P on Roman Voting Tablets







It is a remarkable coincidence that all of these types, RRC 292, RRC 335, and RRC 384, all made by different moneyers from different families each represent a voting ballot* with the letter P. I find it hard to accept that in each case the P stands for a tribe.  Why would they all select the same tribe or initial if it is indeed generic?  Compare the voting tablets market V for V[ti Rogas], RRC 413 and also as a controlmark for Piso Frugi (obv. 33, Crawford 1974: table XLII), or the A[bsolvo ] C[ondemno] of RRC 428.  I think the P needs a bit more investigation.

* – On the Nerva coin the P on the tablet is more commonly understood as a placard identifying the unit presently voting at the polling station.

Sambuca, Siege Engine and Musical Instrument


One of my favorite activities when teaching Hellenistic warfare is to have students try to draw the siege engine that Polybius describes for the siege of Syracuse.  The passage is below.  I think its a useful way to build students ability to visual and engage with the text they are reading.  Anyway.  I’ve been wanting a Republican period image of a sambuca for many years to add to the lesson plan.  And Lo! The musical instrument appears as control mark on the Papius series.  I could get really obsessed with the Papius symbols.  Must resist today.

4 1 Meanwhile Marcellus was attacking Achradina from the sea with sixty quinqueremes, each of which was full of men armed with bows, slings, and javelins, meant to repulse those fighting from the battlements. 2 He had also eight quinqueremes from which the oars had been removed, the starboard oars from some and the larboard ones from others. These were lashed together two and two, on their dismantled sides, and pulling with the oars on their outer sides they brought up to the wall the so‑called  “sambucae.” 3 These engines are constructed as follows. 4 A ladder was made four feet broad and of a height equal to that of the wall when planted at the proper distance. Each side was furnished with a breastwork, and it was covered in by a screen at a considerable height. It was then laid flat upon those sides of the ships which were in contact and protruding a considerable distance beyond the prow. 5 At the top of the masts there are pulleys with ropes, and when they are about to use it, they attach the ropes to the top of the ladder, and men standing at the stern pull them by means of the pulleys, while others stand on the prow, and supporting the engine with props, assure its being safely raised. After this the towers on both the outer sides of the ships bring them close to shore, and they now endeavour to set the engine I have described up against the wall. 8 At the summit of the ladder there is a platform protected on three sides by wicker screens, on which four men mount and face the enemy resisting the efforts of those who from the battlements try to prevent the Sambuca from being set up against the wall. 9 As soon as they have set it up and are on a higher level than the wall, these men pull down the wicker screens on each side of the platform and mount the battlements or towers,10 while the rest follow them through theSambuca which is held firm by the ropes attached to both ships. 11 The construction was appropriately called a Sambuca, for when it is raised the shape of the ship and ladder together is just like the musical instrument.

Tessera Nummularia and Control Marks



If you’ve read more of this blog than is probably good for your health, you might remember me wondering previously about the possibility that some of our tesserae that are usually attributed to bankers might actually be part of mint operations and the batch control system. I came back to that idea when was reading about this one found in Ostra.  Notice how instead of names or dates as are often found on these it has two symbols.  Reminded me of control marks.  Here’s a translation of the paragraph in the publication of this tessera about the symbols.

The two symbols, the altar burning and lightning, which appear on the card Ostra are not new: they are present, along with other symbols (palm branch, caduceus, dolphin, trident, crown, lightning) on other Tessera Nummularia  (4). The presence of such symbols is found, however, on other classes of objects: first stamps on amphorae from the eastern Mediterranean (5). In this case, the symbols used have been set in relation to the origin of the jars themselves (from Rhodes: caduceus, dolphin, trident, crown, palm branch, from Cnidus: altar, caduceus, trident, from Thasos: caduceus, wreath, from city ​​of Pontus: thunderbolt, caduceus, dolphin, trident, crown, branch). Closer to Tessera Nummularia, and probably not only geographically, is a class of small clay disks found in Taranto among the evidence from the Greek colony (6). Even the symbols on them are similar, a name-probably that of a civil servant rather than that of the manufacturer – an indication of the weight or quantity of the coins she, as well as two holes that are rightly supposed to use these objects similar to that of the Tessera Nummularia . We finally add a significant amount of lead seals from Rome and Lyon (7).”



Here is a link to a pdf of the first item under no. 6, the Les disques de Tarente. I’m not sure they really offers that close of a parallel…

Wiseman, T. P. (1971) New Men in the Roman Senate, 139BC-AD14. Oxford p. 85-6 noticed that the names on the tessera often correspond to moneyers.  He collects a list of known argentarii and faeneratores in his appendix C:



Philip Kay has an up to date summary of the issues:



The chapter length treatment by Andreau, Banking and Business in the Roman World, 1999, chapter 7  is still the most detailed discussion. Here’s a sample:



The first and third arguments are weak, esp. the latter as no evidence is given.  Four in true is by far the strongest.  But #2 is almost strong enough to make the case on its own.  Here’s Lewis and Short sv. specto definition I.B.3:

To examinetrytest: (argentum) dare spectandum, Plaut. Pers. 3, 3, 35: ut fulvum spectatur in ignibus aurum, Tempore sic duro est inspicienda fides, Ov. Tr. 1, 5, 25; cf.: qui pecuniā non movetur … hunc igni spectatum arbitrantur, as having stood the test of fire,Cic. Off. 2, 11, 38; cf. spectatio, I. B., and spectator, I. B.—


‘driving a two-horse team’ vs. ‘in a biga’

We numismatists have caused ourselves a world of unnecessary confusion by the common language of our catalogs that describe various deities as being in a biga or in a quadriga.  In Latin in bigis just isn’t used.  Perhaps because the visual conjured up by such a phrase might be something like the scene with Luke and Han on Hoth:

The phrase ‘in curru’ is regularly used.  And we might note especially the line of Lucretius On the Nature of Things (2.601):

sedibus in curru biiugos agitare leones

There are four instances of in quadrigis in Latin, but notably three describe statues.

Gaius Plinius Secundus, Naturalis Historia 34.78.4

C. Iul. Caes. Augustus Octavianus, Res Gestae 4.51

Maurus Servius Honoratus, In Vergilii Bucolicon Librum 6.22.3

And the fourth is in Cicero’s Brutus when he means ‘in the chariot races’ not ‘in the chariot’  (173.5).  [I leave aside the odd Latin of Hyginus, Fabulae 250].

bigae and quadrigae, as Latin grammarians are forever going on about, are plural nouns not singular, because they refer to the animals, not the vehicle.  Perhaps the most clear is the statement by Fronto from Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights:


The Loeb translation is misleading.  So here’s a slightly modified version:

Quadrigae, etsi multiiugae non sunt, always keeps the plural number, since four horses yoked together are called quadrigae, as if it were quadriiugae, and certainly that which denotes several horses should not be compressed into the oneness of the singular number.

The problem is how to translate etsi multiiugae non sunt: ‘although they are not many’ is accurate, but misses the contrast in the Latin between quadrigae and multiiugus, the latter adjective which can be singular, where as the former cannot.  Or we might even read a joke here, ‘although there are not a many teams yoked together’.  But how funny was Fronto, really?

Anyway all of this is just in support of Luigi Pedroni’s point in AIIN 2010. p. 349:


“The term bigae, in fact, was originally used only in the plural, and this confirms that it simply indicate two horses paired and not specifically a chariot drawn by two horses, a concept that was extension of the original meaning. Catullus 29 makes this clear: “Rhesi niueae citaeque bigae”, where the nivae metonymy refers to the horses, their white color was proverbial, and not to the chariot of Rhesus.

It can be argued, therefore, that at the beginning of the second century. B.C. a bigatus was a coin with iconography depicting two horses: it is sustainable, moreover, that the term could also refer to mounted animals rather than yoked. Therefore, as suggested by Seltman previously (but with a different chronology), followed more recently by Harl, it may have been used to describe the Dioscuri who were often traditionally represented with their horses as a pair.”

Serrati. A rant cut from the book.

I’m rather silent at the moment as I’m in editing mode.  This just got cut from the Intro.  too nitty gritty, too negative.  Anyway I thought I’d throw it up here to say I’m alive.

Students more used to humanistic approaches should not be “blinded by science” or other technical details.  Not all new analysis is good analysis.  Two teams have used SEM technology to look at serrati.  Both separately concluded that the serrations were manually added to the flans by a knife or similar slicing tool prior to their striking (Balbi de Caro et al. 1999; Kraft et al. 2006).  Separate confirmation gives confidence in the result, but the Anglophone team seems to have been unaware of the Italian published work some seven years earlier and thus does not interact with that data in anyway.  The Italian team also used energy dispersive spectrometry (EDS), a non-destructive procedure similar to XRF, and concluded that the serrati used a purer silver alloy than standard issues that was more brittle and that the serrations applied to the flans prior to striking made them more stable (Balbi de Caro et al. 1999; Pancotti and Calabria 2009).  This goes against basic engineering principles: each cut introduces a new possible failure point.

Moreover, these conclusions were based on the EDS readings from only four serrate specimens and those readings were compared with data from just three specimens analyzed in 1964 by Caley.  Caley used traditional wet chemistry to analyze physical samples  thus his results are in some ways more accurate than the more sweeping analyses of Walker and Hollstein et al. using types of XRF technology (1980 and 2000). Comparison of Balbi de Caro’s data EDS with results of the XRF analysis suggests those serrati are very much in the normal range of fineness with their contemporary coins.  Balbi de Caro’s higher readings than Caley’s samples are better explained by surface enrichment or small size of the samples used in each study.

These studies demonstrate more than anything the limits of metallurgical analysis to answer the question “why”.  Kraft’s team shows that forgers knew to emulate the same technique on foil-covered based metal flans.  Perhaps serrati were preferred because they were perceived as less likely to be forged. It would have been a costly, labor intensive technique, so there must have been some perceived benefit beyond any questionable esthetic value. It is tempting to connect the height of their production with the monetary anxieties reflected in contemporary legislation (see p. XXX below chapter; chapter 6).  Good technical studies can provide insight into “how” and “what” of coin production, but need to be based on a wide enough body of data to have meaningful conclusions and take into consideration pre-existing data.