Cronos holding scythe

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by seth77, Apr 5, 2022.

  1. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    In 267 a series of coinage is minted for Gallienus (and Salonina), marking the 15th time that the emperor is holding tribunician power (PXV in the exergue). The mint has been identified as a generic Asian mint (in RIC), Cyzicus (by KJJ Elks - The Eastern Mints...) and more recently Antioch (Gobl). Of them all, probably the least likely is Cyzicus -- as this city was still minting its own Greek provincial coinage as late as early Claudius II reign and was minting plenty of it during the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus and Gallienus alone.

    Now, this issue fits nicely into a series of issues that starts soon after the defeat of the Macriani revolt and manages to keep some silver content in the alloy (ca. 8-12% in the PXV issue) and has some interesting and uncommon iconographies. The alloy title and the usual curated style employed by the die cutters are in stark contrast to what was happening in Europe at the time.

    So, one of these iconographic exceptions that appears in 267 is:

    GALLIENVS AVG; radiate, draped, cuirassed bust right, seen from rear
    AETERNITAS AVG; Saturn (Cronos) veiled, draped, standing right, holding scythe
    PXV in exergue
    RIC 606, Gobl 1662k, Elks 'Hoard A' p.108 (3specs)

    The relatively few specimens recorded in the studied hoard by Elks is by no means an indication of rarity of the type. The series is copious in trade and in collections, but it seems that this particular representation is often overlooked although it's very interesting and singular in Roman coinage.

    Saturn is the Roman alias of the earlier Cronos (Khronos from the Orphic Protogonos theogony) and is well known for two things (besides starring in Children of the Corn in the 1980s): 1. castrating his father Uranus with that scythe and 2. devouring his own children (so that they won't do him the way he did his pops). As one of the earlier gods and 'king of the Titans' he was the god of Time -- as an unstoppable and all-devouring force of the Cosmos, a chaotic and extremely destructive force.

    The legend AETERNITAS AVG is also interesting in this context, as it shows the taming of the original fearful character of Cronos from the overseer of chaos, destruction and decay to the symbol of the eternal Cosmos.

    Why is this iconography so rare in coinage? I think that not many emperors would have considered advertising a tie to such a dark and archaic character as Saturn, especially since the Roman tradition already had a representation of eternity -- the goddess Aeternitas. Besides that, Saturn did not convey the filial piety that Roman morals enforced, and the attitude Gallienus took after his father's capture by the Persians in 260 might have struck some as rather funny in the context.

    But what I think is the case here with the pairing of Saturn and the AETERNITAS AVG legend, is to hint at Gallienus as the master of all the turbulence and chaos that was happening at the time during the military crisis -- the defeat and capture of his father, the usurpations, the Gallo-Roman Empire, the death of his son -- and still here was Gallienus, holding tribunincian powers for the 15th time. He had been riding the waves for what seemed like an eternity, all things considered.
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  3. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

  4. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander find me at NumisForums Supporter

    Very cool type! The style says "Antioch" to me.

    Here are a couple earlier Antioch products, from 263-4:

    antioch 263-4.jpg
    antioch 264.jpg
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  5. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    A very interesting analysis of the type!

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Fascinating (not to mention eminently plausible) interpretation, @seth77.
    ...Granted, references to the 'state religion' --with variations-- are as endemic to the coins as to the monuments. But I remember a biography of Gallienus that I saw too many years ago, which referred to his patronage, at least, of Plotinus. Can anything meaningful be reconstructed regarding his personal religious beliefs? ...Just thinking out loud; Marcus Aurelius' adherence to Stoicism didn't stop him for a minute from presiding as Pontifex Maximus. ...How much is known about that kind of dialectic, whether in Gallienus' case or more generally?
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  7. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    Thanks for posting. Not a coin I knew about. Saturn and his "harpa" -- I don't really know if that signifies a different tool from a scythe, except perhaps that the blade seems to jut out from partway down the handle instead of from the end -- are at least a bit more common on Roman Republican coins, appearing five times (see the boldfaced footnote below). Here's one example:

    Roman Republic, M. Nonius Sufenas*, AR Denarius, 59 BCE (or 57 BCE according to Hersh and Walker & Harlan), Rome Mint. Obv. Bearded head of Saturn right, with long hair; behind head, harpa with conical stone (baetyl)** beneath it* and S•C upwards above it; before, SVFENAS downwards / Rev. Roma seated left on pile of shields, holding scepter in right hand and sword in left hand; behind, Victory left, crowning Roma with wreath and holding palm-branch extending behind her over right shoulder; around to left from 4:00, PR•L• - V• - P•F; in exergue, SEX•NONI [The two parts of the reverse legend, together, stand for Sex. Noni[us] pr[aetor] L[udi] V[ictoriae] p[rimus] f[ecit, meaning Sex. Nonius, praetor, first held the games of Victory.].*** Crawford 421/1, RSC Nonia1(ill.), BMCRR 3820, Sear RCV I 377 (ill.), Sydenham 885, Harlan, RRM II Ch. 13 at pp. 104-111[Harlan, Michael, Roman Republican Moneyers and their Coins 63 BCE - 49 BCE (2d ed. 2015)], RBW Collection 1517. 19 mm., 3.95 g.

    Sufenas denarius jpg version (Saturn-Roma crowned with trophy).jpg

    *”The moneyer is doubtless M. Nonius Sufenas, Pr. 55.” Crawford Vol. I p. 445. But see Liv Mariah Yarrow, The Roman Republic to 49 BCE: Using Coins as Sources (2021), Fig. 3.53 at p. 158, suggesting that in the alternative, the moneyer was “perhaps his son.” M. Nonius Sufenas’s “father, Sextus Nonius Sufenas, was Sulla’s nephew, making the moneyer Faustus’ first cousin once removed.” Id. (Faustus was Sulla’s son.) See also Harlan RRM II at pp. 109-110.

    After his term as moneyer, Nonius Sufenas is mentioned in one of Cicero’s letters to Atticus in July 54 BCE: “Now for the news at Rome. On the fourth of July, Sufenas and Cato were acquitted, Procilius condemned. Clearly our stern judges care not one whit about bribery, the elections, the interregnum, treason, or the whole Republic. Cicero, Ad Atticum, 4.15.4; see Harlan RRM II at pp. 104-106 for a proposed identification of the election which was the subject of the prosecution, namely the consular election of 56 BCE.

    ** See Harlan RRM II at p. 107: "The head of Saturn clearly identified by the harpa and the conical stone beside his head is on the obverse of the coin. The harpa recalls the castration of his father Uranus that resulted in the birth of Venus and the conical stone recalls that Saturn swallowed a stone thinking it was his infant son Jupiter whom he was trying to keep from growing up to replace him.

    Saturn, always identified by the harpa, appeared five times on Republican denarii." Harlan suggests (id. pp. 107-108) that, as on other coins on which Saturn appears, his image was intended to signal the moneyer’s past or present position holding office as urban quaestor, and, as such, “responsible for the treasury located in Saturn’s temple.”

    ***This reverse legend, as illustrated by the reverse image, “records the first celebration by an ancestor of the moneyer of the Ludi Victoriae of Sulla.” Crawford Vol. I pp. 445-446. (That ancestor was the aforementioned Sextus Nonius Sufenas, Pr. 81 BCE, the moneyer’s father [or grandfather] and Sulla’s nephew.)
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  8. Orange Julius

    Orange Julius Well-Known Member

    A very fun read, thank you! I have one of these that I'll take a picture of later tonight and add.

    Gallienus is one of those emperors that in recent hindsight has had a bit of a rehabilitation of his reputation and legacy. It is so sad we don't have more primary sources from the late 3rd century. I would love to read more contemporary accounts of these fascinating people and the events of their time!
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  9. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    Not exactly the same thing, but Harry Sidebottom is one of the few authors of Roman historical fiction who sets his novels in the mid-3rd century, beginning with the assassination of Severus Alexander and extending (so far) well into the sole reign of Gallienus, after the capture of Valerian. "You are there" at all the major events of the period!
  10. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    @Severus Alexander yes, the state of research today leans towards Antioch.

    Great additions everyone. I hope to other Saturn and scythe and/or other types from the PXV series.
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  11. JohnnyC

    JohnnyC Active Member

    The harpa is nothing like a modern scythe - it seems to have been primarily a mythological instrument inspired perhaps by the Egyptian sickle-sword.

    Ross G.
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  12. Orange Julius

    Orange Julius Well-Known Member

    Here is mine I mentioned earlier. Not a great image but it will work.

    I haven’t tried cleaning the obverse of this coin up because it has a bit or organic matter (the yellow swipe toward the back of his head, straw, papyrus or something) in the patina. I’ve always imagined that it was something from the find container or part of the bag it was contained within when it was buried. Who knows… whatever it is looks like it has been with the coin since ancient times.
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  13. svessien

    svessien Senior Member

    Very interesting post, @seth77 Thank you.

    I don’t have a lot of Saturn coins, but here we go:

    Sear 210 L. Calpurnius Piso Caesonius & Q. Servilius Capio 100 BC.jpg

    Moneyer: L. Calpurnius Piso Caesonius, Q. Servilius Caepio

    Denarius, Rome 100 B.C.

    Obverse: PISO·CAEPIO·Q: Laureate head of Saturn right; behind, harpa; around, inscription; below, control-mark. Border of dots.

    Reverse: AD·FRV·EMV EX·S·C: Two quaestors seated on bench (subsellium) side by side; to left and right, corn-ear. Border of dots.


    This silver denarius was minted in Rome by Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus and Quintus Servilius Caepio in 100 BC. It was a special issue, authorised by the Senate and minted by the quaestors.

    The obverse portrays Saturn, the god of agriculture, with a laurel wreath and braided beard. Behind him is a harpa (a sickle-shaped sword) and below him a trident. Around Saturn is the inscription 'PISO. CAEPIO. Q', referring to the quaestors.

    Q. Caepio was a quaestor (financial official) who objected to a proposal to let the people buy corn at a reduced rate. The proposal was carried, and the Senate ordered the quaestors to strike this special issue in order to comply with the measure.

    This issue may have been struck to finance the Lex Frumentaria of Saturninus (Crawford 1974, 73).
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2022
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  14. Alegandron

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


    RR Saturninus Moneyer
    104 BCE
    Saturn holding Sickle Quadriga 2 dots-V
    Sear193 Craw 317-3a var
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  15. Alegandron

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

    1/4th of an Uncia… the Quartuncia:

    Roman Republic
    217-215 BCE,
    AE Quartuncia
    15.2 mm, 2.56 grams.
    Obverse: Head of Saturn right.
    Reverse: ROMA - Prow, right .
    Reference: Crawford 38/8
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  16. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    Gallienus' dad was also into Cronos:

    Cilicia, Tarsos. Valerian I (253–260 AD). 18.09 g, 31 mm
    Obverse: AY KAI P L OVAL[ERIAN]ON SE P P; Valerian radiate, draped and cuirassed right.
    Reverse: TARSOY MHTROPOL[EW] A M K G B; Kronos walking left, crowned, harpa in right hand.
    Refs: SNG Levante 1183; Imhoof-Blumer, Journal of Hellenic Studies (1898) page 178 #51

    The identification of the reverse figure as Chronos (rather than Perseus or Valarian himself) is by Imhoof-Blumer (his entry in Roscher's Lexicon and 1898 article in the Journal of Hellenic Studies) who cites Stephen of Byzantium and coins of Mallos and Flavopolis as evidence that Kronos was worshipped in Cilicia.

    In The Golden Bough Sir James Frazer suggests Kronos on coins of nearby Mallos are a Greek replacement for the Phoenician harvest god El.
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  17. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Here's my example, weakly struck. The guy with the hammer was getting tired.

    Gallienus, AD 253-268.
    Roman billon antoninianus, 4.26 g, 18.8 mm, 12 h.
    Antioch, 15th emission, AD 266-268.
    Obv: GALLIENVS AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust, right.
    Rev: AETERNITAS AVG, Saturn standing right, holding harpa in left hand; PXV in exergue.
    Refs: RIC 606; Göbl 1662i; Cohen 44; RCV 10170.
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  18. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Verrry interesting post, @seth77 The use of Saturn on later Imperial coins has puzzled me some - such a gloomy god when the message was usually more upbeat.

    Gallienus's father Valerian also issued the type as an Imperial issue. Here is mine with efforts at attribution below.

    Valerian - Ant. Saturn lot Mar 2021 (0a).jpg
    Valerian I Antoninianus
    (254-255 A.D.)
    Viminacium or Antioch Mint

    IMP [C P LIC] VALERIANVS AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right / [AE]TERNITATI AVG[G], Saturn veiled, draped, standing right, holding scythe
    RIC 210; Göbl 1559a.
    (3.63 grams / 21 mm)
    eBay Mar. 2021

    Attribution Notes:

    RIC 210: Saturn holding scythe; bust draped only, but this one is cuirassed, as are others online.
    RIC: Viminacium Mint; Göbl Antioch Mint

    RIC 67 (Rome): Saturn holding sceptre; obverse bust is cuirassed I could find no correctly-described examples.
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  19. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    Both the provincial from Tarsos and the imperial from Viminacium/Antioch/Rome are extraordinary discoveries. Thank you for posting them.
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  20. Hrefn

    Hrefn Well-Known Member

    @svessien, I wonder if your coin does not feature a harpa, but rather a true flint sickle.

    Neolithic sickles with multiple individually set pieces of sharpened flint were the standard form for thousands of years, until superseded by metal. The body of the sickle would be wood or bone, sometimes an animal jawbone. It is possible that the development of effective sickles made cereal cultivation practical.

    The Romans were closer to the time of flint sickles, than we are to Ancient Rome.

    In any case, a very appropriate symbol on a coin associated with the Lex Frumentaria.
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