Representing the Defeated Enemy, or the Appropriation of Symbols

First a little context:

To my mind one of the most interesting aspects of the secondary marks on the early denarius, victoriatus and related issues is when they begin to experiment with different types of secondary symbols.  Most of the secondary symbols that appear on the coinage of the Hannibal War had already been in use as control marks on the didrachm series with Roma and Victory (RRC 22): cornucopia, crescent, caduceus, anchor, rudder, dolphin, star, pentagram, club, corn-ear, wreath, and so on…. These are relatively common symbols into which its dangerous to read too much particular meaning.   Other issues are signed by the responsible magistrates, most certainly on Sardinia (RRC 63-65) and Sicily (RRC 7475).    I particularly like how we can see the development towards longer abbreviations on Sardinia. The praetor of 211 BC just uses the first letter of his nomen, ‘C’ for L. Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 63).  The praetor of 210 uses two letters, ‘MA’ for P. Manlius Vulso (RRC 64).  And finally in 209, the praetor C. Aurunculeius uses three letters ‘AVR’ (RRC 65).  We don’t know the position or identity of the Sicilian magistrates, C.VAR and C.AL, but c. 209-208 they choose to use their praenomen initial, as well as an abbreviation of their nomen.  This type of signing of issues by junior officials will become standard at Rome in the future.  We can look to the signed Egadi rams for a possible comparable phenomenon.  On other issues the letters seem to be used to designate the place of issue rather than a magistrate, such as at Luceria, Canusium and Corcyra (RRC 97-98A, 100, 101).  The place names and magistrates names may simply be thought of as functional elements for the purposes of identifying the source and/or authority behind the issue.  We need not read them as acts of self-aggrandizement.

Then there are the other abbreviations the resolution of which is more controversial: are they indicating magistrates or places? (e.g. RRC 92-95).   We can easily find places to match the abbreviations, but then fitting those places as possible mints into the historical narrative of the Hannibalic War becomes very problematic.  I’m not proposing to resolve these difficulties here.

It has long been recognized that the wheat-ear functions as symbol of Sicily on certain issues.   More interesting are some of the more ‘creative’ symbols used by the Sicilian mint, one’s we’re not absolutely positive about their identification.  A possible bit-drill (so Hersh for RRC 77) and measuring stick (RRC 78) and the pick-ax that might be a canting pun (RRC 73), but also isn’t that different from the ceremonial hammer found on coins from central Italy (RRC 59).   Then there is also the very odd serrated issue of denarii with a wheel (RRC 79).  Did the Sicilian mint have a fashion for practical tools as symbols?  Why?

On to the meat of the matter:

The Sicilian symbols help us see that there was room for experimentation with the range of symbols.  The introduction of three new symbols onto the coinage stand out in particular: the torque, the falcata, and the carnyx and shield.  None of these elements are typical elements in Hellenistic art, but are instead identifying attributes of Roman enemies, especially elements that the Roman troops actually encountered on the battlefield.  Both the torque and the carnyx appear frequently enought on the republican series and other media to make them familiar symbols to numismatists and art historians alike.  That said, their first appearance on the coinage is noteworthy.  These issues borrow a symbol of the enemy and display it on the coinage like a trophy of war, the appropriation of the symbol representing the defeat of the fearsome aggressor.   The torque victoriatus is very rare (RRC 91/1a; two in the BM and one in trade). Frankly, if we didn’t have a preconceived idea of what a torque looked like it would be a difficult symbol to decode, looking rather like an omega.   The carnyx and Gallic shield is far more common and the iconography beyond dispute (RRC 128; examples in trade, ANS specimens).  The falcata is called a knife by Crawford, but as one independent scholar has recognized, the republican coins are clearly representing the typical Iberian weapon.

File:Falcata íbera (M.A.N. Madrid) 03.jpg
Discovered in 1867 in Almedinilla (Province of Córdoba, Andalusia, Spain). Now in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain.

The falcata is depicted in Iberian funerary art as well (Blázquez 1988: 506; cf. Osuna relief).  It’s two occurrences on Roman coins should be seen as akin to depictions of carnyx, i.e. as appropriated symbols of the defeated enemy.


Reverse of RRC 120/1. 1988.82.15
Reverse of RRC 120/1. ANS 1988.82.15.
Reverse of RRC 109/1. 1991.7.3
Reverse of RRC 109/1. ANS 1991.7.3.

All of this is important because, taken together, these three types represent a critical development in the ‘money as monument’ phenomenon at Rome.  Just as actual torques, carnyces, shields, and falcatae were displayed in Rome as the spoils of war –dedicated in temples and hung on the houses of the generals as lasting testimony to the victories — so too the alien symbols on the coinage testify to the defeat of a specific formidable foe.

This is perhaps a natural evolution from, say, the display of enemy ship rams on war monuments and their appearance on the coins.

The later evolution of this phenomenon is well discussed by Claire Rowan.

On this topic also see this newer post.

The Quaestor and his General

So I was reading about Tiberius Gracchus and came across the account of his dealings with the Numantines in Plutarch’s Life:

After this campaign he was elected quaestor, and had the fortune to serve in a war against Numantia under the consul Caius Mancinus, who was not bad as a man, but most unfortunate of the Romans as a general. Therefore in the midst of unexpected misfortunes and adverse circumstances not only did the sagacity and bravery of Tiberius shine forth all the more, but also — and this was astonishing — the great respect and honour in which he held his commander, who, under the pressure of disasters, forgot even that he was a general. For after he had been defeated in great battles, he attempted to abandon his camp and withdraw his forces by night; but the Numantines became aware of his attempt and promptly seized his camp. Then they fell upon his men as they fled, slew those who were in the rear, encompassed his whole army, and crowded them into regions that were full of difficulties and afforded no escape. Mancinus, despairing of forcing his way to safety, sent heralds to the enemy proposing a truce and terms of peace; 3 but the enemy declared that they had confidence in no Roman save only Tiberius, and ordered that he should be sent to them. They had this feeling towards the young man not only on his own account (for he was held in very high esteem by the Numantine soldiery), but also because they remembered his father Tiberius, who waged war against the Spaniards, and subdued many of them, but made a peace with the Numantines, to the observance of which with integrity and justice he always held the Roman people.  So Tiberius was sent and held conference with the enemy, and after getting them to accept some conditions, and himself accepting others, effected a truce, and thereby manifestly saved the lives of twenty thousand Roman citizens, besides attendants and camp followers.

This outstripping of one’s commander in diplomacy seems so oddly reminiscent of Sulla receiving Jugurtha’s surrender while Marius’ Quaestor.  Then there is also Scaurus’ claim to have defeated Aretas of Nabatea while Pompey’s proquaestor.  How odd is all this behavior? We could throw into the mix testimony of the decree of Lampsacus honoring their ambassador Hegesias.  Hegesias travels nearly the breadth of the Mediterranean in his efforts to secure Roman favors for his city.  He leave no stone unturned and is usually quoted for his use of kinship diplomacy mythical and otherwise.  For our purposes though we should note that he takes very seriously his diplomatic engagement with a quaestor, even after having dealt with higher ranking officials.

Update 28/11/2013: Or maybe it is a literary topos?  Consider the same characterization by Plutarch of Gaius Gracchus‘ actions in Sardinia as Orestes quaestor.  I owe the reference to the discussion by Garnsey and Rathbone in JRS 1985.  They emphasize how Gaius may have borrowed from his experience as quaestor in his grain legislation.

Update 5/7/2014: Here’s another instance of possible interest.  Snippet from Brennan, Praetorship (2000) 226: