A Little Ciceronian Fear-Mongering


One of Cicero’s lines of argument in his speeches on the tribune Rullus’ agrarian proposal is that “giving away” the Campanian land threatens the food security of Rome.  He makes a direct connection between the defeat of the law and the sustainability of the annona.  We should understand by the annona the structure set up by the lex terentia et cassia, which made available to some number of Roman citizens 5 modii of grain each month (about 33 kg) at a reduced price, about 2 denarii per 5 modii.   The rhetorical tactic sets the hope of self sufficiency against the prospect of impending hunger.  A clever, if dastardly, approach to the problem.

He only mentions it once in his speech to the senate:

I pass over those things which there is no one who cannot complain of with the greatest weight and the greatest truth; that we have not been able to preserve the most important part of the public patrimony of the state, that which has been to us the source of our supply of corn (subsidium annonae), our granary in time of war, our revenue placed under custody of the seals and bolts of the republic; that we, in short, have abandoned that district to Publius Rullus, which itself by its own resources had resisted both the absolute power of Sulla, and the corrupting liberality of the Gracchi.

He brings up the idea three times in his speech before the people.  The first time is a direct echo of the passage in the Senatorial speech, using much the same vocabulary:

Will you allow the most beautiful estate belonging to the Roman people—the main source of your riches, your chief ornament in time of peace, your chief source of supply in time of war, the foundation of your revenues, the granary from which your legions are fed, your consolation in time of scarcity (solacium annonae)—to be ruined? 

The following passages drive home the precarious nature of other grain sources and how they cannot be relied upon:

Asia for many years during the Mithridatic war produced you no revenue. There was no revenue from the Spains in the time of Sertorius. Manius Aquilius even lent corn to the Sicilian cities at the time of the Servile war. But from this tributary land no bad news was ever heard. Other of our revenues are at times weighed down by the distresses of war; but the sinews of war are even supplied to us by this tributary land.

And then the kicker comes at the end of the speech.  [Some translators have left out the critical passage in their rendering, so here’s the Latin first, followed by my own modification of the public domain translation]:

ego ex concordia quam mihi constitui cum conlega, invitissimis eis hominibus qui nos in consulatuinimicos esse et fore aiebant, providi omnibus, prospexi annonae, revocavi fidem, tribunis plebis denuntiavi <ne> quid turbulenti me consule conflarent. 

I, by the concord which I have established between myself and my colleague, have provided against those men whom I knew to be hostile to my consulship both in their dispositions and actions. I have provided for everything; I’ve taken care of the grain distributions; and I have re-established good faith. I have also given notice to the tribunes of the people, to try no disorderly conduct while I am consul.

There seems to be a none-too-veiled threat here.  “If you want to eat, trust me.”

I think this passages are important contextualization of two later developments in the year.  First, the choice of Brocchus for Ceres on the obverse of his coin and a ‘law and order’ reverse type, symbolism rather removed from that of the tribunes.

[One might here reflect on the success of Sulla to divorce the plebeian aedileship from its associations with the radical politics of the tribunes.]

Cicero setting the tone at the beginning of the year as one of anxiety over the grain supply, possibly needless anxiety, may also contextualize Cato’s radical proposal and success passing such a proposal at the very end of the year:

Lentulus and his associates were executed, and Caesar, in view of the charges and accusations made against him to the senate, took refuge with the people and was stirring up and attaching to himself the numerous diseased and corrupted elements in the commonwealth. Cato was therefore alarmed and persuaded the senate to conciliate the poor and landless multitude by including them in the distribution of grain, the annual expenditure for which was twelve hundred and fifty talents. By this act of humanity and kindness the threatening danger was most successfully dissipated. 

If there is a moral in this, perhaps it is that Cicero’s fear mongering might be considered to have backfired on him as it set the landscape for more radical action instead of a preservation of the satis quo.

186 out of 410 days: More on Aediles and the Coins

This type of 63 BC borrows design elements from both of these coins of the period when Cinna controlled Rome. They were minted between 86-84 BC depending on whose chronology one follows.  Here are the two forerunners:

These two forerunners are the first two types struck by aediles the first by plebeian aediles, the second by curule aediles.   They both clearly identify the office of the issuer(s) on the obverse.  They also show on the obverse a goddess whose festival was tasked to each respective pair of aediles: the games of Cybele were the responsibility of the Curule Aediles, the games of Ceres the Plebeian.  Both reserve types also show the type of ceremonial seat on which the magistrate conducted his official business.  The subsellium for the plebeian aediles, the curule chair for the curule aediles.  Both types could be read as reflecting the honors and duties of each magistracy.  Perhaps an emphasis on constitutionality in a period when the constitution was in such a so precarious position?

Fast forward to the 60s as the type of Brocchus draws inspiration from both.  This can be seen as confirmation of a change in the honors and status of the plebeian aediles under Sulla.  Lily Ross Taylor many years ago pointed out the necessity of assuming such a change based on this passage of Cicero:

Now I am aedile elect, I consider what it is that I have received from the Roman people; I consider that I am bound to celebrate holy games with the most solemn ceremonies to Ceres, to Bacchus, and to Libera; that I am bound to render Flora propitious to the Roman nation and people by the splendour of her games; that it is my office to celebrate those most ancient games, which were the first that were ever called Roman games, with the greatest dignity and with all possible religious observance, in honour of Juno, Jupiter, and Minerva; that the charge of protecting all the sacred buildings and the whole city is entrusted to me; that as a recompense for all that labour and anxiety these honours are granted to me,—an honourable precedence in delivering my opinion in the senate; a toga praetexta; a curule chair; a right of transmitting my image to the recollection of my posterity.

Before Lily set the record rights some had assumed Cicero must be mistaken about the nature of his own office.   Clearly by 69 BC plebeian aediles had been upgraded to a better chair than the hard-benched subsellium.  Sulla’s constitutional changes seem like a good time for such a change, as the coins clearly show us that the subsellium was still in use in the mid 80s and the Ciceronian passage tells us the practice had changed by 70BC.  Thus we’re limited to a 15 year window for the change.

Schafer’s 1989 dissertation points out that IF Brocchus’ coin commemorates an ancestor’s aedileship that aedileship must be that of his father’s because it must have been after the reforms of Sulla.   Perhaps that’s even why its worth commemorating?  Could his father have been the first such plebeian aedile to have curule chair and fasces?     

And why would an aedile have fasces anyway?  Schafer notes these passages from Dionysius of Halicarnassus:

After this they also returned thanks to the gods worshipped in the city, and prevailed upon the patricians to pass a vote for the confirmation of their new magistracy [i.e. the tribune of the plebs]. And having obtained this also, they asked further that the senate should allow them to appoint every year two plebeians to act as assistants to the tribunes in everything the latter should require, to decide such causes as the others should refer to them, to have the oversight of public places, both sacred and profane, and to see that the market was supplied with plenty of provisions. Having obtained this concession also from the senate, they chose men whom they called assistants and colleagues of the tribunes, and judges. Now, however, they are called in their own language, from one of their functions, overseers of sacred places or aediles, and their power is no longer subordinate to that of other magistrates, as formerly; but many affairs of great importance are entrusted to them, and in most respects they resemble more or less the agoranomoi or “market-overseers” among the Greeks. …

The superintendence and oversight of the sacrifices and games performed during this festival [The Latin Festival] was committed to the tribunes’ assistants, who held, as I said, the magistracy now called the aedileship; and they were honoured by the senate with a purple robe, an ivory chair, and the other insignia that the kings had had.

This puts a lot of weight on the very last passage and the unspecified “other insignia” and the assumption that must include the fasces.  Dio was writing in the Age of Augustus and must seen plebeian aediles with the honors such as Cicero describes in the post Sullan period and then retrojected these back onto the earliest days of Roman history.  OR, he’s just saying they had these honors for the games but not their other duties…  In which case we need not assume any change under Sulla.

Why an aedile would have axes on his fasces is a mystery to me.  Their sphere of responsibilities were very much inside the pomerium.  The only explanation I can think of is Feriae Latinae the festival being held on the Alban Mount would take the aediles out of the city in their official capacity.  Perhaps that is where the axes come in.

Brocchus’ type was itself mimicked later, but not to symbolize the aedileship!  L. Livinius Regulus modifies it (without axes in the fasces) to symbolize his father’s praetorship, and perhaps also his own turn as Praefectus Urbi.

Finally, I’m interested in the fact that Brocchus is one of the earliest moneyers to feel it worthwhile to add IIIVir on his coinage to make clear his own magistracy.  Other pre-49 issues to do this are RRC 401, 407, 411, 413, 437.  IIIVir (or IIIIVir after Caesar increases the number) are more common during the Civil Wars: 440, 442, 444, 454, 463, 364, 472, 480,  484, 494, 525.   Crawford describes this as a whim of the moneyer, but I’d suggest that like the aedile labels above.  The emphasis on authority suggests a general concern for constitutionality in a time of constitutional crisis or at least destabilization.

In the case of Brocchus it seems that labelling his office helps remove any speculation that he might himself be the aedile to which the types refer.  I find it hard to believe that the type is ‘aspirational’  suggesting honors he wants but has not yet received.

The use of the curule chair as a symbol in its own right follows on from representations of the subsellium with figures seated on it.  The removal of the figures and the use of a just an object as a symbol seems to make the types refer more to the institution rather than the individual.

Unfortunate Roman Names

We’ve talked about Roman names a bit and how they can be the inspiration of visual puns on coins.  There is no pun today.  Just a really unfortunate rather common cognomen.  Brocchus.

Bucktooth.  As in, “Hey Mr. Bucktooth get in here!”  Just unfortunate.  I guess it isn’t any worse than Balbus, the Stammerer.   But really it isn’t very nice.

Do you know what else isn’t nice?  Stereotypes.  Especially, racial stereotypes.  The new Google image search seems perfectly designed to help re enforce and educate us all about common stereotypes.  Case in point:


I know this is result of the algorithm that suggests just what other people commonly search for and click on, but how deeply sad and unfortunate.

Here’s Mr. Bucktooth’s coin from 63BC who inspired this post.

And while we’re at it.  I really hope his father wasn’t THIS Gnaeus Furius Brocchus:


Disappearing Axes

Reverse Image

Fasces are bundles of rods that symbolizes the authority and dignity of a magistrate. (I find Drogula pretty convincing with how he nuances their function and meaning.) What seems uncontroversial is that fasces with axes were carried outside the pomerium (the sacred boundary of the city) and without axes inside the city. The difference being that when one commanded troops one had more summary authority than in a civic context. Marshall makes a relevant point about the understanding of the symbolism, especially in relation to the axes themselves:



He then advocates a very practical reading that both the axes and rods were actually used for punishment and executions and thus any symbolism would be a reaction to their use. Above is the first use of the symbol on the Roman coin series in 83 BC by a partisan of Cinna, Norbanus. This was followed shortly by this coin of 81 BC:

Reverse Image

And then this one later in 63 BC:

Reverse Image

Even on this famous scene of the first consul of 509BC, struck 54 BC, the fasces all have axes:

Reverse Image

And then the next time they show up in 44 BC, the Axes are removed:

Reverse Image

And it stays gone during the ensuing Civil Wars:

Reverse Image

Somewhere in the Wars between Caesar and Pompey Axes went out of symbolic fashion…


I didn’t mention this coin of c. 70/69 BC because I just don’t think Roma is holding fasces. I think it’s a scepter and we can see the hilt of her sword as well. It’s just not how you hold a set of fasces and the two ends are differentiated as on other types. There is no stripping on any specimens to suggest rods are being portrayed:

Silver coin.