74 out of 410 days: Game Changing Scholarship



Sometimes awesome publications just don’t get the attention they deserve. Sometimes a single inscription can completely change our reconstruction of an individual’s career and thus the shape of events and meaning of various symbolism.  Such seems the case with Díaz Ariño’s republication of the inscription first published by González, J. (1993), C. Memmius imperator, Habis 24, 281-286.  I’m sticking it up here largely just to give it attention.  RRC 427/1 doesn’t recall the moneyer’s uncle’s time in Macedonia, but instead his grandfather’s previously unknown Spanish campaigns.

There is also the great work being done by Saskia Roselaar mapping coin finds in Italy in time and space to reveal connections and patterns in those connections.  I love that she is making her work available as it develops.


73 out of 410 days: Pompey and Freedmen

Romans had a practice of granting manumission to some slaves.  Those receiving such grants held a separate status from the citizens, i.e. free men.  As freedmen they had more limited legal rights and defined obligations to their former masters, now their patrons.   That’s pretty basic, but the social function of this group certainly evolved over time and we might think about the attitudes and social conditions that preceded the evolution of the imperial freedmen.  I came across two passages today that got me thinking along those lines:

 These things I have heard; I have heard also that this theatre was not erected by Pompey, but by one Demetrius, a freedman of his, with the money he had gained while making campaigns with the general. Most justly, therefore, did he give his master’s name to the structure, so that Pompey might not incur needless reproach because of the fact that his freedman had collected money enough for so huge an expenditure.


While these men kept up their conflict, Pompey, too, encountered some delay in the distribution of the grain. For since many slaves had been freed in anticipation of the event, he wished to take a census of them in order that the grain might be supplied to them with some order and system. This, to be sure, he managed fairly easily through his own wisdom and because of the large supply of grain; but in seeking the consulship he met with annoyances and incurred some censure.

These passages would need to be contextualized by say Sulla’s mass manumission of the so called Cornelii, some 10,000 individuals, or the power he gave to Chrysogonus.  

The basic moral seems to be that benefiting too many freedman or one freedman too much is viewed with suspicion.  On the other hand our imperial sources may be reading too much of their present social reality back on to their accounts of the Republic.   

Contrast how Plutarch does not mention distributions to freedmen, but instead emphasizes that there was so much grain available it was give to foreigners as well — yet another group whose influence was a site of socio-political anxiety in the Late Republic.  Cf. the careers of Theophanes of Mitylene and Balbus.

I was getting a little lost in the literary accounts of 56-55 BC.  This post is just a little break to try to return to the coins.

100th Post: Visually Oriented

Yes. This is also 72 out of 410 days, but the 100th post seems to take numerical precedence. What is this obsession with base-10 numbers we have?!

At the beginning of this I set out some reasons why I was blogging. I’ve been asked what I get out of it by friends and colleagues: “what’s the pay off?” I’m a visual oriented person. This particular format of “picture first followed by text and more pictures and links to other tangential or directly related material” feels really natural. It’s an easy way for me to write. I find the image first and then let it flow from there.

It’s just like how I prep classes or write a conference paper or invited talk. Images are organized first with a few words on PPT slides and then i slowly craft a text while building a supplemental handout with chunks of primary sources and references to secondary literature. The three files grow simultaneously. This blog mimics for the book the conference presentation writing process prior to the chapter or article publication. Here is the playful connection of ideas. The fun and endless images, en masse and  in full color. The asides. The working out a way of saying something before it crystallizes on the page in front of me. The enthusiasm over the new-to-me discovery process rather than the certitude of a published thesis. I need a loose conception of audience and performance to motivate and inform my crafting of the words. Words that explain what I’m seeing in the images OR just words that capture the same resonance as the metaphoric image I’ve selected to reflect a loosely formed idea.

When I write conference papers I label the file ‘script’ not ‘draft’. I don’t want to confuse the oral form of the words with that which will be experienced on paper with footnotes and only a few select images.

Why do I write this way? The internet wants to categorize me as a visual spatial learner. This seems to be a Pop Ed buzz phrase. It seems to be happy fuzzy spin on how to teach autistic and dyslexic people and any one else who is a “problem” learner in some way.

Yes, this looks like me:

But, while my dyslexia and other learning disabilities are very very real, how I do “learn” doesn’t really seem to need a label. I also like sequences and statistics and spreadsheets with complex formulas. I’m a numismatist after all! And while I was a late reader (age 7 and not proficient until 9), I certainly have no aversion to reading texts, in either the literal or theoretical fashion.

So is the blog worth it? Absolutely.

postscript. It also, to a lesser extent, harnesses the power of social media distraction or internet procrastination. It means when I stop working the first place I turn to is in fact directly work related. I keeps me constantly on task. Or, demands, if I’n not on task, to explain myself. Thus, it is the outward manifestation of the superego and her big stick.


Full rough draft of chapter six exists as of this morning. Afternoon was spent keying in long hand, editing, checking citations, and rewriting.

71 out of 410 days: What’s in a Name?

Gold coin.This coin of Pompey is probably a small issue struck as a commemorative piece and/or gift on the occasion of his second triumph.  The choice of legends are particularly revealing about both the date of issue and also the impression Pompey wished to convey. Three passages are needed for context.  First, Granius Licinianus 36.2.4:

And Pompeius, when he was 25 years old and still a Roman knight – something which no-one had previously done – celebrated a triumph as pro-praetor from Africa, on the fourth day before the Ides of March. Some writers say that on this occasion the Roman people were shown elephants in the triumph. But when he came to enter the city, the triumphal arch was too small for the four elephants yoked to his chariot, although they tried it twice.

I include this for how it emphasizes his having served with Praetorian imperium as a private citizen and because it shows the close connection between Elephants and Africa in the Roman mind.  Next up is Plutarch, Life of Pompey 13.4-5.

[When Sulla] perceived that everybody was sallying forth to welcome Pompey and accompany him home with marks of goodwill, he was eager to outdo them. So he went out and met him, and after giving him the warmest welcome, saluted him in a loud voice as “Magnus,” or The Great, and ordered those who were by to give him this surname. Others, however, say that this title was first given him in Africa by the whole army, but received authority and weight when thus confirmed by Sulla. Pompey himself, however, was last of all to use it, and it was only after a long time, when he was sent as pro-consul to Spain against Sertorius, that he began to subscribe himself in his letters and ordinances “Pompeius Magnus”; for the name had become familiar and was no longer invidious.

Here we get some accounts of how Pompey came to be called ‘the Great’, its connection to his African campaign, and when he himself embraced the name.  What’s missing from this passage are the associations with Alexander which were well known in antiquity and today.  Finally, Cicero, For the Manilian Law 62.6-7 (cf. Cicero, Phillipics, 11.18-19):

What was ever so unusual, as, when there were two most gallant and most illustrious consuls, for a Roman knight to be sent as proconsul to a most important and formidable war? He was so sent—on which occasion, indeed, when someone in the senate said that a private individual ought not to be sent as proconsul, Lucius Philippus is reported to have answered, that if he had his will he should be sent not pro consule, but proconsulibus.

The final statement puns on the double meaning of pro consule: it can be translated either ‘not instead of one consul, but instead of both’ or ‘not with the rank of proconsul, but instead of both consuls’.  Its this controversial appointment, again as a private citizen, that the reverse legend celebrates and associates with the triumphal figure.


Today was the long slog through typing in the text I wrote long hand yesterday and adding citations and edits as appropriate.  Lots of progress just not inspiring.   I have between three and six more coin types I want to incorporate into the chapter all of which I’ve written about here on the blog at one time or another.   Tomorrow, fresh, longhand, I could have something like a full rough draft.

69, 70 out of 410 days: Out and About

Yesterday was gorgeous.  I spent nearly the whole day on the bike.  A good battery recharge.   As SDA and I were coming out of Prospect Park and waiting at the traffic light [Yes, some cyclists really do obey rules of the road.], I saw the triumphal arch at grand army plaza again-for-the-first time.  Check out the spandrels!  The left Victory has a palm branch and a little victory on a globe, but the right Victory has fasces with axes AND the constitution.  


She’s holding it like Moses holds the 10 commandments and its clearly inscribed as the constitution to make sure there is no question.  The juxtaposition very nicely contextualizes the symbolism of the fasces in the late 1800s as a law-an-order motif.

The arch itself is dedicated to the “Defenders of the Union” and designing began 1888 and was unveiled 1892.  All this just further informs how we read the fasces in an early 1900s context for our Liberty Dime digression.

Today’s plan is to do some more long hand drafting out at a coffee shop away from the distractions of technology.


Unpleasant Reminders

It would be tedious to mention all the different men who have spent the whole of their life over chess or ball or the practice of baking their bodies in the sun. They are not unoccupied whose pleasures are made a busy occupation. For instance, no one will have any doubt that those are laborious triflers who spend their time on useless literary problems, of whom even among the Romans there is now a great number. It was once a foible confined to the Greeks to inquire into what number of rowers Ulysses had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first, whether moreover they belong to the same author, and various other matters of this stamp, which, if you keep them to yourself, in no way pleasure your secret soul, and, if you publish them, make you seem more of a bore than a scholar. But now this vain passion for learning useless things has assailed the Romans also. – Seneca, On the Shortness of Life, XIII

I abhor the sound of a ticking clock.  My great grandparents often babysat me.  If my mother was to come after my bedtime I’d be put to rest on a stiff rattan ottoman under a woolen afghan at the far end of the living room next to the fireplace.  I would lay there listening to the mantel piece clock tick away the seconds of my life.  Each chime would tell me exactly how long I’d been lying there failing to sleep.  SDA’s grandfather collected clocks.  We have a great number of them around our home and would enjoy having many more.  All of them are stopped.  I don’t want any such reminders, thank you very much.

Clearly Seneca thinks I’m wasting my time.  No, my knowledge doesn’t make any one better off particularly, but the process of acquiring it is certainly immensely pleasurable, certainly more than catching a tan.

68 out of 410 days: Boundary Rituals

I was reading this description of the pomerium.  And all of a sudden I couldn’t help but think about the ritual of beating the bounds still used in many English (and Irish?) parishes today.  Clicking on the picture above will give you a basic history with images. There is a good scholarly reflection on the revival/restoration of the historic practices here.  I like how this modern take accepts that each deployment of the ritual must be meaningful in the contemporary context and thus evolves overtime.

This was because I was hemming and hawing over how to talk about this coin of 81 BC, if at all:

Is it just about generalized ideas of bounty and stability in the aftermath of the Civil Wars?  Or is there some specific reference to Sulla’s extension of the pomerium or the establishment of his colonies throughout Italy?  Should we see the reverse as a peaceful genre scene or the illustration of a religious ritual?  The latter seems more likely given themes on the Roman Republican coin series generally, but on the other hand a more generalized symbolism would be more typical than the documentation of a very specific contemporary event or series of events.

I’m leaning toward a more general symbolism because the figure is clearly in a tunic, not a toga or other ritual garb.  And especially as it seems to be a direct echo of this earlier issue (100BC by Mattingly’s reckoning), with the exception of the addition of the driver:

Ryan 2009 has a good take on this issue, calling it a «aktualitätsbedingte Familienthematik » = “a family type of contemporary significance” linking it both to historical agrarian legislation by the family AND current events.