Featured Guess what Caracalla was thinking!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, Mar 25, 2018.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    While a fun exercise, playing "guess what they were thinking" is not likely to be fruitful. Nonetheless, that's what this post is about. This is the coin is question:

    Caracalla Denarius.jpg
    Caracalla AD 198-217
    Roman AR Denarius 3.37 g; 19.7 mm
    Rome mint, AD 211-213
    Obv: ANTONINVS PIVS AVG BRIT, laureate head, right
    Rev: INDVLG FECVNDAE, Female figure (Indulgentia?), wearing veil and corona muralis, seated left on cerule chair, extending right hand and holding scepter
    Refs: RIC 214; BMCRE 73; RCV 6805.

    The iconography and inscription on this coin have long puzzled me. Part of the reason is that INDVLG is an abbreviation for indulgentia, which means clemency, lenity, grace, favor. On Roman coin inscriptions, the term typically denotes "either some permission given, some privilege bestowed, or some tribute remitted."[1] The problem, however, is that we don't know how it is declined grammatically because, as an abbreviation, it is missing its inflectional endings.

    FECVNDAE, in contrast, is not an abbreviation. It is an first declension feminine adjective (matching indulgentia), meaning fertile or fruitful; productive or prolific; abundant; imaginative.[2] The difficulty is that the term is ambiguous. The inflectional ending identifies it as either nominative plural, genitive singular or dative singular[3] and any of these are possible.

    @dougsmit interprets FECVNDAE as a genitive singular in this thread from last year, implying it means something like "indulgence of the fertile one." Doug is rightfully puzzled about what this could mean, and wonders if "the fertile one" refers to his mother, Julia Domna. This meaning is possible, and certainly the grammar of the reverse inscription allows for this. Moreover, Sear overtly interprets the female figure on the reverse to represent Julia Domna.[4] However, I'd like to argue in favor of a different interpretation, proposed by Curtis Clay.[5]

    I suggest the phrase is an abbreviation of indulgentiae fecundae, a nominative plural, which would mean something like fruitful kindnesses or abundant favors. But what abundant favors might the coin refer to? As Doug notes, coins bearing the title Brittanicus appear early in his sole reign.[6] Therefore, the coin can reasonably be dated to AD 211-213. It's important to note that in July, 212, Caracalla issued the Constitutio Antoniniana, also known as the Edict of Caracalla, which extended Roman citizenship to include all freeborn men throughout the Roman Empire and gave all freeborn women in the empire the same rights as Roman women. This was a momentous decree, which is surprisingly not overtly commemorated numismatically, unless this particular issue serves to do so.

    Curtis Clay feels that the mural crown is significant and notes a sestertius of Hadrian with the reverse inscription RESTITVTORI ORBIS TERRARVM, which depicts the world (the kneeling figure) wearing a mural crown:


    RIC 594b; BMC 1212; Cohen 1285. Photo courtesy of Hess Divo.[7]

    The crown is significant because under Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Septimius Severus, Indulgentia appeared on Roman coins, depicted always as a deity seated left on a throne, bare-headed and holding scepter. Clay thus feels the coin depicts the world, sitting on the curule chair, which itself is "symbolic of the consulship, praetorship, and curule aedileship, the highest offices open to Roman citizens" and concludes this type "probably commemorates Caracalla's generosity (Indulgentia) in extending the Roman citizenship to all inhabitants of the Roman empire."[8]

    I think Curtis Clay has a very plausible theory, and my proposed interpretation of the reverse inscription as a nominative plural, indulgentiae fecundae (abundant favors), certainly makes sense in that context.

    What do you think? And, of course, feel free to post anything you feel is relevant!



    1. John Melville Jones, Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins, here online.
    2. Wiktionary, here online.
    3. ibid
    4. Roman Coins and Their Values II, p. 519. It's important to note that Sear also dates the coin to AD 211, before the Constitutio Antoniniana was issued, but Sear relies heavily on Hill for dating of Severan issues and the accuracy of Hill's dating has been called into question.
    5. Reply #3 on this thread at the Forum Ancient Coins discussion board.
    6. Here online.
    7. Auction 320, lot 342, October 26, 2011.
    8. Clay, ibid.
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  3. Agricantus

    Agricantus Allium aflatunense

    Fun exercise, indeed. I’m goong with Doug’s interpretation.

    The literacy was, supposedly, not higher than 40%. How sophisticated was the majority of those who could read? Why confuse them with an ambiguous message? I am assuming that the wording here follows ‘ingulgentia augustii’ and thus fecundae is a genitive. Otherwise, the celarors would’ve gone with multa or abund. indulgentia for a clearer meaning.

    My 2 quadrans on this..
  4. Ryro

    Ryro They call me the 13th Caesar Supporter

    My best guess would be that the"abundant favor" is that Catacalla, though beast of a man that he was, was the emperor who granted Roman citizenship to all free men that lived within its borders. As you said, he did this in 212 CE. That would line up perfectly with the time this coin was minted.
  5. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    The first thing I thought of was something like Augustus's laws aimed at increasing fertility, i.e. the ius trium liberorum. Is that consistent with the grammar? e.g. favour for the fruitful, with FECVNDAE being a predicative dative?

    There's more circumstantial evidence for this hypothesis, but I won't get into it in case my grammar is messed up. Which is probably is; Ego sum expertus latine tantum ex Google.
  6. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Well, it could mean "for the fruitful one"; "for fruitful people" would be plural--FECVNDIS. Who would this refer to? Julia Domna?
    Ryro likes this.
  7. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Could it be something more simple? If Indulgentia represents a grace or favor, and Fecunditas fertility, might Caracalla have been throwing a Hail Mary to produce an heir? He had no children that we know of (rumors of Elagabalus being his offspring notwithstanding).
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  8. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Most would say it unlikely that the coin referred to Julia accepting the murder of Geta but the timing is right. I do not see how any theory can be proven correct.
    Ryro and ancient coin hunter like this.
  9. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    I was thinking along the lines of "for fruitfulness," so singular, but not for a person. See the bottom of this page for my google-(mis?)understanding of the use of the dative case with abstract verbal nouns.
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  10. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    It's an adjective, which can be used substantivally (fruitful one), but it's not an abstract noun. That would be fecunditas (fruitfulness). "For fruitfulness" would be fecunditati.
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  11. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Thanks - that clears it up. I wondered if it had to be adjectival here.

    It's very frustrating not to be able to find a coin that's clearly tied to the Constitutio! Here's my coin from 212, which clearly isn't. :)
    Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 6.17.01 PM.jpg

    Thanks for getting my cogs turning over this problem, even if it wasn't very, uh, fecundum(?) in my case! :)
  12. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    I know. The Constitutio was such a big deal, you'd think it would have been overtly commemorated on coins.
  13. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Seems like pretty good evidence that it was, and was generally known to be, a tax grab. :rolleyes: Hard to dress that one up...
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  14. TIF

    TIF Always learning. Supporter

    Oh. That makes my guess unlikely then, doesn't it?
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  15. Milesofwho

    Milesofwho Omnivorous collector

    Perhaps it could be representative of the city of Rome? It could be dative, thus translating to “to the abundant favor (of the city/Rome?)” as a reference to the city’s favored status.
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