Sulla’s Numismatic Peers

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Sulla struck a significant series of coins in gold and silver during his return from the East after brokering a peace deal with Mithridates at the Dardenelles and marching on Rome. On that coinage, he identifies himself by the title “Imperator”, the acclamation given to a commanding general after his first major successful battle by his own troops (i.e. Roman citizens under arms).

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He wasn’t the first to use this title on a coin to mark out his authority.  That honor goes to the murderous, mutinous Fimbria (he even sacked Troy!):

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What’s noticeable is how Sulla doesn’t get to monopolize this honor amongst even his followers:

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This specimen was probably minted in Massalia as C. Valerius Flaccus, proconsul in Gaul, sets out againt Sertorius c. 82 BC.  Notice how like Fimbria (HIS BROTHER’S MURDERER!) – sorry for shouting I got excited – he combines the title with the iconography of the legionary standard.  His Wikipedia page is remarkably thorough and well written, although again I didn’t check the accuracy.

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This type was issued by Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius.  On the other type in this series he includes his initials so we we’re sure, but keeping the ‘I’ for Imperator at the end:

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Metellus’ career and pedigree certainly rivaled that of other men of his generation.  What does all this tell us?  Mostly that Sulla may have set norms but that his peers did not assume they could not match him.

Update:  Also see now my post of 27 September 2013.

Bearer of Good News, Bearer of Peace

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The figure on this reverse type is usually seen as representing Sulla triumphator. He’s clearly labelled as Sulla, but the caduceus in his hand is curious. “Victory hoped for” is Crawford’s reading. He doesn’t want to align it with the agnomen Felix because of the chronology of the time, though felicitas in the imperial times is most definitely shown with this attribute:

I tend to agree with Crawford and am puzzled because a caduceus is a very odd thing for a triumphator to hold:

After a thorough reconnaissance had been made, it was ascertained after a few days that all was quiet as far as the Gauls were concerned, and the whole force was thereupon marched to Privernum. From this point there is a twofold story. Some state that the city was stormed and Vitrubius taken alive; other authorities aver that before the final assault the townsmen came out with a caduceus [Note] and surrendered to the consul, whilst Vitrubius was given up by his own men. (Livy 8.20)

No, I don’t think Sulla is suggesting his willingness to surrender! This passage is even more explicit:

3 An indication of this is found in the following word and act of each of the two peoples: Quintus Fabius, a Roman general, delivered a letter to the Carthaginians, in which it was written that the Roman people had sent them a spear and a herald’s staff [‘caduceus’ in the Latin], signs respectively of war and peace; they might choose whichever they pleased and regard the one which they should choose as sent them by the Roman people. 4 The Carthaginians replied that they chose neither one; those who had brought them might leave whichever they liked; that whatever should be left them they would consider that they themselves had chosen. 5 Marcus Varro, however, says that neither the spear itself nor the staff was sent, but two tokens, on one of which was engraved the representation of a staff [‘caduceus’ in the Latin again]; on the other that of a spear. (Gellius, Attic Nights, 10.27)

[Update 24 Sept. 2013 – The sending of the spear and caduceus is proverbial in the Hellenistic World. See Polybius 4.52.4 and 24.12.1 with Walbank’s Commentary on the former.]

The herald’s staff was certainly read most often as a peaceful symbol, one of reconciliation and concordia. Just to give a taste of this, here are two coins one from 70 BC representing ‘concord’ between Italy and Rome and another from 48 BC during the Civil Wars of Caesar and Pompey.

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Sulla is victorious and an imperator on this coin, but he is also togate and bearing the caduceus and through the later I believe he may also be suggesting his potential harmonious return. It didn’t turn out that way, of course, but that may well have been how he wished to be seen. He certainly wished to be remember as one who restored order.

Gold coin.

Bocchus Monument, Sulla’s Monuments

Hölscher in 1980 proposed that this monument was the base of the Bocchus Monument, so well known from literary descriptions (Plutarch, Marius 32,  Sulla 6).  The best discussion of the literary sources is Mackay.  If this is true the statues on the top of this base would look something like this:

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This coin was struck by Sulla’s son, Faustus and probably copied his father’s seal ring (cf. Marius 10, Sulla 3).  So far so good by way of background.  It has been suggested that the base is not the original base BUT was restored after Sulla’s return.  The logic being that Marius would not have let such an offensive monument remain standing when he controlled the city.  The two trophies of the relief are seen as representations of the Sullan trophies of Chaeronea (again see Mackay, link above), just like on this coin:

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[There is also a regular denarius with the same design, but I am showing the aureus because it’s prettier.]  This image is also associated with a Sullan seal ring by Crawford based on Dio 43.18.3 and the iconography is also seen on the Athenian New Style Tetradrachms (BM specimen):

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Already Crawford brought in the Sant’Omobono relief into the discussion, with reference to the other block:

He sees an analogy between the two wreaths hanging out from the palm branch and the two trophies.  I’m interested in same detail but because of how it echoes the iconographic strategy of a later coin type (Pompeian?).

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Notice how the four wreaths hang from the palm branch to presumably symbolize multiple victories.  And, NOW, as I type this and check my RRC entry for 436/1, I see that Crawford saw the exact same connection…. [Insert footsteps-of-giants sentiment here.]

Not everyone thinks the Sant’Omobono Reliefs are the Bocchus Monument.  Detractors include: Hafner German. – Zu den vermeintlich sullanischen Waffenreliefs von S. Omobono. Rivista di archeologia 1989 XIII : 46-54 and Alexander Thein’s unpublished dissertation on Sulla of 2002.  Another dissenting opinion is  Reusser, C. 1993, Der Fidestempel auf dem Kapitol in Rom und seine Ausstattung: ein Beitrag zu den Ausgrabungen an der Via delMare und um das Kapitol 1926–1943, Rome, p. 121-37.

Santangelo gives a concise up-to-date survey of the literature and its conclusions (p. 2-3, n. 7), but also see his later discussion at  p. 206.

Minor reference updates 27 August 2013 & 16 June 2014

2/15/2016 addition:

Flower, Art of Forgetting, p. 113:

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