File Narbo under ‘I just don’t know enough’

So we’re told by Velleius Paterculus that the colony of Narbo was founded in 118 BC and he connects this colony with other Gracchan colonies.  This coin series is taken to be minted as part of the foundation of that colony.  But everything about the historical details of this colony foundation and the relationship to coins seems a little more difficulty than most of the sources want to allow.  Some, like the New Paully, put significant weight on milestone: ILLRP 460a, CIL XVII.2, 294 (picture at fig. 2.12 here): CN Domitius CN f / Ahenobarbus / imperator / XX.  The suggestion being that in order to measure distance on the road from Narbo, the colony must already be founded, and if Ahenobarbus (cos. 122) is imperator he can’t have triumphed yet.  Did he stay in the province until as late as 117 BC?  Is that his name on the coin?  Crawford thinks it is his son (cos. 96) with L. Licinius Crassus (cos. 95) along with some other moneyers.  Why the son?

Crassus’ role is another matter.  The key passage is this:

In a close contest, he never met with his equal; and there was scarcely any kind of causes, in which he had not signalized his abilities; so that he enrolled himself very early among the first orators of the time. He accused C.Carbo, though a man of great eloquence, when he was but a youth;- and displayed his talents in such a manner, that they were not only applauded, but admired by every body. [160] He afterwards defended the [Vestal] virgin Licinia, when he was only twenty-seven years of age; on which occasion he discovered an uncommon share of eloquence, as is evident from those parts of his oration which he left behind him in writing. As he was then desirous to have the honour of settling the colony of Narbo (as he afterwards did) he thought it advisable to recommend himself, by undertaking the management of some popular cause. His oration, in support of the act which was proposed for that purpose, is still extant; and reveals a greater maturity of genius than might have been expected at that time of life. He afterwards pleaded many other causes: but his tribunate was such a remarkably silent one, that if he had not supped with Granius the beadle when he enjoyed that office (a circumstance which has been twice mentioned by Lucilius) we should scarcely have known that a tribune of that name had existed.”

It has been used to argue a later date for the founding of Narbo based on Cicero’s chronology of Crassus’ career.  Crawford strongly disagrees.  Most now seem to follow Velleius and Crawford (and Eutropius who might or might not be following the ‘authoritative’ but lost account of Livy here).  I’m more interested in how the passage hints at the ‘popular’ nature of the colonial foundation.  An idea expanded else where in Cicero where he says Crassus’ speech in support of the colony was anti-Senatorial:

But I, with respect to speeches of that sort, am guided by the authority of many men, and especially of that most eloquent and most wise man, Lucius Crassus; who—when he was defending Lucius Plancius, whom Marcus Brutus, a man both vehement and able as a speaker, was prosecuting; when Brutus, having set two men to read, made them read alternate chapters out of two speeches of his, entirely contrary to one another, because when he was arguing against that motion which was introduced against the colony of Narbo, he disparaged the authority of the senate as much as he could, but when he was urging the adoption of the Servilian law, he extolled the senate with the most excessive praises; and when he had read out of that oration many things which had been spoken with some harshness against the Roman knights, in order to inflame the minds of those judges against Crassus—is said to have been a good deal agitated.

[Same anecdote at Cic. De Orat. 2.223]

The coin itself appears militaristic showing a vicious naked Gallic Warrior.  In iconographic terms we might file it with a coin like this, which is usually thought to have been made the year before and to commemorate the Gallic victories of 121 BC and the double triumphs of Domitius and Fabius in 12o BC.  If they were in 120 BC… (see above)

Was Narbo a military foundation to defend against the menacing Gauls?  Was it part of a Gracchan vision of distributing land to the urban poor?  Was it both?

And then there is that Naked Gaul on the first coin, who Crawford doesn’t think could be King Bituitus — a bizzare figure who appears to have ended his days in Alba (Fucens?).  The literary testimony seems in knots about his relationship to the two commanders (Domitus and Fabius): the Triumphal Fasti seem to give credit to Fabius, but Val. Max. 9.6.3 has a very different story indeed.   Bituitus is probably a red herring from numismatic perspective, but a most enjoyable one.


Final Note To Self:  Don’t forget to link the Cicero above to coins of the gens Cassii on prosecuting Vestal Virgins in some future post!


July 5 update: After spending an extended period of time with Mattingly 1972 and 1998 as reprinted in 2004.  In 1972 he argues for a lower date on the basis of hoards and Cicero.  In 1998 his arguments are based on patterns on the coins such as types of ligature and the dispensing of ROMA as an obverse legend.  He asserts in his 2004 preface to the 1972 piece that Cn. Domitius and C. Cassius of the coins are not the consuls of 96BC and calls them ‘irrelevant’ to the dating of the Narbo founding.  He holds to a ca. 115BC date.  I find his use of hoard evidence hard to follow; his writing drowns in details and minimal articulation of the logical connections.   I am going to transcribe his dating system into the margins of my copy of RRC and hope in the process of transcription I begin to see the forest for the trees.


One thought on “File Narbo under ‘I just don’t know enough’

  1. HB Mattingly 1999 rep. 2004 isn’t a generally accepted source of dating. Still he is a brilliant and widely respected numismatist, and each argument he uses deserves consideration by later authors. The re-datings he proposes for more or less the entire period 140-50 BC, and brought together in his 2004 anthology may not be Plan A in the minds of most numismatists but the arguments are carefully evidenced and worth considering (and, in some cases, then rejecting). As mentioned in a prior comment by me there is anyway no accepted methodology as to how one goes about hoard analysis, so his arguments need to be considered individually.

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