Special Episode – Roman Republican Coinage with Professor Liv Yarrow

We were absolutely delighted to sit down recently with Professor Liv Yarrow to talk all about ancient Roman coinage from the republican period.

Special Episode – Roman Republican Coinage with Professor Liv Yarrow

Liv Yarrow is a professor at the City University of New York (CUNY). She holds a BA from the George Washington University and an MPhil and DPhil from the University of Oxford. Her scholarship spans the areas of ancient historiography and numismatics. In 2006 she published Historiography at the End of the Republic: Provincial Perspectives on Roman Rule (Oxford 2006) and in 2020 her book The Republic to 49 BCE: Using Coins as Sources came out with Cambridge University Press. She is also a co-director of the Roman Republican Die Project with the American Numismatic Society.

What’s Coming up with Roman Coins!

In this conversation we explore a range of topics, including:

  • how to approach the study of coins (numismatics) – it is a very specialised field!
  • how the questions we ask of evidence changes affects our inferences and ideas
  • what makes a coin particularly beautiful
  • how coins can help us understand society, architecture, politics, and iconography
  • some of the amazing fashion you might spot on coins!

Coins to Keep in Mind!

Yarrow weaves a number of coin issues into the conversation, here’s some examples that we discuss: 

Obverse: L·MANLI [PRO]·Q - Helmeted head of Roma right. Border of dots. Reverse: L·SVLLA·IM - Triumphator, crowned by flying Victory, in quadriga right, holding reins in left hand and caduceus in right hand. Border of dots.

Denarius of Sulla. ANS 1944.100.1502. Obverse: L·MANLI [PRO]·Q – Helmeted head of Roma right. Border of dots. Reverse: L·SVLLA·IM – Triumphator, crowned by flying Victory, in quadriga right, holding reins in left hand and caduceus in right hand. Border of dots. 

Silver tetradrachm of Mithradates VI, Pontus, 120 BC - 63 BCE. 1944.100.41480. Obverse: head of Mithradates VI. Reverse: stag feeding

Silver tetradrachm of Mithradates VI, Pontus, 120 BC – 63 BCE. 1944.100.41480. Obverse: head of Mithradates VI. Reverse: stag feeding 

Silver Coin, Rome, 55 BCE 1944.100.2636 ANS 1944.100.2636. RRC 428/3. Obverse: Head of Genius Populi Romani right, with sceptre over shoulder. Border of dots. Reverse: Q·CASSIVS - Eagle on thunderbolt right; on left, lituus; on right, jug . Border of dots. Just one example of a wild haired deity on Roman coinage, echoing Mithridates’ aesthetic!

Silver Coin, Rome, 55 BCE 1944.100.2636 ANS 1944.100.2636. RRC 428/3. Obverse: Head of Genius Populi Romani right, with sceptre over shoulder. Border of dots. Reverse: Q·CASSIVS – Eagle on thunderbolt right; on left, lituus; on right, jug . Border of dots. Just one example of a wild haired deity on Roman coinage, echoing Mithridates’ aesthetic! 

Obverse: L·POMPON·MOLO - Laureate head of Apollo right; around, inscription. Border of dots. Reverse: NVMA·POMPIL - Lighted altar; to left, Numa Pompilius holding lituus; to right, youth (victimarius) leading goat. Border of dots. Numa sacrificing with his head unveiled in the Greek fashion.

Silver Coin, Rome, 97 BCE 1937.158.59. Obverse: L·POMPON·MOLO – Laureate head of Apollo right; around, inscription. Border of dots. Reverse: NVMA·POMPIL – Lighted altar; to left, Numa Pompilius holding lituus; to right, youth (victimarius) leading goat. Border of dots. Numa sacrificing with his head unveiled in the Greek fashion. 

Obverse: L·ROSCI - Head of Juno Sospita right; behind, control mark . Border of dots. Reverse: FABATI - Girl and snake facing each other; on left, control mark. Border of dots.

Silver Coin, Rome, 64 B.C. 1944.100.2352. Obverse: L·ROSCI – Head of Juno Sospita right; behind, control mark . Border of dots. Reverse: FABATI – Girl and snake facing each other; on left, control mark. Border of dots. 

Bibliothèque nationale de France, REP-17578. RRC 379/1. Juno Sospita on reverse - note the pointy shoes!

Bibliothèque nationale de France, REP-17578. RRC 379/1. Juno Sospita on reverse – note the pointy shoes!

Sound Credits

Thanks to the thrilling Bettina Joy de Guzman for our theme music.


We’re exploring automated transcripts for our episodes. This one was produced by Otter AI:

Dr Rad 0:16
Welcome to the Partial Historians,

we explore all the details of ancient Rome.

Everything from the political scandals, the love of ours, that battles waged, and when citizens turn against each other. I’m Dr. Rad

and I’m Dr. G. We consider Rome as the Romans saw it by reading different authors from the ancient past and comparing their stories.

Join us as we trace the journey of Rome from the founding of the city.

Welcome, everybody to a very special episode of the Partial Historians. We are fabulously excited today to be sitting down with Professor Liv Yarrow from CUNY, the City University of New York, who has classics background at Brooklyn College and classics in history at the graduate centre. She holds a BA from George Washington University and an MPhil and D. Phil from the University of Oxford. So her scholarship spans the areas of ancient historiography and numismatics. In 2006, she published historiography at the end of the Republic, provincial perspectives on Roman rule with Oxford, and in 2020, her book, The Republic 249 BCE, using coins as sources came out with the Cambridge University Press. She is also the co director of the Roman republican dye project with the American numismatic society. So this is a huge honour, we’re super excited, because this means that we’re going to be learning more about Roman coins and coinage and concepts to do with numismatics in the ancient Roman world. And I’m just really thrilled to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Professor Yarrow 2:17
Thanks a lot. I’m really excited about this. I hope it inspires everyone to go look at some actual coins, not just listen to our fun words.

Dr Rad 2:28
I think it will for sure because I mean, as much as we will talk about specific coins, I’m sure in the process of this conversation, we’ll definitely need to have that visual with us in order to like really appreciate what’s going on with coinage. There’s such a fascinating type of evidence,

Professor Yarrow 2:45
we’ll get to curate a little gallery for everybody. It’ll be fun.

Dr Rad 2:49
Exciting. All right, so let’s jump in. So in your latest book, The Republic 249 BCE, using coins as sources, it’s designed to help guide students and scholars on the approach to the study of coinage. To get us started what is a sort of foundational idea for people who are interested in ancient coinage if they’re looking to sort of develop their expertise in this area.

Professor Yarrow 3:15
So the first thing to appreciate about ancient coinage is that it is one of the only visual mass produced media from antiquity. By which I mean that a team of men, maybe three men, working at a single workstation could produce anywhere from 10 to 40,000 coins with all with the same exact image in one day. And we think issue sizes and the Roman Republic that means coins where they might be using slightly different dyes. But the intention in the pre modern era is that they all look pretty much identical might be in the terms of millions of coins. And that’s a type of dissemination of visual imagery that we just don’t have with any other media In antiquity or really until we get to the printing press.

Dr Rad 4:19
Absolutely. So in the introduction to your book, you noted that different types of scholars will approach interpreting coins differently. So for example, and archaeologists will come with different questions from a socio political historian. How might this difference look in practice?

Professor Yarrow 4:36
Sure, so archaeologists love coins because they are more confident about the dating of those coins and they rely on us numismatist provide a handy dandy list of what date that coin was made at. And our catalogues are really confident about this coin was is made and this year, and we’re really good at dating coins. But in the Roman Republic being really good at dating coins means with a five year plus or minus error. So one of the things that we need to be really aware of is that not every date ascribed to every coin is as rock solid as we might want. So that in archaeology using a coin to date, a layer of stratigraphy is a very common approach. Another way that associate political person might look at is can I look at the person who made this coin? And can I connect this coin to the textual narrative that I receive? An art historian might look at a coin and say, Is this image representative of a statue group? And was that statue group well known? And what did it mean in the public display? And why is there that connection between the image on the coin and a famous or semi famous public image.

Dr Rad 6:15
So this sounds like it’s sort of coins have so much sort of condensed information that they might provide to somebody who’s interested in the ancient past, regardless of what perspective, they’re coming from it. And when we’re thinking about ancient Rome, we actually understand that coinage emerges relatively late in their society. So you talk about it coming, coming out in sort of the late fourth century BCE, and this is late compared to other Mediterranean societies. So I’m really interested in what sort of factors might have influenced Rome, one to adopt coinage, but also why they might have been so late to adopt coinage comparatively speaking.

Professor Yarrow 6:55
So as in so many ways, the ancient Romans were at a crossroads and a cultural crossroads, and a very literal crossroads. In terms of the peninsular Italy. They connected the cultures of the coastal areas, the sea, travelling communities and the interior. There, the Tiber was a very important point of connection. And then also, to cross the Tiber, the situation of the city of Rome, we always need to remember is where it was easiest to get across this major river. So the river is at once a conduit for travel, but also a barrier that needs to be overcome. And so the Romans are this cross cultural community from very early on. And this is especially true in terms of money. So to back up a little bit. Money is the first human invention, you might think that without coins, or some other tangible form of money, that everything is about barter. But in fact, the first invention is the intellectual exercise of realising that if you have a shared unit of exchange, or store of value, or measure of a measure of value store of wealth, that you can make transactions between individuals easier because you have a shared system of understanding, wealth and value and exchange. And that doesn’t depend on a physical object or a piece of money, even if it’s expressed that way. So shackles exist before we have a physical thing that we call a shackle. And so, Roman Italy, and Italy and wider. Indigenous Italy was fully monetized before the coming of coinage and their monetary system is based on measures of value tied to the Roman pound, and particularly to bronze and to not just the Roman pound the Roman pound in Rome, but the pound in any other community with their own systems of weights and measures. And there’s some really exciting work being done on this idea of how different systems of information and information knowledge like standardisation of weights and measures reflect social change. And so I just nod towards like the work of Andrew Rigsby on this sort of thing that’s very influential to destabilise what we think we know that the pound isn’t so fixed as we might want it to be in a modern world when we go back into antiquity these things are a little bit more flexible and changeable both in terms of space and time. But coming back to my thread of money and the switch from money to coinage, the money and the physical money of Peninsular Italy among indigenous communities was primarily what we now call a scholars eyes rude, which just means crude bronze or eyes for mahtim. And that’s again a made up Latin phrase just meeting, bronze that has been moulded into a shape. But the shape isn’t standardised. So the Romans were already participating in an indigenous is monetary system. But they were highly aware of their Greek neighbours who were colonists primarily in the south and primarily on the coast. And travelling and meeting other Greeks through those coastal communities, that they had a monetary tradition that derives from this, the tradition of coinage that started in the kingdom of Lydia, and that’s in southern modern day Turkey. And that started about the seventh century BC and that’s the monetary tradition that we still participate of coinage today. Just for full perspective, we have to remember that coinage was also invented by the Chinese in about the same century. And when these two traditions of coinage meet on the central steps, they recognise each other. And we have Chinese texts from the Han Dynasty, talking about how funny the coins are from the Mediterranean, because they have faces on them, and they use these precious metals. And that’s so weird, because that’s not what our money the Chinese money looks like. But they’re parallel inventions to solve a common problem. Coins are just a really easy way to solve the tangibility of money and to turn the invention of money into something that’s easily and readily used by everyone in the community. So that Romans at this crossroads, are participating into monetary systems. And they’re participating at first simultaneously. So the first coin that has the name Rome on it is made in ancient Minneapolis, what we call Naples, and we date that to 326 BCE. And we date it to the moment at which Rome enters into a treaty with Naples, after Naples has sided with their other enemies of the moment in southern Italy. But Naples is also one of these cross cultural communities of central but coastal Italy. And it’s not surprising, because Naples is already making coins for many of its neighbours. It’s a service that provides that one of the things they might offer to the Romans at this first moment moment of coming into a legal established relationship is to make them some coins. And those first coins look just like bronzes of Naples, they have the head of Apollo, they have the man faced bull. And we are pretty confident that we can link the coin that says, of the Romans and Greek to the moment of the treaty, because we have a pretty decent seriation of the Naples series. And we can sort of slot in stylistically that that it confirms the logic based on the texts that these coins share all of these habits. And so, in that first instance, the Romans are conceding and not in a particularly financially useful way that earliest Roman struck coins are made by Greek communities for the Romans in the name of the Romans, but they’re not made in such large quantities that they would have been of particular use. The Romans themselves at Rome, itself really seem to dive into the making of physical money in the run up to the First Punic War. And that’s where we get a kind of coin that has a another made up Latin phrase name, which is ice scrub, which just means heavy bronze, the heavy bronze. And, and a scholar named Burnett has this hypothesis that I think is very convincing that what I scrub represents is a combination of the sensibilities of the southern Italian Greek tradition of using coins, that a coin should have a face on one side and a design on the other, and it should be round. And it should have a fixed weight with a fixed denomination. So all of these features that are common within the Greek monetary tradition, coinage tradition, and the traditions of Central Italy, that money should be substantial and should be a bronze. And that it should have this weight. And so it seems that in this first, their first making of this mixed cultural tradition of money, they’re trying to keep what’s culturally important about both traditions.

Dr Rad 16:26
As they look, I think that’s so fascinating, because one of the things that I often talk about with my students, both ancient and modern history is how money is essentially a human invention. And that’s particularly funny in Australia, because I don’t know if you’re aware, but our money essentially looks like Monopoly money when we’re talking about our notes. So I’m like, You do realise that this is just plastic. And the only reason why it has a value is because we say it has.

Professor Yarrow 16:53
You know, but in some ways, it’s getting easier to teach that particularly with touchless payments, and the popularity of touchless payments, even growing in the backwards Land of the United States, in the course of the pandemic, to reduce our physical money, or our swiping of cards or the use of tap, because it helps us all understand the degree to which we say $1 or a pound, or any other monetary unit, but we’re really just measuring some abstract concept of value. And it can be nice to have something physical to, to hold, we all like getting, you know, a couple bills in our in our birthday card, maybe from grandma, if we still get that, but we’re quickly going to add that to our very untenable pot of credit with a with a bank.

Dr Rad 17:57
Absolutely. So you talked about the design of those early coins and how it evolved and that sort of thing. So if we’re thinking about the artistry involved in coins, there’s quite a wide range when we’re looking at the examples that you have studied. What are some that you think are particularly striking from the Republican period that the Romans made and what makes them particularly noteworthy for you?

Professor Yarrow 18:20
This is so hard, because my research partner is Lucida Carboni. And she’s the curator of Roman coins at the ANS with me on the Roman republican diet project. And we co teach a lot because we have a lot of student interns and volunteers. And whenever I talk about beautiful Roman coins, she’s like, No, no, you go quiet, and this come from Sicily, and they’re Greek. And then she goes into the vault and brings out something stunningly beautiful. You have to remember her family’s from Sicily. So even though we’re working on this die project, she has some concerns. But there is a little bit of truth to that, in that within the Greek tradition of bigger money. So that Tetra DRAM upwards, we’re looking at something that’s really substantial in your hand, and we’re looking at a tradition of Engraving and striking that is concerned with aesthetics. So there they have high relief, meaning that a lot of force has been used to drive that impression on to the blank flan of metal and they attempt to centre it and they take all of this extra care in the production, the Roman mins once we’re into its period of production of the denarius, so that’s anytime past 211 b. See with introduction is inclined to work less rapidly and in shallow relief. And they don’t seem to care about errors that we just don’t see on other coin edges. So it might be struck a little bit off flan. Sometimes one coin gets stuck in the die, and they just keep striking. And then we get these double headed coins that we call blockages. And it seems that other mints that had a greater aesthetic control, that these sorts of mint errors would be thrown out so I can answer your question about beautiful coins. But first, we have to accept that it wasn’t beauty. That was the number one requirement for the Romans of running a practice their denarii. So what is a what is a truly beautiful coin? I’ll talk to a little bit about a beat what I think is as a beautiful and interesting trend. And it seems to be directly influenced by the war with Mithra days. Okay, so Mithridates is this eastern king. He’s in relation with the Romans from the one hundreds, but he only really starts to become problematic in about the year 90, and so it’s 88 that they send Salah out to try and put him in their place. But he’s a very recalcitrant King, he’s not easy for the Romans to control. So he then dominates the narrative of the first half of the first century BCE. Mr. Davies presented himself as the successor to both the Persian Dynasty and the Macedonian dynasty. And so he wanted to be seen as a particularly charismatic saviour figure. And his coins are exquisitely beautiful. And one of the ways in which they’re exquisitely beautiful, is the rendering of his hair. His hair is not just this curly, Hellenistic locks of Alexander, but it’s really flowing and dynamic and full of energy with these curly Q’s that are escaping that Daya dam and this rugged yet youthful face that sort of looks up to heaven as if you want to follow him on campaign. As the great descendant of these two royal houses, this coinage seems to have made a really big impression on the Romans. And it’s not surprising, they brought a lot of money home from those wars, and some of that they probably brought home, not just as raw bullion, but in actual struck method, attic coinage. And some of that’s going to have ended up in the treasury. And now we’re in the realm of fantasy, but we can imagine those mythopoetic coins being taken to be melted down to make new flans. To start up, strike, Roman Denari. And so you have meant workers handling these beautiful coins. And all of a sudden, the Roman coins start using this same crazy hair. And they don’t use it to represent Mr. Davies, but they use it for sun gods and Quirinus. And all sorts of divinities of the late Republic start looking a little bit like Mithridates days with this extremely charismatic hairstyle and sensitive facial feature rendering on their arm versus So yeah, if I had to pick a aesthetic characteristic that I admire about the Romans, I’d go with them.

Dr Rad 24:23
That sounds sad because it kind of sounds like me in the morning. So I think this leads really nicely actually into my next question for you, which is thinking about the iconography on coinage, we’ve got this really sort of compressed moment, not just sort of pressed but also compressed imagery in which to demonstrate something and part of that is leaning into fashion a little bit and I think the hair also takes us in that direction already, but are there too changes or ways in which clothing and adornment is represented on coinage that might be worth looking out for. If we’re thinking about the Republic,

Professor Yarrow 25:11
I wish I could say yes, but the clothing is deeply conservative and symbolic. And so if you get a citizen male being represented on a Roman coin, he’s really only going to be represented in one or two ways. If he’s being represented as his status as a citizen, he’s going to be in a toga. And if he is being represented as a warrior, than usually he’s going to be wearing the standard garb of a member of the cavalry of the Roman cavalry. So the question then is, what does it mean when they’re not dressed like that. And those exceptions are really interesting. So there’s a coin that shows the king NUMA sacrifice sacrificing a goat are about to sacrifice a goat. And normally we would imagine a Roman about to offer sacrifice would have his toga over his head, because that’s how Roman citizen men pray and offer sacrifice. And it’s an interesting moment, because that’s not what NUMA looks like, in that picture. So and he’s clearly labelled with his name. So we know he’s the Roman king, and we’re having a Roman sacrifice. My hypothesis is that it’s because Apollo is the God on the omniverse. And the goat being sacrificed is being sacrificed to Apollo. And at Rome, the cult of Apollo follows the Greek, right. And the uncovered bear head is part of a legitimate ation of this particular type of Roman ritual being celebrated in a slightly alien or foreign manner.

Dr Rad 27:20
Wow, oh, that is very cool. I mean, because this is also tying into this idea that as we get into the further into the Republic, they’re not just interested in representing themselves necessarily, they’re interested in representing their whole history, as well. They’re like, we’ve got some coins now. But our history predates coinage, who would we like to represent? Let’s get a newcomer in there. He’s having he’s having a great time. Presumably,

Professor Yarrow 27:49
Numa has a remarkable number of coins more than any other king

Dr Rad 27:54
How bizarre.

Professor Yarrow 27:55
He’s doing well for himself, considering you didn’t miss any of them.

Exactly, exactly.

Dr Rad 28:02
So thinking about fashion, I suppose we can also think about something else that often appears on Roman coinage, and that is buildings. So what can we learn about the buildings of Rome from their depiction on coins? And maybe, what are some of the limitations of using coins to speak back to Rome’s typography?

Professor Yarrow 28:22
Okay, so there are people who know way more than me on this. And so I hope that someday down. So I hope at one point, you invite my colleague, Nate Elkins on to have a proper conversation about this. And he will tell you many, many more fun stories. But to get us started, I want to say that architecture on coin is maybe not uniquely a Roman phenomena, but it’s very difficult to find substantive precedent. And it really becomes a much more typical Roman motif than we would have ever seen on Greek or Persian coinage or any other of the pre existing monetary traditions within the Mediterranean realm. Why? I would argue that it’s because what goes on a coin is celebrating the success of the Roman state. And the Roman self conception is a conception of themselves, as in harmony with the gods. And so Romans preserve the packs day or on the peace of the gods, by fulfilling their obligations to the gods, and in turn, the gods provide them with success and war. And so every success in war becomes proof of Divine Favour and every past action to honour the gods is part of what has brought about the success of the Roman state and ensured its perpetual endurance into the future. And for the Romans, certain acts such as the erection of temples or monuments, or the holding of festivals are an essential part of how they show their honour to the gods, and particularly given the fact that many temples are vowed by generals in a moment of crisis. And then once the crisis is alleviated through the fake favour of the gods, and then the building is approved by the community as a whole, and then funded and dedicated, it becomes evidence, the temple itself, or whatever physical monument, it is, is proof that the gods answered the vow of the ancestor, that the ancestor fulfilled the vow so upheld their commitment to the Divine, and that that interaction between the person who made the original vow and the gods was sanctioned and honoured by the community. And so to put any religious monument and almost all monuments are religious in the Roman world view on a coin is celebrating numerous acts of piety and serve as justification for the, for the Roman state and the role of the individual money or is family with in that success.

Dr Rad 31:55
Oh, that’s very cool. I like that we’re like we’re, we’re bringing in the people who are doing the coin creation as well, like this is another act, another pious act representing that building, that has been a substantial part of that history. For so long build upon that relationship with the gods over time, you think about the need for the construction of those things, and how long that takes, and all of those particular elements. And now it’s represented on this coin as well. So it’s sending out that message even further, and sort of distributing it.

Professor Yarrow 32:26
There are monuments that exist on coins long before they’re actually built, because it takes a long time to build a monument and the most famous of these are the future Augustus young Caesar, you might know him as Octarians temple to the deified Julius, and it appears he might also be doing the same thing with the Temple of Mars altar. Some people think the circular temple of Mars altar that appears on the coinage is a second one. But I think it’s likely that he learned his lesson that you can make a temple real, even before it manifests on the ground by putting it on the coins.

Dr Rad 33:11
Typical Augustus, such a show pony

Ahead of you

Let’s face it, maybe maybe it was just his way of announcing, like, you know, this is the building plan. Objection. Now if you don’t like the design.

Professor Yarrow 33:25

Dr G 33:26
Amazing. So thinking about the way that politics is getting particularly complicated in the late Republican period, it’s becoming not that it wasn’t always the case, but prominent families and prominent individuals within families are really stepping forward, particularly when we get into that last century of the Republic. And this prominence of individuals, is this being reflected in coinage in any particular way? And can we trace the changes in Rome’s politics through the coinage and the way it’s represented?

Professor Yarrow 34:01
Absolutely, and it’s a really thorny and debated issue. So one of the simplest ways of reading the prominence of individuals on the coins and the greatest diversity that we see on the coins is that there’s heightened competition, and that these changes in design are specifically about electioneering. To react to this, and people often in that form of argumentation point to the fact that the coins start to become far more diverse at the same moment that the secret ballot is put into place. I would push back for this. Yes, any individual who wishes to seek higher office wants to prove their worthiness to be further elected on beyond the money or ship by doing a good job as a money or. But I don’t think that Romans would necessarily have conceptualised what they were doing as directly competitive, that what they’re attempting to do on the coin designs is articulate, much like we just said, it might answer the previous question, the way in which their individual families have participated in the success of Rome, and that there is no distinction between the individual and the state, if the individual is acting on behalf of the state, particularly in terms of exercising we are to Sir military ism, or in terms of honouring the gods, and because it is the ultimate act of piety, to not only honour the gods, but honour your ancestors, you’re fulfilling both responsibilities of an acting, how a good Roman should act, the kind of Roman that should be elected further on as exemplary of what’s good in the community, by performing these acts of piety that celebrate both your ancestors and your ancestors, service to the state specifically. So I’d say all of it is patriotic, it am, but it is also performative of a familial connection to the actions that have ensured Rome’s status.

Dr Rad 36:54
So it sounds like they’re kind of mobile propaganda, then are there any particularly notable examples that are like promoting someone’s career or promoting the family? Or trying to remind people hey, we did this?

Professor Yarrow 37:07
Sure. I’m just gonna say I’m allergic to the word propaganda.

Dr Rad 37:12
Yeah, no, I knew I was being a bit…

Professor Yarrow 37:14
No, no. And I will concede that many of my colleagues will freely use the term propaganda. And I’ve even concede that maybe I’m a little too rigid about it. But propaganda in the 20th and 21st century, nods specifically to a moment in which mass media was harnessed in very distinctive ways to promote very specific ideologies and often ideologies that were Factional or competing against other ideologies. And quite often, when our students hear the word propaganda, they associate it with things like brainwashing or lies or distortions of the truth. And I’m not sure for all coins are certainly a form of political speech, that they fit many of the connotations of propaganda, that at least our students or our contemporaries, in casual non academic settings might associate with it. But what is a what is a moment of political speech on Roman coins that sends a clear contemporary message. One of my favourites is the coins of Salah as he marches on Rome. So our moment in time is that he has had his first march in Rome and 88. He’s gone out to beat up Mithridates but in the interim, Sinha has taken control of the city and set up a completely separate political regime. So we have an effect to Roman governments in the 80s and the Sinan regime in Rome is sending out competing generals to fight Mithridates as well. So we have multiple marauding generals in the East. And so it becomes very clear that he cannot succeed in this war without securing the homefront. And so he comes to an arrangement with Mithridates he’s at the Dardanelles, that’s the mouth of the Hellespont just north of where it Troy is to get your geography so this key crossroads…

Dr Rad 39:56
Gallipoli for Australian listeners

Professor Yarrow 40:00
At Gallipoli. Absolutely. It’s this key crossroad between Asia and Europe. And they meet and they come to an agreement. We have multiple accounts of this agreement. And later writers in the remenham. pyre like Appian really want to show this as solid extracting concessions from the beaten Mithra days. But if we look at more contemporary accounts, my favourite is a local Black Sea historian named Memnon of her clan. That agreement looks very much like a mutual treaty to ensure the success of both in their ongoing political ventures, namely that Mr. Davies provides a good deal of monetary support to underwrite sellers March on Rome. So what does he do with this wealth? A lot of it gets taken to Athens Athens becomes his base of operations, and he harnesses the Athenian mint to create a coinage in his name. One of those coins, pictures him as a triumph font or so someone who is going to celebrate or has celebrated a triumph, but he hasn’t yet. How do we tell a tree on fire tour from any other dude writing in a cart before horse drawn chariot. We tell the difference on Roman coins by talking about the fast and the slow horses so do the horse horses of the gods tend to be charging into the sky and so we call that a fast quadriga. A slow quadriga is one that is on parade with the horses are high stepping and very sedate. The other difference, of course, is the dude in the car is wearing a toga, so we know that they’re a Roman. But instead of holding a palm branch or even a sceptre, or some other triumphal regard, Alia. He holds a caduceus. This is the Herald staff. And we have victory flying into the scene to crown him. So we have this melding of the divine world and the mortal world. But the caduceus really speaks to me because, yes, it’s about the messenger. And so the person who brings the news the Herald and usually, that news is good news. So the caduceus is a symbol of packs peace, a felicitas divine blessing, sometimes even shading into Concordia, the right ordering of society. And this coin, because it’s minted before he ever triumphs says very clearly, I’m coming to triumph. And I am going to get into that chariot. And I am going to celebrate in this way when I get there. But it’s anticipatory, rather than celebratory. So other coinage that has triumphal imagery. And so we have a coin that we think refers to the triumph of Marius over the Cimbri and the Teutones is and it seems to show Marius riding in his triumphal car with his son on the trace horse. That’s celebratory of a religious festival that’s already taken place. Whereas solace coin says very clearly, I have expectations and you will fulfil them.

Dr Rad 44:13
Love it. So this is a perfect way to ask about this moment of political speech, would Sulla have been the one coming up with the design ideas, you know, going in to see you know, a mentor and being like, Okay, so here’s my concept, guys, I want to look at this way. And I want these types of horses because I’m really trying to send a message here. How exactly would these different coin designs come about?

Professor Yarrow 44:37
We don’t know. That’s the short answer, but I can speculate, I would say that there is an underappreciated connection between seal rings and numismatic designs. So there is a preexisting vocabulary of individuals in both the Greek and Hellenistic world By associating their personal identity with a small image often engraved on a small circular design about the size of a coin, and that that badge of identity is going to be used both on letters but also on business contracts. And so that it is a way in which you prove something as yours and you say that it is authentic. And we have a number of instances where we can connect very specific coin designs to literary testimony about the seal rings of different individuals. And so we have other coins of Salah that have his trophies and we’re told that on occasion, he used his battlefield trophies as his signet ring. And so we can connect that with that design, or we have other testimony that he carved into a signet ring, the moment in which Bacchus surrenders Jugurtha to him when he was a questor his first great political success, and his son puts that design on one of his coin celebrating his father. Same with Pompey, we were told Pompey imitates sell his seal ring by having three trophies as opposed to two trophies. And again, we have coins that celebrate Pompey successes, using the three trophies and onwards to Salah. So that’s with literary evidence. I have a really fun article on glass pastes, which are fake gems. Plenty is very rude about poor people who use these deceptive glass intaglios. And how dare they think they’re worthy of signing contracts and participating in business if they can’t afford a real gem. But plenty aside, we have ample evidence for the fact that many Romans of middle middling financial ability, wanted to have a seal ring, to mark their letters to sign their business contracts to engage in everyday life and associate those images with their own identity as markers of self. And there is an incredibly strong connection between the designs we find on Roman republican, glass intaglios. And coin designs where you can say, Oh, look, that one looks like this one, that one looks like this one, tick, tick, have a nice little chart in the back of the article. What I like about this is it suggests a number of things, it suggests that people were looking at the coins, that they found the coin iconography compelling enough that they wanted to adopt it as markers of their own identity. And then it’s likely that even in places where we don’t have literary testimony, the designs we’re seeing on the coin may very well echoed designs of steel rings used by the money or the money or family because it is the most obvious small visual design that’s pre existing to mark themselves and how they conceive of themselves. So there’s a pre existing visual language out there that we can only recover a small bit of.

Dr Rad 48:41
And I think that makes sense, in many respects, because the artistry involved in producing those seals would also be a similar technology. I would know

Professor Yarrow 48:52
100% Probably even the same sort of people. You know that. If you become a money or and you have a particular engraver you like he doesn’t tell us, maybe you bring them along with you the mitt?

Dr Rad 49:03
Yeah, it’d be like, This guy does great work.

Professor Yarrow 49:09
Exactly, exactly.

Dr Rad 49:12
And I think this ties in really nicely to our final question, which sort of touches on a couple of things that have come up so far as well. So you’ve got this great sentence, which I think is fantastic for students coming into this sort of thing. Coins were the only mass produced visual medium in antiquity. And you talked already about how we’re talking millions sometimes have a particular designs coming through. What are some of the consequences for this in terms of the Roman Republic? Are there some examples where we have so many copies of a particular design that we’re like, what’s going on? And is this a standout message or do we just not have enough coins to know?

Professor Yarrow 49:56
Oh, that’s a great question. So I’ve been talking a lot in these lectures I’ve been giving for the AIA That’s the American Institute of Archaeology, about the coins of moneyers, who have a family connection to a Latin town called Lanuvium. Lanuvium is famous for having the sanctuary of Juno Sospita, and Juno Sospita it is a very fun goddess. And she is not like many Goddesses that you may think of. She is a warrior goddess, she’s got a nice big shield and spear. But she also wears really fancy shoes, they curl up like elf. And not only that, she also wears a goat skin headdress much like Hercules where’s the lion one, so she always gets horns and big ears. And she’s often striding into battle. And her cult was also pretty wild. One of my favourite things about the junior sauce, but a cult is that in spring, they would gather up all of the virgins from the local community, and send them down into a dark, dank cave, entrance through the religious sanctuary to feed the evil snake. Now the snake would take food out of the virgins hand only if they were really truly virgins, otherwise it would gobble them up, and they would never make it back to the surface. So once the girls go down into the cave to feed the snake, the parents all wait around anxiously to see if their daughters return. And if their daughters return, there’s a big party, because not only are their girls good and pure, but everything’s going to grow again. And you know, it’s the proof that the earth is fertile. And it’s this cult of the renewal of life. So it’s a pretty wild cold, and the Romans were really excited about it. And so when they conquer Lavinium in 340, they make a Treaty of Mutual alliances, and they incorporate the local community into the Roman citizenship as long as those people agree that the Romans can have a share in the control of this cult, because the cult is extremely popular and extremely politically significant with in lation itself. How does this relate to the coins? Well, we can all have this cool imagery on the coins itself. And so when people from this community are elected money are in Rome, it’s this cult that they want to celebrate. So we even get a picture of a girl feeding the snake, as well as Juno Sospita herself doing all sorts of wild things. However, we also have evidence that when the local cult was throwing parties, they had to make by parties, I mean, religious festivals, they made tokens and tokens are like, well, they’re their tokens, they’re here have a token, this makes sure that everybody gets the same amount of bread or wine or, you know, entrance to the games or the play or whatever. It’s a way of controlling access and keeping track of benefactions and access to benefactions party. So these are the parties down here. Here’s my token. So tokens are not coins, but they look like coins. And so they tend to be made more crudely. They’re often made out of lead because it’s softer and easier to work with. But they’re deeply associated with religious festivals and local communities. So the party tokens from this cult look like the Roman coins made up to 100 years earlier. Because they have this local pride our dude became the money or in Rome. What did he choose? He chose these images, we need to put something on our religious tokens for this next festival. Let’s copy that design. Yeah, so that’s one of my favourites sort of somebody’s paying attention to the coins and they’re paying attention over a long period of time, and it really matters within local communities, even outside of the city of Rome itself.

Dr Rad 54:37
I love that story. I think the next time I’m going to have a party I’m going to send out tokens instead of invitations. Perfect.

Well, this has been a wild ride. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you so much for your time leave. It’s been really really amazing. And yeah, Juno sauce Better water water lady

Professor Yarrow 55:01
Maybe it’s the shoes I really want. I mean, I take the coat, but I really want those curly shoes.

Dr G 55:08
Fair enough. I’m with you. We’ll go back in time we’ll find some curly shoes. Amazing. Absolutely.

Thank you for tuning in to this special episode of the Partial Historians. I’m Dr. G. And on behalf of Dr. Rad myself, we would like to send a huge thank you to our Patreon supporters whose support enhances what we have the ability to do with this podcast. Our Patreon supporters receive early access to all of our special episodes, and we are starting to build up some exclusive content over there as well. So if you like what you hear, we would love to have you join our Patreon community. You can also find us on all social media outlets, or at least the old ones, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Catch you around.

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Drs R and G laugh and spar their way through the ancient Roman world!

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