The VB signature

VB series. Victoriatus, uncertain mint circa 211-208, AR 3.34 g. Laureate head of Jupiter r. Rev. Victory crowning
trophy; in lower field, VB ligate and in exergue, ROMA. Sydenham 113. Crawford 95/1a. NAC 61 (05/10/2011) lot 396 .

So I love maps and I was just adding a beautiful map from Fronda’ Between Carthage and Rome to yesterday’s post when I notice a place called Vibinum.  I’ll happily admit its not a topographical location whose historical significance I’ve ever considered, although modern Bovino is quite pretty indeed.  Here’s Fronda on its possible position during the 2nd Punic War (2010: 86 n. 152):


It occurs to me that of the VB series whose mint is usually listed as unknown is found in large numbers in the Canosa hoard.  Anyway. VB is probably just some junior official.  No coins of Vibinum are known or much else about it for that matter!  Just thought I’d share the wild speculation for kicks. (And because the specimen above is just so beautiful!)


When Mommsen attributed this type to Vibo Valentia, he did not have the benefit of any strong dating evidence.  Vibo was not founded until 192 (planned 194; Livy 34.53 and 35.39) and once it was founded it used Valentia on its coins not Vibo.

Some Habits at SE Italian Mints? Signing Quaestors and Overstriking?

HN Italy 718. Venusia. ‘double-nummus’. Image from Burnett, ‘La monetazione di Venosa…’ (1991), 4.1.

This post is hot on the heels of the last.  There is a lot going on in the numismatic world of SE Italy during the Hannibalic War.  I wish I had a copy of Marchetti’s Histoire économique et monétaire de la deuxième querre punique (1975) to hand.  I can’t let go my concerns about the CA series and its attribution to Canusium, especially when the Latin colony Venusia just 40km up the same river valley and on the Via Appia (the better road!) was Marcellus’ base of operations and thus hosting many soldiers in need of payment. So I thought I’d peak at the Venusian coins–I can’t type Venusian without smirking and thinking of hippy-dippy alien theorists–but in all seriousness I observe a couple of things:

  • The quincunx, teruncius, biunx, and sescuncia are all reported as being overstruck on other issues (HN Italy 720-723).
  • The coin above is signed by a quaestor with the initials CA.

No this isn’t  a smoking gun, but if I was a Roman general looking for a mint in the Aufidus region I think I’d pick a colony near a troop base on a main road, even if they were a little lazy about not recasting flans.

Burnett, and HN Italy following Burnett, read GA.Q, not CA.Q, but C/G are pretty much the same letter form in this period and most subsequent ones.  The letter forms are different from the CA on Roman coins and I can’t actually bring myself to say RRC 100 is actually close in ‘style’ to any of the Venusian specimens I’ve looked at.

This is not the only coin in the region that seems to be signed by a quaestor.  Reportedly (I’ve not seen an image) Naples, S.2219 = HN Italy Brundisium 749 reads M.PV Q.   Brundisium is also a Latin colony and a major military staging post in this period of the second Hannibalic War.  In fact it seems THE major port and certainly M. Valerius Laevinus’ original base before he started his cross Adriatic shenanigans.   Brundisium’ coinage is signed by a bunch of magistrates.  And most of M.PV’s coins aren’t labelled with a Q.

These two instances of quaestors at Latin colonies got me thinking about quaestors and coinage more generally.  As I’ve said before, there isn’t a lot of evidence on 3rd century quaestors generally and that part of what made the signed Egadi rams special, but here are two more quaestors.

Are they local quaestors?  Probably, the lex Osca Bantina of the late second early first century BC mentions quaestors in its list of magistrates and it is thought to derive from an earlier Venusian prototype (Bispham 2007: 142-152, p. 143 n. 124 lists other examples of Italian communities borrowing the structure of Rome’s magistracies).  That said, Badian in his 1975 article on the quaestorship spent a lot of time thinking about the Roman expansion of the quaestorship and the growth and change of the coinage system.  These two minor examples might lend a little weight to the idea of a third century connection between coinage and quaestors.  And might help point the way towards how we should be thinking about some of the unidentified signatures on Roman series. …   Early posts on quaestors.

Yes, I’m still laughing about ‘Venusian’:

A useful map:

From Fonda, Between Rome and Carthage (CUP 2010): xx; note especially the indication of the limits of river navigation!

A slightly clearer image of the coin above taken from Carroccio 2008:


The Adventures of Laevinus


Yesterday I spent nearly the whole day worrying about M. Valerius Laevinus and his adventures of 215-210 BC.  That is from when he was sent to the Adriatic to keep Philip occupied until his return to Rome to accept the consulship.  It was a good day.  I even reread an essay I wrote as a grad student in November 1998.  I knew things then apparently that I no longer know.  So strange.  I rather like the me of sixteen years ago.  Anyway.  The reason is of course to figure out how the coins sit along side the narrative evidence.  The two issues in question are RRC 100 and RRC 101.  There is no doubt that Laevinus’ career resulted in the production of these coins.

Reverse of RRC 100/3. 1944.100.200
Reverse of RRC 100/3. ANS 1944.100.200.
Quinarius, Corcyra (?) 211-210, AR 2.12 g. Helmeted head of Roma r.; behind, V. Rev. The Dioscuri galloping r.; below, monogram KPO – ΓA ligate. Sydenham 185. Crawford 101/2. Ex NFA sale XXVII, 1991, 256. NAC 61 (5/10/2011) lot 451
Victoriatus, Corcyra (?) 211-210, AR 2.50 g. Laureate head of Jupiter r. Rev. Victory crowning trophy; in
centre field, monogram KOR and in outer r. field, GA ligate. Sydenham 118. Crawford 101/1. Privately purchased from Alex J. Malloy in 1980. NAC 61 (5/10/11) lot 450

The triens of the CA series is regularly overstruck on coins of Oeniadae and the Acarnanian League (Crawford 1974: p. 115, table XVIII, entry 91, specimens a-t and entry 95, specimens a-i).  Laevinus sacked Oeniadae and a host of other Acarnanian places in the immediate follow up to his radical diplomatic arrangement with the Aetolian League.  He had a base on Corcyra and the KOR ligature on the silver is also found on Corcyra’s own coinage:

Drachm. Head of Aphrodite l., KOP monogram behind. Rv. Pegasos flying l. 2.40 grams. BMC 378. Ex Lockett Collection.

Other specimens of Corcyra, here.  Besides the map above, I also pulled together the literary sources on Laevinus’ exploits [links to PDF of translations].

The thing that has me a bit concerned is the association of the CA with Canusium.  Canusium had a mint but it used KA on its own coins. The style of RRC 100 is similar to Luceria, where a bent bar L was used on both earlier local coinage and Roman issues from the same mint.   Crawford follows Bahrfeldt ZfN 1895: 87 who in the style of his time says no more than:

“Die Heimath der letzteren ist ohne Frage Canusium, in deren Gegend noch jetzt vielfach Stücke dieser Art gefunden werden und auf welchen Ort, als am Gestade des Adriatischen Meeres gelegen”.

“The home of the latter is without question Canusium in whose area pieces of this type are found even now in many cases and also at the site itself, as by the shores of the Adriatic Sea”.

I’m hoping that the new valle dell’Orfanto project can provide confirmation of these early observations.  I’m not surprised that the coins are found on the Adriatic or in SE Italy but I’d like more specific data before insisting that Canusium must be the mint rather than CA standing for, say, a magistrates’ name, such as we presume is represented by the ΓΑ on RRC 101.  Canusium does not seem an obvious location with Laevinus’ sphere of action especially between the sack Oeniadae his recall to Rome.

Also, we need to take the career of Laevinus into account when we consider the dating of the coins.  Based on Livy 26.24 and 26 (see PDF above) it seems pretty clear that Oeniadae was captured late in 211 (after Zakynthos and near in time to Nasus).  Winter 211/210 Laevinus is on Corcyra and spring 210 he attacks Anticyra before heading back to Rome.  So winter 211/210 is the likely date it seems to me of not only the RRC 101 issue, but also RRC 100.  At lastest spring 210 as Laevinus makes his way back to Rome.  To accept Crawford’s date of 209-208 for RRC 100 we have to imagine that after the bronze coins were taken in Laevinus’ raid, they were kept on ice for  between one and three years before being overstruck.  The date of c.209 for this issue is perhaps influenced over much by the literary testimony that Marcellus engaged with Hannibal near Canusium in this year.  But, Marcellus seems to have based for two winters at near by Venusia (a Latin colony, like Luceria), not Canusium itself.  Hannibal seems to have at least some hope of convincing Canusium to come over to his side in 209.

Would Canusium have been on Laevinus’ route back to Rome?  A loyal(ish) town at which to drop off some of the spoils of war for striking?  Maybe, assuming he stopped back at his base of Brundisium and took the fast overland route:

From p. 200 of Between Rome and Carthage by M. P. Fronda (CUP 2010).

But Livy tells us the general was “overtaken by a tedious illness, and consequently arrived in Rome much later than was expected”.  It’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t have used a litter.  Of course, there is no reason general and booty must stay together.  But it is hard to see the economy of transporting the bronze on a difficult road just to overstrike it…

Sicilian Ears of Wheat

Reverse of RRC 69/6c. 1969.83.264
Reverse of RRC 69/6c. ΑΝS 1969.83.264

“The issue with com-ear occurs in the Serra Orlando hoard; here as on the denarius and bronze the com-ear is a symbole parlant for Sicily.”  (Crawford 1974: 16)  Clearly, the ear of wheat is a symbol of Sicily (Hersh 1993: 141).  But there is some difference between the selection of the symbol because of a canting pun or because already by the Hannibalic War the Romans were thinking of Sicily as a ‘bread-basket’. See, for example, this discussion of the symbol in a chapter on Sicilian identity. Crawford doesn’t explain how he thinks the visual pun works and so what follows is only speculation.

The Latin word for wheat is triticum.  

There is a tradition that the ‘original’ name of Sicily was Trinacria.  “(Τρινακρία/Trinakría, Hellanicus FGrH 51 F 79b), later Sicania (Σικανίη/Sikaníē, Hdt. 7,170; Σικανία/Sikanía, Thuc. 6,2,2) and only then Sicelia (Σικελία). The change of name reflects the successive immigration of the Sicani and Siculi; however, Trinacria is probably an unhistorical construction from the Homeric Thrinacia (Hom. Od. 11,107; 12,127; 12,135; 19,275), taking into account the triangular shape (tría ákra) of the island.” (So Olshausen in Brill’s New Pauly).

Maybe the adjectival form of triticum in the feminine, triticia, is close enough for a canting pun, but I’m not one hundred percent convinced.

Would the name Trinacria be widely known?  Jacoby’ collection of the fragments of Timaeus suggests it was in use in the West (FGrH vol. 3b.566, F164 ln.4)  But when we go to the source text, Diodorus, it’s hard to be sure that particular word was actually Timaeus’ contribution.  [I give the big block quote at the end of this post.]

In Latin authors its mostly used in poetic authors, and not before Catullus.  By contrast the early poets Ennius, Naevius, and Plautus all just use the name Sicilia.

But perhaps Crawford has a different Latin or Greek near homophone in mind which I just have yet realized.

An aside. One of my favorite Turkish phrases is jeton düştü!  The penny dropped!  In this case, perhaps I should say, jeton düşmedi. The penny has not dropped.  I’m not really sure the idiomatic phrase really carries over from English to Turkish but my Turkish teacher seemed to suggest as much and as a numismatist how can I resist using it.

Timaeus, for example, bestowed, it is true, the greatest attention upon the precision of his chronology and had due regard for the breadth of knowledge gained through experience, but he is criticized with good reason for his untimely and lengthy censures, and because of the excess to which he went in censuring he historian given by some men the name Epitimaeus or Censurer. Ephorus, on the other hand, in the universal history which he composed has achieved success, not alone in the style of his composition, but also as regards the arrangement of his work; for each one of his Books is so constructed as to embrace events which fall under a single topic.Consequently we also have given our preference to this method of handling our material, and, in so far as it is possible, are adhering to this general principle. And since we have given this Book the title “On the Islands,”in accordance with this heading the first island we shall speak about will be Sicily, since it is both the richest of the islands and holds first place in respect of the great age of the myths related concerning it.

The island in ancient times was called, after its shape, Trinacria,then Sicania after the Sicani who made their home there, and finally it has been given the name Sicily after the Siceli who crossed over in a body to it from Italy. …


Troublesome Quadrupeds

Silver coin.
RRC 123/1; BM registration no. 2002,0102.572

Crawford labels this quadruped as a ram.  Not a great fit.  Hersh thought differently:

Denarius circa 206-195, AR 4.30 g. Helmeted head of Roma r.; behind, X. Rev. The Dioscuri galloping r.;
below, ram r. In exergue, ROMA in linear frame. Sydenham –. Crawford 123/1. Extremely rare. Lightly toned and extremely fine The symbol on this issue has been called a ram and a calf, but Charles Hersh, in his review of Crawford, asserts that it is, in fact, a heifer, and that the distinguishing feature is abundantly clear on his specimen, now in the BM Collection. In any event, the coin a great rarity. (RBW) [NAC 61 (5/10/11) lot 561

I hate to disagree with Hersh, but I don’t think that’s an udder hanging down.  I think it really must be a calf, a male calf.  I submit as evidence specimens of RRC 526:

Reverse of RRC 526/2. 1960.170.9
Reverse of RRC 526/2. ANS 1960.170.9
Reverse of RRC 526/4. 1935.117.30
Reverse of RRC 526/4. ANS 1935.117.30.
Reverse of RRC 526/1. 1967.153.37
Reverse of RRC 526/1. ANS 1967.153.37.

Can we by extension guess that moneyer might be a Vitulus?!  Or perhaps its too early for such punning symbolism.  The main family to use the cognomen in the 3rd century were the Mamilii, namely the consuls of 265 and 262 BC.

Of course bulls and bull calves and Italian identity go together more generally (Pobjoy 2000: 201):



But then again it could just be just another symbol to distinguish the series.  Something vaguely thematically appropriate (abundance, sacrifice …) but of no special significance.

The Shape of the Letter A

RRC 111/1, Central Italy (?) circa 211-208, AR 4.03 g. NAC 61 (5/10/11), lot. 498.
RRC 126/1;uncertain mint circa 206-200, AR 4.56 g. NAC 61 (5/10/11) lot 571

I enjoy how these two coins together illustrate the variety of acceptable forms of the letter A in the Latin alphabet at the end of the third century.  That on each specimen two very different forms of the same letter co-exist warns the epigrapher against using these letter forms alone as a dating criteria.  It also suggests to me that certain names were rendered in particular ways habitually.  Compare for instance the VAR ligature of RRC 126/1 with that C.VAR ligature of RRC 74/1 (links to BM specimen).  ROMA has an open single bar A because that’s just how the word looks right. 

The thing to read on Latin epigraphy these days is Alison Cooley’s book.  If you’re looking for something online this old school book is fun and still somewhat useful.  Also see Gordon’s guide.

Representing the Defeated Enemy, or the Appropriation of Symbols

First a little context:

To my mind one of the most interesting aspects of the secondary marks on the early denarius, victoriatus and related issues is when they begin to experiment with different types of secondary symbols.  Most of the secondary symbols that appear on the coinage of the Hannibal War had already been in use as control marks on the didrachm series with Roma and Victory (RRC 22): cornucopia, crescent, caduceus, anchor, rudder, dolphin, star, pentagram, club, corn-ear, wreath, and so on…. These are relatively common symbols into which its dangerous to read too much particular meaning.   Other issues are signed by the responsible magistrates, most certainly on Sardinia (RRC 63-65) and Sicily (RRC 7475).    I particularly like how we can see the development towards longer abbreviations on Sardinia. The praetor of 211 BC just uses the first letter of his nomen, ‘C’ for L. Cornelius Lentulus (RRC 63).  The praetor of 210 uses two letters, ‘MA’ for P. Manlius Vulso (RRC 64).  And finally in 209, the praetor C. Aurunculeius uses three letters ‘AVR’ (RRC 65).  We don’t know the position or identity of the Sicilian magistrates, C.VAR and C.AL, but c. 209-208 they choose to use their praenomen initial, as well as an abbreviation of their nomen.  This type of signing of issues by junior officials will become standard at Rome in the future.  We can look to the signed Egadi rams for a possible comparable phenomenon.  On other issues the letters seem to be used to designate the place of issue rather than a magistrate, such as at Luceria, Canusium and Corcyra (RRC 97-98A, 100, 101).  The place names and magistrates names may simply be thought of as functional elements for the purposes of identifying the source and/or authority behind the issue.  We need not read them as acts of self-aggrandizement.

Then there are the other abbreviations the resolution of which is more controversial: are they indicating magistrates or places? (e.g. RRC 92-95).   We can easily find places to match the abbreviations, but then fitting those places as possible mints into the historical narrative of the Hannibalic War becomes very problematic.  I’m not proposing to resolve these difficulties here.

It has long been recognized that the wheat-ear functions as symbol of Sicily on certain issues.   More interesting are some of the more ‘creative’ symbols used by the Sicilian mint, one’s we’re not absolutely positive about their identification.  A possible bit-drill (so Hersh for RRC 77) and measuring stick (RRC 78) and the pick-ax that might be a canting pun (RRC 73), but also isn’t that different from the ceremonial hammer found on coins from central Italy (RRC 59).   Then there is also the very odd serrated issue of denarii with a wheel (RRC 79).  Did the Sicilian mint have a fashion for practical tools as symbols?  Why?

On to the meat of the matter:

The Sicilian symbols help us see that there was room for experimentation with the range of symbols.  The introduction of three new symbols onto the coinage stand out in particular: the torque, the falcata, and the carnyx and shield.  None of these elements are typical elements in Hellenistic art, but are instead identifying attributes of Roman enemies, especially elements that the Roman troops actually encountered on the battlefield.  Both the torque and the carnyx appear frequently enought on the republican series and other media to make them familiar symbols to numismatists and art historians alike.  That said, their first appearance on the coinage is noteworthy.  These issues borrow a symbol of the enemy and display it on the coinage like a trophy of war, the appropriation of the symbol representing the defeat of the fearsome aggressor.   The torque victoriatus is very rare (RRC 91/1a; two in the BM and one in trade). Frankly, if we didn’t have a preconceived idea of what a torque looked like it would be a difficult symbol to decode, looking rather like an omega.   The carnyx and Gallic shield is far more common and the iconography beyond dispute (RRC 128; examples in trade, ANS specimens).  The falcata is called a knife by Crawford, but as one independent scholar has recognized, the republican coins are clearly representing the typical Iberian weapon.

File:Falcata íbera (M.A.N. Madrid) 03.jpg
Discovered in 1867 in Almedinilla (Province of Córdoba, Andalusia, Spain). Now in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain.

The falcata is depicted in Iberian funerary art as well (Blázquez 1988: 506; cf. Osuna relief).  It’s two occurrences on Roman coins should be seen as akin to depictions of carnyx, i.e. as appropriated symbols of the defeated enemy.


Reverse of RRC 120/1. 1988.82.15
Reverse of RRC 120/1. ANS 1988.82.15.
Reverse of RRC 109/1. 1991.7.3
Reverse of RRC 109/1. ANS 1991.7.3.

All of this is important because, taken together, these three types represent a critical development in the ‘money as monument’ phenomenon at Rome.  Just as actual torques, carnyces, shields, and falcatae were displayed in Rome as the spoils of war –dedicated in temples and hung on the houses of the generals as lasting testimony to the victories — so too the alien symbols on the coinage testify to the defeat of a specific formidable foe.

This is perhaps a natural evolution from, say, the display of enemy ship rams on war monuments and their appearance on the coins.

The later evolution of this phenomenon is well discussed by Claire Rowan.

On this topic also see this newer post.