Omphalos and Snake: Shared Iconography

Reverse of RRC 348/4. 1974.26.25

I’m really stuck on this Alföldi article.  [See yesterday’s post for references.]  He makes the assertion that the snake on an omphalos is the iconography of Apollo, not Aesculapius.  He uses Etruscan cinerary urns as comparative evidence:


Yet these visual examples do not specifically link the image to Apollo they only show Italic usage. The image is clearly Delphic as Alföldi asserts.  A point illustrated by the late 4th century Amphictonic Hemidrachms:


But this is by no means exclusive.  The same reverse type was used at Pergamon after 133 BC to celebrate Aesculapius as Soter (savior):

Reverse of Bronze Coin, Pergamum. 1944.100.43256

Aesculapius has been a popular interpretation of the allusions on L. Rubrius Dossenus’ coins because of literary testimony of a plague in 87 BC.  However, if Apollo is meant than these coins might be linked to the Veiovis  / Apollo coins of the Marians.  The interpretation of which remains controversial:

Wiseman T. P. (2009). Remembering the Roman People: Essays on Late Republican Politics and Literature. Oxford, 72-78; contra RRC and Luce, T. J. (1968). “Political Propaganda on Roman Republican Coins: Circa 92-82 B. C.” American Journal of Archaeology 72.1: 25-39.

145 out of 410 days: Argos Panoptes?

Obverse of RRC 348/6. 2012.34.10

This as of L. Rubrius Dossenus (c. 87 BC) has, instead of the standard Janus, a janiform head combining Hercules and Mercury.  Alföldi connects this image, not to the palestra hermerakles imagery representing sound mind and sound body, but instead to a rather unusual vase image.  (See yesterday’s post for bibliographical citation).



The thing to notice is that the body of the figure is covered in eyes.  This is the standard means of depicting Argos Panoptes, the giant covered in uncountable eyes set to guard Io and killed by Hermes.  He is the mythological representation of the ever vigilant watcher.

A more recent monograph on the Polygnotos painter questions whether the standard identification of the figures (i.e. Hermes slaying Argos to free Io) on this most unusual vase are correct given how much it diverges from the standard representation:


Maybe this is not Hermes or Io, I grant their iconography isn’t typical, but Panoptes is surely intended on the vase given how his body is covered with eyes.  Perhaps we’re not seeing the right Argos Panoptes narrative here; the scholia on Euripides knew of other adventures in which he was a more positive protector, even if the vast majority of literary accounts are on Io.  There is even an early suggestion that Argos only had 4 eyes like a Janiform god:

Hesiod or Cercops of Miletus, Aegimius Frag 5 :
“And [Hera] set a watcher upon her [Io], great and strong Argos, who with four eyes looks every way. And the goddess stirred in him unwearying strength: sleep never fell upon his eyes; but he kept sure watch always.”

Is Alföldi’s suggestion plausible?  Maybe.  The vase certainly isn’t the standard representation but it is of Italic origin and we may be missing other key evidence.  That said, the vast majority of viewer would have been more familiar with the palestra imagery. Cf.  Cicero’s reference to wanting such a statue (ad Att. 1.10.3):


We imagine this would be something like this:

Double-Headed herm Bust

Or like this one in the Boston MFA Collection:

That it is the two individual deities combined in one image which is intended on the coin seems to me to be more likely, given that the inclusion of the attributes of both in the design.  This is not that visible on the specimen, but is noted by Crawford and can be seen on this coin of Andrew McCabe:


See how a club and caduceus jut out on either side below the chin and above the shoulder.

Why did Alföldi find the Argus explanation so attractive?  It allowed him to connect the coin to contemporary politics especially the vigilance of the Marians in anticipation of Sulla’s return.  (He dates the series to 86 BC.)

All that said it is also possible the Cicero/Palestra theory is a red herring.  Cicero might not have meant double herms but instead statues like this:

A little later aside (11/11/13): In that way that so often happens, I came across an odd coin with slightly similar imagery today.  Perhaps, I noticed it because I’d been looking at these janiform/bifrons heads yesterday.  I’m putting it up just so I have a note of it, should it ever prove relevant:

Another potential piece of comparative evidence (found 23/12/13):

Listed on Flickr as:

Janus-herm with addorsed head of Pan [or Zeus Ammon?] and Hercules, Marble, Roman, 1st c. CE; George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, 51.2002.10; Springfield, Massachusetts,  Gift from the Estate of Dr. Melvin N. Blake and Dr. Frank Purnell

Update 30/1/2014: Discussing Janiform head could also lead to an investigation of this sort of object:

Terracotta aryballos (oil-bottle) in the form of two heads, one male, one female. An imitation of an East Greek type.

3/22/14 update: Compare the coinage of Volaterrae with the image of Argos on the vase painting above. Note in particular the hat and the club:

Etruria, Volaterrae, Dupondius circa 225-215, æ 259.55 g. Janiform head, wearing pointed cap. Rev. FELAQRI Club; on either side, mark of value II. H. pl. 83, 1. Syd. 305. TV 85. Ex CNG 29, The Thurlow collection, 1992, 69 and NAC 10, 1997, 287 sales.

Also of interest is the iconography of the Etruscan god, ‘Culsans’:



Note that the official museum catalogue website describes the headdress on this statue as a wild animal skin.

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.