Featured A Symbol for the Republic? A Janus-and-Prow As

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Orielensis, Sep 17, 2018.

  1. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    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!
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2018
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  3. Sallent

    Sallent Live long and prosper

  4. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    9_9....you left an S off..
    Alegandron and Ryro like this.
  5. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Well-Known Member

    Great coin and interesting write up, congrats.
    Orielensis likes this.
  6. Sallent

    Sallent Live long and prosper

    Well, it's a single As and not a pair of Asses, so just one s.

    However, I do have one coin where Roma has a nice ass.

    M. Jumius Silanus denarius.jpg
    AR Denarius 4.11g. 19mm. Rome Mint
    Helmeted head of Roma, r.; X below chin; ass's head behind.
    The Dioscuri riding r., M.IVNI below horses; In ex.: ROMA
    Crawford 220/1; RSC Junia 8

    Isn't that the cutest Roman ass you've ever seen on a coin?:rolleyes:
  7. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

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  8. Carausius

    Carausius Brother, can you spare a sestertius?

    While the stories told 250 years after the introduction of the numismatic imagery are fun to read, I wouldn't put much trust in their factual basis. Janus and the Prow were first used together on Roman Republican bronze coins in the 3rd century BCE following the defeat of Carthage in the First Punic War. In that context, Janus likely alludes to the doors of the temple of Janus being closed (a symbol of the war's end). The Prow is likely a nod to the importance of Rome's navy in the victory. The first joint appearance of these devices are on large, cast Aes Grave libral asses (asses weighing one Roman pound). Actually, the weight standard of the As had reduced to about 10oz by the time this type was introduced,but we still call them "libral". The devices continued to be used on Asses after the introduction of struck bronze coinage during the Second Punic War.

    Here is a "libral"as of this early type, circa 225-217 BCE, Crawford 35/1, weighing 260 grams, 63mm in diameter:

    Last edited: Sep 17, 2018
  9. Gavin Richardson

    Gavin Richardson Well-Known Member

    This is a good point. But it's interesting to me to think about how the Romans themselves mythologized their past, inventing new ways of understanding themselves. The OP's quotation of Ovid is an interesting example of that mythic reinterpretation. A valuable thread already.
  10. Orielensis

    Orielensis Well-Known Member

    You are of course absolutely right. Also, thank you a lot for contributing the historically more reliable origin story of the devices on the Janus-and-prow as!

    I don't read the quotes cited in my original post as factually true. My focus on the discussions by Ovid, Macrobius, and others stems less from their source value concerning the actual development of this type of coin than from what they tell us about the reception history of the Janus-and-prow as. These younger accounts do, as you said, not give a reliable account of how and why the devices on this coin came to be. Yet, they give us a glimpse of what it meant to people during the Roman Empire and how it was attributed a symbolic meaning which differed from what it meant in the 3rd century BC.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2018
  11. Carausius

    Carausius Brother, can you spare a sestertius?

    Absolutely agree.
    Orielensis likes this.
  12. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Hard to believe that the prow honours Saturn' voyage on the reverse of all roman AE republic coins.
    Saturn was already honoured on the semis obverse (half as)

    P1170246 semis 8,5 gram.JPG P1170246semis 20 gr.jpg

    The prow of the galley was important because it played a decisive role in the punic wars against Carthago , the romans didn't have, nore did they know how to build a war galley. That changed when a carthagian war galley shipwrecked on the Italian coast . The romans didn't only copy this ship in vast numbers they added an important improvement , the aisle , so the roman legionairs could quickly enter the Carthagian galley.IMHO this is the reason of the prow on all these AE roman republic coins

    P1170334 overzichtsmall.jpg

    My favourite RR as coins:

    P1150723n holed.jpg


    Great Aes Grave , Carausius Hope to get one some day
  13. Sallent

    Sallent Live long and prosper

    All As jokes aside....I don't have one. That's one area I need to focus more on. So far I've only got one Republican bronze.
  14. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status

    260 grams!!! If I was any more jelly I'd be in a jar! Congrats on the amazing piece of history.
    Those are not easy to come by. May I be so lucky to get one a sliver as beautiful...but around the same weight.
    Great write-up and awesome coin @Orielensis!
    Here are my as:
    CollageMaker Plus_201845213624320.png
    Roman Republic Janus
    Anonymous, As, Rome, c.
    206-190 BC; AE (g 20.87;
    mm 32; h 2); Laureate head
    of Janus; above, I, Rv. Prow
    r.; above, I; below, ROMA.
    Crawford 56/2; Sydenham
    143; Mc Cabe J1.As.1.
    Beautiful green patina
    CollageMaker Plus_201845213751776.png
    Roman Republic Janus
    Anonymous (AT or TA
    series), As,Rome, 169-158
    BC, AE, (g 22.83, mm 32, h
    12). Laureate head of Janus;
    above, I, Rv. Prow r.; above,
    AT or TA; before, I; below,
    ROMA. Crawford 192/1;
    Sydenham 372
  15. chrsmat71

    chrsmat71 I LIKE TURTLES!

    That's a nice new Janus/prow combo you got there @Orielensis ! Cool historical symbols ( I didn't know about the later ancient interpretation, that was neat) and BIG, it was on the top of my RR AE list for a while also, this is still one of my favorites. Feels great in the hand as well doesn't it?! If I had to narrow my collection down to 10 coins, I think I would grab this one and put it in.


    Roman Republic, c. 169 - 158 BC, bronze as of A. CAE

    Obverse: Laureate bust of Janus. Reverse: ROMA|I|A.CAE, prow r. Reference: Crawford 174/1. Ex. RBW, purchased from R. Schaefer 12/10/1993; 33 mm, 31.7g
  16. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis

    Nice writeup and coin. I have a few Republican asses and quite a few Republican prow bronzes but here are a couple interesting ones that pertain to this post.

    An as of "SAFRA"(Perhaps a Spurius Afranius, or perhaps the moneyer's cognomen was "Safra"?):
    Roman Republic Æ as(30 mm, 27.09g). SAFRA(Spurius Afranius?), moneyer, 150 B.C. Rome mint. Laureate head of bearded Janus, I above / Prow right; above, SAFRA; before, dolphin; below, ROMA. Crawford 206/2; Sydenham 389; Babelon Afrania 2; Russo RBW 886(this coin)

    A rare sextans of C SAX, the same moneyer as your as:
    Roman Republic Æ Sextans(17.9 mm, 5.80g). C. Cluvius Saxula, moneyer, 169-158 BC. Rome mint. Head of Mercury right wearing winged Petasos, •• above / Prow of galley right; C•SAX above, •• before, ROMA below. Crawford 173/5; Sydenham 360d; Babelon Clovia 10
  17. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Great post

    Here my Janus FTR ;)

  18. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Well-Known Member

    I can show you my as too

    Republic, As Rome mint, circa 211-206 BC
    No legend, head of janus
    Prow of galley right, ROMA at exergue, I above galley
    37.22 gr
    Ref RCV # 627

  19. Nicholas Molinari

    Nicholas Molinari Well-Known Member

    Excellent write-up and great coin.
    Orielensis likes this.
  20. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    It's not often you come across RR bronze on here. Congrats!
    bcuda and Orielensis like this.
  21. Justin Lee

    Justin Lee I learn by doing

    Just got these 3 RR bronze delivered this morning, 1 As & 2 Semis:

    Anonymous Roman Republic, Star (2nd) series, 169-158 BC
    AE As, Rome mint
    Laureate head of bearded Janus; I (mark of value) above.
    Reverse: Prow of galley right; star above, I (mark of value) to right, ROMA below.
    References: Crawford 196/1
    Size: 31mm, 21.9g

    Anonymous Roman Republic, Victory and spearhead series, 189-180 BC
    AE Semis, Rome mint
    Laureate head of Saturn right, S behind.
    Reverse: Prow right; above, Victory with wreath and spearhead. Before, S and below, ROMA.
    References: Crawford 145/2
    Size: 25mm, 12.6g

    Anonymous Roman Republic, After 211 BC
    AE Semis, Rome mint
    Laureate head of Saturn right, S behind (slanted CCW).
    Reverse: Prow right; S above (slanted CW), and ROMA below.
    References: Crawford 56/3
    Size: 26mm, 17.7g
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