Roman Republican Coins and Books by Andrew McCabe
Books on Coins and History      Coins: era of the Gracchi brothers Tiberius and Gaius, 137-107BC
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234-01-9113-40-TI.VETVR Veturia Mars Oath scene Denarius

Links to Books on Coins and History, Coins: era of the Gracchi brothers 137-107BC:

Coins: 137-107BC, Tiberius & Gaius Gracchi, Crawford 234/310

Click on any photo to see that coin. Or click on the right-hand blue link to see the entire set.

137-132BC Cr234/251 Numantia, Tiberius Gracchus

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  137-132BC Cr234/251 Numantia, Tiberius Gracchus   137-132BC Cr234/251 Numantia, Tiberius Gracchus

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The set starts with two remarkable coins, that of Titus Veturius and Sextus Pompeius with completely novel types illustrating on one an oath scene, perhaps of the treaty with the Samnites at the Caudine Forks that was honourably kept by the Romans, and on the other the founding myth of Rome, Romulus and Remus suckled by the wolf with the shepherd Fostulus under a fig tree with a woodpecker. Both likely refer to the treaty of Numantia in 137BC, the imperial wolf and twins type supporting its rejection, the oath scene in support of honouring the treaty just as that with the Samnites. Two sides of a political propoganda battle. The treaty was in the end rejected and the treator was surrendered to the enemy. In later histories the stories of both the Numantine and Caudine Forks treaties were rewritten as humiliating events, and in a further twist to the tale the same oath type was later popular on the coins of the Social War allies. It is usually not a good sign if your enemies choose to use your own propoganda types against you! On a less interesting subject this era also shows the reemergence of fractional bronzes, Semisses and Quadrantes with the occasional Triens on about a 20 gram standard, on smaller modules with neat styles and detailed prow designs.

131-121BC Cr252/279 Gaius Gracchus

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  131-121BC Cr252/279 Gaius Gracchus   131-121BC Cr252/279 Gaius Gracchus

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We are now moving into an era when prosopographical studies become a vital tool in dating. Prosopography is an investigation of the common characteristics of a historical group, whose individual biographies may be largely untraceable. The word comes from "prosopoeia" in classical rhetoric, in which an absent or imagined person is conjured up. From the mid second century BC, most coins have a full family name, pranomen, nomen and cognomen, compared with short abbreviations earlier in the century. Because the moneyers were in almost all cases very junior officials, we cannot hope to find records of their activities unless they later became famous. We can however trace their more famous relations, ancestors and descendants, perhaps a Consul from that time whose son this might be, or a Praetor a decade later who might be a brother. So with the help of numismatic evidence, we gradually assign personal histories to the moneyers, and moneyers to dates, a sudoku-like process with which numismatists are very familiar and that I described on my earlier pages. Many more or less elegant solutions to these dating and historical problems have been proposed over the years. HB Mattingly is the most recent expert to publish on the late 2nd and early 1st centuries BC and his book From Coins to History is a must read. The coins in this set baffled both Sydenham and Crawford because there are two stylistically similar groups of coins within it, one low relief with reverse dotted border, the other high relief with reverse line border yet the two cannot be separated by hoards. The coin types are not yet as diverse as they become in the 1st century BC, so tell us little by themselves. So, there is little numismatic evidence, but lots of names mentioned on the coins. Prosopography becomes a key tool in such cases. Sydenham places the two sets in sequence, and Crawford in parallel but says he does "not feel entirely happy about this arrangement". HB Mattingly has taken another look. All consider not just the hoard and numismatic evidence, but who these moneyers or their relatives might be in history. I have stuck here with the dating of Crawford, against which the solutions of Sydenham and HB Mattingly can be compared.

120-107BC Cr280/310 Gracchan reforms, Gallia Narbonensis

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The full flowering of imaginative coin design finally blossoms in the last two decades of the century, after decades of cautious experiment. An elegant group of facing Dioscuri shocks exactly a century after they first graced the reverse of Roman coins. Sol rises from the waves in a facing quadriga, a type which likely alludes to victories in the east, the direction of the rising sun, by an ancestor of this Manlia. Citizens cast their ballots. At the left of the voting bridge or "pons", a narrow passage that restricts entry to one person, a person is handed a voting tablet, and on the right another figure drops the tablet into a box. Two lines at the top delineate the voting area and at the top right is a voting tablet with the letter P inscribed. Gladiators fight with different weapons, one has a whip, shield and a dagger at his waist, the other a long sword and shield. A remarkable reverse for a large bronze, the first As struck in decades shows Victory crowning a trophy. How would this look to a Roman who cries "Heads or Prows" when he tosses a coin in the tavern, such was the familiarity with the prow bronze types produced since 240BC. Roma with wolf and twins seated on shields, birds fly in the background. This moneyer was so determined to celebrate the majesty of Rome with this iconic type that he did not even allow his name to intrude on the issue. No doubt there was just reward for his ardent nationalism, with votes for his favoured candidate at the ballot box. Powerful.

Coins and History, a question of details

One of the most ridiculous assertions I have seen on coins and history is by Clive Foss in Roman Historical Coins. He says that there are almost no Republican coins with historical references. G.F Hill got it much closer to correct in his Historical Roman Coins a century earlier which demonstrated how rich our coinage was in historical links, and a good half of Gruebers discussion is about history. One thing that does distinguish the Republican series however is the great level of detail necessary to know what is going on. There is not just an emperor every thirty years, there are three little known moneyers per year. Whilst it is easy to give a grand historical sweep, each issue needs placement in the historical sequence, and a detailed analysis of the issuer and his relations all by itself. In other words it is hard work. A failure to take into account all the evidence, numismatic, archaeological and historical, can place coins seriously out of sequence with their related historical background. This might matter less in the imperial period which have long periods of uninterrupted rule with essentially single party government. However the joint Heads of State, the Consuls, changed every year in the Republic, and in its last hundred years there were frequent revolutions and clearly opposed political factions. Neat solutions that satisfy all the evidence are elusive but it can be very satisfying to read an account that better matches all the available evidence. Centuries of work has been done on Roman Republican coins, starting with Fulvius Orsini in the 16th century whose work I discuss below, but there is still an amazing capacity to throw up new information. Mark Passehl is a current scholar working on these coins, and I think it worthwhile quoting an essay in full which deals with the coinages in the name LEPIDVS (Crawford 415-417, and 419), dated to 62 and 61 BC by Crawford, and to 62 and 58BC by the Mesagne hoard. The Mesagne hoard contains Crawford 419, in the name of M.LEPIDVS -

58BC 419-01-0838-39-M.LEPIDVS AN XV PR HOCS

But it does not contain Crawford 418 (M.Piso M.F. Frugi), which is linked to 419 by common symbolism (obverse wreath, patera), fabric and style.

58BC 418/2 #0256-36 M.PISO M.F.FRVGI Terminus torque cup Patera knife wreath Denarius

This therefore places 418 and 419 in 58BC, the presumed closing date of the hoard marked by the date-certain issue of Scaurus and Hyspaeus as curule aediles. Click here to read the essay on Aemilii Lepidi and Adoptions by Mark Passehl. Other essays by Mark can be found at the Journal of Ancient Numismatics. Perhaps the best approach to understanding the relation to Roman coins and history is to get a good grounding in the history of the era. A lot of rubbish has been written over the years about specific coin issues, and very much remains disputed. For a starter, there remains a lot of uncertainty about the dates of specific issues from the archaeological evidence and surprises, i.e. new hoards constantly demonstrate missing coins, which should be present but are not. Thus a well informed mind about history can help in debunking. With this in mind, after the coins section I list many History Books, all which I have read and personally recommend. They range from so called faction, the novels of Sayles and McCulloughs, through easy reads, background information on geography and archaeological sites, and the highly academic. I find it good to read a selection as there are often different perspectives.

Books: Coins and History

Essential books on Coins and History

Coins of the Roman Republic in the British Museum, H. A. Grueber, London, 1910; reprinted 1970.

Reviewed in the Crawford, Grueber, Sear section. Essential.

Coinage & Money Under the Roman Republic: Italy and the Mediterranean Economy, Michael Crawford, 1985

Essential. Reviewed in the Provincial Coins section.

The History and Coinage of the Roman Imperators, 48-27BC, David Sear, 1988

Essential. Reviewed in the Crawford, Grueber, Sear section.


Die stadtrömische Münzprägung der jahre 78-50 v.Chr. zwischen politischer Aktualität und Familienthematik, Wilhelm Hollstein, 1993

This is a critically important work on the coins and history between the death of Sulla and the civil wars. It carries out a detailed assessent on each coin type in turn over the thirty year period, taking into account all available evidence, prosopographical, hoard evidence, and most importantly the historical evidence stemming from the coin types themselves. I can think of no better introduction for this book than to quote the actual introduction to this book which outlines its thesis. Quote [AM, my translation] The basis of this work stems from Crawford’s published two-volume catalogue work, which on the one hand has found widespread approval, but on the other hand however also has also been criticised concerning the interpretation of the individual coin types. Burnett (JRS 1987) wrote, "The interpretation of designs, however, does not receive a complete treatment in RRC. In some cases this is exasperating. To understand a design, particularly some of the highly recondite and antiquarian family allusions, one often has to have recourse to older catalogues such as Grueber. This is not to say that Crawford was not interested in designs but he felt I think that, where he had nothing new to offer he should not waste space repeating what was already known. This is perhaps a pity in a work that was obviously destined to be the standard hand book." Crawford gives thus only short interpretations of the individual coin types and hardly touches on interpretation problems which are widely discussed in the literature. Rather he often rashly pushes aside the interpretations of other researchers, with just a few remarks. But it does not seem that Crawfords own interpretations are always to the point. There is a danger, since Crawfords catalogue is judged to be the standard work on republican coinage, that his interpretations are judged as correct, and are quoted uncritically. Also, Crawfords scepticism regarding the expressive effect of coin types can probably explain his rather brief interpretations of them. "Unfortunately , although there are occasional literary references to the coin types of the Republic, we have no means of knowing what impact they made on the people who saw them. We may suspect that they were barely noticed." (RRC II 726). Unquote. The dating in Hollstein is post Mesagne. The information within is not yet widely dispersed in English, although it precedes and was accounted for within HB Mattingly’s assessment of the coins of 58 to 50BC, see Period specific studies, and also the related coin sets illustrated here.

Joe Shetler’s website

Joe Shetler’s site has 125 coins laid out in historical order alongside a brief description of an historical events from that year and a weblink to history for that year, as well as consular fasti with links to some more notable consuls. Attractive and useful.

A Dictionary of Roman Coins, Seth W. Stevenson, 1889, reprinted 1964

Monumental and useful for family histories and their coins. Much better than the 1990 dictionary by Melville-Jones which eliminated all the interesting Republican references in favour of those dull old emperors. If you have a combination of Grueber and one or two history books as listed below you may however find this redundant, as it is the same information database. This book is freely available online via the Forvm ancient coins website.

Roman Historical Portraits, J.M. Toynbee, London 1978

The intent of this book is to present Roman portraiture in all media, excluding the Emperors. Since many Republican personages are only known from the portraits on their coins (particularly provincial coins in the Imperatorial era) this book is to a great extent a survey of Republican Roman portraiture on coins. Many good illustrations Not difficult to find.

Historical Roman Coins, G.F. Hill, London 1909

Whilst its dating is outdated this is still an excellent book as most of the historical inferences to be drawn from Republican coin types remain valid. It takes a no-nonsense approach to what is regards as the “Roman” era and stops firmly at the end of the Roman Republic. Of course Republican numismatics has changed a lot in the last century but the messages of coin types that show historical scenes is mostly unchanged and relevent to todays readers. The book can be downloaded from the internet archive.

Roman Republican Moneyers and Their Coins; 63BC-49BC, Michael Harlan, 1995

Proposes a revised chronology and provides extensive historical background for coins of the period. Very readable particularly on the personal histories of the various magistrates, but not an academic numismatic analysis - it concentrates more on the history than on numismatic evidence for the proposed redating. Harlan’s proposed dating is not entirely consistent with conclusions now drawn from the Mesagne hoard, so it may be best to annotate it with Hersh/Walker and HB Mattingly dating for 63BC to 58BC, and 58BC to 49BC respectively, before diving in.

I Fasti della Repubblica Romana sulla Moneta di Roma, S.L. Cesano, 1942

A hidden gem. This book sized (160 page) review was published within Istituto Italiano di Numismatica, Studi di Numismatica, Volume I Book II, 1942, and is for a host of reasons, including its 1942 date and placement within a perishable journal, exceptionally rare. Normally I don't quote such rare books but it is crying out for a reprint, and an English translation. It considers every interesting reverse type in the Roman Republican series from an historical perspective, and each is illustrated with outstanding quality double size plates, clearly done from plaster casts, with many rarities e.g. the Arrius Secundus with soldiers type, Cr513/2, which is not even illustrated in RSC1. For each coin it goes through the visible types as well as prosopgraphical evidence, such as there is. As compared with the moderately nice Clain Staefanelli book I list below, there is no comparison, this is better in every possible way apart from its unavailability.

I Simbolo nelle Monete Argentee Repubblicane e la Vita dei Romani, Anna Serena Fava, 1969

The symbols on Republican silver coins, and everyday Roman life. A catalogue of Republican coin types having symbols of everyday life and as such nothing special, lists of symbols can be found in many places including Crawford. 21 plates of coins, nothing special. What is special are the 33 plates of actual objects represented on these coins which are also described in the text. Bronze boats, mosaic fishes, lamps, tripods, architectural symbols, coining implements, marble fasces, vases, paterae etc. etc. This and the prior book show the value of older Italian publications, such information has never been available in English.

Eventi e Personaggi Sul Denario della Repubblica Romana, E Bernareggi, 1963

Interesting review of coin types and personages.

Life in Republican Rome on its Coinage, Elvira Clain Stefanelli, Washington 1999

A diversion from the great bibliographical works more usually associated with Clain-Stefanelli, this is a brief book has short explainations of the types of some 200 Republican coins, arranged by themes (monuments, mythical figures etc). Ideal for enticing a collector into the Republican series. Lots of enlarged photos with comments how they relate to life in Rome. A book to browse rather than read, not at all academic.

Not Useful

Die Bildnismünzen der römischen Republik, G.Lahusen, 1989

Portrait coins of the Roman Republic, 89 plates. German. Sounds useful but it isn’t – the coverage is very narrow, including only mainstream Republican coinage and excluding Caesar, Antony, Pompey, Lepidus, Octavian and all their families. Amazing. This leaves just Sulla/Rufus, Brutus/Ahala, Marcellinus, Brutus, Ahenobarbus and a couple more – the plates consisting of repetitive obverse pictures of a small number of coins. Perhaps useful for die studies.

Roman Historical Coins, Clive Foss, 1990

A terrible book, which one can tell from the ominous first words “In general the coinage of the Republic does not deal with contemporary events”. The book reflects a massive failure of understanding of Republican coinage, which from the very earliest times are full of allusions or references to current events e.g. the Elephant/Chickens currency bar that commemorated the victory over Pyrrhus in Beneventum 275BC, or in the way that the family commemoration of past events acted as current propaganda for the senior magistrates then in power with types that reflected the concerns of the time. Hardly any Republican coverage and no wonder. Rubbish.

Antiquarian books on coins and history

Familiae Romanae in Antiquis Numismatibvs ab urbe condita ad tempora Divi Avgvsti, Fulvius Orsini, bound together with De Familiis Romanorvm, Antonio Augusto. Various editions from 1577 onwards

The first book to explore the family arrangement of Republican coins in a layout that is entirely recognizable as a predecessor to Roman Silver Coins. 223 engraved plates in the text from Aburia to Volteia, accompanied by discussions on family histories. “One of the few Renaisance numismatic texts that Eckhel in 1785 considered still useful to read” (Cunnally, Images of the Illustrious). The accompanying unillustrated text by Antonio Augusto is a prospographical text that addresses family histories in depth. A paper on this book was published in the Madrid International Numismatic Congress and takes a number of example coins and traces what Fulvius Orsini knew about them. The foundations for serious prosopographical work were laid down only in 1547 when the Fasti Consulares Capitolini were excavated in the Roman Forum, wall plates that show the magistrates of Rome over the centuries, and now preserved in the Capitoline Museum, which incidentally is a must visit, as amongst its statues and Fasti it also has an impressive display of superb quality Roman Republican coins. So Orsini and Augusto’s was the first substantial numismatic book to build on this discovery, indeed following only shortly after the first book to illustrate Roman Republican coins, Imperator Romanorum Libellus by Johann Huttich, 1534. As Orsini and Augusto is a well illustrated fundamental book on the Republican series I do recommend finding a copy, possibly a 17th century reprint, if you want to trace back to the very roots of Republican numismatics.

Medaglie, Inscrittioni et altre Antichita, Antonio Augusto, Rome 1592

A set of dialogues on Roman and Greek coins by the co author of the above volume, that compare and discuss coins having similar types e.g. “naval victories”, “African themes”. Many Republican coins. Hundreds of superb large-scale artistic illustrations which aim not only to reproduce the general look of the coins, but add in details such as facial expression or accurate accoutrements on reverse types that would have been impossible for a coin-engraver – the best line drawings in my library. I find this interesting also for the thinking process and associations formed in the minds of early numismatists who only had the coin material to analyse. There was no existing numismatic books that Augusto could rely on so his conclusions rested on what the coins themselves said in addition to Pliny, the Consular Fasti etc. This is actually a more attractive illustrated book than Orsini/Augusto but not so methodical.
Ahala's Antonio Augusto 1592 photoset Antonio Augusto 1592

Doctrina Numorum Veterum, Joseph Eckhel, 1792-1828, 8 volumes

An important academic work on ancient coins that introduced many of today’s classification rules, e.g. the ‘clockwise around the Mediterranean starting in Spain’ convention for Greek coins, and the Republican moneyers arrangement that we still see today in RSC1. Volume 6 which covers the Roman Imperatorial series is available free on Google Books (just search for Eckhel Doctrina). Eckhel is not illustrated but its logic and clarity of organisation comes through even if you have only a passing acquaintance with Latin As a large and expensive unillustrated book, I am not recommending its purchase except for those with a deep interest in numismatic history, but if you have an opportunity to leaf through it, do so to understood what our current numismatics rests upon.

History Books

Pure history, not a coin in sight!

There are thousands of history books that address the Roman Republic and this is not the place to survey them. However I have a number of favourites that are particularly good in breathing life into ancient coins, ranging from tiny introductory handbooks to multi-volume academic works. These are my favourites, I've read them all and can whole heartedly recommend them. Choose the one that suits your reading mood.

The Rise of the Romans 753BC to 146BC, Brian Taylor, 2008

The Later Roman Republic 145BC to 27BC, Brian Taylor, 2008

This book, in two volumes, will probably infuriate historians and academics, but possibly delight numismatists and casual students of Roman history. They are annals of the Roman Republic in the literal meaning of the word Annals (Latin Annales, from annus, a year), a concise form of historical writing which record events chronologically, year by year. For each individual year 756BC to 27BC it states who were the consuls and other significant magistrates, what were the major political activities in Rome e.g. laws passed, activities of the main politicians, what military movements and/or battles took place under whose leadership, significant events in each province etc. It is entirely factual and does not cover social or literary history. Sample paragraph "305BC In the censorship of Gaius Junius Bubulcus and Marcus Valerius Maximus Corvus the Romans began the construction of the Via Valeria in an effort to support their military campaigns. This road led from Rome and east into the area of Alba Fucens before later continuing on to the Adriatic. They also conquered the people of Anagnia and as part of the settlement granted limited citizenship to them. Devestating campaigns were conducted against the Hernici and Aequi to the south east of Rome by the consuls Quintus Marcius Tremulus and Publius Cornelius Arvina". The level of detail increases greatly in the later Republic as compared with this sample. Perhaps I am alone, but I find this format terribly useful because often I pick up a coin, notionally dated for example to 134BC, and I would like a one page concise summary of what 134BC meant in the Roman world without having to do a 20 minute web trawl, and without needing to interpolate or extrapolate from a wider history of those times. A very practical book. Historians will dislike this book intensely however because to cover all of Roman history in 650 pages, each year from 753BC to 27BC includes a set of bald factual statements without justification, references, context or doubt. There are times when I want context and doubts, and other times when I need a book like this.

Classics, A Very Short Introduction, John Henderson, 2000

This tiny book, the story of a Greek temple in Arcadia, is a gem that everyone should read. It is relevant to Roman Republican numismatics because of its crisp and compelling illumination of the historical methods used to establish everything we know about the ancient world.

The Roman Republic, Andrew Lintott, 2000

A miniature history of the Republic (100 pages, small format) from an eminent historian. Along with the previous book this is a taster to be consumed in one sitting.

Republican Rome, her conquests, manners and institutions, H.L. Havell, 1913

In common with Mommsen mentioned below, this demonstrates that well written history does not age. It is written in easy, colourful and dramatic language broken down into small sections with clear headings, as if it were current events with the author present. For those who tire of current historian’s obsession with uncertainty and evidence this is a refreshing throwback to a more certain era. Sixty good quality plates and an illustrated section on coins, obviously the latter is dated. Available as an excellent hardcover reprint from Geddes & Grosset under the title Ancient Rome The Republic. Also available for free download from It has one of the most surprising opening lines for a numismatic book, "Shortly after the manuscript was completed Mr Havell met with a fatal accident whilst cycling."

Rubicon: the last years of the Roman Republic, Tom Holland, 2003

A history of the Imperatorial period written with the colour and readability of good fiction.

The Roman Republic, Michael Crawford, 1978

A surprisingly in-depth analysis of Republican history considering its small paperback format. Inevitably, given Crawford’s interest in the subject there is a good focus on economic history based on his own work.

Atlas of the Roman World; Tim Cornell & John Matthews, 1982

A large format lavishly illustrated history with great maps, readable as a stand-alone book as well as being a reference. It is particularly good in understanding the early Republic, not well covered in most modern books. I do not recommend The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome (1995), its maps are terrible quality and since most cover the entire Mediterranean they are useless for details.

Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, Princeton University, 2000

A 1:500,000 scale large format topographical atlas of the Mediterranean world, this is a real luxury purchase. No-one actually needs an atlas as detailed, beautiful and expensive as Barrington if you are just looking for the major mint cities and battle-grounds, but it is wonderful to browse the ancient Roman world as the Romans would have visualised it. The battles, troop movements and alliances of the ancient world make much more sense when seen in their topographical context so that you realise that towns 100km apart on the same river valley or coastline are ‘closer’ than towns 20km apart but separated by mountains with no connecting ancient road.

Ancient Italy. A journey in search of works of arts and the principal archaeological sites, Furio Durando, 2001

The title says it all, this luxuriously illustrated large format book takes a journey from Alpine cities to Sicily, and on the way picks up many of the famous mint towns of Italy, illustrating their buildings and art works. It breathes life into places such as Paestum and Volterrae that we may only know through their coins, and makes one realise that Rome was just one city amongst many.

Rome, Dictionaries of Civilization, Ada Gabucci, 2005

A well illustrated compact handbook that mixes history with archaeological sites and art works, about 400 colour pictures, organised into themes for example People (historical characters), Daily life, Power and public life. Meant to browse rather than read. Inexpensive, easy to get, nice.

Ancient Rome from the early Republic to the assassination of Julius Caesar; Matthew Dillon & Lynda Garland, 2005

This is a fascinating source-book, a collection of inscriptions and writings, as well as references to coins, intended to illustrate the breadth of social, political and economic history of the Roman Republic. The range of topics is amazing (from “the market price of a comedian” to “growing senatorial hostility towards Caesar”), the extracts are edited down to the very best lines, and there are illuminating commentaries throughout. Great to dip into. Coins are referenced in many places as historical source documents. Anyone who bought “The Mammoth Book of How it Happened: Ancient Rome” (2003), a source-book aimed at the best-seller market, should throw it away and buy this book instead, the Mammoth book consists of lengthy extracts without comment or context, as dull as this is sparkling.

Chronicle of the Roman Republic, Philip Matyszak, 2003

An illustrated history of the Republic told through the lives of its great leaders. Many coins illustrated. With today’s trend towards ignoring history prior to the civil wars of 49-30BC, this book puts Flamininus, the Scipios, Marius etc. on their proper high pedestal. To an extent, this person centred history of the Republic fits a bit awkwardly with the fact that Rome was in fact, a Republic, but being written and illustrated in the current modern style that is often used by popular textbooks, it comes across as perhaps more accessible than Havell’s book, more or less the equivalent illustrated text of 100 years ago.

The History of Rome, Theodore Mommsen, 1854-56

This is a Nobel-prize winning (Literature, 1902) history of Rome from the earliest times to the death of Caesar. It has wonderful use of language as befits a Nobel laureate. His interpretations, particularly of party politics in the late Republic, do not always accord with modern views but this doesn’t detract from the facts or the storytelling. The original has 3 volumes and 2000 pages but there are inexpensive abridged versions that retain the best aspects of the work. Or free. The entire book can be read online on

The Cambridge Ancient History, Volumes VII(2), VIII, IX, X, 1989-1996

Definitive, authoritative, expensive but surprisingly readable. In my view it is worth the high cost because there is a freshness and novelty to the text, a sense of reading the newest and very best interpretation, that results from the various authors having personally researched their material – right down to the archaeological dig - rather than merely replaying the works of others.

Parallel Lives of the Greeks and Romans, Plutarch

Plutarch is perhaps the most accessible ancient historian for the Roman Republic (Livy and Polybius are hard work). If interested in other ancient sources I suggest you first get Dillon and Garland’s book, it will give you a taste of what else is out there (e.g. Cicero’s letters). The Loeb edition is the classic translation of Plutarch, now out of copyright it is available free on the LacusCurtius website:

Steven Saylor and Colleen McCullough’s novels

Although fiction, these two extended series of novels are historically accurate and bring to life the main characters of the last 100 years of the Republic from Marius to Antony, as well as daily life. Saylor’s books are a zippier light read, centred around a detective, Agatha Christie in the forum so to speak. McCullough’s are ideal for long holidays and mirror the life of Caesar from his childhood as an aide to Marius. All the main historical figures are present, from Marius onwards as main characters in McCullough, and from Sulla onwards as accidental encounters in Saylor. Additionally I can recommend Roma by Saylor, which takes us right back to the beginning of the Republic and traces the history through generations to the Republic’s end via a family heirloom. Other authors are either less good (Alan Massie) or downright bad (JM Roberts’ SPQR series).

Aemilii Lepidi & Adoptions, Mark Passehl

Having recently finished a short essay on M. Fonteius (Cr347) as not only a non-existent mint magistrate but non-existent person, I'd love to do the same for M. Lepidus Triumvir. Unfortunately there he stands in all his snivelling ingloriousness as a key Caesarian lackey and even pontifex maximus, attested all over the literature and epigraphy. Actually he becomes indispensible as a hothouse of ancient superstitions through whose (deliberate) mangling of Caesar's leap-year model (to avoid a dire ancient omen coming to pass) it is possible to reconstruct the history of the separation of the Roman Calendar and civic year until both happily remarried again on the Kalends of January in 154/3 BC, after a much earlier union on Kal. Martius had ended badly and quickly (5th century BC). However, it may be that his mint magistracy (Cr419) is another modern figment.

58BC 419-02-9852-37-M.LEPIDVS

The unruly disruption of Crawford's arrangements for the 60s-50s owing to Mesagne and other hoard evidence, invites all manner of reconsideration of what was going on, both at the mint, and in the family lines which depend upon correct(ish) identification and dating of the mint magistrates. Having departed from the coinage cognomina to investigate more fully the details and social implications of Roman adoptive practices and onomastics, I regret to have to report that Livia Drusilla was a shameless slut and the illegitimate mother of the Salvi Othones, who produced an emperor in consequence.

If that isn't shocking enough, the same trail leads on to Mommsen's wicked ways as a Caesarian who tampered badly with the record of Roman adoptions. What he was trying to cover up and legitimize is that Caesar never did adopt the Octavian Caesar; the "lowest wax" (final codicil) and its contents reported by Suetonius (in good faith, I hasten to add - Divus Iulius 83.3: in ima cera) was a forgery no different or better than the Antonian fiddling with Caesar's wishes and memoranda around the same time (months and weeks even).

One of the most difficult or confusing aspects in reconstructing Roman adoptive practices and genealogies is the late upsurge of matronymics, proceding perhaps out of Etruscan practices and preferences, and earliest on view in official nomenclature in the house of Considi Noniani. They look for all the world like Noni Sufenates, descendants of Sulla's sister, adopted plenary into the household and rites of the Considi (Plutarch Sulla 10.3 records Sulla's nephew Nonius). But not so. Although these adjectival cognomina gentilicia mimic the outward onomastic forms of a plenary adoption, the key difference is that when an adoption took place this form applied to the filius adoptivus, and died with him, whereas the matronymica were, or eventually became, hereditary. The name of Considi Noniani proceeds so far that it ends up merging into highest nobility, transforming an historian of ancient heritage, in the 1st century CE, into M. Servilius Nonianus (cos.35 CE), who produced a daughter he considered a Considia.

So too L. Salvius Otho Titianus (cos.52 CE), brother of the emperor Otho, was eldest son of an homonymous consular whose full splendour may have been L. Salvius Otho Titianus. This Lucius Otho (cos.suff.33 CE) was a favourite of Tiberius and looking so much like him that rumour spread of Tiberius' paternity. More plausible to understand their relationship in a sense rather less flattering to Tiberius and his mother, as uncle and nephew from a uterine fraternity. The maternity of the vir praetorius M. Salvius Otho is reported in terms reminiscent of theatrical scripts. Not particularly good ones either. But there's enough to show who the real mother was: his upbringing in the household of the empress Livia Drusilla (Suetonius Otho 1). The Tiberian look-alike should have acquired the Titian matronymic from the splendid match arranged for his father Marcus by the empress: most likely a daughter of M. Titius (cos.suff.31 BC) and Paullina of the Fabi Maxmi. Now we're really talking when it comes to adoptive houses. Livia belonged to a line of Claudi Pulchri whose genealogic story is so patchy or badly fragmented that they have been banished to the nether regions in prosopographic terms, leaving the field open for the most junior line descended from Caius Pulcher cos.177. Unfortunately this produces some awful political gibberish, but apparently not enough to deter even advanced scholars. However, the entire history and development of Roman adoptions can be explicated and understood best when we follow the families of the Pulchri of Palatina tribe, their tribules the Aemili Lepidi, and the Aemili Paulli who were adopted into the family of Fabi Buteones and their ancestral rites, but under the name of the Fabi Maximi.

Similarly the Livi Drusi who adopted Livia's father M. Drusus Claudianus, plenary, were Aemili by blood (the filiation of C. Drusus cos.147 on the Capitoline fasti is M. Aimiliani f.) and probably from the Lepidi, as evidenced by the return of one of them by another adoption, Mamercus Lepidus Livianus (cos.77). The font of the Aemilian blood of the Drusi was most likely M. Aemilius Lepidus cos.187, 175, pont.max. and princeps senatus (vixit ca.230-151 BC). Indeed the complex stemma of the Lepidi, and the probable ancestry of M. Lepidus Triumvir (born 89 BC, yet only great-grandson of the princeps born around 230) can only be fully explicated on the supposition that the earliest brood of M. Lepidus the princeps, two sons both military tribunes in 190 BC, underwent name changes by adoption, and that the father married again and started again, beginning with M. Lepidus Porcina (cos.137, born ca.180) and progressing through even a Mamercus (born perhaps 170) to a Q. Lepidus (born 160s?) who was the grandfather of M. Lepidus Triumvir. A curious thing about the latter is that he takes his father's forename although a fourth son. This too the result of plenary adoption removing the eldest son Marcus from the family in 92/1 BC. The adoptor was L. Scipio Asiagenus, mint magistrate ca.105 (Cr311), who eventually earned a delayed consulate in the Marian cause (83) but was praetor in 92 and in 91 led a risky expedition against the Scordisci into the Balkans. Ignore Badian's Mario-propaganda date of 86 for the praetura and 85 for the command. The literary evidence says otherwise, and so too the forenames and birth dates of the Lepidan boys; Marcus ca.102/99, Q. Lepidus Regillus ca.100/95, L. Lepidus Paullus (pr.53, cos.50, born 93), and suddenly Marcus again in 89: only possible after the Scipionic adoption. L. Scipio was born around 132 BC and it seems to have been a requirement of plenary adoption that the adoptor had tried to produce sons of his own but failed, or lost them young. In any case it may be estimated that the end of adulescentia was considered the minimum age to adopt (37). All the more so if one were about to set off on a risky expedition against a notoriously nasty foe, whose unsociable habits included drinking out of your skull after beheading you. So too Caesar after returning from Spain in 45 BC and long planning a deep raid among the Daci. Officially he turned 55 in 45 BC. Probably really 57, but no matter. Even if not dictator supremo, he was well within his rights to adopt had he wished to do so, and he had ample time and opportunity before the Ides of March came around. The key and immutable facts about proper and plenary adoption (until bogusly mutated by the ima cera) were that it had to be done by a living man before witnesses in a public place. In the case of really wealthy or really high born men, such as the patrician Iulii, in front of the urban praetor's tribunal or the comitia curiata (Gellius NA V 19, Cic.dom.sua 39). The public nature of these ceremonials made the adoptor's wishes most clear and well known. Good protection against fraud, of the documentary or purely verbal kinds. A testament could nominate an heir to property, it could even impose upon him a condicio nominis ferendi in the event of his acceptance. But it was not permissable to adopt by testamentary means, which is to say take the property heir into the family and its rites and tribe, change his status from plebeian to patrician (or vice-versa), grant him control of the family patrocinia (if applicable). Perhaps Caesar could not bear the thought of making an adoption at the tribunal of his putative bastard Marcus Brutus (more formally named Q. Servilius Caepio Brutus per testamentum and condiciones of his own maternal uncle). Or perhaps his ideas about his future and posterity had changed now that the Lagid queen, in Rome at the time, had demonstrated, was claiming to have demonstrated, that his impotence with Roman women for the last four decades was not entirely the result of his own deficiencies. Whatever the full explanation, his failure to adopt prior to the Ides of March says all that needs to be said about his wishes in the matter. When L. Scipio adopted the eldest son of M. Lepidus (cos.78), making him L. Cornelius L. f. Scipio Asiagenus Aemilianus in the Fabia tribe (Scipio Lepidi filius in the vernacular - Orosius, V 22.17) the lad left the house of the Lepidi and the Palatina tribe in every sense, permitting reuse of the forename Marcus. If we look at the coinage issued by L. Lepidus Paullus, with and without his colleague Scribonius Libo (Cr415-417), there is a pattern of emphasis on ancestors (and Concordia).

62BC 417/1 #9944-39 PAVLLVS LEPIDVS LIBO Concord Wellhead hammer Denarius

Crawford decries his celebration of Aemilius Paullus (Cr415) as a fake genealogic claim. Perhaps a bit unfairly. The wives of the great princeps remain unknown and likewise of his son Quintus, while Appuleia uxor, whose unfaithfulness is said to have caused the consul 78 to pine away and perish in sorrow, was not necessarily his first and the mother of all his children. Although she was quite likely the mother of the slovenly Caesarian Marcus Triumvir. We know for example that the name and honour accorded the family of Scipio Africanus was transferred en bloc, after its extinction, to the Scipiones Nasicae, who were not only first cousins but also a tochterstem following Scipio Corculum's marriage to Africanus' elder daughter Cornelia. To a like but lesser extent (emphasized in Propertius' famous final poem) the Lentuli Marcellini tochterstem of the Scipiones Nasicae. A daughter of the Aemili Paulli may well be seen to have ventured into the Lepidan stirps of the clan Aemilia, if the extant genealogical data were only complete (or even a little better).

The ancestral theme is even more pronounced on the famous types of M. Lepidus Triumvir (Cr419). Marcus Lepidus the princeps is especially prominent in almost all aspects of his extraordinary career, from his slaying of foes as a 15-year-old in the war with Hannibal to his building of the basilica Aemilia as censor. There is even a reference to the building's repair by the consul 78 (Cr419/3 rev: REF(ecit) / M. LEPIDVS). However these ancestors are also ancestors in the same degree of Lepidus Paullus, whose mania concerning the family basilica is well attested. It induced him into a terrible error of judgement when Caesar was spraying about the Gallic blood-gold in an effort to buy his own Party in the late 50s, and he later came to seriously regret it. There is also quite some similarity of the obverse goddess on the Paullus Lepidus and M. Lepidus types (Cr419/3 in particular notes the typical veil of Concordia, identified by name on Paullus' coinage), although Crawford is sheepishly non-committal about naming her on the "M. Lepidus" coinage. He is forthright about the moneyer's identity, however (RRC, 444): "doubtless M. Aemilius Lepidus, IIIvir R.P.C.", The type is found in Mesagne and Hersh and Walker accepted this identification. The mint masters attributable to the beginnings and end of the sequence are of particular interest. For now I'd suggest that the M. LEPIDVS all over Cr419 (a small issue with not many dies despite its fame and diversity of types) has nothing to do with the later Triumvir and was one of the varieties struck by Lepidus Paullus.

58BC 419/1 #0837-43 M.LEPIDVS Roma Equestrian statue Lepidus Denarius

The M. Lepidus legend applies to his father and great-grandfather, just as the aed.cur. P. (Plautius) Hypsaeus registered the consular ancestor Gaius who once captured Privernum (Cr422). It' s of some interest (and difficulty) to work out when and where a mint master is assimilating an ancestor's or father's full name with his own. And probably best not just to assume it. The tricky occasional legend pertaining to the heroic horseman M.LEPIDVS of Cr419/1: AN.XV.PR.H.O.C.S. is famously resolved by the sense, and many of the same words, in a passage of Valerius Maximus (III 1.1): Aemilius Lepidus puer etiam tum progressus in aciem hostem interemit, civem servavit. No pr(aetor) here, of course. The context proves it. Likewise elsewhere, the difficult anticlockwise legend exhibited by Nonius Sufenas (Cr421), with SEX.NONI in the exergue: PR.L.V.P.F Crawford's comment: "doubtless M. Nonius Sufenas, Pr.55" was dubious enough when the date of 59 BC was permissible. But according to Mattingly this SVFENAS issue is not in Mesagne and first appears in Sustinenza, thus datable to 57.

57BC 421/1 #1109-36 SVFENAS Saturn harpa stone, Victory crowning Roma Denarius

A son then, or a nephew. Likewise the resolution of the anticlockwise legend seems suspiciously informative to us today: SEX. NONI(us) PR(aetor) L(udos) V(ictoriae) P(rimus) F(ecit). What Roman didn't know that praetors presided over the Ludi in Quintilis? And if the recent Lepidan PR need not stand for praetor, why should the Nonian? Better perhaps PR(imus) L(udos) V(ictoriae) P(ater) F(ecit) SEX. NONI(us). Nor is this arbitrary. Unsecured Ps can be no less damaging in prosopographic endeavours than the proverbial loose cannon on a wooden man o' war. Beautifully wrought stemmata of the Volusi Saturnini have been holed and sunk by a P persistently appended to the name of a Lucius Volusius in inscriptions, requiring resolution as anything but pater. He must needs be L. Volusius cos.3 CE in these reconstructions, filius of the homonymous cos.suff.12 BC. The attempts to meet this need have been ingenious. All subverted by a single epigraph on which the same man is explicitly in full style: L. Volusius Saturninus pater (CIL IX 5680). So it looks like the mint magistrate 57 was a Sex. Nonius Sufenas filius, son of Sex. Nonius Sufenas pr.81 (Sulla's nephew). Perhaps indeed the mint magistrate was born in the year (and month??) that his father presided over the games. A well connected family, from Etruria to judge by the cognomen, and thus reason enough for the Considi to use the Nonian matronymic. Sons of a Nonia who was Sulla's niece, or perhaps great niece.

Mattingly's revelations about the hoard evidence for two M. Plaetori Cestiani striking coinage, father and son, suggest something similar. Not the one man (aed.cur.67, pr.64) who underwent a plenary adoption. Instead an hereditary matronymic, and possibly the earliest example on record as part of formal onomastics (Catones Liciniani and Saloniani were earlier, but apparently their usage was informal and unofficial). There are also Sesti Albaniani, differentiating themselves from Sesti Corneliani, sons of a daughter of L. Scipio Asiagenus.

This essay Copyright, Mark Passehl, June 2009.

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