Roma and the Parazonium

Crawford 403
Q. Fufius Calenus and Mucius Cordus. Denarius serratus 70, AR 3.98 g. Jugate heads of Honos and Virtus r. Rev. Italia, holding cornucopia, and Roma, holding fasces and placing r. foot on globe, clasping their hands; at side, winged caduceus. Babelon Fufia 1 and Mucia 1. Sydenham 797. Crawford 403/1. NAC 54, lot 922.

Crawford called the object in Roma’s left hand on this coin a fasces.  This doesn’t make a huge amount of sense as one doesn’t carry fasces in the crook of one’s arm, but instead with the axe high over one’s shoulder.  The classic example is the Brutus coin (RRC 433/1).  Moreover the republican coin series has a pretty definite iconography of what fasces should look like on a coin and specimens of RRC 403/1 just don’t fit the type.  The long stick may well be a scepter.  This would make some sense, if one agrees that those fillets off Roma’s head indicate she’s wearing a diadem. The diadem and the scepter probably deserve a post of their own, exploring particularly the appropriation of Hellenistic regal iconography for the personification of Roma.  Alternatively, the fillets may be only the fillets of a victory crown without any regal connotations. For now, however, I’m just concerned with the little blob circled in red above.

This is likely to be a parazonium. What, one might ask, is a parazonium?  Well, besides being a numismatic term for iconography better known from the imperial period, it is a dagger or short sword worn on the left hand side off the girdle. Our only literary testimony is Martial Epigrams 14.32:

Capture Capture1

The word itself is derived from the Greek, although it is pretty rare in Greek texts as well: in the TLG it shows up only in a fifth century CE lexicon and one equally late hagiography.  I don’t think this type is our earliest examples of Roma with a parazonium; it’s already part of her iconography on RRC 335/1 (one example, another example) and probably also on RRC 391/3.  What this type does do nicely is suggest that the parazonium is already perhaps a linking piece of iconography between virtus and Roma.  On the imperial coinage by the time of Nero the parazonium is a common attribute for reverse personifications of virtus.

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:

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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…

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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.