Bullae, for context


Much of the ‘noise’ in the scholarship regarding the Flamininus stater is over whether it is closer to Hellenistic Royal Portraiture, esp. Philip V, or if it is instead an example of Roman verism, the ‘warts and all’ style so well known from the late republic.  Is it more like this:

Obverse Image

or is it more like this:

File:Head old Roman Glyptothek Munich 320.jpg

Most seem to have become bored with this argument lately and have settled on a both/and answer.  The royal die cutter was used to making royal style portraits but conceded certain details to give it a more authentically Roman air.  All plausible enough, but the conversation seems to have done little to incorporate other evidence for Roman portraiture in the early period.  Some items that might be contemporary are hard to date without archaeological context and poor comparative evidence.  Take for instance this signet ring found at the site of ancient Capua and now in the Naples Museum:

This portrait is such a prestige piece that it is signed by the artist.   Opinions vary from the 3rd to the 1st century BC.  I’ve no strong opinion, other than to emphasize that  to ‘identify’ it as one of the Scipios, especially one of the famous ones, is pure fantasy.   What we need are some portraits with provenance.    And, lo!  we have them. They just are barely published (as far as I can find so far and I’d be very happy to learn I’ve missed shiny new fully illustrated catalogue).  1,756 readable seal impressions were found in a controlled excavation of a Hellenistic Archive beneath a sealed deposit layer securely dated to 145BC.  Of those 20%, that’s right TWENTY percent are portraits.  The only color image I can find is the one above.  These are the only other images I can find from the preliminary publication of the archive.


There has been a very limited attempt to integrate these new findings with what we know about Roman self presentation, but we won’t be able to say much until they are properly published.  [Surely, someone must be working on the collection for a dissertation…]

My first reactions are two fold.  Portraits as seals were not limited to royalty and the style of these portraits is comfortable between ‘dynamic idealism’ and ‘rugged verism’.   Are any of them Roman?  Who knows. But they are all part of Hellenistic repertoire.  Flamininus could have easily have a portrait seal ring in such a style, but that’s not even required.  Just the idea that objects could be validated and made official by the impression of a portrait might be catalyst enough for the creation.  Yes, portraiture on coins is predominantly associated with kings, but kings put many many other images on their coins as well.  The portrait-equals-king  and king-equal-portrait formula may not be as rock solid in 197 BC as we often flippantly assume in Roman numismatic discussions: no one was worried about Flamininus overthrowing the Roman body politic in the same way they were about Caesar in 45/4 BC.

[There are other such archives with massive collections of sealings, but it’s the fixed deposit layer and secure dating that makes Kedesh so special.]

Wider Contexts



I came across this image in my reading today and was immediately struck by the visual similarities with the Doson coin I posted about earlier.  How common is this image?  Not that common really.  Besides Doson, Magnetes of Thessaly has a similar type with Artemis:


And it is also a standard type of Histiaea in Euboia:


But that seems to be about it.  The publishers of the seal focus on the coins of Sidon, such as this:




OR this: 


Neither is really that close in design or style even if they show a figure on a ship. There might be a lost Sidonian type with a figure seated on just prow, but I suspect the inspiration for the design came from trade connections with the North.

44 out of 410 Days: Neighborhood Delights

I sent the wire transfer for the deposit on the Istanbul place.  SDA said to me first thing this morning ‘there’s no one I’d rather have adventures with’.  It will be a grand adventure, but Ditmas Park is pretty fabulous too.

This morning I cramped up between 1.5 and 2.5 miles and had to walk, so I did an extra loop at the end of my route around a long block.  At the end of that very last loop a school crossing guard, who I swear I’ve never seen before, stopped me and with a big smile said “You made it round really fast! I was watching.”   I love the eye contact and smiles along the way, but that comment takes the cake.

And, the other day I noticed this fabulous mystery item:


What is it? It’s a single work boot with a very large rock in it that has been bound in an exceptionally complicated pattern and placed just inside the perimeter of a church yard. Art?  Binding Spell?  Symbolic Catharsis?  Joke? All of the above?  You choose.  No, I did not touch it.  No, I’ve not gone back to check on it.

And then this:


The sign reads “Hey Pretty Lady who bought my table and stools on Sunday… I found a missing piece!!! I really hope you find this!!”  And yes, that is a piece of wood taped to a lamp post.  The toothy smile drawn on the sign is really the best part.

I’m going to miss this place.

Type vs Specimen

I’ve stared at this particular specimen of this particular type so much that when I came across an image of a different specimen in a book this morning part of me wanted to say oh that’s not the right image.  This can happen with famous or just easily accessible specimens of types.  The historian or student can start to think the one illustrative example IS the type.  This leads to some unfortunate readings.

Silver coin.

Some of my favorite Roman historians have used the above image to argue that the Italic Bull is raping the Roman Wolf. [No, no I’m not going to give you a page reference for this.  I don’t really want to be bitchy about it.] I’ve even read it on student exams.  But other specimens make clear that only significant penetration on this type is an old fashioned goring with the horns:

Reverse Image

The lesson is that unless one has seen as many specimens of a type as possible its really very dangerous to start generalizing.  A lazy die cutting can turn into a whole (sexualized!?) reading.

There are ten Flamininus specimens according to C. Botrè, “Lo statere d’oro di Tito Quinzio Flaminino: una coniazione straordinaria,” RIN 96 (1994/1995): four in museums: Athens, Berlin [??], London and Paris; and six in private hands including: WAW, 109 = Hunt I, 111, the Ley collection piece = Triton III; 30 November 1999, 815; LEU 81, 187NAC 39 (16.05.2007), 85.  His face may be fatter or thinner, rougher or smoother, hair wilder or sedate based on the specimen.  The controversy over how this image fits into Hellenistic portraiture traditions and/or Roman aesthetic conventions is not going to be resolved soon, but any discussion should be based on the examination of all possible specimens.

43 out of 410 Days: I’m liking my numbers

So first, I averaged 8.28 minutes per mile for 3 miles.  Yes, I did I fist pump at the end.  And, Yes, that’s even stopping at traffic lights.  In six weeks that’s a 50% increase in speed and my recovery time felt good too.   The other more important number was 750 words.  I put it in easily and then some.  It felt good to writing in linear fashion knowing that if I didn’t have exactly the right word for a concept I could fix it later.   I also was able to start seeing the huge number of cross references the book is going to contain.  Something I already new from my image lists and notes on what chapters they needed to be mentioned, but I really I found myself writing about a type that might end up being mentioned in every chapter.  I am opening chapter 6 on Imperators (Marius, Sulla, Pompey and co) with a contrast between M. Aemilius Scaurus cos. 115 and his son of the same name.  The former has no coins and his deeds are not commemorated on coins, even thought Cicero tells us he ruled the world with a nod of his head, by contrast his son as just an aedile brags about his own accomplishments!  The type is illustrated above.  Notice the big REX ARETAS legend on the obverse.  This is Scaurus claiming to have brought the king of the Nabataeans to his knees during his side excursion while under Pompey’s command in 62.   According to Josephus his ill advised trip to Petra left his army suffering famine and resulted in Aretas simply bribing him with some 300 silver talents to go back from whence he came. Not a very glorious deed all in all. This morning I was struck by the contrast between Aretas III’s self presentation and Scaurus’ desire to show Aretas as an outlandish foreigner (Camel, trousers, long scruffy hair):

Obverse Image

This of course plays on some Roman stereotypes and may have even created a new typology.  Compare this type of three years later (55 BC):

Reverse Image

[Who exactly Bacchius Judeaus is is a problem for another day.  Maybe Dionysius of Tripolis? Or maybe the High Priest himself?]

And yet this same monarch went farther than any other Nabataean ruler to craft a self image in line with Hellenistic standards:


It’s not just the diadem or the tyche its the actual inscription labeling himself as a Philhellene! His successor kept Hellenistic imagery and even used a Greek regnal year, but he returns to Nabataean Aramaic to name himself and identity.  I wonder how they’ve resolved his successor’s regnal years. Is it circular? did they decide he must have taken the throne shortly after Scaurus’ campaign and thus year 26 must equal 35 BC?  Or is there an outside confirmation of this and thus we know Aretas III lost his throne shortly after Scaurus’ campaign.  I must find out…

But that’s a little off topic for the book. So back to where else does this type fit in:

First it an issue by two aediles, not regular moneyers.  Why?  Does it have to do with their games?  Scaurus lived long in the mind of Romans for the extravagance of these ludi.  Or, is it because aediles might also over see the grain supply?   Then there is sheer volume of this issue.  It would need to be part of a discussion of estimating mint outputs and possibility of correlating that with state expenditures.  And then there is the reverse with the capture of Privernum.  The should get a mention in the conquest of Italy section but the moneyer’s family connection is fanciful at best so that goes nicely with my discussion of familial legends.  Oh and it’s one of the rock solid coin types for dating as we have independent testimony regarding the issuers aedileship, meaning lots of other types are dated by relation to this one.  It’s like a book in one damn coin.

Okay.  Now that I’ve got that out of my system I’m going to go write 750 words or more for the actual book.

42 out of 410 days: Thoroughness

I picked up a set of sermons on my way out of church yesterday.  Muncie has been preaching a series on authentic living this summer.  He does a very good job of bringing nuance to the two sides, positive and negative, of PRIDE, amongst a number of other useful insights.  [Reading sermons on the subway does not, by the way, attract nearly as much attention as Roman History.]

Many vices and virtues can be equally two-faced.  Thoroughness can be a paralyzing standard for an academic endeavor and yet most necessary for the validity of the results. Chasing obscure bibliography, the fear of finding one key piece of scholarship post production, endless combing of catalogues and databases can result in rock solid peer-review worthy work, but also grind the process to a snail’s pace.  Searching a database can be easier than actually articulating words what one thinks.   I indulged in so much collection of bibliographical references over this weekend that the Inter-Library Loan Librarians must be cursing me this morning.  A disgusting number of requests were filed. In due course they will need to be incorporated into the book, or not, as the case may be, but waiting on their arrival or spending more time on the bibliography will not actually move the book forward or make the final product stronger at this point.  I’m usually a ‘measure twice, cut one’ type of writer.  Why compose a sentence until one can write the footnote that guarantees the accuracy of the statement?   This makes writing slow, nervous work.  The author of another book in the series wrote to me that he was trying to draft chapters: “very very fast (aiming at 750 words per day), in order to get something down on paper which I could edit”.  Ah editing.  Being open to self critical revision.  That is certainly a virtue I could due to cultivate.   So we’re going  to try something like that this week: just writing from the notes on file and the ideas in my head.   If this blog has proved noting else, its that I don’t suffer from a lack of words.

Oath Scenes Again.

I seem to be spending too much time with imperial coins for someone writing a book on the Republic. I came across this coin in this article. It has its weak points, many of which are pointed out by this more recent piece. It too is not as complete in its treatment of the evidence as I’d like. The type above seems very likely to provide the prototype for the EETIA? type I’ve been obsessing over. Most obvious is the bare-headed obverse with the prominent ear. Second is the ‘civilian’ dress of the pig holders on the reverse, as well as the suspension of the pig. Obviously its not a perfect match. These pig holders have their heads covered as is appropriate for a Roman making a sacrifice and the altar is depicted and their outer arms are not outstretched. And,yes, the pig is upside down! The legend even tells us what we’re seeing, the Foedus Gabinum. Unfortunately, nothing about the legend, however, helps us puzzle out what is on the EETIA? coin. The type is repeated a couple years later in gold by a member of the same gens:

This time Augustus is laureate. Farney gives the only really substantial discussion of these moneyers’ choice. For the background of the foedus and the role of the Antistius see Dionysius of Harlicarnassus’ account. He says the treaty still existed in his day written on the cow (not pig!) hide that was the sacrificial victim at its consecration. All in all, it is a story that paints the Tarquinii in a really awful light, with the Gabini being incorporated into the Roman power structure as a calculated and unexpected gesture of magnanimity designed to ensure their loyalty, even after being the victims of a terrible deception in which they were tricked into stoning one of their most loyal leading citizens… The story as Dionysius tells it is hardly appropriate for numismatic commemoration. R. E. A. Palmer, ‘A new fragment of Livy throws light on the Roman Postumii and Latin Gabii’, Athenaeum 78 (1990), 5-18 thought there was a different foedus in the forth century but his reading of the new fragment is rebuffed by Gabrielli. Perhaps there is new light on what the coins might mean in this newer article, but its still behind the pay wall even with my university’s subscription, so I won’t know today.

Other thematically relevant bibliography may include: Bensmann, Alexa. – Die « republikanische » Seite der augusteischen Münzprägungen : Bemerkungen zur Bildsprache der « IIIviri aere argento auro flando feriundo ». Numismatisches Nachrichtenblatt: 2008 57 (9) : 346-349 ill.