Roma Aeterna in the 3rd Century BC?

Reverse of RRC 39/4. ANS 1969.83.100.
Obverse of RRC 39/4. ANS 1969.83.100

So I don’t think I’ve ever thought particularly hard about this uncia type although the types of RRC 39 are exceptionally fascinating as a group (see my previous comments on the semiuncia).  I ended up here because I was trying to better understand the context of a passage in Dionysius today:

Yet this village [sc. Pallatium, Evander’s foundation,] was ordained by fate to excel in the course of time all other cities, whether Greek or barbarian, not only in its size, but also in the majesty of its empire and in every other form of prosperity, and to be celebrated above them all as long as mortality shall endure. (D. H. 1.31.3)

So this seems related to the idea of Rome as the Eternal City, but I realized I knew next to nothing about the origins of this concept.  Turns out its right in Dionysius’ own day with the earliest Latin articulation being Tibullus (c.55-19BC):

Romulus aeternae nondum formaverat urbis (Elegies 2.5.23)

This brought me to a survey article written in 1965 that included this intriguing paragraph on the iconography of aeternitas (p. 29):



I’m not endorsing (yet) this interpretation of the type, but it a sharp observation and a intriguing possibility I’d like to think about another day when I have more time!   From a numismatic perspective one would have to also consider in this context all the other republican issues which juxtapose the sun and the moon: RRC 309/1, 310/1, 390/1, 474/5, and 494/20b.

Update on 10/11/15:

Dionysius’ reception of the concept of Rome as the Eternal City is some what problematized by his version of the Marcus Curtius story as preserved in the fragmentary books (14.11).  He says Curtius had to throw himself into the gap to give Rome more strong young men.  Livy’s version instead says the self sacrifice will result in Rome being Eternal (7.5).  The date of book 7’s composition is debatable.

Update 10/12/15:  I want to think more about how Gowing’s argument may fit into all this:

Gowing, Alain M. – Rome and the ruin of memory. Mouseion (Canada) 2008 8 (3) : 451-467 ill. [rés. en franç.]. • The importance attached to buildings is reflected in Roman culture generally, but nowhere better documented than in the Augustan program of restoration. A significant portion of that program existed to preserve the legacy and memory of Rome as manifested in buildings. Yet Romans were aware that no building could last forever ; the impermanence of buildings, especially in comparison with the immortality conferred by literary endeavours, is a standard trope in Latin literature. The eternity to which the phrase « urbs aeterna » – first attested in the poetry of Tibullus and Ovid – refers does not reside in buildings, but in the timeless landscape Camillus remembers and describes in his speech in Livy 5, 54, 2-3.  [Abstract and Citation from L’Année Philologique]

88 out of 410 days: Seeing Too Much

Reverse Image

This reverse type has been the victim of too much speculation.  Crawford in RRC wants the type to be visual representation of the moneyer’s name.  The other type made at the same time by the same moneyer seems to pun on the constellation the Triones (a.k.a. the seven stars of the Plough a.k.a. the Big Dipper a.k.a. the Great Bear) and the moneyer’s cognomen:

To make a pun out of the winged boy on a dolphin Crawford had to speculate that it might represent Melicertes (a.k.a. Palaemon) and thus by extension his mother Leucothea whose name sounds like Lucretius.  This has then been spun into a legendary genealogy connecting the family to this goddess and tying the moneyer to Odysseus via a connection with Antium. [Hence how I found this in my notes today and thought I’d write it up as it’s unlikely to ever really make it into the book.]

The problem is that is that Melicertes is never represented with wings.  So says the LIMC (not just the website, I promise I checked the books as well on this).   That is just a regular little cupid (eros) on a dolphin.  A perfectly normal, completely common representation on gems, lamps, and dozens of other decorative art forms. One that appears on many coins as well:



And even on Roman coins:



The main problem with the tentative suggestion of Melicertes is not the speculative reconstructions above, but that by saying “winged boy” in the catalog entries of every major database it never returns in searches for “eros and dolphin”  or “cupid and dolphin” thus virtually erasing an important link in the history of the iconography.

Of course, Melicertes can be represented riding a dophin.  And there are lots of boys on dolphins, most famously at Tarentum.  But the wings rather make a difference!

As a fun aside:



Yep that’s George Washington!