184 out of 410 days: The Aedile’s Feet


Capture.JPGI’ve been reading Schafer’s 1989 dissertation on sella curulis und fasces.  Many nice little observations and details here and there.  This coin has the distinction of being the first to display the curule chair and to be the first minted by a curule aedile.  The head of Cybele recalls the oversight of her games by the curule aediles.  Schafer also wants to connect the lion’s feet on the curule chair as a fantastic detail linking to the role of lions in the cult of Cybele, a detail added to the coin to make the connection between obverse and reverse that much more obvious.  He bases this assertion on the absence of such feet on other representations of the chair.  I’m not so sure it is that unlikely that some sella curulis weren’t so adorned.

I’m interested in how the moneyer has used symbols and words together to communicate his message.  The P. FOVRIVS is written onto the chair itself making the individual and the status of the object absolutely clear.  This isn’t any old curule chair its Furius’ chair!

Then on the obverse at the end of the legend AED CVR is a foot.  The foot is the visual symbol for the moneyer’s cognomen, Crassipes  = crassus + pes = thick foot, i.e. probably clubfooted.  The cognomen is known in other families in the Imperial period but primarily used by the gens Furii.  Why is another matter.  If it refers to the congenital birth defect it may be that the family had the genetic mutation that made the disorder more common.  Or perhaps some ancestor just had a fat, swollen foot from a war wound or some more mundane reason.  All that said the foot is clearly being used as a symbol of the name which appears on the reverse.  Who was AED CVR? Crassipes obviously!  There’s his foot.

The other thing this issue is good for is illustrating how spelling varients in proper names.  He is always FOVRIVS  with an O before the U, where as we later see the gens switching to just Furius.  That said, the engravers swap between the CRASSVPES and CRASSIPES spelling.  The varients crop up elsewhere but its curious that the moneyer himself didn’t seem to impose a single spelling of his cognomen on his coinage.  I usually get quite sniffy if my name is misspelled or mispronounced.

There is, I should mention, a good chance that this moneyer is some relation to Cicero’s later son-in-law, a Furius Crassipes of unknown praenomen.

164 out of 410 days: a Dolabella in Sicily during the 2nd Punic War?


For the type illustrated (RRC 73/1) above Crawford does not speculate in RRC as to the moneyer indicated by the pick-axe = dolabra = dolabella.  The use of this symbol as a plausible indication of the moneyer’s cognomen is demonstrated by these coins of Cn. Cornelius Dolabella (RRC 81, redated and relocated by Russo to 130-128 BC in Spain):


The likely moneyer of the earlier coin seems to me to be lurking in plain sight in Zonaras’ epitome of Cassius Dio:

After Marcellus had left Sicily, Hannibal sent a force of cavalry there, and the Carthaginians despatched another. They won several battles and acquired some cities; and if the praetor Cornelius Dolabella had not come against them, they would have subjugated all Sicily. 

This connection or lack of connection may go back to Münzer in RE.  Here is Broughton on the subject:



Here is the Livy in question:

M. Cornelius was commissioned to select the city and territory for them, where he thought best, and 400 jugera in the same district were also decreed as a gift to Belligenes through whose instrumentality Moericus had been induced to change sides. After Marcellus’ departure from Sicily a Carthaginian fleet landed a force of 8000 infantry and 3000 Numidian horse. The cities of Murgentia and Ergetium revolted to them, and their example was followed by Hybla and Macella and some other less important places. Muttines and his Numidians were also roaming all through the island and laying waste the fields of Rome’s allies with fire. To add to these troubles the Roman army bitterly resented not being withdrawn from the province with their commander and also not being allowed to winter in the towns. Consequently they were very remiss in their military duties; in fact it was only the absence of a leader that prevented them from breaking out into open mutiny. In spite of these difficulties the praetor M. Cornelius succeeded by remonstrances and reassurances in calming the temper of his men, and then reduced all the revolted cities to submission. In pursuance of the senate’s orders he selected Murgentia, one of those cities, for the settlement of Moericus and his Spaniards.

Of course, that then would open the sticky issue of how long this Cornelius (Dolabella?) was in Sicily and the chronology of the early denarii.  This passage about the settlement of the Spaniards in Morgantina is critical because we date the start of the denarius to 211 based on deposits found in the excavation of that site below the destruction level.  Dating the issue is problematic.  It appears in four hoards but all closing in the 70s or later.  Crawford justifies his dating thus:

The Sicilian origin of the four issues is adequately attested by their close stylistic link with the issue with corn-ear, their early date both by this link and by their heavy weight-standard [i.e. 4.5 g.]  (RRC vol 1. p. 17)

Badian did not include Zonaras’  Dolabella in his study of the Dolabellae of the Republic. He mentions in passing the consul of 283, but begins properly with the consul of 159, briefly speculating that his father would be the Cn. Cornelius Dolabella who was made Rex Sacrorum in 208 and died in 180 (Livy 27.36.5).  The rex sacrorum could be the same as Zonaras’  Dolabella.  If he were in his early 40s in 211BC in Sicily, he would have then died in his early 70s.

One strike against Livy’s Cornelius being a Dollabella is the praenomen Marcus which is otherwise unattested in this branch of the family.  So if Zonaras or Livy is likely to be wrong it is easy to see why Zonaras has previously been dismissed, being so late and so abbreviated. That said, Dio has access to sources other than Livy. An abbreviated praenomen can be miss-transcribed.  And with the coin as extra weight, I’m tempted to lean away from Livy towards Zonaras on this point.

We, of course, are then right to ask what happened to the M. Cornelius Cethegus credited with suppressing the Sicilian revolts after Marcellus’ departure?  We’d have to leave him in the province that was assigned to him that year in the first place, Apulia (Livy 25.41).

As an aside, I am interested to note that one Wikipedia entry on the gens Cornelii lists this Dolabella with no citation, whereas another excludes him.

120 and 121 out of 410 days: Very Punny Names

Reverse of RRC 141/1. 1944.100.235


Crawford says of this coin:



This type of logic permeates RRC.  Given enough time with the series one starts to think that this type of symbolic language must have been pervasive at Rome.  But is this actually how people thought?  Are the name plays obscure or obvious to their audience? Is it a Roman phenomenon or something much wider?

Yesterday (because of the book review I’m diligently working at), I was thinking about the legacy of Pythagoras.  Not a figure I can say I’ve cared much about in the past, beside mentioning the legendary connection to Numa in some of my classes or this rather fun video. Of course, he shows up on some provincial coins of Samos.  But I was surprised to learn that May thought there might be a fifth century portrait on a coin from Abdera.

Here is what Burkert, Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism, 1972, p. 110 says:




I’ve singularly failed to find you an image of this coin.  And after ‘wasting’ a hour and a half plus looking for it (and in the mean time getting rather visually acquainted with the mint of Abdera — what a great series!), I decided that it had nothing to do with the review or the book and so I’d better drop it.  The only tangential connection is this use of visual puns on the moneyer’s name.  Take for instance this beauty:

The moneyer, Dionysas, has the head of Dionysus.  And here’s Python and his tripod:

Silver coin.The British Museum has their whole (?) collection of Abdera coins up with photos.  It’s a great shame its not searchable by inscription and May number.  [The ANS has the May numbers, but few images and the legends are not transcribed.]  A look through the BM collection suggests straight off that not all images are naming puns, even if some certainly are.

Did real people think like this or was this a coin designers’ game?  Enter, Timeaus (via the anonymous author of On the Sublime):

Observe, too, his language on the Athenians taken in Sicily. “They paid the penalty for their impious outrage on Hermes in mutilating his statues; and the chief agent in their destruction was one who was descended on his father’s side from the injured deity—Hermocrates, son of Hermon.”

Or Timeaus via Plutarch:

Indeed, he often lapses unawares into the manner of Xenarchus, as, for instance, when he says he thinks it was a bad omen for the Athenians that Nicias, whose name was derived from victory, declined at first to head their expedition; also that, by the mutilation of the “Hermae,” Heaven indicated to them in advance that by the hands of Hermocrates the son of Hermon they were to suffer most of their reverses during the war; 

This is prophetic, symbolic thinking, not iconography, but nonetheless I detect a similar type of name=symbol association as we find on the coins.  Perhaps we could marshal Timeaus as part of an argument for decode-ability of the logic behind our numismatic symbols.   And perhaps Abdera + Timeaus = some background to just what exactly the Roman moneyers thought they were communicating with their symbolic language.

Update 5/19/14:  An old piece of scholarship that does a fine job of surveying the use of visual puns in media other than coins.