Doliola, yet again


In the past, I have been so interested in why Crawford’s 1971 interpretation of RRC 290/1 was wrong that until today I think I missed all that was right and interesting about his argument after one throws out the iconography portions.

I think he’s really on to something to link the traditions around the two Doliola especially as reported by Plutarch to the Dioscuri and their amphorae in Italic and Spartan imagery.  This is a very smart and convincing hypothesis.

Here’s a basic run down:

More examples of the iconographic link between amphorae and Dioscuri:



238 out of 410 days: A Fashion for Ships

One shouldn’t really talk about those Fonteian coins as I was doing yesterday without adding in this coin of Q. Lutatius Cerco (quaestor, but whose quaestor?).  It was minted between the two other issues with full ship reverses.  It is given by Crawford a historical not legendary interpretation.  It’s seen as a celebration of the navel victory of C. Lutatius Catulus in 241 BC.  It clearly inspired by the first Fonteian coin and in turn inspires the design of the second.  The element it adds to the design are the overlapping shields above the oars.  This is a feature also seen on sculptural reliefs.  The reason this seems important to me is that the supposed doliolum of symbolic importance on the stern of the second Fonteian coin, looks to me as just another shield added for decoration:

Silver coin.

On some specimens like this one that haven’t been rubbed smooth it even seems to have the same line decoration.  I’ve not been able to find a parallel of a shield placed in this position on a ship depicted in other media. (Largely because looking for one is a distraction from the book!)

I should have also brought the Lutatius coin into my previous discussion of prow stems.

Postscript.  Do those two big stars on Roma’s helmet recall the dioscuri/penates?  Notice the stars over the Penates heads on Mn. Fonteius’ coin.

Update 2/12/14:  

Reverse of RRC 342/7b. 1969.83.492


Notice the dioscuri caps in front of the prows on this rather rare variation on the standard design of the as.  There is a victory palm above.  Perhaps further evidence that there is some association between navel victory (victories?) and the Dioscuri?

Update 4/29/14: Compare the placement of the rear shield on this representation:

Link to Getty Cast of Roman Bireme without a stern shield but with a similar stern terminus.

Another Getty Image.

and another.


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.

237 out of 410: Similar Images, Different Interpretations?

This is a lovely example of the coin of C. Fonteius.  Notice the care taken with the details.  The dog or wolf’s head on the ram about prow is particularly impressive.  It’s even clearer on this specimen.  The ship has been given a crew and a prominent helmsman.  The rudder is emphasized as is the aplustre and the fillets off of it.  His brother or cousin Mn. Fonteius made a similar coin a few years later:

The is another version of this second issue that looks a little different:

Silver coin.

My unscientific survey suggests there are fewer of these in trade today, even though the British Museum has a number of examples.  The differences are small, but significant. PP is added to the obverse, resolved Penates Publici.   The other difference is the oval shape in the stern of the ship.  Crawford in 1971 identified this as a doliolum containing the sacra of Troy and hypothesized a connection between the Dioscuri, the penates publici and these sacra.

I find this plausible if not one hundred percent certain.  My issue comes with the identification of RRC 290/1 the earlier coin.  Crawford happily extends the Dioscuri interpretation back to the janiform head on 290, but gives a completely different reading of the ship.  He sees it as connected to Telegonus the founder of Tusculum’s overseas origins.  This seem a stretch.  The two coins produced in the same family with nearly identical images should, I think, have the same explanation.  If one represents the arrival of the sacra from Troy, so does the other.

Here’s the comparative image Crawford discusses:


Update 2/11/14:

The three quarters perspective used on RRC 307/1 is a familiar style for depicted Roman galleys in Pompeian frescoes:

Roman Galleys


How early were the Penates associated with the Aeneas narrative?  Apparently some time before the third century at least:


Leaving Roma Behind

On the denarius series the reverse is more flexible than the obverse and we see more variation soon there.  The first big break in the design of both is likely to be this type of c. 137 or 136 BC:

This type can be seen as borrowing from earlier Roman coin types and is thus at once a radical change and a conservative choice.  [Note that Mattingly thinks this is the second big change in the reverse, hypothesizing that the coins with the wolf, twins, Faustulus and fig tree where made the previous year (2004: 214).]  It will be nearly two decades before the obverse changes again this time borrowing from the bronze coinage, i.e. keeping the choice in the familiar repertoire:

Obverse of RRC 281/1. 1944.100.561

Then, about five years on another Janiform head:

Obverse of RRC 290/1. 1941.131.96


This feels again like a throw back to to earlier silver designs on Roman diadrachms and the reverse of a ship makes the whole type echo the standard Janus/prow type of the as.  The same year, or perhaps the next year, this unusual obverse appears:

Obverse of RRC 291/1. 1944.100.3323


Does the legend identify this female divinity as Roma in a different guise that we’ve seen her previously?  Maybe.  Or perhaps another goddess entirely is intended.

The next year sees even more experimentation on the obverse:

Obverse of RRC 292/1. 1944.100.599

Obverse of RRC 293/1. 1992.41.10


From this point onward — 113/112 if you want to follow Crawford, 110 Mattingly — the obverse design remains flexible and expressive just as the reverse had been since c. 137.  Conservative types re occur throughout the series on both obverse and reverse, but after the mid seventies (RRC 387/1) the Roma and biga combination fails to re occur again together.  In fact after this Roma appears more often on the reverse than the obverse.  She’s not seen on the obverse again until 53BC (RRC 435/1)!