251 out of 410 days: Back from Travels, Onto a New Chapter

A week of archaeological sites was a lovely break from writing. Yesterday and today have just been reading literature on file and looking over notes for the next chapter.  I thought I’d throw up this coin (HN Italy 2013) and Crawford’s 2002 comments:


From: M.H. Crawford, “Provenances, Attributions, and Chronology of Some Early Italian Coinages,” CH IX (2002), pg. 274.

I’m always nostalgic about this type.  I have strong memories of the first time I ‘found’ it in the old Ashmolean coin room and how much I loved bringing students in to see it and talk about its relationship to Roman types (RRC 28/3):


My favorite line out of this article of Crawford is certainly:

“It is no good simply lying in one’s bath and thinking that such-and-such an issue looks rather nice in such-and-such a year…”

I never dare do such a thing, but I did read this just as I was thinking how nice a bath sounded on a cold rainy Istanbul afternoon.  He startled me into keeping at my computer.  No bad thing.

The other Crawfordian gem of today’s readings was pretty much all of his 2009 article on aes signatum. Just to give a bit of the flavor, it begins “The term aes signatum seems to be taking an unconscionable time dying”  and contains a choice observation about “typical Anglo-Saxon insouciance about anything written in German, or even in French” followed by a pointed suggestion that in this case “maybe the insouciance was justified”.  (SNR 88 (2009): 195-197).

Dei Penates Publici and the Dioscuri

Obverse of RRC 455/2a. 1944.100.3299

So later in the day I’m still thinking about those pesky penates and their iconography.  The most indisputable example is from late in the Republican series, c.47 BC, the image above.  It has two heads side by side just like the earlier issues and labels them very clearly. Diadems instead of laurel crowns but otherwise very similar and clearly labeled.  The other time they appear on the obverse of a coin is just one year (according to Mattingly) after the Fonteius coin I discussed in the last post.  Notice the abbreviation DPP = Dei Penates Publici.

Obverse of RRC 312/1. 1937.158.28

One of the things that is said quite often is that the iconography of the DPP is elided with that of the Dioscuri.  The best proof of this is actually that Fonteius coin with its PP inscription and the stars over the foreheads.  The text passage that is usually cited is this one from Dionysius:

In this temple there are images of the Trojan gods which it is lawful for all to see, with an inscription showing them to be the Penates. They are two seated youths holding spears, and are pieces of ancient workmanship. We have seen many other statues also of these gods in ancient temples and in all of them are represented two youths in military garb. 

No mention of the Dioscuri here.  Just a visual description.  One that in fact sounds awfully like that which we see on this coin representing the Lares Praestites (early post):

Reverse of RRC 298/1. 1937.158.17

Then there is question of the degree to which we want to argue in reverse like this.  We’re basing (with good reason I think) each earlier image on the next more clearly labelled instance of the same iconography.  So the first Penates/Ship coin by a Fonteius (RRC 290/1) has a janiform laureate head not two jugate heads.  In this it looks quite a bit like this  MUCH early didrachm standard obverse:

Obverse of RRC 28/3. 1941.131.15

How do we know this earlier image is of the Dioscuri, not say the Dei Penates?

Then finally there is the issue of saying the Dioscuri connection the coins is an indication of their connection with Tusculum.  What do the Dioscuri have to do with Tusculum?  They were honored there but not really any more than other towns as far as I can tell.  Here’s the often cited Cicero passage:

“And what of those other instances? As when, for example, the statue of Apollo at Cumae and that of Victory at Capua dripped with sweat; when that unlucky prodigy, the hermaphrodite, was born; when the river Atratus ran with blood; when there were showers frequently of stone, sometimes of blood, occasionally of earth and even of milk; and finally, when lightning struck the statue of the Centaur on the Capitoline hill, the gates and some people on the Aventine and the temples of Castor and Pollux at Tusculum and of Piety at Rome — in each of these cases did not the soothsayers give prophetic responses which were afterwards fulfilled? And were not these same prophecies found in the Sibylline books?

The penates on the other hand are most often associated with Lavinium, if anywhere other than Rome.  And if the ship is carrying the Trojan gods to Italy on the reverse of those Fonteii coins, it seems like Tusculum might be the big red herring in the conversation.  Until we add in this aureus of 43 BC (as per Woytek’s Arma et nummi, 2003):

Gold coin.

The stars and pilei make clear the Dioscuri emphasis and the reverse is a most unusual representation of the walls of Tusculum with its main gate.  The walls and height of Tusculum was proverbial and usually linked to some legendary origin (Telegonus or Circe):  Hor. Ep. 1.29‐30. Ov. Fast. 3.92, Sil. Ital. 12.535, Hor. Od. 3.29.8, Prop. 2.32.4, and Sil. Ital. 7.692.  The representation is similar to but different from the DPP.  Does it help us resolve the Fonteian coins?  I’m not sure, but it keeps Tusculum strongly in the mix.

Update 4/16/2014:  Note this claim in Torelli 1995: 114:



Discussion of the inscription can be found here.

Lavinium - Lamina

Weinstock 1960 is here.

Key Bibliography: Galinsky 1969: 141-169.

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.