Pigs and Fides

This is an idea that grew out of my last post which spiraled into tessera hospitalis, tokens of friendshipIt makes good sense that we have ones in the shape of joined hands.  The dextrarum iunctio was a common symbol of concordia and fides.  But what is up with all the half animals?  I think that it is likely to represent the animal sacrificed in the creation of the union.  I would also hypothesize that pigs are popular in this private domestic context for the same reason that we see pigs being used to seal a foedus.

Allow me to remind you of some famous numismatic pigs:


And sows:



Image result for social war oath

Troublesome Quadrupeds

Silver coin.
RRC 123/1; BM registration no. 2002,0102.572

Crawford labels this quadruped as a ram.  Not a great fit.  Hersh thought differently:

Denarius circa 206-195, AR 4.30 g. Helmeted head of Roma r.; behind, X. Rev. The Dioscuri galloping r.;
below, ram r. In exergue, ROMA in linear frame. Sydenham –. Crawford 123/1. Extremely rare. Lightly toned and extremely fine The symbol on this issue has been called a ram and a calf, but Charles Hersh, in his review of Crawford, asserts that it is, in fact, a heifer, and that the distinguishing feature is abundantly clear on his specimen, now in the BM Collection. In any event, the coin a great rarity. (RBW) [NAC 61 (5/10/11) lot 561
I hate to disagree with Hersh, but I don’t think that’s an udder hanging down.  I was misled by the sales catalogue! Shame on me for not checking immediately!  I even have the review on file.Capture.JPG

I think it really must be a calf, a male calf (JUST LIKE HERSH SAID).   I submit as evidence specimens of RRC 526:

Reverse of RRC 526/2. 1960.170.9
Reverse of RRC 526/2. ANS 1960.170.9
Reverse of RRC 526/4. 1935.117.30
Reverse of RRC 526/4. ANS 1935.117.30.
Reverse of RRC 526/1. 1967.153.37
Reverse of RRC 526/1. ANS 1967.153.37.

Can we by extension guess that moneyer might be a Vitulus?!  Or perhaps its too early for such punning symbolism.  The main family to use the cognomen in the 3rd century were the Mamilii, namely the consuls of 265 and 262 BC.

Of course bulls and bull calves and Italian identity go together more generally (Pobjoy 2000: 201):


But then again it could just be just another symbol to distinguish the series.  Something vaguely thematically appropriate (abundance, sacrifice …) but of no special significance.

192 out of 410 days: Oscan in Asia Minor?


This coin is only known from one unique specimen in Paris.  {Irritatingly the digital catalogue entry has the wrong image linked to it as of 7/20/18}   Its authenticity seems guaranteed by the accuracy of the Oscan language inscription, which at the time of its first documentation was not yet fully understood.  Photos on the internet are hard to find.  The wikipedia entry is okay.  Heck, I’m impressed it has an entry or sub-entry.  I’ve taken the image above from Wyler’s 2008 article.

Mostly I’m writing this post to make a note of Mattingly’s rather under-acknowledged theory that this is not a Social War coin at all, but a product of the Mithridatic Wars (2004: 189-192). The usual explanation is that the Italians copied the type from the bronze of Amisos:

And that thus it represents tangible proof of the suggestions in the literature that the Italians sought (and perhaps obtained?) support from Mithridates (Diod. 37.2.10; Athenaeus 5.213C).  My enemy’s enemy is my friend, as they say.  On Dionysus imagery during the Social War, see:

Pobjoy, M., ‘The First Italia’ in K. Lomas and E. Herring (eds.), The Emergence of State Identities in Italy in the First Millennium BC (London: Accordia Research Institute, 2000), 187-211.

Anyway, Mattingly focuses on this passage from Plutarch’s Lucullus:

Mithridates was now resolved upon the speediest possible flight, but with a view to drawing Lucullus away, and holding him back from pursuit, he dispatched his admiral, Aristonicus, to the Grecian sea. Aristonicus was just on the point of sailing when he was betrayed into the hands of Lucullus, together with ten thousand pieces of gold which he was carrying for the corruption of some portion of the Roman army.

He thinks that the Parisian specimen is one of these pieces of gold and that the Oscan was used to unsettle the Italian troops in Lucullus’ army and encourage them all the more to revolt.

This seems even more far fetched, than the Social War explanation.  Really the problem comes down to there only being one of these gold coins.  We have no comparative evidence or geographical data, let alone archaeological context.  We remain in the realm of speculation.  Anyway, just to make this post a little more complete, we should note that a similar bust of Dionysus does appear on the Italian’s silver coinage:

COMPASS Image Caption: Bull goring a wolf

99, 100, 101 out of 410 days: The first Imperator, or ‘EMBRATUR’

Obverse Image

Back on 14 August 2013 I was rambling on about Sulla’s numismatic peers especially in relation to the use of the self-identifier IMPERATOR.  I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the first instance of this honorific on coins being attributed to Fimbria.  Not that after murdering his commander and taking his army and sacking Troy I thought he wasn’t an arrogant enough @$$hole to do so.  [I really dislike Fimbria: he’s my least favorite Roman and they were generally a bad lot.]  It’s just he didn’t strike me as very creative or trend-setting.  Why would Sulla be copying him?  Did they really come up with it each independently?  Well, turns out we have C. Papius C. f. Mutilus to thank for this innovation.  Yup.  That’s right.  One of the most notable of the Social War generals.   A Samnite enemy of Rome eventually defeated by Sulla.  His coinage is pretty famous too:

So it doesn’t really say Imperator as that’s Latin.  It says, reading right to left, EMBRATUR, in Oscan, but the title has the same meaning in a  very closely related language and cultural milieu.

The coins struck in Mutilus’ name use the same types as those used by the Marsic confederation and are clearly part of the same series, but Mutilus’ ability to use the coinage for the promotion of his own standing and especially his honorific title clearly had a lasting impact.

[A. Burnett raises the possibility of Mutilus inspiring Sulla briefly in general terms on p. 170 of his ‘The coinage of the Social War’ In Coins of Macedonia and Rome: Essays in Honor of Charles Hersh, edited by A. Burnett, U. Wartenberg, and R. Witschonke, 165-172. London: Spink)]


I’m rushing to finish a chapter prior to leaving for Turkey and am generally frantic, but this observation was so fun I couldn’t not share!

Type vs Specimen

I’ve stared at this particular specimen of this particular type so much that when I came across an image of a different specimen in a book this morning part of me wanted to say oh that’s not the right image.  This can happen with famous or just easily accessible specimens of types.  The historian or student can start to think the one illustrative example IS the type.  This leads to some unfortunate readings.

Silver coin.

One of my favorite Roman historians have used the above image to argue that the Italic Bull is raping the Roman Wolf. [No, no I’m not going to give you a page reference for this.  I don’t really want to be bitchy about it.I got frustrated by my own cageyness when I came back to find the reference….]Capture.JPGI’ve even read it on student exams.  But other specimens make clear that only significant penetration on this type is an old fashioned goring with the horns:



The lesson is that unless one has seen as many specimens of a type as possible its really very dangerous to start generalizing.  A lazy die cutting can turn into a whole (sexualized!?) reading.

There are ten Flamininus specimens according to C. Botrè, “Lo statere d’oro di Tito Quinzio Flaminino: una coniazione straordinaria,” RIN 96 (1994/1995): four in museums: Athens, Berlin [??], London and Paris; and six in private hands including: WAW, 109 = Hunt I, 111, the Ley collection piece = Triton III; 30 November 1999, 815; LEU 81, 187NAC 39 (16.05.2007), 85.  His face may be fatter or thinner, rougher or smoother, hair wilder or sedate based on the specimen.  The controversy over how this image fits into Hellenistic portraiture traditions and/or Roman aesthetic conventions is not going to be resolved soon, but any discussion should be based on the examination of all possible specimens.


UPDATE 2/4/22: see now, Sánchez 2021 (related blog post).

This is the coin type that occupied me much of last Thursday.  The interest comes from it being a potentially non-Italian instance of an oath-taking scene.  Such scenes appear during the Hannibalic War on both Roman coinage and that of certain Campanian cities which sided with the Punic forces.

And was resurrected by the Romans probably about 137 BC:

But was then famously the iconography was taken over by the Italian allies during the Social War in the 80s BC when they broke with Rome.

The swearing of an oath on a pig to seal a treaty is well attested as part of Italic culture, perhaps most famously at the Caudine Forks incident.  The legend of the type had previously been read on less clear specimens as FETIA and thought to refer to the fetiales, the priests associated with religious declarations of war and solemnizing the peace.  All these ‘oath scene’ coins have been associated with the fetiales in the past.  That’s somewhat problematic as such an oath could be sworn by the generals without such priests (again, see Cicero on the Caudine Forks oath).

Anyway, the new specimen above clearly reads EETI- and all the other reverse die specimens I’ve seen could be read the same way.  EETIA must be Latin as the letter combination is unattested in Greek.  It’s none too common in Latin.  If the word begins EETI- one thinks of the various legendary kings and heros named Eëtion.   They are associated with the Greek mainland or Asia Minor.  Leypold said he bought his specimen in Amisus and because small bronzes don’t tend to travel far its usually attributed to that location or the general region.   No other specimens find spots are known.   The lack of a diadem or garland on the obverse head has lead to the assumption it was a portrait of a Roman commander.  Speculation then commences about possible Roman commanders active in Asia Minor.  The Roman certainly experimented with coinage in the region.

As we puzzle out the legend we might recall that “Accian” Vowels, i.e. the reduplication of vowels to indicate their long vowel length, do appear on Republican coins.  [This type of vowel is discussed by Lucilius.]

And, even on provincial issues from Macedonia:

For the type of the last see BM catalogue.

One other clue might be visable on this rather awful specimen:

On this specimen one can see what I think might be a Q under the obverse head.   Q or PRO Q is a relativelycommon addition special issues and military coinage of this period.  We’ve seen two examples already above.  Here are two more from the Crawford sequence:

I grabbed this last example because of the placement under the bust.  If there wasn’t the assumption that it was from Asia Minor, I would have speculated Italic or at least Western Mediterranean origins.  The type is closer to the Campanian imagery of two figures holding a pig above the ground than any of the Roman or Marsic scenes.

But finally, given that there only seems to be one obverse die and maybe about four reverse dies amongst all the specimens, not to mention the scarcity of the type, this must be a very low volume production.  Why put all this energy into its manufacture?!  Who benefited?  Is it purely an ideological statement?  If so, towards whom is it aimed?