Art gefunden werden und auf welchen Ort, als am Gestade des Adriatischen Meeres gelegen”.

“The home of the latter is without question Canusium in whose area pieces of this type are found even now in many cases and also at the site itself, as by the shores of the Adriatic Sea”.

I’m hoping that the new valle dell’Orfanto project can provide confirmation of these early observations.  I’m not surprised that the coins are found on the Adriatic or in SE Italy but I’d like more specific data before insisting that Canusium must be the mint rather than CA standing for, say, a magistrates’ name, such as we presume is represented by the ΓΑ on RRC 101.  Canusium does not seem an obvious location with Laevinus’ sphere of action especially between the sack Oeniadae his recall to Rome.

Also, we need to take the career of Laevinus into account when we consider the dating of the coins.  Based on Livy 26.24 and 26 (see PDF above) it seems pretty clear that Oeniadae was captured late in 211 (after Zakynthos and near in time to Nasus).  Winter 211/210 Laevinus is on Corcyra and spring 210 he attacks Anticyra before heading back to Rome.  So winter 211/210 is the likely date it seems to me of not only the RRC 101 issue, but also RRC 100.  At lastest spring 210 as Laevinus makes his way back to Rome.  To accept Crawford’s date of 209-208 for RRC 100 we have to imagine that after the bronze coins were taken in Laevinus’ raid, they were kept on ice for  between one and three years before being overstruck.  The date of c.209 for this issue is perhaps influenced over much by the literary testimony that Marcellus engaged with Hannibal near Canusium in this year.  But, Marcellus seems to have based for two winters at near by Venusia (a Latin colony, like Luceria), not Canusium itself.  Hannibal seems to have at least some hope of convincing Canusium to come over to his side in 209.

Would Canusium have been on Laevinus’ route back to Rome?  A loyal(ish) town at which to drop off some of the spoils of war for striking?  Maybe, assuming he stopped back at his base of Brundisium and took the fast overland route:

From p. 200 of Between Rome and Carthage by M. P. Fronda (CUP 2010).

But Livy tells us the general was “overtaken by a tedious illness, and consequently arrived in Rome much later than was expected”.  It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have used a litter.  Of course, there is no reason general and booty must stay together.  But it is hard to see the economy of transporting the bronze on a difficult road just to overstrike it…

Representing the Defeated Enemy, or the Appropriation of Symbols

First a little context:

To my mind one of the most interesting aspects of the secondary marks on the early denarius, victoriatus and related issues is when they begin to experiment with different types of secondary symbols.  Most of the secondary symbols that appear on the coinage of the Hannibal War had already been in use as control marks on the didrachm series with Roma and Victory (RRC 22): cornucopia, crescent, caduceus, anchor, rudder, dolphin, star, pentagram, club, corn-ear, wreath, and so on…. These are relatively common symbols into which its dangerous to read too much particular meaning.   Other issues are signed by the responsible magistrates, most certainly on Sardinia (RRC 63-65) and Sicily (RRC 7475).    I particularly like how we can see the development towards longer abbreviations on Sardinia. The praetor of 211 BC just uses the first letter of his nomen, ‘C’ for L. Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 63).  The praetor of 210 uses two letters, ‘MA’ for P. Manlius Vulso (RRC 64).  And finally in 209, the praetor C. Aurunculeius uses three letters ‘AVR’ (RRC 65).  We don’t know the position or identity of the Sicilian magistrates, C.VAR and C.AL, but c. 209-208 they choose to use their praenomen initial, as well as an abbreviation of their nomen.  This type of signing of issues by junior officials will become standard at Rome in the future.  We can look to the signed Egadi rams for a possible comparable phenomenon.  On other issues the letters seem to be used to designate the place of issue rather than a magistrate, such as at Luceria, Canusium and Corcyra (RRC 97-98A, 100, 101).  The place names and magistrates names may simply be thought of as functional elements for the purposes of identifying the source and/or authority behind the issue.  We need not read them as acts of self-aggrandizement.

Then there are the other abbreviations the resolution of which is more controversial: are they indicating magistrates or places? (e.g. RRC 92-95).   We can easily find places to match the abbreviations, but then fitting those places as possible mints into the historical narrative of the Hannibalic War becomes very problematic.  I’m not proposing to resolve these difficulties here.

It has long been recognized that the wheat-ear functions as symbol of Sicily on certain issues.   More interesting are some of the more ‘creative’ symbols used by the Sicilian mint, one’s we’re not absolutely positive about their identification.  A possible bit-drill (so Hersh for RRC 77) and measuring stick (RRC 78) and the pick-ax that might be a canting pun (RRC 73), but also isn’t that different from the ceremonial hammer found on coins from central Italy (RRC 59).   Then there is also the very odd serrated issue of denarii with a wheel (RRC 79).  Did the Sicilian mint have a fashion for practical tools as symbols?  Why?

On to the meat of the matter:

The Sicilian symbols help us see that there was room for experimentation with the range of symbols.  The introduction of three new symbols onto the coinage stand out in particular: the torque, the falcata, and the carnyx and shield.  None of these elements are typical elements in Hellenistic art, but are instead identifying attributes of Roman enemies, especially elements that the Roman troops actually encountered on the battlefield.  Both the torque and the carnyx appear frequently enought on the republican series and other media to make them familiar symbols to numismatists and art historians alike.  That said, their first appearance on the coinage is noteworthy.  These issues borrow a symbol of the enemy and display it on the coinage like a trophy of war, the appropriation of the symbol representing the defeat of the fearsome aggressor.   The torque victoriatus is very rare (RRC 91/1a; two in the BM and one in trade). Frankly, if we didn’t have a preconceived idea of what a torque looked like it would be a difficult symbol to decode, looking rather like an omega.   The carnyx and Gallic shield is far more common and the iconography beyond dispute (RRC 128; examples in trade, ANS specimens).  The falcata is called a knife by Crawford, but as one independent scholar has recognized, the republican coins are clearly representing the typical Iberian weapon.

File:Falcata íbera (M.A.N. Madrid) 03.jpg
Discovered in 1867 in Almedinilla (Province of Córdoba, Andalusia, Spain). Now in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain.

The falcata is depicted in Iberian funerary art as well (Blázquez 1988: 506; cf. Osuna relief).  It’s two occurrences on Roman coins should be seen as akin to depictions of carnyx, i.e. as appropriated symbols of the defeated enemy.


Reverse of RRC 120/1. 1988.82.15
Reverse of RRC 120/1. ANS 1988.82.15.
Reverse of RRC 109/1. 1991.7.3
Reverse of RRC 109/1. ANS 1991.7.3.

All of this is important because, taken together, these three types represent a critical development in the ‘money as monument’ phenomenon at Rome.  Just as actual torques, carnyces, shields, and falcatae were displayed in Rome as the spoils of war –dedicated in temples and hung on the houses of the generals as lasting testimony to the victories — so too the alien symbols on the coinage testify to the defeat of a specific formidable foe.

This is perhaps a natural evolution from, say, the display of enemy ship rams on war monuments and their appearance on the coins.

The later evolution of this phenomenon is well discussed by Claire Rowan.

On this topic also see this newer post.

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.