Different Trumpets for Different Troops

To add to the confusion the sound of a trumpet was heard from the theatre. It was a Roman trumpet which the conspirators had procured for the purpose, and being blown by a Greek who did not know how to use it, no one could make out who gave the signal or for whom it was intended.

I’d like to read up one day on the use of musical instruments in warfare and variations among different ancient peoples.  And I just find this bit of Livy (25.10) describing Hannibal’s taking of Tarentum rather amusing.

Sambuca, Siege Engine and Musical Instrument


One of my favorite activities when teaching Hellenistic warfare is to have students try to draw the siege engine that Polybius describes for the siege of Syracuse.  The passage is below.  I think its a useful way to build students ability to visual and engage with the text they are reading.  Anyway.  I’ve been wanting a Republican period image of a sambuca for many years to add to the lesson plan.  And Lo! The musical instrument appears as control mark on the Papius series.  I could get really obsessed with the Papius symbols.  Must resist today.

4 1 Meanwhile Marcellus was attacking Achradina from the sea with sixty quinqueremes, each of which was full of men armed with bows, slings, and javelins, meant to repulse those fighting from the battlements. 2 He had also eight quinqueremes from which the oars had been removed, the starboard oars from some and the larboard ones from others. These were lashed together two and two, on their dismantled sides, and pulling with the oars on their outer sides they brought up to the wall the so‑called  “sambucae.” 3 These engines are constructed as follows. 4 A ladder was made four feet broad and of a height equal to that of the wall when planted at the proper distance. Each side was furnished with a breastwork, and it was covered in by a screen at a considerable height. It was then laid flat upon those sides of the ships which were in contact and protruding a considerable distance beyond the prow. 5 At the top of the masts there are pulleys with ropes, and when they are about to use it, they attach the ropes to the top of the ladder, and men standing at the stern pull them by means of the pulleys, while others stand on the prow, and supporting the engine with props, assure its being safely raised. After this the towers on both the outer sides of the ships bring them close to shore, and they now endeavour to set the engine I have described up against the wall. 8 At the summit of the ladder there is a platform protected on three sides by wicker screens, on which four men mount and face the enemy resisting the efforts of those who from the battlements try to prevent the Sambuca from being set up against the wall. 9 As soon as they have set it up and are on a higher level than the wall, these men pull down the wicker screens on each side of the platform and mount the battlements or towers,10 while the rest follow them through theSambuca which is held firm by the ropes attached to both ships. 11 The construction was appropriately called a Sambuca, for when it is raised the shape of the ship and ladder together is just like the musical instrument.

BM 2002,0102.3986, RRC 408/1

The VB signature

VB series. Victoriatus, uncertain mint circa 211-208, AR 3.34 g. Laureate head of Jupiter r. Rev. Victory crowning
trophy; in lower field, VB ligate and in exergue, ROMA. Sydenham 113. Crawford 95/1a. NAC 61 (05/10/2011) lot 396 .

So I love maps and I was just adding a beautiful map from Fronda’ Between Carthage and Rome to yesterday’s post when I notice a place called Vibinum.  I’ll happily admit its not a topographical location whose historical significance I’ve ever considered, although modern Bovino is quite pretty indeed.  Here’s Fronda on its possible position during the 2nd Punic War (2010: 86 n. 152):


It occurs to me that of the VB series whose mint is usually listed as unknown is found in large numbers in the Canosa hoard.  Anyway. VB is probably just some junior official.  No coins of Vibinum are known or much else about it for that matter!  Just thought I’d share the wild speculation for kicks. (And because the specimen above is just so beautiful!)


When Mommsen attributed this type to Vibo Valentia, he did not have the benefit of any strong dating evidence.  Vibo was not founded until 192 (planned 194; Livy 34.53 and 35.39) and once it was founded it used Valentia on its coins not Vibo.

Some Habits at SE Italian Mints? Signing Quaestors and Overstriking?

HN Italy 718. Venusia. ‘double-nummus’. Image from Burnett, ‘La monetazione di Venosa…’ (1991), 4.1.

This post is hot on the heels of the last.  There is a lot going on in the numismatic world of SE Italy during the Hannibalic War.  I wish I had a copy of Marchetti’s Histoire économique et monétaire de la deuxième querre punique (1975) to hand.  I can’t let go my concerns about the CA series and its attribution to Canusium, especially when the Latin colony Venusia just 40km up the same river valley and on the Via Appia (the better road!) was Marcellus’ base of operations and thus hosting many soldiers in need of payment. So I thought I’d peak at the Venusian coins–I can’t type Venusian without smirking and thinking of hippy-dippy alien theorists–but in all seriousness I observe a couple of things:

  • The quincunx, teruncius, biunx, and sescuncia are all reported as being overstruck on other issues (HN Italy 720-723).
  • The coin above is signed by a quaestor with the initials CA.

No this isn’t  a smoking gun, but if I was a Roman general looking for a mint in the Aufidus region I think I’d pick a colony near a troop base on a main road, even if they were a little lazy about not recasting flans.

Burnett, and HN Italy following Burnett, read GA.Q, not CA.Q, but C/G are pretty much the same letter form in this period and most subsequent ones.  The letter forms are different from the CA on Roman coins and I can’t actually bring myself to say RRC 100 is actually close in ‘style’ to any of the Venusian specimens I’ve looked at.

This is not the only coin in the region that seems to be signed by a quaestor.  Reportedly (I’ve not seen an image) Naples, S.2219 = HN Italy Brundisium 749 reads M.PV Q.   Brundisium is also a Latin colony and a major military staging post in this period of the second Hannibalic War.  In fact it seems THE major port and certainly M. Valerius Laevinus’ original base before he started his cross Adriatic shenanigans.   Brundisium’ coinage is signed by a bunch of magistrates.  And most of M.PV’s coins aren’t labelled with a Q.

These two instances of quaestors at Latin colonies got me thinking about quaestors and coinage more generally.  As I’ve said before, there isn’t a lot of evidence on 3rd century quaestors generally and that part of what made the signed Egadi rams special, but here are two more quaestors.

Are they local quaestors?  Probably, the lex Osca Bantina of the late second early first century BC mentions quaestors in its list of magistrates and it is thought to derive from an earlier Venusian prototype (Bispham 2007: 142-152, p. 143 n. 124 lists other examples of Italian communities borrowing the structure of Rome’s magistracies).  That said, Badian in his 1975 article on the quaestorship spent a lot of time thinking about the Roman expansion of the quaestorship and the growth and change of the coinage system.  These two minor examples might lend a little weight to the idea of a third century connection between coinage and quaestors.  And might help point the way towards how we should be thinking about some of the unidentified signatures on Roman series. …   Early posts on quaestors.

Yes, I’m still laughing about ‘Venusian’:

A useful map:

From Fonda, Between Rome and Carthage (CUP 2010): xx; note especially the indication of the limits of river navigation!

A slightly clearer image of the coin above taken from Carroccio 2008:


The Adventures of Laevinus


Yesterday I spent nearly the whole day worrying about M. Valerius Laevinus and his adventures of 215-210 BC.  That is from when he was sent to the Adriatic to keep Philip occupied until his return to Rome to accept the consulship.  It was a good day.  I even reread an essay I wrote as a grad student in November 1998.  I knew things then apparently that I no longer know.  So strange.  I rather like the me of sixteen years ago.  Anyway.  The reason is of course to figure out how the coins sit along side the narrative evidence.  The two issues in question are RRC 100 and RRC 101.  There is no doubt that Laevinus’ career resulted in the production of these coins.

Reverse of RRC 100/3. 1944.100.200
Reverse of RRC 100/3. ANS 1944.100.200.
Quinarius, Corcyra (?) 211-210, AR 2.12 g. Helmeted head of Roma r.; behind, V. Rev. The Dioscuri galloping r.; below, monogram KPO – ΓA ligate. Sydenham 185. Crawford 101/2. Ex NFA sale XXVII, 1991, 256. NAC 61 (5/10/2011) lot 451
Victoriatus, Corcyra (?) 211-210, AR 2.50 g. Laureate head of Jupiter r. Rev. Victory crowning trophy; in
centre field, monogram KOR and in outer r. field, GA ligate. Sydenham 118. Crawford 101/1. Privately purchased from Alex J. Malloy in 1980. NAC 61 (5/10/11) lot 450

The triens of the CA series is regularly overstruck on coins of Oeniadae and the Acarnanian League (Crawford 1974: p. 115, table XVIII, entry 91, specimens a-t and entry 95, specimens a-i).  Laevinus sacked Oeniadae and a host of other Acarnanian places in the immediate follow up to his radical diplomatic arrangement with the Aetolian League.  He had a base on Corcyra and the KOR ligature on the silver is also found on Corcyra’s own coinage:

Drachm. Head of Aphrodite l., KOP monogram behind. Rv. Pegasos flying l. 2.40 grams. BMC 378. Ex Lockett Collection.

Other specimens of Corcyra, here.  Besides the map above, I also pulled together the literary sources on Laevinus’ exploits [links to PDF of translations].

The thing that has me a bit concerned is the association of the CA with Canusium.  Canusium had a mint but it used KA on its own coins. The style of RRC 100 is similar to Luceria, where a bent bar L was used on both earlier local coinage and Roman issues from the same mint.   Crawford follows Bahrfeldt ZfN 1895: 87 who in the style of his time says no more than:

“Die Heimath der letzteren ist ohne Frage Canusium, in deren Gegend noch jetzt vielfach Stücke dieser Art gefunden werden und auf welchen Ort, als am Gestade des Adriatischen Meeres gelegen”.

“The home of the latter is without question Canusium in whose area pieces of this type are found even now in many cases and also at the site itself, as by the shores of the Adriatic Sea”.

I’m hoping that the new valle dell’Orfanto project can provide confirmation of these early observations.  I’m not surprised that the coins are found on the Adriatic or in SE Italy but I’d like more specific data before insisting that Canusium must be the mint rather than CA standing for, say, a magistrates’ name, such as we presume is represented by the ΓΑ on RRC 101.  Canusium does not seem an obvious location with Laevinus’ sphere of action especially between the sack Oeniadae his recall to Rome.

Also, we need to take the career of Laevinus into account when we consider the dating of the coins.  Based on Livy 26.24 and 26 (see PDF above) it seems pretty clear that Oeniadae was captured late in 211 (after Zakynthos and near in time to Nasus).  Winter 211/210 Laevinus is on Corcyra and spring 210 he attacks Anticyra before heading back to Rome.  So winter 211/210 is the likely date it seems to me of not only the RRC 101 issue, but also RRC 100.  At lastest spring 210 as Laevinus makes his way back to Rome.  To accept Crawford’s date of 209-208 for RRC 100 we have to imagine that after the bronze coins were taken in Laevinus’ raid, they were kept on ice for  between one and three years before being overstruck.  The date of c.209 for this issue is perhaps influenced over much by the literary testimony that Marcellus engaged with Hannibal near Canusium in this year.  But, Marcellus seems to have based for two winters at near by Venusia (a Latin colony, like Luceria), not Canusium itself.  Hannibal seems to have at least some hope of convincing Canusium to come over to his side in 209.

Would Canusium have been on Laevinus’ route back to Rome?  A loyal(ish) town at which to drop off some of the spoils of war for striking?  Maybe, assuming he stopped back at his base of Brundisium and took the fast overland route:

From p. 200 of Between Rome and Carthage by M. P. Fronda (CUP 2010).

But Livy tells us the general was “overtaken by a tedious illness, and consequently arrived in Rome much later than was expected”.  It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have used a litter.  Of course, there is no reason general and booty must stay together.  But it is hard to see the economy of transporting the bronze on a difficult road just to overstrike it…

317 out of 410 days: Private Commerce at the start of the Hannibalic War

 He further embittered the senate against him by his support of C. Claudius; he alone of all the members was in favour of the measure which that tribune introduced. Under its provisions no senator, no one whose father had been a senator, was allowed to possess a vessel of more than 300 amphorae burden. This was considered quite large enough for the conveyance of produce from their estates, all profit made by trading was regarded as dishonourable for the patricians. The question excited the keenest opposition and brought Flaminius into the worst possible odium with the nobility through his support of it, but on the other hand made him a popular favourite and procured for him his second consulship.  (Livy 21.63.3-4)

This passage not incorrectly gets cited widely as evidence about restrictions on Senators engaging in commerce (exempli gratia).  Nothing wrong with that.  The same chapter of Livy gets discussed most often for the narrative tradition that blames Flaminius for the disaster at Lake Trasimene in the Hannibalic War.  Flaminius brings down divine wrath by not following proper religious procedures in his second consulship, because he’s afraid the nobles angered by his restriction of their potential financial gain will block his leaving for his province by claiming bad auspices.  Thus, he sneaks out to his province as a privatus.   So, by extension the disaster at Trasimene is all a result of a consul supporting popular legislation.  Moral of the story: a factious nobility is a threat to the well-being of the state.  Not a bad Augustan age moral really.

But here’s my question.  Why, oh why, did some tribute or the electorate in general care a rat’s ass about senators engaging in commerce? What the heck made this legislation ‘popular’ in any sense? Why at this moment in time?  The Gauls had been quieted.  The Adriatic shipping ways were strongly in Roman control.  Sicily and Sardinia had standing governors.  The Romans still probably thought at this moment that imminent war with Carthage and the Barcids would be fought in Spain and Africa.  Is this Livy’s interpretation of a list of legislation, elections, and events?  Or someone else’s?  Perhaps restrictions on senatorial commerce could be seen as popular with the equites if there is any grounds for understanding them as a merchant class at this point in time, but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that reading.

[I got here as I was ruminating on the state of finances at Rome during the early years of the Hannibalic War.]

311 out of 410 days: Greek Coins in the West


So I was reading Pere Pau Ripollès’ fascinating ‘The X4 Hoard (Spain): Unveiling the Presence of Greek Coinages during the Second Punic War’ (2008) this morning. I fervently wish I’d read it before now.  The problem with real publication, rather than this blogging non-sense, is its not easy after the fact to rethink and amend and correct your former ideas.  Also real publication takes a very long time, so by the time it is out there for the world one’s intellectual engagement with the content has already moved on to something else or ‘evolved’ as Mr. Obama’s position has done on some issues.  I’m thinking about my piece in this book.  I’ll put a clean copy up on academia.edu one of these days.

Anyway.  Pere Pau Ripollès goes along way towards illuminating circulation of Greek coinage in the Western Mediterranean.  He tentatively still supports Crawford’s 1985 thesis that any Greek coins arrived with the Romans, although saying ‘this may be too categorical’.  I’m inclined to see the evidence he collects as requiring this hypothesis to be seriously re evaluated.  As he himself says in his conclusion the Greek coinage found in the hoards of Sicily are more similar to those in Spain than either is to Italy where there is a greater dearth of such Eastern coinages in the hoards.

One of the coins in Hoard X4 that he publishes is of the same type as that illustrated above.


This coin type, Crawford suggests, is the inspiration for the prows on Roman bronze series (See RRC p. 42 esp. n. 5; earlier post).  It’s nice then to see that some specimens did in fact reach the Western Mediterranean relatively swiftly after its production.

I also note the rendering of the ram on this type (red circle above) is not unlike that found on the Athlit Ram.

And, while were talking about things I said in print I no longer believe, I can’t stand by a 260s date for the Heracles and Wolf and Twins didrachm after all the reading I’ve done for this new book.  It fits better at the end of the First Punic War.  I’m not sure how much that messes with my use of it as comparative evidence in the chapter linked above, but it does have some impact…