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:


Omphalos and Snake: Shared Iconography

Reverse of RRC 348/4. 1974.26.25

I’m really stuck on this Alföldi article.  [See yesterday’s post for references.]  He makes the assertion that the snake on an omphalos is the iconography of Apollo, not Aesculapius.  He uses Etruscan cinerary urns as comparative evidence:


Yet these visual examples do not specifically link the image to Apollo they only show Italic usage. The image is clearly Delphic as Alföldi asserts.  A point illustrated by the late 4th century Amphictonic Hemidrachms:



But this is by no means exclusive.  The same reverse type was used at Pergamon after 133 BC to celebrate Aesculapius as Soter (savior):

Reverse of Bronze Coin, Pergamum. 1944.100.43256


Aesculapius has been a popular interpretation of the allusions on L. Rubrius Dossenus’ coins because of literary testimony of a plague in 87 BC.  However, if Apollo is meant than these coins might be linked to the Veiovis  / Apollo coins of the Marians.  The interpretation of which remains controversial:

Wiseman T. P. (2009). Remembering the Roman People: Essays on Late Republican Politics and Literature. Oxford, 72-78; contra RRC and Luce, T. J. (1968). “Political Propaganda on Roman Republican Coins: Circa 92-82 B.C.” American Journal of Archaeology 72.1: 25-39.

Also see newer post for iconographic parallels.


145 out of 410 days: Argos Panoptes?

Obverse of RRC 348/6. 2012.34.10

This as of L. Rubrius Dossenus (c. 87 BC) has, instead of the standard Janus, a janiform head combining Hercules and Mercury.  Alföldi connects this image, not to the palestra hermerakles imagery representing sound mind and sound body, but instead to a rather unusual vase image.  (See yesterday’s post for bibliographical citation).

Update 7/1/2020: Crawford judged Alföldi’s interpretation implausible in his 1984 Edinburgh catalogue. See McCabe for summary.



The thing to notice is that the body of the figure is covered in eyes.  This is the standard means of depicting Argos Panoptes, the giant covered in uncountable eyes set to guard Io and killed by Hermes.  He is the mythological representation of the ever vigilant watcher.

A more recent monograph on the Polygnotos painter questions whether the standard identification of the figures (i.e. Hermes slaying Argos to free Io) on this most unusual vase are correct given how much it diverges from the standard representation:


Maybe this is not Hermes or Io, I grant their iconography isn’t typical, but Panoptes is surely intended on the vase given how his body is covered with eyes.  Perhaps we’re not seeing the right Argos Panoptes narrative here; the scholia on Euripides knew of other adventures in which he was a more positive protector, even if the vast majority of literary accounts are on Io.  There is even an early suggestion that Argos only had 4 eyes like a Janiform god:

Hesiod or Cercops of Miletus, Aegimius Frag 5 :
“And [Hera] set a watcher upon her [Io], great and strong Argos, who with four eyes looks every way. And the goddess stirred in him unwearying strength: sleep never fell upon his eyes; but he kept sure watch always.”

Is Alföldi’s suggestion plausible?  Maybe.  The vase certainly isn’t the standard representation but it is of Italic origin and we may be missing other key evidence.  That said, the vast majority of viewer would have been more familiar with the palestra imagery. Cf.  Cicero’s reference to wanting such a statue (ad Att. 1.10.3):


We imagine this would be something like this:

Double-Headed herm Bust

Or like this one in the Boston MFA Collection:

That it is the two individual deities combined in one image which is intended on the coin seems to me to be more likely, given that the inclusion of the attributes of both in the design.  This is not that visible on the specimen, but is noted by Crawford and can be seen on this coin of Andrew McCabe:


See how a club and caduceus jut out on either side below the chin and above the shoulder.

Why did Alföldi find the Argus explanation so attractive?  It allowed him to connect the coin to contemporary politics especially the vigilance of the Marians in anticipation of Sulla’s return.  (He dates the series to 86 BC.)

All that said it is also possible the Cicero/Palestra theory is a red herring.  Cicero might not have meant double herms but instead statues like this:

A little later aside (11/11/13): In that way that so often happens, I came across an odd coin with slightly similar imagery today.  Perhaps, I noticed it because I’d been looking at these janiform/bifrons heads yesterday.  I’m putting it up just so I have a note of it, should it ever prove relevant:

Another potential piece of comparative evidence (found 23/12/13):

Listed on Flickr as:

Janus-herm with addorsed head of Pan [or Zeus Ammon?] and Hercules, Marble, Roman, 1st c. CE; George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, 51.2002.10; Springfield, Massachusetts,  Gift from the Estate of Dr. Melvin N. Blake and Dr. Frank Purnell

Update 30/1/2014: Discussing Janiform head could also lead to an investigation of this sort of object:

Terracotta aryballos (oil-bottle) in the form of two heads, one male, one female. An imitation of an East Greek type.

3/22/14 update: Compare the coinage of Volaterrae with the image of Argos on the vase painting above. Note in particular the hat and the club:

Etruria, Volaterrae, Dupondius circa 225-215, æ 259.55 g. Janiform head, wearing pointed cap. Rev. FELAQRI Club; on either side, mark of value II. H. pl. 83, 1. Syd. 305. TV 85. Ex CNG 29, The Thurlow collection, 1992, 69 and NAC 10, 1997, 287 sales.

Also of interest is the iconography of the Etruscan god, ‘Culsans’:



Note that the official museum catalogue website describes the headdress on this statue as a wild animal skin.

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!

73 out of 410 days: Pompey and Freedmen

Romans had a practice of granting manumission to some slaves.  Those receiving such grants held a separate status from the citizens, i.e. free men.  As freedmen they had more limited legal rights and defined obligations to their former masters, now their patrons.   That’s pretty basic, but the social function of this group certainly evolved over time and we might think about the attitudes and social conditions that preceded the evolution of the imperial freedmen.  I came across two passages today that got me thinking along those lines:

 These things I have heard; I have heard also that this theatre was not erected by Pompey, but by one Demetrius, a freedman of his, with the money he had gained while making campaigns with the general. Most justly, therefore, did he give his master’s name to the structure, so that Pompey might not incur needless reproach because of the fact that his freedman had collected money enough for so huge an expenditure.


While these men kept up their conflict, Pompey, too, encountered some delay in the distribution of the grain. For since many slaves had been freed in anticipation of the event, he wished to take a census of them in order that the grain might be supplied to them with some order and system. This, to be sure, he managed fairly easily through his own wisdom and because of the large supply of grain; but in seeking the consulship he met with annoyances and incurred some censure.

These passages would need to be contextualized by say Sulla’s mass manumission of the so called Cornelii, some 10,000 individuals, or the power he gave to Chrysogonus.  

The basic moral seems to be that benefiting too many freedman or one freedman too much is viewed with suspicion.  On the other hand our imperial sources may be reading too much of their present social reality back on to their accounts of the Republic.   

Contrast how Plutarch does not mention distributions to freedmen, but instead emphasizes that there was so much grain available it was give to foreigners as well — yet another group whose influence was a site of socio-political anxiety in the Late Republic.  Cf. the careers of Theophanes of Mitylene and Balbus.

I was getting a little lost in the literary accounts of 56-55 BC.  This post is just a little break to try to return to the coins.

68 out of 410 days: Boundary Rituals

I was reading this description of the pomerium.  And all of a sudden I couldn’t help but think about the ritual of beating the bounds still used in many English (and Irish?) parishes today.  Clicking on the picture above will give you a basic history with images. There is a good scholarly reflection on the revival/restoration of the historic practices here.  I like how this modern take accepts that each deployment of the ritual must be meaningful in the contemporary context and thus evolves overtime.

This was because I was hemming and hawing over how to talk about this coin of 81 BC, if at all:

Is it just about generalized ideas of bounty and stability in the aftermath of the Civil Wars?  Or is there some specific reference to Sulla’s extension of the pomerium or the establishment of his colonies throughout Italy?  Should we see the reverse as a peaceful genre scene or the illustration of a religious ritual?  The latter seems more likely given themes on the Roman Republican coin series generally, but on the other hand a more generalized symbolism would be more typical than the documentation of a very specific contemporary event or series of events.

I’m leaning toward a more general symbolism because the figure is clearly in a tunic, not a toga or other ritual garb.  And especially as it seems to be a direct echo of this earlier issue (100BC by Mattingly’s reckoning), with the exception of the addition of the driver:

Ryan 2009 has a good take on this issue, calling it a «aktualitätsbedingte Familienthematik » = “a family type of contemporary significance” linking it both to historical agrarian legislation by the family AND current events.

65 out of 410 days: Countermarks



It makes me really irritated I couldn’t get MS Word to make the whole table into a picture only a half at a time.

Yesterday I wanted to add something to chapter 6 about the coins of the mid 80s, that irritating in-between-time where the coins are full of strange gods we can’t quite identify. As I looked at them, I realized that I just did’t have a big picture regarding countermarks on coinage in my head.  [That’s not for lack of opportunity.  I’ve supervised a masters thesis die study of a countermarked issue and chaired academic panels with papers on the subject.]  Taking a no-time-like-the-present approach, I did a down and dirty survey of RRC, taking notes as I went.  The picture above is the result of those notes.  There are much better charts and analyses in many publications, but if I didn’t do one myself no matter how crude I’d never get the material stuck in my head properly.   I’m sure there are inaccuracies and missing elements, but I hope it captures the overall trends. Pink are were Crawford thought countermarks were die specific. Blue where they are not. Light pink is for apparent attempts to be die specific with known inaccuracies. Hashed pink is where some sub types are die specific, but others are not.  Dark pink is where countermarks indicate die pairs. Dark blue are for where die pairs are present, but the pairs are represented by multiple dies. Grey is for too little information.  The dates defer to Mattingly and Hollstein’s adjustment of Crawford’s chronology.

The use does not perfectly map onto the use of serrated edges BUT it does follow the same trend.   Early isolated experimentation in Sicily.  A little recurrence in the mid/late 2nd century, and then a much more serious adoption around 104/103 BC.   The difference is that countermarks stay in use almost continuously.  They taper off a bit in the mid 90s, are steady in 80s with a HUGE effort to use them right over the 83-79 period, and then they tale off in the 70s with a revival at the very end of the 60s early 50s.

Serrating each flan is a huge amount of effort and is likely to have drastically slowed production.  Countermarks, especially per die or coordinated applications, also require significant efforts, but are more logistically challenging, rather than man-power challenging.  What the chart above doesn’t capture are trends in types of systems: letters, numbers, symbols, combinations thereof, variations with dots and Greek letters, or double letters, or consonants with vowels.  No one system is dominant.   The hope has been that die studies of countermarked issues can tell us more about the operations of the Roman mint.  Many such studies have producing tantalizing insights and likely hypotheses.   All the different systems mean that countermarks can’t have served a single administrative function.  Like the serrati their popularity and also the experimentation with new systems and revivals of old systems may be about inspiring confidence in the money supply — to be seen to be producing GOOD coin.  45 out of 66 issuers who used them managed some degree of die-countermark coordination.

As a historian I’m most interested in what caused the 104/103 adoption.  The intensity during the time of the Sullan return and dicatorship is not unexpected, if it is about creating confidence in the money supply, but certainly not worth that such systems are applied even to camp coinages presumably made in less than ideal conditions under serious pressure.   Similarly the tail end.  Why the revivals?  Why the complete cessation?  More of a whimper than a bang…

I am also curious about its application to some quinarii.  The quinarii is never serrate.  And it is usually associated with particular applications and especially associated with Cisalpine Gaul…

61 out of 410 days: Still at It

I can tell that two months in to this sabbatical I’ve fully adopted research as my primary occupation. I wake up thinking about coins, sometimes in the middle of the night, usually quite happily in the morning. Whenever I relax, I just default to thinking about coins. A happy obsession. [Except when I wake up with the cold sweat panic that the book won’t ever be done, but as SDA says I just need something to worry about. If I’m anxious there must be a reason.]

I get frustrated with the slow progress. SDA says if there is progress (which there is!), don’t question the process. I wonder if I don’t need a bit of Zen, one foot in front of the other. I might be losing the individual trees for the forest. I see my job as the whole of the series and thus as I find anything relevant at all for the project I feel I need to capture it and file it away for later. This is exhausting. I constantly have to refind my place. I want a more one-foot-in-front-of-the-other – what will help me write the next sentence? – approach. Inspiration, and curiosity, and a continuous investment of time and energy all seem to be present but I could do with more focus.

Two things made me very happy with the process. 1) The engaging comments here on the blog. and 2) Finding I trust Drummond’s article on Sulla’s augurship enough that I can move on with my writing and just cite him. Both are nice reminders that we can’t do all the work ourselves. We need our colleagues to point things out and also to provide many of the answers.

The other thing that makes me happy is giving up the idea of weekends. Crazy, right? It means I don’t have to stop and restart and upset any momentum. And, there is always tomorrow to move the project forward. Some how its liberating. Good thing I like the work.

59 out 410 days: Lex Cornelia De Falsis

Anyone who knowingly and maliciously writes or reads publicly, substitutes, suppresses, removes, re-seals, or erases a will, or any other written instrument; and anyone who engraves a false seal, or makes one, or impresses it, or exhibits it; and anyone who counterfeits gold or silver money, or washes, melts, scrapes, spoils, or adulterates any coin bearing the impression of the face of the Emperor, or refuses to accept it, unless it is counterfeit, shall, if of superior rank, be deported to an island, and if of inferior station, be sentenced to the mines, or punished capitally. Slaves if manumitted after the crime has been perpetrated, shall be crucified.

Lo Cascio believes that the portion of this passage on the crime of refusing a coin goes back to Sulla like the rest (p. 161). And, that originally it would have been something like the mark of the state, rather than the face of the emperor. Heinrichs thinks that it this regulation goes back to Marcus Gratidianus and that it is key for understanding the problem he was trying to address, that is according to Heinrichs: underweight coins whose value depended on their relationship to the Roman pound (esp. p. 267). [If I’ve understood the German properly!]

Given my current obsession with seals, I’m also rather taken with how the same law that covers counterfeiting coins also applies to false seals.

Memories of Sulla

Sulla himself emphasized his title of “Imperator”, or later on a smaller issue “Dictator”, on the coins made in his life time in his name. Neither role appears on the remarkably numerous posthumous commemorations he receives on the coins. Q. Pompeius Rufus is celebrating his maternal and and paternal grandfathers, the consuls of 88 BC. And it is the shared consulship itself that receives emphasis. The two are treated as equals.

Yet, his paternal grandfather of the same name was murdered as consul, allegedly by Pompieus Strabo, Pompey the Great’s father, when he went to take over Strabo’s army as his duly assigned province of Italy. That sort of murder surely created some tension between their descendants. The two headed type was produced by far fewer dies than the curule chairs (according to Crawford — I’ll want to check the accuracy of this). The later gives even more emphasis to the legal office and authority of each ancestor, along with indications of their priesthoods. It tries to invoke Sulla and Rufus as exempla of law and order.

Sulla’s son, Faustus, takes a very different approach:

He refers to his father only as FE(E)LIX, the remarkable agnomen, adopted upon his Civil War victories in 82 BC, meaning something like ‘Blessed’, not dissimilar from the meaning Faustus’ own name. The imagery of one type harkens back to Sulla’s first success, the surrender of Jugurtha, while just Marius’ quaestor, an image that served as his father’s seal and the famous Bocchus monument. The rest recalls his divine patronage, an issue we’ve talked about before. He may also be trying to emphasize a close relationship between Pompey, his close ally, and his father.

This type shows Venus Victrix to whom Pompey dedicated the very next year his huge theatre complex and an image of Pompey’s seal ring, but of course it was a seal ring very close to Faustus’ father’s and Venus played a prominent role in his father’s life as well.

[I’m going to skip talking about RRC 480/1 as you can read about it in my earlier post to which I put a link above, even though it properly fits into this topic. I’m also skipping over the Sulla-Hercules connection as all I’d be doing at this point is parroting Crawford.]