A Roman Republican as with a Janus obverse and a prow reverse has been on my want list for quite some time, and I have been waiting for the right coin to come up. Two weeks ago, I finally found a nice specimen for a price I was willing to pay, and it arrived this morning: Roman Republic, As (uncial standard), 169–158 BC, moneyer: C. Cluvius Saxula, Rome mint. Obv: head of Janus, I above. Rev: prow right, C·SAX (ligated) above, ROMA below. 35 mm, 25.98 g. Ref: Crawford 173/1. A couple of ancient writers discuss and explain these coins in detail, which is the main reason I wanted one. (EDIT: Just to clarify, what follows is a little account of the reception of this type of coin by some writers during the Roman Empire. For a historically more reliable origin story of the devices on the coin, see the informative post by @Carausius below.) In his Saturnalia, the 5th century philosopher Macrobius tells us that Janus, the two-faced deity of transitions, beginnings and ends, ruled over Latium during the golden age and had been the first to mint coins. Therefore, his image featured on the obverse of the original asses. When Saturn, the god of wealth, agriculture, and renewal, arrived in Italy, Janus welcomed him and the two deities reigned together, which is reflected by the reverse showing a prow: “When Janus first stamped images onto bronze coins, he maintained his reverence to Saturn to such a degree that, since he had come to Italy by boat, one side of the coin would show an image of his head, while the other side displayed a ship; in this way he propagated Saturn’s memory for future generations.” (Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1.7.22) The two most ancient, foundational deities of Rome’s mythological golden age are thus referenced on this coin. Following Macrobius, it signifies both the origins of the city and of minting money, and, with Saturn, its wealth and prosperity. Furthermore, according to the Roman Republican calendar, the year starts with the month of Janus (“January”) and more or less ends with the saturnalia, the festivities of Saturn. Obverse and reverse of the as hence also encompass the whole year – possibly a reference to the durability and reliability of Roman money. According to Macrobius, this coin became so iconic that it led to a Latin idiomatic expression similar to the English ‘heads or tails’, which was still in use by the 5th century: Copper thus marked is even today understood to apply to dice games, when boys throwing their coins into the air playfully exclaim ‘heads or ships’ (capita aut navia) as a testament to the practice’s antiquity. (Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1.7.22) Macrobius' account goes back to Ovid, who discusses this coin in the first book of the Fasti. Here, the poet asks the god Janus about the meaning of the coin, and Janus narrates the mythology behind it: ‘Indeed I’ve learned much: but why is there a ship’s figure On one side of the copper as, a twin shape on the other?’ ‘You might have recognised me in the double-image’, He said, ‘if length of days had not worn the coin away. The reason for the ship is that the god of the sickle Wandering the globe, by ship, reached the Tuscan river. I remember how Saturn was welcomed in this land: Driven by Jupiter from the celestial regions. From that day the people kept the title, Saturnian, And the land was Latium, from the god’s hiding (latente) there. But a pious posterity stamped a ship on the coin, To commemorate the new god’s arrival.’ (Ovid, Fasti, lib. I, vv. 167–178) First, it is remarkable that for Ovid, who published the Fasti around 8 AD, the Republican as was still present enough to be the archetypal bronze coin to ask a god about. Secondly, Ovid’s mentioning of the worn Republican coin can be read as a sharp political comment: if time had not worn away the image of Janus (ni vetus ipsa dies extenuasset opus, v. 170), the golden age origins of Rome would still be visible. Ovid uses the Republican bronze as as an image for the ‘good old days,’ which, as Janus states, have gone by. In the present, that is under the rule of Augustus, a new wealth, symbolized by gold coins instead of bronze asses, fosters vice and moral decay: Wealth has increased, and the frantic lust for riches, So that those who possess the most seek for more. They seek to spend, compete to acquire what’s spent, And so their alternating vices are nourished. Like one whose belly is swollen with dropsy The more they drink, the thirstier they become. Wealth is the value now: riches bring honours, Friendship too: everywhere the poor are hidden. And you still ask me if gold’s useful in augury, And why old money (aera vetusta) is a delight in our hands? Once men gave bronze (aera), now gold (aurum) grants better omens, Old-fashioned money (prisca moneta), conquered, gives way to the new. (Ovid, Fasti, lib. I, vv. 149–160) In the same year the first six books of the Fasti were published, Augustus finally had enough and banished Ovid to Tomis, on the Black Sea, were the poet spent the rest of his days in exile. The general consensus is that Ovid’s Ars amatoria had been a bit to libertine for the emperor, but one might wonder whether critical passages like the one cited above could not have played a role, too. In any case, during the early Empire, the Janus-and-prow as appears to have been used as a political symbol for a ‘Republican golden age’ – and, at least for me, that's reason enough to want one in my collection. Please feel free to show your asses, Janus coins, and galley prows!