There are two coins in the Roman republican coin series and one from Teanum from the time of the First Punic War that display a triga, a three horse chariot. All have Victory (Nike) as the driver. I’ve always found this a rather weird design as opposed to the biga or quadriga (2 and 4 horse chariots), but not worried too much about it. For my previous thoughts on these coins and more images follow this link.
Anyway, as I settled back in Dionysius this morning (It’s Yom Kippur today. No classes and thus a much welcome writing day from me!), I came to this passage in his description of the ludi Romani:
In the chariot races two very ancient customs continue to be observed by the Romans down to my time in the same manner as they were first instituted. The first relates to the chariots drawn by three horses, a custom now fallen into disuse among the Greeks, though it was an ancient institution of heroic times which Homer represents the Greeks as using in battle. For running beside two horses yoked together in the same manner as in the case of a two-horse chariot was a third horse attached by a trace; this trace-horse the ancients called parêoros or “outrunner,” because he was “hitched beside” and not yoked to the others. (Dion Hal. 7.73.2)
I think this well explains the one horse on the Roman republican coins looking back at the others as if it were loose. This may be trying to represent the trace horse. I might also want to investigate further a connection between the moneyers of RRC 299/1 and 382/1 and these ludi. It also makes me revisit my earlier thoughts about trying to connect the Roman triga to the Teanum triga. Perhaps this is a mistake as the Teanum coins do not seem to attempt to represent the third horse as on a trace.
So finally after a very long time this blog says something about coins again. That feels good. I’m sad I’m not in Taormina but 5.5 month old twin girls and a full teaching load are not really compatible with mid-semester international travel….
So this is a pretty left field thought. But as I’m thinking about the coins of Teanum I can’t help but think how weird it is to have a triga, a three-horse chariot. It’s not really a well known or convenient hitching configuration. One could speculate that it comes from copying a quadriga type like that found at Selinus or other Sicilian mints where the front horse rather obscures the next one so that it almost looks like a three horse configuration.
Could there have been a little fad for drawing inspiration from old allied coins of the Punic Wars at the end of the second century? Probably not. Let’s call it a fun coincidence.
Update 4/18/14: I came back to this post briefly when I read this passage in Woytek’s chapter in Metcalf’s Handbook (p. 326):
Ritter, H. W. (1982). Zur römischen Münzprägung im 3. Jh. v. Chr. Marburg.
Update 4/30/14: On die engravers making errors in the number of horses they carve when copying a prototype, see:
Hollstein, Wilhelm. – Ein kurioser Quadrigatus im Kestner-Museum Hannover. NNB 1996 45 (9) : 8. AP Abstract: Among the Quadrigati the museum (=> 60-10031) is a specimen (No. 107), in which the Quadriga has five horses with ten front, but eight hind legs.