311 out of 410 days: Greek Coins in the West


So I was reading Pere Pau Ripollès’ fascinating ‘The X4 Hoard (Spain): Unveiling the Presence of Greek Coinages during the Second Punic War’ (2008) this morning. I fervently wish I’d read it before now.  The problem with real publication, rather than this blogging non-sense, is its not easy after the fact to rethink and amend and correct your former ideas.  Also real publication takes a very long time, so by the time it is out there for the world one’s intellectual engagement with the content has already moved on to something else or ‘evolved’ as Mr. Obama’s position has done on some issues.  I’m thinking about my piece in this book.  I’ll put a clean copy up on academia.edu one of these days.

Anyway.  Pere Pau Ripollès goes along way towards illuminating circulation of Greek coinage in the Western Mediterranean.  He tentatively still supports Crawford’s 1985 thesis that any Greek coins arrived with the Romans, although saying ‘this may be too categorical’.  I’m inclined to see the evidence he collects as requiring this hypothesis to be seriously re evaluated.  As he himself says in his conclusion the Greek coinage found in the hoards of Sicily are more similar to those in Spain than either is to Italy where there is a greater dearth of such Eastern coinages in the hoards.

One of the coins in Hoard X4 that he publishes is of the same type as that illustrated above.


This coin type, Crawford suggests, is the inspiration for the prows on Roman bronze series (See RRC p. 42 esp. n. 5; earlier post).  It’s nice then to see that some specimens did in fact reach the Western Mediterranean relatively swiftly after its production.

I also note the rendering of the ram on this type (red circle above) is not unlike that found on the Athlit Ram.

And, while were talking about things I said in print I no longer believe, I can’t stand by a 260s date for the Heracles and Wolf and Twins didrachm after all the reading I’ve done for this new book.  It fits better at the end of the First Punic War.  I’m not sure how much that messes with my use of it as comparative evidence in the chapter linked above, but it does have some impact…

Rhodios, founder of Rome

Mosaic with a wolf suckling twins at Ma’arrat al-Nu’man, Syria, with inscription showing that the mosaic came from a hospital built in 511.

The first time I saw an image of this mosaic I thought the spellings of the names very odd.  PWMYΛΛΟC and PWΔC, except the delta looks like it has a tail like a funny iota script.  So perhaps its reads PWAiC, but that doesn’t make much sense either.  At with point I stopped worrying about it because its way after my period and just a distraction from getting this book done.  

Then today I started thinking about that odd letter in the twin’s name who isn’t Romyllos or Romulus or however you want to spell it.  I was reading Wiseman’s chapter on L. Brutus in his Unwritten Rome (2008) and I read this fragment of Alcimus (FGrH 560 F 4 = Festus 326-8L):

Alcimus says that Romulus was the son of Aeneas’ wife Tyrrhenia, and from Romulus was born Aeneas’ granddaughter Alba, whose son, called Rhodius, founded Rome.

Wiseman goes on (p. 302 ff.) to explain that ardea means heron and so does rhodios in Greek and so this passage is about Ardea claiming to be founder of Rome.  

Anyways.  I doubt a late Syrian mosaicist was following Alcimus or anything.  

Them Birds

Reverse of RIC II, Part 1 (second edition) Vespasian 954. 1944.100.41630

This ‘restoration’ issue of Vespasian takes its inspiration from this republican type (RRC 287/1):

The birds seem to have changed.  Crawford calls the ones on the prototype ‘non-descript’ but the birds on the Vespasian aureus seem to be pretty certainly eagles.  Did the republican engraver just do a bad job of representing the species or has the Imperial engraver ‘improved’ the type for symbolic reasons.  The republican specimens can have some pretty misshapen birds on them:

The literary sources only have woodpeckers associated with the wolf and twins narrative (Ovid, Fasti 3.37 and 54).  One type of woodpecker with a crest was known as Mar’s Woodpecker hence the connection (Pliny NH 11.44).  But that doesn’t mean other birds aren’t found in art.  More than I want to list here. But just as a taster.  Here’s an eagle on a glass paste to which we might compare the Ostian Altar:

Ulvinden med Romulus og Remus. Hellenistisk-romersk paste

And another glass paste with a ‘non-descript’ bird on a grape vine (NOT the ficus Ruminalis then):

Opaque blue glass oval engraved gem

This last is a pretty common type of image.  Sometimes the grape vine has a bird, sometimes not.

Then there are the other republican coins (RRC 39/3 and 235/1) and that mirror we discussed ages ago that should be brought into the discussion but I’ll leave it there for now.  Except for just wondering if this weird BM gem with a mysterious head in the scene might not be Roma’s head, like a reverse scaling of the Roma plus wolf-and-twins motif above:

Sard gem engraved with Faustulus, with a tunic, skin cloak and staff, finding the she-wolf and Romulus and Remus under a rock, above which is a tree and a helmeted head (?).

Update 2/5/2014:  The important bibliography on this is 

A. Dardenay, Les intailles républicaines figurant la louve romaine: essai d’identification des modèles iconographiques.  Pallas 76, 2008, 101-113.

Of course, I had this on file the whole time but didn’t remember the relevance until today….

199 out of 410 days: Pharaoh’s Daughter, Flora?!

Mosaic depicting ‘The Infant Moses and the Pharaoh’s Daughter’

I always love a good cross-cultural narrative parallel. There is a dreamer in me that secretly wants Jung’s Archetypes to be real.  I’m reading Wiseman’s “Games of Flora” today and he has a nice opening about how Flora under her Greek name, Antho, appears in some versions of the Romulus foundation legend:

But the story which has the widest credence and the greatest number of vouchers was first published among the Greeks, in its principal details, by Diocles of Peparethus, and Fabius Pictor follows him in most points. Here again there are variations in the story, but its general outline is as follows. ….Her name is variously given as Ilia, or Rhea, or Silvia. Not long after this, she was discovered to be with child, contrary to the established law for the Vestals. She did not, however, suffer the capital punishment which was her due, because the king’s daughter, Antho, interceded successfully in her behalf, but she was kept in solitary confinement, that she might not be delivered without the knowledge of Amulius. Delivered she was of two boys, and their size and beauty were more than human. 

So basically the evil king’s good daughter rescues the future leader of the people.  This time before the infant leader is tossed in the river, instead of after.  Still I can’t help but think of the Exodus story.  This led me to a very illuminating look at the character of pharaoh’s daughter in the Jewish tradition.


What does this have to do with coins?  Not much particularly, except that now this coin with the head of Flora will probably get a wee mention in chapter 2 along with the more obvious wolf and twins types: