Featured An Optimate and his coins: Two denarii of Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Orielensis, May 20, 2020.

  1. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    A few days ago, I finally received a Republican denarius I had won in an Artemide auction in late March. Together with another denarius that I purchased in AMCC 2 last year, it constitutes a small set: both coins were produced for Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius (c. 130–63 BC), one of the most successful Roman generals of the Civil War, consul together with Sulla in 80/79 BC, and leader of the conservative political faction of the Optimates.

    The two denarii struck by him in 81 BC, during a time when Sulla permitted his generals to produce their own money, are full of fascinating political references to this troubled period in Roman history. Both bear a bust of Pietas (embodying “loyalty,” “devotion,” or “filial piety”) on the obverse, identified by her symbolic animal, the stork. This is a reference to the moneyer’s cognomen “Pius,” which had been awarded to him for his repeated attempts to have his father, the war hero Metellus Numidicus (c. 160–91 BC), recalled from exile. Metellus Numidicus had been a staunch Optimate himself and was exiled from Rome on behalf of Marius and the plebeian political faction of the Populares. By emphasizing his filial loyalty to his (already deceased) father on his coins, Metellus Pius therefore made a clear statement on where he stood in the political conflicts of his time.

    Römische Republik – RRC 374:1, Denar, Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius, Pietas Elefant.jpg
    Roman Republic, imperatorial issue of Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius, AR denarius, 81 BC, Northern Italian mint. Obv: diademed head of Pietas r.; to right, stork standing r. Rev: Q C M P I; elephant standing l., wearing bell around neck. 17mm, 3.55g. Ref: RRC 374/1. Ex JB collection; ex AMCC 2, lot 105 (their picture).

    The first coin shows an elephant on the reverse. According to Sutherland’s “Roman Coins,” the elephant at that time already constitutes a sort of ‘family badge’ of the Metelli, referring to the deeds of their ancestor L. Caecilius Metellus, who in 250 BC captured Hasdrubal’s elephants at Panormus. It is also present on different other coins struck by moneyers of the Metelli family (RRC 262, 263, 269).

    Also note that Metellus gives his initials as “QCMPI” for Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Imperator, the “I” for imperator expressing the military command bestowed to him by none other than Sulla.

    The obverse of the second denarius is identical to that of the first coin, but its reverse is a bit more complicated:
    Römische Republik – Denar, Metellus, Pietas und Krug:Lituus.png
    Roman Republic, imperatorial issue of Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius, AR denarius, 81 BC, Northern Italian mint. Obv: diademed head of Pietas r.; to r., stork standing r. Rev: IMPER; jug and lituus; in laurel wreath. Ref: RRC 374/2. 19mm, 3.90g. Ex Artemide, e-auction 12, lot 271.

    The jug and lituus shown here usually refer to the augurial office. Yet, Metellus Pius isn’t otherwise attested to have been an augur, and the reverse furthermore copies from a contemporary type issued by Sulla himself (RRC 359). Though the jug and lituus could refer to an augurship of Sulla or one of his ancestors, Crawford prefers an alternative explanation. He argues that “they were regarded by Sulla as symbolising a claim to imperium; it was apparently necessary [...[ for Augurs to be present to attest the passing of the Lex Curiata conferring a magistrate's powers on him [...]; Sulla's Lex Curiata presumably lapsed when he was declared a hostis [...] and he could reasonably attach some importance to the claim that his declaration as a hostis was invalid and his Lex Curiata consequently still valid.” (RRC, p. 374).

    If we accept this interpretation, the adoption of Sulla’s jug-and-lituus reverse by Metellus Pius makes a lot of sense: together with the laurel wreath and the legend IMPER for imperator or imperium, it might have expressed a political statement of allegiance along the lines of “the victorious Sulla is rightfully in command.”

    Please show your coins with connections to Sulla, the Metelli, or the Civil Wars!
    Last edited: May 20, 2020
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  3. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Supporter! Supporter

    Wonderful write up and exciting coins to be sure. The elephant looks incredibly massive and menacing, in complete contrast to the elegant stork on the obverse.

    Here is a coin I purchased in March with a tie to Sulla:


    C. Annius T.f T.n and L. Fabius L.f Hispaniensis (moneyers) 82-81 BC
    mint in north Italy or Spain, 19mm, 3.89g

    OBV: Diademed, draped bust of Anna Perenna r, caduceus behind, scales before, plow below. C ANNI TF TN PRO COS EX
    REV: Victory with palm frond, driving galloping quadriga r. Q above, L FABI LF HISP in ex.

    C. Annius while still holding the position of Moneyer in Rome, was directed by Sulla to take up a proconsular assignment in Spain... he took this opportunity to mint this issue. The issues were all struck in 82-81 BC.. all under supervision of the two quaestors who also accompanied him to Spain - Lucius Fabius and Gaius Tarquitius, and their names appear on the reverse of their respective coins.
    C. Annius, upon his arrival in Spain then had to deal with the former governor Q. Sertorius .. a supporter of Marius - who was not to be dislodged from Spain without a fight. And fight he did... another front in the Sertorian Wars.
    Last edited: May 20, 2020
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  4. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    AR Denarius
    OBVERSE: Diademed head of Pietas right; stork standing right before
    REVERSE: Q C M P I beneath elephant walking left w/bell hanging from neck
    Northern Italy, 79 BC-77 BC
    3.75g; 18mm
    Caecilia 43; Crawford 374/1; Syd 750; Sear 301
    AR Denarius
    OBVERSE: Diademed head of Pietas right, stork before
    REVERSE: IMPER in exergue, lituus and jug, all within laurel wreath
    Spanish Mint 81 BC
    3.8g; 20mm
    Crawford 374/2; Sydenham 751; Caecilia 44
    Ex: Barry Murphy
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  5. Volodya

    Volodya Junior Member

    Here's one, almost certainly ex Mesagne Hoard:

    Phil (69).JPG

    Phil Davis
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  6. Carausius

    Carausius Brother, can you spare a sestertius?


    Rome, The Republic.
    L. Cornelius Sulla, 84-83 BCE.
    AR Denarius (3.88g; 21mm).
    Military Mint.

    Obverse: L·SVLLA; diademed head of Venus facing right; before, Cupid holding palm to left.

    Reverse: IMPER – ITERV; two trophies with jug and lituus between them.

    References: Crawford 359/2; Sydenham 761a; BMCRR East 3; Cornelia 30.

    Provenance: Ex Nomisma 58 (6 Nov 2018) Lot 76.

    These coins were struck in the east, just before Sulla’s march on Rome. The fabric and style of these coins are certainly different from other Roman Republican denarii of the era, more eastern than Roman. Perhaps not obvious from my photo, the obverse is struck in very high relief and the reverse has pronounced cupping (from a convex reverse die, which more efficiently drives the metal into the high relief obverse die). The obverse honors Venus, whom Sulla considered his protectress. As @Orielensis mentioned for his coin, the jug and lituus on the reverse are suggestive of the office of Augur, but Crawford did not think Sulla was an Augur at the time these coins were produced. The implements may refer to an ancestor of Sulla that was an Augur, or, as Crawford surmises, to Sulla’s imperium. The trophies on the reverse refer to Sulla’s victories in the east against Mithradates. Two trophies were also used by Sulla in an issue of tetradrachms in the Athenian “New Style” form.

    Sulla’s seizure of dictatorial power following his march on Rome (leading an army that was loyal to him, rather than to the state) became a paradigm for Roman political struggles thereafter. Julius Caesar would initiate similar consequences when he crossed the Rubicon at the head of his army 30+ years later. Unlike Sulla, Caesar showed no interest in resigning his power. Also unlike Sulla, Caesar would strike coins bearing his own likeness. Sulla’s portrait did not appear on a Roman coin until 25 years after Sulla’s death (See, Crawford 434/1).

    Rome, The Imperators.
    Q. Metellus Pius Scipio, 47-46 BCE.
    AR Denarius (3.93g; 18mm).
    Military mint in North Africa.

    Obverse: Q. METEL PIVS; Laureate head of Jupiter, facing right.

    Reverse: SCIPIO IMP; African elephant advancing right.

    References: Crawford 459/1: HCRI 45; Sydenham 1046.

    Provenance: Ex Nomos 13 (7 Oct 2016), Lot 258; CNG Triton XIX (Jan 2016), Lot 406.
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  7. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Supporter! Supporter

    Wow! Spectacular!
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  8. RichardT

    RichardT Well-Known Member

    Sorry, a small correction to Carausius. Caesar did strike many coins under his own authority, but he didn't strike coins bearing his own likeness.

    The Roman moneyers did so, under the authorisation of the Senate. Of course it was probably under pressure from Caesar, but I think it's an important distinction to make.
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  9. svessien

    svessien Senior Member Supporter

    Oh, great coins and write-up. Here we’re into some of the most fascinating times.


    About L.Manlius Torquatus:
    «Torquatus belonged to the patrician Manlii, one of the oldest Roman houses. He was proquaestor in Asia under Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 84 BC, for whom he issued gold and silver coinage.[1] He returned to Rome with Sulla in 82 BC where he fought at the Battle of the Colline Gate.[2] He was elected Praetor by 68 BC, and was possibly a legate under Pompey before taking up his new post of propraetor of the Roman province of Asia in 67 BC.[3]» (Wikipedia)

    Here is a coin that is often refered to regarding Sulla:


    Faustus Cornelius Sulla. 56 BC. AR Denarius (3.69 gm). Diademed bust of Diana right; crescent above, lituus behind / Sulla seated left, Bocchus and Jugurtha kneeling beneath. Crawford 426/1; Sydenham 879; Cornelia 59.

    «Faustus was the son of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the famous general and dictator of Rome (138-78 BC). The coin portrays Sulla's first great victory, in which he ended the Jugurthine War. Jugurtha, grandson of Massinissa of Numidia, had claimed the entire kingdom of Numidia in defiance of Roman decrees dividing it between several members of the royal family. Rome declared war on Jugurtha in 111 BC, but for five years the wily king frustrated all efforts to bring him to heel. Finally, in 106 the popular general Marius was assigned command, with Sulla as quaestor in charge of cavalry. Before Marius could take to the field against the enemy, however, Sulla arranged with his ally Bocchus of Mauretania to have Jugurtha ambushed and captured. Sulla was acclaimed for the bloodless end of the war, gaining his first victory and the eternal enmity of Marius. On the reverse of this coin, Bocchus offers an olive branch to a seated Sulla, with a bound Jugurtha kneeling beside him.» (Source: CNG)
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  10. svessien

    svessien Senior Member Supporter

    That’s a beauty, Phil. Isn’t your avatar coin also related to these times?
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  11. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    ..great coin!..i've been looking at some of these with intent to get...:)... quinarius Cato the Elder 89 bc 001.JPG quinarius Cato the Elder 89 bc 002.JPG Quinarius M. Porcius Cato moneyer 89 BC..
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  12. svessien

    svessien Senior Member Supporter

    Thanks. I remember feeling I got a significant coin with both. The Torquatus is for sale on a regular basis. The F.C.Sulla, with what I have seen described as the image of his fathers signet ring on reverse, is a little more difficult. I like all the coins in this thread, as every moneyer has been involved in quite important historical events.
    Last edited: May 21, 2020
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  13. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    WOW, @Orielensis , GREAT Denarii! Very nice.



    RR Manlius Torquatus L. Corn Sulla 82 BCE AR den 17mm 3.7g Mil mint w Sulla. Roma - Sulla triumpl quadriga vict wreath Cr 367-3 Syd 759 S 286

    No clue if this is a relative, but of the Cornellia and called Sulla:
    RR P Cornelius Sulla 151 BCE AR Den Roma Biga S 84 Cr 205-1

    One of two Triga designs on Roman Republics... and Sulla to-boot, excellent!
    RR Naevius Balbus 79 BCE AR Den Venus SC TRIGA Sulla S 309 Cr 382-1

    This was when Sulla was messing up Athens.
    Athens AE19 c 87-86 BCE Time of SULLA Athena Zeus Sear Grk 2567

    Sulla's son... reminding Rome that Pompey was cool too...
    RR Faustus Cornelius Sulla 56 BCE AR Den Venus Signet Pompey S 386 Cr426-3
    Last edited: May 21, 2020
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  14. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    That's some fantastic coins with very informative small write-ups in this thread! Thanks for showing them.

    There are indeed many coins from that time which are connected to important figures in the Civil Wars. Here is a denarius from the Populares faction opposing Sulla and the Optimates. It was struck by a son of the Marian politician and general Gaius Norbanus, who issued coins during his father's consulship in 83 BC. Gaius Norbanus was defeated by Metellus Pius' army at Faventia, and died in exile on Rhodes in 82 BC after having been proscribed by Sulla.

    Römische Republik – RRC 357:1b, Denar, Norbanus, Venu::Ähre, fasces, caduceus.png
    Roman Republic, moneyer: C. Norbanus, AR denarius, 83 BC, Rome mint. Obv: C. NORBANVS; head of Venus, diademed, r.; to l., control number LXXIII; banker’s mark: cornucopia? Rev: ear of wheat, fasces, and caduceus. 19mm, 3.53g. Ref: RRC 357/1b. Ex Bing collection.
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  15. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Two great coins! Here's my version of the OP elephant:

    Screen Shot 2020-05-21 at 8.39.50 PM.jpg

    This coin always brings to mind the rather unsympathetic treatment Colleen McCullough gives Metellus Pius in her First Man in Rome series.
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  16. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    A nice set from this turbulent period in the history of the republic and I enjoyed your write-up as well. I could easily get carried away with coins and stories about Optimates and Populares, social justice, civil war, Sulla's return from battle with Mithridates, the Battle at the Colline Gate, a republic increasingly dominated by war lords and cronyism with a puppet senate, parallels with other periods in history...instead I will try to demonstrate some restraint and share this Q. Caecilius Metellus and a link to more on this coin.
    Q C Metellus Pius 81AD Blu.jpg
    Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius, 81 BC, AR Denarius, North Italian mint
    Obv: Diademed head of Pietas right, wearing earring; stork before
    Rev: IMPER in exergue, jug and lituus within laurel-wreath
    Ref: Crawford 374/2; Sydenham 751; Caecilia 44
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  17. bartolus07

    bartolus07 New Member

    Wonderful coin.
    What suggest you the provenance from the Mesagne Hoard? Has it a particular toning?
  18. Volodya

    Volodya Junior Member

    Not toning exactly, but it certainly has the right "look," including genuine luster, as opposed to shininess from cleaning. Less subjectively, I bought it from NFA at the time when they were busily dispersing their portion of the hoard (Leu had the rest; old Leu of course, not the current resurrection.)
  19. bartolus07

    bartolus07 New Member

    Thanks, I undestand. I didn't know that NFA had acquired a parcel of it. I thought it arrived entirely at Leu... Were there other parcels too?
    I wonder if also this one, which is ex Leu 77 (May 2000) could have the same provenance. What do you think? I bought it from Triton XXII (ex Alan J. Harlan collection).

    Plaetorius Cestianus Cr 409-1  (Triton XXII lotto 874, ex Leu 77 [11 May 2000] lot 434).jpg
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2020
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