Damnatio Memoriae...or not...

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Ocatarinetabellatchitchix, Dec 6, 2019.

  1. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    July 21st 356 BC

    The giant Temple of Artemis , the pride of the city of Ephesus, is on fire. It took 120 years of hard work for its construction and was one of the seven Wonders of the ancient world. But the place is not burning by accident ; it’s a deliberate act of destruction. A young slave named Herostratus is arrested, tortured on a rack to finally confessed the reason of his crime : he wanted his name to be remembered forever...After his execution, the magistrates of the city imposed him an extra punishment: the creation of a damnatio memoriae law forbidding anyone to mention his name, orally or in writing under penalty of death. Even if the ban was widely observed for decades, one ancient writer violated the interdiction, ensuring that Herostratus’s name would survive and acquire the eternity he had desired...

    Damnatio Memoriae or « condemnation of memory »is a term first used in the 17th century AD to describe the punishment in which the senate condemned the memory of a person who was seen as a tyrant, traitor, or other sort of enemy to the state. The images of such condemned figures would be destroyed, their names erased from any writings, coins bearing the image of an emperor who had this sentence would be recalled or cancelled. Many rulers were not officially condemned, but received this treatment anyhow, (it’s called de facto damnatio memoriae) and other emperors were rehabilitated after an initial damnatio memoriae. Let’s take the case of Gaius (Caligula) ; it is not 100% clear if he was officially hit by a damnatio memoriae. The historian Dio Cassius reported that Claudius, his successor, « when the senate desired to dishonour Gaius, personally prevented the passage of the measure, but on his own responsibility caused all his predecessor's images to disappear by night ». On the other hand, he also wrote that « his statues and his images were dragged from their pedestals, for the people in particular remembered the distress they had endured ». Suetonius, the roman historian, wrote that « some wanted all memory of the Caesars obliterated, and their temples destroyed ». It is also known that the Senate decreed the withdrawal and destruction of all bronze coins of Caligula, but they were so many already in circulation that it was an impossible task.So was it a « real »condemnation of memory ? Your guess is as good as mine...

    On this as of Caligula, the C (for Caius), and for good measure the adjoining C of CAESAR too, have been deliberately eradicated after his assassination. There are many other bronze coins of Caligula showing the same method of damnatio.

    Portrait statue of Caligula, recarved as Claudius.

    There are also examples who are not controversial at all. Let’s talk about Domitian. The Senate, immediately following Nerva's accession as Emperor, passed the damnatio memoriae on his memory: his coins and statues were melted, his arches were torn down and his name was erased from all public records. Pliny the Younger says about the destruction of the statues of Domitian: « How delightful it was, to smash to pieces those arrogant faces, to raise our swords against them, to cut them ferociously with our axes, as if blood and pain would follow our blows ». There are only 3 emperors known to have officially been punished by this condemnation : Domitian, Geta and Maximian.

    In connection with the Damnatio Memoriae, which was decreed on the deceased Domitianus, the image and legend of the emperor were completely erased on the obverse of this coin.

    Equestrian statue of Nerva (formerly Domitian), from the Sanctuary of Augustales. The face was sawed off and replaced.

    Caracalla and Geta face to face ; but where is Geta ???

    Relief showing Septimius Severus and Julia Domna with a caduceus; the caduceus
    floats over an empty space where Geta must have stood.

    But as many as 27 emperors may had their memories condemned, and because I don’t want to be accused of misogyny, let’s not forget the 7 women who suffered the same fate : Livilla (sister of Claudius), Agrippina the Younger (sister of Caligula), Bruttia Crispina (wife of Commodus), Julia Soaemias (mother of Elagabalus), Julia Aquilia Severa (wife of Elagabalus), Julia Mamaea (mother of Alexander Severus) and Fausta (wife of Constantinus).

    It’s kind of cool to have in our collection at least one specimen of a damnatio memoriae coin, but is it the real thing or is it only a portrait defaced by a shovel strike ? Over the years some coins have been sold (maybe at a higher price?) and described as damnatio memoriae examples, even if these emperors had never been on the list of the “27”. Look at these pictures :

    Marcus Aurelius with a damnatio memoriae ???

    Trajan: isn’t he one of the 5 good emperor ?

    “Official” or “de facto”, please show me your examples of damnatio memoriae !
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  3. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

  4. Sallent

    Sallent Live long and prosper


    That's funny. I never realized it, but it's interesting to see how Nerva wanted to be seen...


    vs. Reality.....


    If Nerva had been propped up on a horse with his frail health and age, he would have come apart at the seams.
  5. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Love the filed-off Domitian and Geta! Gotta get me some of those!

    On the subject, it's important to not only remember what history says, but what it doesn't.

    Aemilian's entire career before his brief stint as usurper conveniently didn't survive, despite probably being extensive
    Aemilian antoninianus iovi conservat (1).jpg

    We know absolutely zilch about the man named Quintillus, except that he was the brother of Claudius II and that he killed himself rather than face Aurelian

    The Historia Augusta is the only historical record of the man named Marius, and spends about half a page mocking him
    Marius antoninianus saec felicitas.jpg

    Severina clearly shared power about 50/50 with her husband in a very patriarchal age, not surprisingly she isn't mentioned in history at all
    Severina antoninianus concordiae militvm.jpg

    All that remains of Carinus is a smear campaign started by Diocletian, labeling him as a tyrannical womanizer who was killed by a cuckolded general
    Carinus Fides Militvm.jpg

    His wife, Magnia Urbica isn't mentioned in any history at all - it reportedly took decades before numismatists figured out who she was even married to
    Magnia Urbica venus.jpg
  6. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    Nice collection @Finn235 . Someone once said: “Only the forgotten are truly dead.” For coins collectors like us, many characters of the past are still alive.
    Theodosius and Alegandron like this.
  7. Alegandron

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

    RI Fausta 325-326 CE AE3 Spes stdg 2 infants SMHA 20mm 3.48g
    - scratch over eye

    RI Aemilianus 253 CE AE24 Viminacium mint Moesia Bull-Lion
    - Scratch over neck and eye
  8. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Very interesting write-up, @Ocatarinetabellatchitchix ! Cool coins!!

    Indeed. Banduri, writing in 1718, identifies her as the wife of Carus, not his daughter-in-law, but notes that others have considered her the wife of Maxientius, Maximian, Carinus or Numerian:

  9. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Both of my Stratoncaea bronzes have been shown here repeatedly. The Caracalla without Geta is the standard item with Hecate reverse but the one that interests me most is the Septimius and Domna which appears to have the countermark so common on these removed. I have seen these marks identified as Caracalla but not Geta so that is no help in explaining the rough hole. I have no idea and would be interested in hearing opinions or seeing similar items.
  10. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Nero. AD 54-68. Æ Sestertius (34mm, 23.94 gm, 1h). Uncertain Balkan mint, possibly Perinthus in Thrace. Struck circa 64 AD. Obv: Laureate head right; Countermarked ΓΑΛΒΑ at Perinthos to deface the tyrant Nero in a form of "damnatio." This assertion is based on the observation that this writer has seen numerous GALBA countermarks on this type coin and in every single case, the countermark obliterates Nero's face....and not seen elsewhere. Rev: Triumphal arch with wreath hung between pillars surmounted by statuary group of Nero in quadriga, escorted by Victory and Pax and flanked by soldiers; statue of Mars in niche on left side of arch. RIC I –; RPC I, 1758 var.
  11. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Excellent article & illustrations :D!
  12. gsimonel

    gsimonel Well-Known Member

    If someone wanted to drive a nail through a coin--say, to attach it over a doorway--a countermark would probably be the easiest place to do this, since the dimple would keep whatever it was you were driving through it from slipping around as you whacked it.
  13. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    PlanoSteve likes this.
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