286 out of 410 days: Cocks, Victory and Virility

Gem of glass paste imitating sard, engraved with a terminal figure of Hermes, before which stands a youth holding a wreath and palm-branch in his left hand, and a cock on his right.
Gem of glass paste imitating sard, engraved with a terminal figure of Hermes, before which stands a youth holding a wreath and palm-branch in his left hand, and a cock on his right. BM 1923,0401.420; Gem no. 2794

I was writing up my thoughts for the book on the symbolism of the cock on coinage during the First Punic War this morning.  [An issue touched upon in an earlier post, here.]  The idea that in the Greek world the cock need not be directly linked to Hermes, but more generally be a symbol of bellicosity and manliness, is well summarized by this book.




This might help explain the pairing of cock and Minerva (Athena) on coins of Suessa, Teanum, et al (for images see earlier post).  But I was still playing around with the Mercury association in my mind, when I came across the glass paste above.

Here we see the epitome of manhood, the victorious young athlete standing before a terminal Herm.  He has his prize crown and palm-frond and in thanksgiving for his victory he offers the god a cock. [Just like the victor in the Callimachus epigram quoted in the previous post!] The cock symbolizes at once his victory and his virility.  A Herm’s most notable feature was its phallus.  Although we are often think of Mercury (Hermes) as first the god of commerce, we must remember he ended up as such by his status as the fecund god, the wealth-bringer.   Just as cock is slang for male genitalia today, so in the ancient world the cock encapsulated a similar semantic range of meaning as the phallus: power, especially masculine power, the (pro)creative power that leads to wealth and to overcoming one’s adversaries.

Anyway, the glass paste is a ‘gem’ of a summation of the symbolism of the cock, so I thought I’d share. Okay, back to my other writing.

Post Script. 

When two cocks appears facing each other on gems it is most often a representation of a cock fight, thus a type of agonistic scene, often with victory imagery incorporated into the design:

Gem with two cocks and a palm branch. [Arachne image database]

Gem with two cocks one being crowned by victory.  [Arachne image database]

Gem with one cock on a rudder with a palm branch. [Arachne image database]

But also relevant are images where the are associated with martial symbolism:

Gem with military standards, cocks, and stars, flanking scorpion grasping a cresent.  [Arachne image database]

This is a good image showing the early association of the cock and Athena:

Vase in the Beazley Archive.

Other relevant bibliography:  Hoffmann 1974.

284 out of 410 days: Rostra

Egadi Ram 1. Click for link to RPM Nautical Foundation information page.

I was re-reading Tusa and Royal’s ‘landscape of the naval battle at the Egadi Islands (241BC)’ JRA 2012 and it struck me how right Eric Kondratieff was to draw a parallel between the iconography of this currency bar and rostra:

He made the argument for two rostra instead of two tridents on the basis of the Athlit Ram, a much more distant iconographic parallel, but that was before the Egadi Rams all came to light!  All of the Egadi Rams found thus far have a similar design on their driving center (see Tusa and Royal link above for the anatomy of the rams), but 1 provides the best visual parallel.  Given Egadi 1 has no specific provenience, it is harder to contextualize.  Tusa and Royal cautiously say:

“The clear differences in iconography, inscriptions and overall shape, combined with its unknown provenience, make an association of the Egadi 1 ram with the events of the First Punic War somewhat problematic.” (p. 45 n. 92)

And earlier they noted:

“Egadi 1 has the shortest driving center of the Egadi rams, being nearly identical in length to Egadi 5, yet has the longest tailpiece and the highest mid-length height and width. The reduction from the head to constricted waist is slightly greater than from the inlet. Given the ram’s significant increase in height from its constricted waist, it possesses the third tallest and second widest head. Its large head combined with a short driving center gives this ram a stubbier design than the others.” (p. 14)

Could it be earlier? Could it be later?  I’d speculate as to the former, but this is only a kneejerk instinct regarding the a likely general design trend from compact and short to long and thin.  Such speculation is likely unwarranted.  I could even argue against it via the ‘stubby’ appearance of the rostrum depicted on The Tomb of Cartilius Poplicola which dates to the 1st century BC (images are already up on my early post on prow stems).

William Murray, Age of Titans (2012), p. 52 gives a great illustration of a three-bladed waterline rams, just more confirmation of the rostra as the correct identification of the coin type.

Miscellaneous Post Scripts.

Another pre Egadi post Athlit publication that will be of interest to anyone interested in rams and rostra: http://luna.cas.usf.edu/~murray/actian-ram/WM-Murray-Recovering-Rams.pdf

Also on Duillus and innovations and the coinage, see Morello’s summary of his Italian publication with useful diagrams by Andrew McCabe: http://andrewmccabe.ancients.info/Corvus.html

Update 3 April 2014.

See now also my post about the rostrum on the coins of Ariminum.

277 out of 410 days: agri quaestorii and Rome’s first issue of cast bronze coins?

RRC 14/1. 358.81g. ANS 1969.83.385. Gift of E.R. Miles.

In CMRR, Crawford first uses the evidence of the Nemi finds to place the RRC 14 finds ‘no earlier than about 280’.  He then goes on: “One may speculate that the need to administer the agri quaestorii acquired in 290 (Lib. Col. 253, 17L; 349, 17 L) played a part in the decision to produce the first issue of cast bronze coinage.” (p.40-41).

To wrap my head around the plausibility of this I turned to Roselaar’s Public Land in the Roman Republic (2010).  She gives a good definition and survey of ager quaestorius (p. 121-127).  On 290 BC she says:


Even if we go ahead and concede the land around Cures was sold shortly after 290, I have a hard time following the logic of how the sale of land is made easier by the creation of coinage.

The other issue muddying the waters regards agrarian issues in this period is the parallel and in precise testimony that M’. Curius Dentatus distributed land. Viris Illustribus has a good mash-up of various accounts.  First after conquering the Samnites he says in a contio  ” I took so much land that it would have become a desert, if I had not taken so many men. I took so many men that they would have starved, if I had not taken so much land.” (33.2)  Then, he gives 14 iugera of land the people (which we do not learn) and only takes so much for himself saying, “there was no one for whom this amount was not sufficient”. (33.5-6)  The latter echoes a pithy saying of his found in Plutarch, but where we are offered no context for it. Valerius Maximus says only seven iugera were given out, but also makes a moral out of the general taking no more than the rest.  Pliny has the very same nugget:

The words, too, that were uttered by Manius Curius after his triumphs and the addition of an immense extent of territory to the Roman sway, are well known: “The man must be looked upon,” said he, “as a dangerous citizen, for whom seven jugera of land are not enough;” such being the amount of land that had been allotted to the people after the expulsion of the kings.

Then at the end of the mini bio in Viris Illustribus (link above) we’re told he’s given 500 iugera by the public for his services (33.10).

And, just to add to the mix we should remember that his campaigns in the Po is said to have led to the founding of the colony of Sena which would have also included land distributions (Polybius 2.19).  The Periochae of Livy don’t have a land distribution, but do have the colonial foundation.

Cato the Elder, and Cicero after him, loved Dentatus as the epitome of the rustic Roman, military man and farmer, happy to conquer everyone in sight and still eat a simple stew from a wooden bowl. [Cincinnatus, anyone!?] The literary sources care FAR more about the bon mot than the distribution.  I don’t think we can nail down a context for it.

Thus, I think this is just a fun rabbit hole with very little promise for finding a context for the aes grave.

That’s not to say Dentatus is completely useless to us when we’re thinking about early contexts for making coins:

6. in the four hundred and eighty-first year from the founding of the City, Manius Curius Dentatus, who held the censorship with Lucius Papirius Cursor, contracted to have the waters of what is now called Old Anio brought into the City, with the proceeds of the booty captured from Pyrrhus. This was in the second consulship of Spurius Carvilius and Lucius Papirius. Then two years later the question of completing the aqueduct was discussed in the Senate on the motion of the praetor. At the close of the discussion, Curius, who had let the original contract, and Fulvius Flaccus were appointed by decree of the Senate as a board of two to bring in the water. Within five days of the time he had been appointed, one of the two commissioners, Curius, died; thus the credit of achieving the work rested with Flaccus. The intake of Old Anio is above Tibur at the twentieth milestone outside the* Gate, where it gives a part of its water to supply the Tiburtines. Owing to the exigence of elevation, its conduit has a length of •43,000 paces. Of this, the channel runs underground for •42,779 paces, while there are above ground. substructures for •221 paces.

I’d not like to connect this aqueduct to any one issue but like the construction of Via Appia, big infrastructure projects and the establishment of colonies are easier if the state has an easy means of making payments.

269 out of 410 days: Do you believe the pig story?

There comes a day in every young numismatist’s life when he or she asks the question is the pig story true?   Did the anyone, let alone the Romans, ever use pigs in battle against elephants?  Would it work?   And if it worked wouldn’t everyone have used it?  Fighting elephants was certainly the opposite of fun.

First off, let’s throw out the idea of Roman flaming pigs (regardless of what the video games offer you as options).  That is bad scholarship at least when it comes to the Roman account.  Here’s some of that bad scholarship (p. 87ff) and another one (p. 202). Don’t believe everything you read it books, even books with footnotes.  Lamentably, or admirably, Wikipedia is actually far better at reviewing the sources, than apparently some university presses.  Here’s the War Pig entry.

So why do numismatists think that pigs and elephants should date the above currency bar to the Pyrrhic War? Because of these two sentences in Aelian (on the nature of animals, 1.38):

 Ὀρρωδεῖ ὁ ἐλέφας κεράστην κριὸν καὶ χοίρου βοήν. οὕτω τοι, φασί, καὶ Ῥωμαῖοι τοὺς σὺν Πύρρῳ τῷ Ἠπειρώτῃ ἐτρέψαντο ἐλέφαντας, καὶ ἡ νίκη σὺν τοῖς Ῥωμαίοις λαμπρῶς ἐγένετο.

Ariete cornuto et suis grunnitu abhorret elephas. Sic Romanos Pyrrhi Epirotarum regis elephantos in fugam vertisse dicunt, victoriamque amplam ex eo bello retulisse.

The elephant fears the horned ram and the grunting of a pig. Thus, the Romans are said to have routed the elephants of Pyrrhus, king of the Epirotes and brought about brilliant victory for themselves.

I put up the Latin as that’s more readily available online for those who want to check out context. My translation is based on the Greek (not that it makes a huge difference).

This is not great historical evidence. And everyone gets so hung up on the pigs that they ignore the mention of rams completely. Aelian followed Pliny and other writers for most of his little anecdotes.  Pliny has squealing pigs and elephants, but no Pyrrhus. Let’s put this in context: Pliny is also our earliest source for elephants being afraid of mice.  And common on, did you really need a Mythbusters episode to debunk that?

The whole thing sounds like some marvelous tale.  And in fact it’s found in the some of the Alexander Romances:


The ‘secret’ of the elephant’s fear of a pig is attributed to Porus, the Indian King.

There is a better attested version of the elephant and pig story in Hellenistic history, but no Romans in sight.  Again, our sources are late and known for being magpies of wonderful tales:

 At the siege of Megara, Antigonus brought his elephants into the attack; but the Megarians daubed some swine with pitch, set fire to it, and let them loose among the elephants. The pigs grunted and shrieked under the torture of the fire, and sprang forwards as hard as they could among the elephants, who broke their ranks in confusion and fright, and ran off in different directions. From this time onwards, Antigonus ordered the Indians, when they trained up their elephants, to bring up swine among them; so that the elephants might thus become accustomed to the sight of them, and to their noise.

Aelian knew this story too (Latin trans.).

If it weren’t for the currency bar I’d throw the whole story out.  Dionysius offers some perfectly plausible accounts of the Roman tactics against elephants in the Pyrrhic War:

Outside the line they stationed the light-armed troops and the waggons, three hundred in number, which they had got ready for the battle against the elephants. These waggons had upright beams on which were mounted movable traverse poles that could be swung round as quick as thought in any direction one might wish, and on the ends of the poles there were either tridents or swordlike spikes or scythes all of iron; or again they had cranes that hurled down heavy grappling-irons. 7 Many of the poles had attached to them and projecting in front of the waggons fire-bearing grapnels wrapped in tow that had been liberally daubed with pitch, which men standing on the waggons were to set afire as soon as they came near the elephants and then rain blows with them upon the trunks and faces of the beasts. Furthermore, standing on the waggons, which were four-wheeled, were many also of the light-armed troops — bowmen, hurlers of stones and slingers who threw iron caltrops; and on the ground beside the waggons there were still more men.

When Pyrrhus and those with him had ascended along with the elephants, and the Romans became aware of it, they wounded an elephant cub, which caused great confusion and flight among the Greeks. The Romans killed two elephants, and hemming eight others in a place that had no outlet, took them alive when the Indian mahouts surrendered them; and they wrought great slaughter among the soldiers.

Elephants left a big impression on the Roman mind.  Of this there is no doubt.  But if pigs worked so well why not use it as a tactic elsewhere?

I find myself asking myself about the provenance of the BM specimen (acquired 1867 from the Sambon Collection).  Are there other specimens of this type of currency bar?  Are there more of them? Any with a decent archaeological provenance?  Is it all just to good to be true?

268 out of 410 days: South Italian Digital Archive

I was worrying about the conflicting testimony in Livy and Diodorus over Cleonymus of Sparta’s Italian adventures.  Oakley has a good overview of the problem but there is more that can be said on the historiographical side. Barnes also has a take on the matter.

Amongst other things is a place called Thuriae, not Thurii mind you, that features in Livy’s narrative:

During the year a fleet of Greek ships under the command of the Lacedaemonian Cleonymus sailed to the shores of Italy and captured the city of Thuriae in the Sallentine country. The consul, Aemilius, was sent to meet this enemy, and in one battle he routed him and drove him to his ships. Thuriae was restored to its former inhabitants, and peace was established in the Sallentine territory.

[In case you’re wondering, the Sallentine territory or peninsula is the heel of Italy’s boot.]

This little mystery led to finding this 1932 publication that suggests it is the same as Turi, outside of Bari.

The interesting thing about this publication is how it ended up on the web.  The provincial administration of Brindisi seems to have decided in 2012 to scan and archive online pretty much every last regional publication.  Here’s the announcement.  There is as far as I can find no easy portal for searching through all the old newspapers and journals to find the relevant bits, but the archive is hiding lots of numismatic tidbits.   For instance, here’s the publication of the Salvatore Hoard.

The best I’ve found to mine its depths is to use Google site search.  Just go to the google homepage and enter a likely term in Italian, say ‘didramma’, and then ‘site:emeroteca.provincia.brindisi.it’.  Leave off the quotes.

Postscript.  I just don’t think the Cleonymus of Polyaenus’s Stratagems is the same character.  It’s just too early a date for the Romans to control Apollonia and Epidamnus.

267 out of 410 days: Mapping Mints and Other Things


Mapping functionality is being increasingly incorporated into digital numismatic publications.  The flash maps of the provincial mints were pretty hot stuff when they first came out on the RPC IV website about 8 years ago.  They still look pretty good if you ask me.  The ANS has started putting maps into most of its sites, the most impressive being the map feature of CHRR online.  But sometimes you want more than one point plotted on a map and you want to choose yourself which points are plotted.  I was pretty happy with the functionality of AWMC: À-la-carte map.  I think my internet speed (DSL) made it a bit clunky or maybe it’s the new Turkish internet security initiatives slowing things down.  That said, still worth it.  My first simple test (featured above) was to put on a map the mints that produced coins that are hoarded with RRC 13/1. I couldn’t get Cumae on the map at this magnification and use full name labels.  It’s label and that of Neapolis overlapped.  It however does let you custom label points or just number each point to stop the overlap feature.   I then just used the snipping tool (like a screen shot) to grab the portion of the map I wanted.

I suspect this mapping program is going to figure heavily in my lesson plans in future semesters.

For modern locations, such as find spots, there are a number of websites, Multiplottr is simple enough. [Why, oh why, has it become cute to name websites leaving out the last ‘e’?!]  Here are the results from plotting, S. Giovanni Ionico, Torchiarolo, Oppido Lucano, Mesagne, Valesio, and ‘Campania’.  Not publication worthy but certainly good enough to think with.  Very fast and easy to edit.