Mithridates on the Republican Coin Series?

A page of my image notes from my pre-blog days. The images are all from the ANS. Click to be taken to ANS collection of RRC 405/5 specimens. Or click on the title of this post to see all the images at a higher resolution within the post itself.

It may not be immediately obvious but this little spate of blog posts are all coming out of my efforts to wrap my head around representations of Monarchy on the Republican Coin Series, a topic I’m attempting to work up for a conference paper submission today.

Gem scholars have long recognized the stylistic connection between Mithridates Tetradrachms and this republican coin type. Cf. Vermeule 1970: 206.


Crawford proposed Mercury as an other possible identification of the intended deity.  The iconographic parallel is striking but I find myself ambivalent about whether it is just an artistic choice of style or an intended reference to the Pontic king.  It’s part of a complicated series perhaps alluding the the cult of Fortuna at Praeneste and/or other Italic cults.  How it fits into the series as a whole has alluded explanation.

I would just note that with the new dating based on the Messange Hoard of RRC 405 to 58 BC, this potential regal allusion comes in the midst of a spate of such allusions to foreign kings on the reverses of the series:

  • Perseus of Macedon (reverse of RRC 415/1; 62 BC)
  • Aretas of Nabataea (reverse of RRC 422/1; 58 BC)
  • Ptolemy V of Egypt (reverse of RRC 419/2; 58 BC)
  • Bocchus of Mauritania and Jugurtha of Numidia (reverse of RRC 426/1; 56 BC)
  • Bacchius of Judaea (reverse of RRC 431/1; 55 (or 54?) BC)

Spiral Columns? Rusticated Drums?

C. Marcius Censorinus, As, Rome, 88 BC, AE (g 11,33"; mm 29; h 8), Jugate heads of Numa Pompilius, bearbed, and Ancus Marcius, not bearbed, r.; on l., NVMA POMPILI; on r., [ANCVS MARCI], Rv. Two ships crossing; behind, spiral column on which statue of Victory; above, C CENSO / ROMA. Crawford 346/4a. Art Coins Roma 8, lot 350.
C. Marcius Censorinus, As, Rome, 88 BC, AE (g 11,33″; mm 29; h 8), Jugate heads of Numa Pompilius, bearbed, and Ancus Marcius, not bearbed, r.; on l., NVMA POMPILI; on r., [ANCVS MARCI], Rv. Two ships crossing; behind, spiral column on which statue of Victory; above, C CENSO / ROMA. Crawford 346/4a. Art Coins Roma 8, lot 350.
I think the form of the column on this bronze issue can be productively used as comparative evidence for how numismatic artists thought to represent monolithic columns.  The importance of the rendering of the shaft can be seen even on less well preserved specimens:

A. Takalec AG Sept 2008, lot 258
A. Takalec AG Sept 2008, lot 258

This is relevant for how we think about the rendering of the column on the early Minucian coins:

ANS sample specimens.  Image links to further examples as well as these.
ANS sample specimens of RRC 242/1 and 243/1. Image links to further examples as well as these.

Evans in her 2011 paper originally presented at Glasgow congress emphasizes the uniqueness of the form of this column:

The form of the column itself also requires some comment, owing to its archaic-looking features. I can find no parallel to this type of column shaft in Greek, Etruscan or early Roman sources, nor can I find any early versions of rusticated column drums. (p.659)

She continues with a comparison to the column on the Marsyas coin (RRC 363) saying:

The shaft of the column can be shown as smooth, or fluted in a spiral or, on a small number of dies, with rounded drums with moldings between each drum. If this Marsyas depicts the statue of Marsyas in the Forum (as generally acknowledged), then the column shown is the Columna Maenia, erected in 338 (Plin. NH 34.20). Although the column shaft is not shown in a consistent fashion, when it is shown with rusticated drums, the die engraver may again be
referring to the early date of the column.

I cannot readily identify any specimens in trade or at the ANS or BM collections I would readily describe as rusticated or spiral (with the possible exception of Ghey, Leins & Crawford 2010 363.1.16).  Finally she concludes that:

the shaft of the column injects a note of fantasy to the depiction

I cannot particularly agree, especially in light of the above bronzes.  It seems to me that the articulated column shaft is one banal means of rendering a column on a coin.  The shaft is a red herring in any argument for the historicity of the Minucian monument.

The Diadem on Anti-Autocratic Coin Types

(M. Valerius) Messalla. Denarius, 3.69g. (h). Rome, 53 BC. Obv: Helmeted bust of Roma right, spear over shoulder, MESSAL F before. Rx: Curule chair; PATRE COS above, scepter and diadem below, S – C on either side. Crawford 435/1. Gemini XI, lot 374.

This seems to be the earliest coin (c.53BC) in which the symbols of Hellenistic kingship, the diadem and the scepter, are used in such a way as to suggest their rejection in favor of the traditional symbols of Roman power in this case the curule chair.  For this coin, the context is the threat of Pompey assuming sole control of the Roman state.

We see a similar iconographic strategy on a coin of Brutus after the murder of Julius Caesar:

M. Junius Brutus and Casca Longus. Denarius, mint moving with Brutus 43-42, AR 3.81 g. CASCA – LONGVS Wreathed head of Neptune r.; below, trident. Rev. BRVTVS IMP Victory walking r. on broken sceptre and holding palm branch over l. shoulder and broken diadem with both hands. Crawford 507/2. NAC 51, lot 113.

The question in my mind is should a similar interpretation also apply to this type:

Denarius, mint moving with Brutus and Cassius 43-42, AR 3.90 g. C·CASSEI·IMP Laureate head of Libertas r. Rev. M·SERVILIVS – LEG Crab, holding aplustre in its claws; below, rose and untied diadem. Crawford 505/3. Ex SKA Bern 1, 1983, 254 and NAC 9, 1996, 763 sales. NAC 63, lot 530.

The auction houses invariably photograph this specimen with the orientation shown above, but Crawford had his plates printed at the 90 degree rotation of the reverse:


Crawford is silent on the symbolism of diadem saying only: “Part of one issue of Cassius records his capture of Rhodes after a battle at Myndus, opposite the island of Cos; the rose of Rhodes and crab of Cos both figure, together with an aplustre as a symbol of victory” (p. 741).  I must say, the aplustre doesn’t seem very victorious to me as it is clutched in the claws of the crab.  Or perhaps its just Cos offering the naval victory to Cassius…

I also think I prefer symbolically the crab and aplustre read as over and above the more diminished Rhodian rose and the diadem, just as the curule chair symbolically sits over the diadem and sceptre in the first type above.

The Cassius coin is often connected to this quote from Plutarch’s Life of Brutus:

“Cassius, having taken Rhodes, behaved himself there with no clemency; though at his first entry, when some had called him lord and king, he answered that he was neither king nor lord, but the destroyer and punisher of a king and lord.”

I’m not sure this is specifically the allusion the die engraver was aiming at but it is certainly a reflection of the same rhetorical impulse.

1/17/16: on Crabs on coins:

Cicero Imperator

Silver cistophorus, Laodiceia ad Lycum. ANS 1967.144.1. Stumpf 92.a. (?Ex Leu and M&M 3 Dec 1965, lot 419?)

Reading a PhD dissertation draft on Asia Minor and came across a reference to this coin type and others issued in the name of Cicero during his time as governor in the province of Cilicia (51/0 BC).

Other known specimens include:

M TVLLIVS M F CICIIRON (sic) PROCOS above (STUMPF 91): Berlin 35/1909 = Hirsch 21, 16 Nov. 1908, 3550; M – TVLLIVS  / IMP above (STUMPF 92-93, PINDER 201): Paris 2726; Athens = Hierapytna hoard; Berlin (Löbbecke); Berlin 453/1891; ANS 1967.144.1 = Leu and Münzen und Medaillen; 3 Dec. 1965 (Niggeler), 419 (but TVLLIV / IMP)

[I disagree with the reading of the ANS specimen.  I think a small badly formed S is visible after the V.]

Anyway, I’m throwing it up here because these cistophori don’t get enough press in the average undergraduate or graduate classroom when Cicero’s governorship is discussed.

For more on this chapter in Cicero’s career the thing to read is:

Magnus Wistrand: Cicero Imperator. Studies in Cicero’s correspondence 51–47 BC. (Studia Graeca et Latina Gothoburgensia, XLI.) Pp. viii + 230. Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 1979. Paper.

To read about how Cicero became Imperator in his own words click here.

Reading time is short for this draft so I must crack on.  More later.  We sure want to connect this caduceus with our early discussions of its symbolism…Not to mention IMP as a coin legend.