186 out of 410 days: More on Aediles and the Coins

This type of 63 BC borrows design elements from both of these coins of the period when Cinna controlled Rome. They were minted between 86-84 BC depending on whose chronology one follows.  Here are the two forerunners:

These two forerunners are the first two types struck by aediles the first by plebeian aediles, the second by curule aediles.   They both clearly identify the office of the issuer(s) on the obverse.  They also show on the obverse a goddess whose festival was tasked to each respective pair of aediles: the games of Cybele were the responsibility of the Curule Aediles, the games of Ceres the Plebeian.  Both reserve types also show the type of ceremonial seat on which the magistrate conducted his official business.  The subsellium for the plebeian aediles, the curule chair for the curule aediles.  Both types could be read as reflecting the honors and duties of each magistracy.  Perhaps an emphasis on constitutionality in a period when the constitution was in such a so precarious position?

Fast forward to the 60s as the type of Brocchus draws inspiration from both.  This can be seen as confirmation of a change in the honors and status of the plebeian aediles under Sulla.  Lily Ross Taylor many years ago pointed out the necessity of assuming such a change based on this passage of Cicero:

Now I am aedile elect, I consider what it is that I have received from the Roman people; I consider that I am bound to celebrate holy games with the most solemn ceremonies to Ceres, to Bacchus, and to Libera; that I am bound to render Flora propitious to the Roman nation and people by the splendour of her games; that it is my office to celebrate those most ancient games, which were the first that were ever called Roman games, with the greatest dignity and with all possible religious observance, in honour of Juno, Jupiter, and Minerva; that the charge of protecting all the sacred buildings and the whole city is entrusted to me; that as a recompense for all that labour and anxiety these honours are granted to me,—an honourable precedence in delivering my opinion in the senate; a toga praetexta; a curule chair; a right of transmitting my image to the recollection of my posterity.

Before Lily set the record rights some had assumed Cicero must be mistaken about the nature of his own office.   Clearly by 69 BC plebeian aediles had been upgraded to a better chair than the hard-benched subsellium.  Sulla’s constitutional changes seem like a good time for such a change, as the coins clearly show us that the subsellium was still in use in the mid 80s and the Ciceronian passage tells us the practice had changed by 70BC.  Thus we’re limited to a 15 year window for the change.

Schafer’s 1989 dissertation points out that IF Brocchus’ coin commemorates an ancestor’s aedileship that aedileship must be that of his father’s because it must have been after the reforms of Sulla.   Perhaps that’s even why its worth commemorating?  Could his father have been the first such plebeian aedile to have curule chair and fasces?     

And why would an aedile have fasces anyway?  Schafer notes these passages from Dionysius of Halicarnassus:

After this they also returned thanks to the gods worshipped in the city, and prevailed upon the patricians to pass a vote for the confirmation of their new magistracy [i.e. the tribune of the plebs]. And having obtained this also, they asked further that the senate should allow them to appoint every year two plebeians to act as assistants to the tribunes in everything the latter should require, to decide such causes as the others should refer to them, to have the oversight of public places, both sacred and profane, and to see that the market was supplied with plenty of provisions. Having obtained this concession also from the senate, they chose men whom they called assistants and colleagues of the tribunes, and judges. Now, however, they are called in their own language, from one of their functions, overseers of sacred places or aediles, and their power is no longer subordinate to that of other magistrates, as formerly; but many affairs of great importance are entrusted to them, and in most respects they resemble more or less the agoranomoi or “market-overseers” among the Greeks. …

The superintendence and oversight of the sacrifices and games performed during this festival [The Latin Festival] was committed to the tribunes’ assistants, who held, as I said, the magistracy now called the aedileship; and they were honoured by the senate with a purple robe, an ivory chair, and the other insignia that the kings had had.

This puts a lot of weight on the very last passage and the unspecified “other insignia” and the assumption that must include the fasces.  Dio was writing in the Age of Augustus and must seen plebeian aediles with the honors such as Cicero describes in the post Sullan period and then retrojected these back onto the earliest days of Roman history.  OR, he’s just saying they had these honors for the games but not their other duties…  In which case we need not assume any change under Sulla.

Why an aedile would have axes on his fasces is a mystery to me.  Their sphere of responsibilities were very much inside the pomerium.  The only explanation I can think of is Feriae Latinae the festival being held on the Alban Mount would take the aediles out of the city in their official capacity.  Perhaps that is where the axes come in.

Brocchus’ type was itself mimicked later, but not to symbolize the aedileship!  L. Livinius Regulus modifies it (without axes in the fasces) to symbolize his father’s praetorship, and perhaps also his own turn as Praefectus Urbi.

Finally, I’m interested in the fact that Brocchus is one of the earliest moneyers to feel it worthwhile to add IIIVir on his coinage to make clear his own magistracy.  Other pre-49 issues to do this are RRC 401, 407, 411, 413, 437.  IIIVir (or IIIIVir after Caesar increases the number) are more common during the Civil Wars: 440, 442, 444, 454, 463, 364, 472, 480,  484, 494, 525.   Crawford describes this as a whim of the moneyer, but I’d suggest that like the aedile labels above.  The emphasis on authority suggests a general concern for constitutionality in a time of constitutional crisis or at least destabilization.

In the case of Brocchus it seems that labelling his office helps remove any speculation that he might himself be the aedile to which the types refer.  I find it hard to believe that the type is ‘aspirational’  suggesting honors he wants but has not yet received.

The use of the curule chair as a symbol in its own right follows on from representations of the subsellium with figures seated on it.  The removal of the figures and the use of a just an object as a symbol seems to make the types refer more to the institution rather than the individual.

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