255 out of 410 days: Ramo Secco Finds

ANS 1949.100.2; Acquired From: J. P. Morgan coll.Purchased June 10, 1949; Previous Collection: J. P. Morgan = Sangiorgi, 15 Apr. 1907 (Strozzi), 3; found at Fabbro near Orvieto, see maps below.

So I was happy to find today that there was in fact an update to Crawford’s 1985 map:



This is newer map was published in 2004 by Diana Neri


It broadens the picture some and removes other disputed finds.  The great shame is that it still doesn’t give a picture of any Illyrian finds…  I was happy to see that the find spot of the ANS specimen above could be located on both maps!

254 out 410 days: Aes Grave Iconography

Bronze Quincunx, Hatria, 300 BC. ANS 1954.263.176

So I was skimming the ANS catalogue trying to collect my thoughts about the Italian context for early Roman coinage.  Most of the examples of cast coinage from non-Roman mints seems comfortably familiar. Wheels, Tridents, Anchors, Clubs are all motifs found at Rome and elsewhere.  I particularly like the animals, roosters and sleeping dogs especially.  But then I came across this specimen above: “Female Head in Murex Shell”.  So different!  Even if the other side, a Pegasus, is by contrast strikingly familiar in a numismatic context.  Anyway the unexpected-thing-in-a-shell motif reminded me of course of our discussion of gem stone themes, earlier.  It certainly fits that motif well.

Carnelian ring stone

The British Museum also have a good selection of this type of gem.  Note especially the Mule coming out of the murex shell.

Postscript 5 March 2014.  There is no image of that mule coming out of a shell on the BM site, but I just wonder if it isn’t more likely to be an ass.  The ass is known for its generous male genital endowment and Henig argues that the shell is a symbol of a female sexual organs.   You see why I wonder about it being a mule… Anyway, in furhter support of Henig’s fertility theory of the shell motif, there is the other BM specimen (illustrated) where two rabbits issue forth from the shell.

251 out of 410 days: Back from Travels, Onto a New Chapter

A week of archaeological sites was a lovely break from writing. Yesterday and today have just been reading literature on file and looking over notes for the next chapter.  I thought I’d throw up this coin (HN Italy 2013) and Crawford’s 2002 comments:


From: M.H. Crawford, “Provenances, Attributions, and Chronology of Some Early Italian Coinages,” CH IX (2002), pg. 274.

I’m always nostalgic about this type.  I have strong memories of the first time I ‘found’ it in the old Ashmolean coin room and how much I loved bringing students in to see it and talk about its relationship to Roman types (RRC 28/3):


My favorite line out of this article of Crawford is certainly:

“It is no good simply lying in one’s bath and thinking that such-and-such an issue looks rather nice in such-and-such a year…”

I never dare do such a thing, but I did read this just as I was thinking how nice a bath sounded on a cold rainy Istanbul afternoon.  He startled me into keeping at my computer.  No bad thing.

The other Crawfordian gem of today’s readings was pretty much all of his 2009 article on aes signatum. Just to give a bit of the flavor, it begins “The term aes signatum seems to be taking an unconscionable time dying”  and contains a choice observation about “typical Anglo-Saxon insouciance about anything written in German, or even in French” followed by a pointed suggestion that in this case “maybe the insouciance was justified”.  (SNR 88 (2009): 195-197).

239 out of 410 days: Lessons Learned, Again


This morning I started weeping as I read about the Agonalia.

Simon Price was an amazing scholar, a brilliant teacher and one of most kind and humane men I’ve ever known.  He gave me my first teaching job.  Back summer term of 1997 I had a series of undergraduate tutorials with him on Roman religion.  I’d been to his lectures the previous term and was in awe of all the rich materials, tidbits of evidence from here and there he marshaled together into a captivating narrative, a narrative that showed something of all the questions left to be asked.  He’d stand by the window in his black robe and look out of the room as he talked, making sense of the patchwork quilt of sources he’d assembled on a single handout.

The tutorials were good, but it was summer and Oxford was full of distractions.  I found the way of thinking about the history of religion, very different from reading Polybius.  The Isis essay was fine, a novelty really, but boy did I struggle the week on Ovid’s Fasti.   He wanted me to answer the question what use is this poem to the historian.   I thought I’d never read anything quite so dull.

This morning I started by reading the Fasti.  I love every bit of it.  Like a sibylline book, every time I read it, it seems new  again and perfectly relevant to my project at hand.   I never seem to be able to see or understand or remember a passage of it until the moment I need it.  Simon was right, of course.  He tried to teach me to read it.  At least I got there eventually.

I regret most fervently never writing to him before he passed away about what he meant to me. Or just to say thank you.  If there is someone you should write to, trust me it will be better to do it now, than redraft the letter over and over again in your mind for all the years to come.

238 out of 410 days: A Fashion for Ships

One shouldn’t really talk about those Fonteian coins as I was doing yesterday without adding in this coin of Q. Lutatius Cerco (quaestor, but whose quaestor?).  It was minted between the two other issues with full ship reverses.  It is given by Crawford a historical not legendary interpretation.  It’s seen as a celebration of the navel victory of C. Lutatius Catulus in 241 BC.  It clearly inspired by the first Fonteian coin and in turn inspires the design of the second.  The element it adds to the design are the overlapping shields above the oars.  This is a feature also seen on sculptural reliefs.  The reason this seems important to me is that the supposed doliolum of symbolic importance on the stern of the second Fonteian coin, looks to me as just another shield added for decoration:

Silver coin.

On some specimens like this one that haven’t been rubbed smooth it even seems to have the same line decoration.  I’ve not been able to find a parallel of a shield placed in this position on a ship depicted in other media. (Largely because looking for one is a distraction from the book!)

I should have also brought the Lutatius coin into my previous discussion of prow stems.

Postscript.  Do those two big stars on Roma’s helmet recall the dioscuri/penates?  Notice the stars over the Penates heads on Mn. Fonteius’ coin.

Update 2/12/14:  

Reverse of RRC 342/7b. 1969.83.492


Notice the dioscuri caps in front of the prows on this rather rare variation on the standard design of the as.  There is a victory palm above.  Perhaps further evidence that there is some association between navel victory (victories?) and the Dioscuri?

Update 4/29/14: Compare the placement of the rear shield on this representation:

Link to Getty Cast of Roman Bireme without a stern shield but with a similar stern terminus.

Another Getty Image.

and another.


Dei Penates Publici and the Dioscuri

Obverse of RRC 455/2a. 1944.100.3299

So later in the day I’m still thinking about those pesky penates and their iconography.  The most indisputable example is from late in the Republican series, c.47 BC, the image above.  It has two heads side by side just like the earlier issues and labels them very clearly. Diadems instead of laurel crowns but otherwise very similar and clearly labeled.  The other time they appear on the obverse of a coin is just one year (according to Mattingly) after the Fonteius coin I discussed in the last post.  Notice the abbreviation DPP = Dei Penates Publici.

Obverse of RRC 312/1. 1937.158.28

One of the things that is said quite often is that the iconography of the DPP is elided with that of the Dioscuri.  The best proof of this is actually that Fonteius coin with its PP inscription and the stars over the foreheads.  The text passage that is usually cited is this one from Dionysius:

In this temple there are images of the Trojan gods which it is lawful for all to see, with an inscription showing them to be the Penates. They are two seated youths holding spears, and are pieces of ancient workmanship. We have seen many other statues also of these gods in ancient temples and in all of them are represented two youths in military garb. 

No mention of the Dioscuri here.  Just a visual description.  One that in fact sounds awfully like that which we see on this coin representing the Lares Praestites (early post):

Reverse of RRC 298/1. 1937.158.17

Then there is question of the degree to which we want to argue in reverse like this.  We’re basing (with good reason I think) each earlier image on the next more clearly labelled instance of the same iconography.  So the first Penates/Ship coin by a Fonteius (RRC 290/1) has a janiform laureate head not two jugate heads.  In this it looks quite a bit like this  MUCH early didrachm standard obverse:

Obverse of RRC 28/3. 1941.131.15

How do we know this earlier image is of the Dioscuri, not say the Dei Penates?

Then finally there is the issue of saying the Dioscuri connection the coins is an indication of their connection with Tusculum.  What do the Dioscuri have to do with Tusculum?  They were honored there but not really any more than other towns as far as I can tell.  Here’s the often cited Cicero passage:

“And what of those other instances? As when, for example, the statue of Apollo at Cumae and that of Victory at Capua dripped with sweat; when that unlucky prodigy, the hermaphrodite, was born; when the river Atratus ran with blood; when there were showers frequently of stone, sometimes of blood, occasionally of earth and even of milk; and finally, when lightning struck the statue of the Centaur on the Capitoline hill, the gates and some people on the Aventine and the temples of Castor and Pollux at Tusculum and of Piety at Rome — in each of these cases did not the soothsayers give prophetic responses which were afterwards fulfilled? And were not these same prophecies found in the Sibylline books?

The penates on the other hand are most often associated with Lavinium, if anywhere other than Rome.  And if the ship is carrying the Trojan gods to Italy on the reverse of those Fonteii coins, it seems like Tusculum might be the big red herring in the conversation.  Until we add in this aureus of 43 BC (as per Woytek’s Arma et nummi, 2003):

Gold coin.

The stars and pilei make clear the Dioscuri emphasis and the reverse is a most unusual representation of the walls of Tusculum with its main gate.  The walls and height of Tusculum was proverbial and usually linked to some legendary origin (Telegonus or Circe):  Hor. Ep. 1.29‐30. Ov. Fast. 3.92, Sil. Ital. 12.535, Hor. Od. 3.29.8, Prop. 2.32.4, and Sil. Ital. 7.692.  The representation is similar to but different from the DPP.  Does it help us resolve the Fonteian coins?  I’m not sure, but it keeps Tusculum strongly in the mix.

Update 4/16/2014:  Note this claim in Torelli 1995: 114:



Discussion of the inscription can be found here.

Lavinium - Lamina

Weinstock 1960 is here.