Liberty, birth of an icon

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by GinoLR, Dec 2, 2021.

  1. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Denarius minted in Rome in 126 BC by the money magistrate Caius Cassius: is it the oldest known allegory of Liberty?

    C. Cassius, Denarius, Rome, 126 BC; Helmeted head of Roma r.; behind, voting-urn and ✱, Rv. Libertas on quadriga r., holding reins, vindicta and pileus; below, C CASSI; in ex. ROMA. Crawford 266/1; Cassia 1; Sydenham 502.

    In Rome the gens Cassia, a plebeian family, had a tradition: every Cassius, when in charge as a magistrate, would be a staunch supporter of Libertas, liberty. Libertas was the family's motto. In 137 BC Lucius Cassius Longinus Ravilla, as a plebeian tribune, proposed a law instating the secret vote, the Lex Cassia Tabellaria. Cicero wrote that it was adopted because "populus libertatem agi putabat suam", the people thought that its liberty was at stake. When a junior member of the family, Caius Cassius, became money triumvir in 126, he chose to commemorate this law on his denarii : an upside-down voting urn on the obverse, and on the reverse Libertas driving a quadriga, holding the vindicta and the pileus, symbols of Liberty. The vindicta was the stick with which the magistrate ritually touched the slave to turn him into a free man, the pileus was the freedmen's hat, symbolizing liberty (I don't know if freedwomen had to wear it too).

    This coin created the allegory of Liberty, a goddess holding a pileus as if she was going to put it on somebody's head. Under the imperial regime it became a very frequent reverse type on coins, from Claudius (41-54) to Julian of Pannonia (284-285).

    sous l'empire.jpg
    (not my coins)
    Under Diocletian the allegory of Liberty seems to have disappeared from coins and official iconography. It was only revived in the 18th c., for example in 1782 on a medal by Dupré celebrating the American Revolution : Liberty is figured with a vindicta topped by a pileus. Soon afterwards the French Revolution represented the pileus topping a lictor's fasces.

    libertas americana.jpg
    Libertas Americana, Medal by Dupré, 1782; French coin, 1791 (not mine)

    In 1795, the image changed. Liberty was represented not holding, but wearing the pileus on her own head. In America it was still a freedman's pileus, while in France the pileus resembled more a Phrygian cap (an idea of Dupré's probably).

    Liberty on American and French coins, both of 1795 (not mine)

    In the following decades Liberty in America abandoned the pileus and wore a stephane instead, until Bartholdi in New York made her radiate like Helios... In France Liberty kept her Phrygian cap and in the late 19th c. there was a semantic shift and she was interpreted as the allegory of the Republic, what she is today. She even got a name: Marianne.
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  3. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Excellent write up and nice coin @GinoLR !

    I’ve added several Libertas coins to my collection this year.

    This example references a famous trial, Ravilla and the Lex Cassia Tabellaria. I wrote about the connections here:
    Republican Denarius that has it all: Great Story, Interesting Type and Old Provenance

    Roman Republican
    Q. Cassius Longinus, moneyer
    AR Denarius, Rome mint, struck 55 BC
    Dia.: 20.2 mm
    Wt.: 3.95g
    Obv.: Head of Libertas right, wearing hair collected into a knot, decorated with jewels, and falling down neck, and wearing single-drop earring and necklace of pendants; LIBERT upward to left, Q • CASSIVS downward to right.
    Rev.: Temple of Vesta, circular, surmounted by figure holding scepter and patera, flanked by antefixes; curule chair within; urn to left, tabella (voting tablet) [inscribed AC (Absolvo Condemno)] to right.
    Ref.: Crawford 428/2; Sydenham 918
    Ex Prof Dr Hildebrecht Hommel Collection, acquired from Hirsch, Auction 63 (July 1969), lot 2454; Ex Dr. Busso Peus Nachf., Auction 422 (April 26, 2018), lot 424 (part of); Ex Kölner Münzkabinet Auction 109, Lot 360 (November 16, 2018)

    Roman Republic
    M. Junius Brutus
    AR Denarius, Rome mint, struck 54 BC
    Dia.: 20.5 mm
    Wt.: 3.56 g
    Obv.: LIBERTAS; Head of Liberty right
    Rev.: BRVTVS; Consul L. Junius Brutus walking left between two lictors, each carrying fasces over shoulder, preceded by accensus
    Ref.: Crawford 433/1, Sydenham 906, Sear 397
    Ex Michael Kelly Collection

    ...and for good measure here is my favorite US depiction of Liberty. It’s a wonderful design inspired by the early RR denarii but also makes the mistake of the Phrygian cap.
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  4. Ryro

    Ryro The last of the Diadochi Supporter

    Very cooooool coin:cool:
    And it predates dates mine by almost 50 years (and that a fouree, so could've been later).
    I do recall the Greeks having the notion of liberty, but don't recall them creating a personification it.

    L. Farsuleius Mensor, Denarius, Rome, 75 BC, AR (g 3,2 mm 19 h 7), Diademed and draped bust of Libertas r. behind, pileus and S C before, MENSOR, Rv. Warrior, holding spear and reining biga r., assists togate figure into biga below, control numeral in ex. L FARSVLEI. Crawford 392/1b Farsuleia 2 Sydenham 789. Former: Estatebureau
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2021
  5. Ryro

    Ryro The last of the Diadochi Supporter

    Both coins with SENSATIONAL toning! And both for different reasons:cigar:
    And thanks for slapping me into action to pull out the Ole "Merc" (freaking dopey reporter) dimes.
    I've everyone save that 1916 D...oozy.
    Been a long time since I thought about those.
    Anybody have one they wanna sell?:)
  6. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Wonderful writeup and illustrations, @GinoLR!

    My only coin showing Libertas:

    Claudius I AE As, AD 42, Rome Mint. Obv. Bare head left, TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP P P / Rev. Libertas standing facing, head right, holding pileus in right hand, left hand extended, LIBERTAS AVGVSTA / S - C. RIC I 113, Sear RCV I 1860, BMCRE 202. 31.62 mm., 11.18 g.

    Claudius - Libertas Bronze As jpg version.jpg
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  7. ominus1

    ominus1 ...BE SEEING YOU! Supporter

    ..great write up @GinoLR ..and who'd thought @Ryro had previous collecting goodies like those kool dimes! :)
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  8. Alegandron

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

    Roman Republic LIBERTAS

    RR Porcius Laeca 125 BCE AR Den Roma - Libertas in Quadriga holding pileus and rod crowned by Victory flying S 146 Cr 270-1

    This coin and its interesting iconography on the reverse has me intrigued. WHY would someone depict ROMA stepping on a severed WOLF's HEAD? PILEUS has a real meaning...
    Cool story, very truncated: The moneyer's family were originally a plebeian family of equestrian rank and were Samnites. After the Social War, a part of the family moved to Rome, with a couple becoming Senators. However, one of the Senators was expelled, and also disowned his Senator Son. 'No one has a satisfactory reason for this scene...'
    Hmmm... I wonder, this guy came from a Rebel Family (Samnites who fought Rome in 3 Wars, then were a major holdout of the Marsic Confederation in the Social War), who were virtually exterminated after the Social War by Sulla.

    I think Roma stepping on a Wolf's severed head might say something... LOL, GO SAMNIUM!"
    Roman Republic
    Cn. Egnatius Cn.f. Cn.n. Maxsumus
    AR Denarius
    3.8g, 17mm, Rome mint
    76 BCE
    Bust Libertas, pileus behind-
    Roma Venus standing, cupid on shoulder, Roma foot on Wolf Head
    S 326 Craw 391-3

    This guy expressed it against the Tyrant... As expressed by this cracked coin... Liberty is quite fragile...
    Roman Republic
    AR silver denarius.
    Struck circa 42 BC, at a mobile military mint moving with Brutus & Cassius, probably located in Smyrna.
    C CASSI IMP LEIBERTAS, veiled & draped bust of Libertas right.
    Reverse - LENTVLVS SPINT, jug & lituus. 18mm, 3.3g.
    Ex: Incitis

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Dec 2, 2021
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  9. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Are there any Greek coins/statues showing Eleutheria?
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  10. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    Here's an interesting legend, a non-standard "Liberitas" spelling
    Claudius II RIC IV Siscia 782.JPG
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  11. sand

    sand Well-Known Member

    This is interesting. I hadn't previously thought much, about the symbolism of the pileus, the freedmen's hat, symbolizing Liberty. Now I see, how important the freedmen's hat has been, for US coins.
    Here are 2 other examples of US coins, one very old and one present day, showing Liberty with the freedmen's hat.
    Besides these 2 examples, there are many other US coins, showing Liberty with the freedmen's hat : the US Liberty Cap Half Cent (1793 to 1797), the US Capped Bust Dime (1809 to 1837), the US Barber Dime (1892 to 1916), the US Capped Bust Quarter (1815 to 1838), the US Capped Bust Half Dollar (1807 to 1839), the US Walking Liberty Half Dollar (1916 to 1947), the US Morgan Dollar (1878 to 1921), the US Peace Dollar (1921 to 1935), and various US gold coins.
    Nowadays, the only US coins with portraits or images of Liberty, are the US bullion coins (US Silver Eagle, US Gold Eagle, US Platinum Eagle, etc). However, all US coins still have the word "LIBERTY" prominently displayed on the obverse.
    In a way, the US coins remind me of ancient Rome. Initially, all ancient Roman Republic coins had portraits of deities such as Janus and Roma or animals such as cows and pigs or objects such as tridents and shells or body parts such as hands and knuckle bones, and all US coins had portraits or images of Liberty. Later, ancient Roman Republic coins had portraits of deceased persons, and US coins had portraits of deceased persons. Finally, ancient Roman Imperatorial and Empire coins had portraits of living persons. Will US coins someday have portraits of living persons? And, will US bullion coins always have portraits or images of Liberty?
    NOTE : These are not my coins.
    Example 1 : US Liberty Cap Large Cent, struck from 1793 to 1796.
    US Liberty Cap Large Cent, 1794, Philadelphia Mint, Mintage 918,521, Diameter 28.00 mm, Weight 13.48 grams, Metal Copper.
    Example 2 : US Silver Eagle bullion coin, struck from 1986 to present.
    US Silver Eagle bullion coin, 2019, Philadelphia Mint, Mintage 14,863,500, Diameter 40.60 mm, Weight 31.10 grams, Metal Silver.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2021
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  12. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Yes, there is even worse ! My favourite blunder are antoniniani of young Gordian III, minted in Antioch in 238/9, on which they confused Libertas and Liberalitas. The legend is LIBERALITAS AVG. but the type is Libertas holding pileus and vindicta. These antoniniani were later crudely copied in Carnuntum by Regalianus (260).

    gord 3 liberalitas.jpg
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  13. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Nice coin and educational write-up, @GinoLR. I didn't know there were many Republican coins depicting Libertas.

    Of course, Libertas on Imperial coins is very common -- with some emperors more than others.

    Here are some that folks haven't posted yet.

    This Nerva is more interesting for the size of his nose than for the depiction of Libertas:

    Nerva, AD 96-98.
    Roman AR denarius, 2.65 g, 17.1 mm, 6 h.
    Rome, 18 Sept - Dec AD 97.
    Obv: IMP NERVA CAES AVG P M TR P II COS III P P, radiate head, right.
    Rev: LIBERTAS PVBLICA, Liberty standing left, holding pileus and scepter.
    Refs: RIC 31; BMCRE 61; Cohen 117; RCV --; ERIC II 83.

    This Severus Alexander is pleasing.

    Severus Alexander, AD 222-235.
    Roman Æ sestertius; 21.72 gm, 28.4 mm.
    Rome, AD 229.
    Obv: IMP SEV ALEXANDER AVG, Laureate head right; slight drapery on left shoulder.
    Rev: P M TR P VIII COS III P P S C, Libertas standing left, holding pileus and scepter.
    Refs: RIC 492; BMCRE 570; Cohen 372; RCV 7996.

    My favorite is this one of Gordian III:

    Gordian III, AD 238-244.
    Roman Æ sestertius, 24.30 gm, 28.7 mm, 12 h.
    Rome, AD 240.
    Obv: IMP GORDIANVS PIVS FEL AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust, right.
    Rev: LIBERTAS AVG SC, Libertas standing left, holding pileus and scepter.
    Refs: RIC 318a; Cohen 153; RCV 8717; Hunter 147.

    T-Bone was WAY into Libertas. Here's the prettiest (click here to see more):

    Trebonianus Gallus, AD 251-253.
    Roman AR antoninianus, 3.95 g, 21.3 mm, 12 h.
    Rome, 3rd emission, AD 252.
    Obv: IMP CAE C VIB TREB GALLVS AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust, right.
    Rev: LIBERTAS AVGG, Libertas standing left, holding pileus and scepter; star in right field.
    Refs: RIC 38; RSC 63a; RCV 9634; Hunter 8.
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  14. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    It seems that since ancient times there is a rule about who may be portrayed on coins: only gods or kings (whose authority must be considered of divine nature). In the Roman Republic they assimilated deceased persons with gods, and put portraits of ancestors on coins. We still follow the same rule today.

    In Europe we can compare the €uro coins in our wallets. Coins from Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, Monaco, have the portrait of the kings of Spain, Belgium, the queen of Netherlands, the Grand Duke of Luxemburg... But in Republics such as Germany, France, Italy, etc. there are no portraits of presidents or prime ministers, for they are elected magistrates. It sometimes happens that limited series of 2€ coins are minted with portraits of famous people, but only deceased persons.

    Even during WW2 German coins did not have portraits of Hitler, only an eagle and a swastika. In France, in 1941, the Vichy regime wanted to mint new coins with the portrait of Marshall Pétain. They minted some but the German occupation authorities said it was streng verboten and blocked their introduction. Because Pétain was not a king: even their Fuehrer did not have his portrait on coins!
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  15. sand

    sand Well-Known Member

    By the way, I just noticed the @Curtisimo comment, about the floppy hat, which Liberty is wearing on many US coins, possibly being a Phrygian cap. I guess, I'll do some more reading, about that. I had thought, that the floppy hat, was simply a freedmen's hat (pileus), but with the top of the hat flopping forward. Perhaps it depends, on how stiff a freedmen's hat (pileus) was. I wonder, if the freedmen's hat (pileus) was soft enough to flop forward.
  16. sand

    sand Well-Known Member

    P.S. : Maybe the US coin designers decided, to make the top of the freedmen's hat (pileus) flop forward, even though it may not be historically accurate, because they didn't want to show Liberty wearing a "dunce" hat, or just because they thought it looked better. And/or, maybe they saw ancient images of the Phrygian cap, and thought the Phrygian cap was a freedmen's hat (pileus) with the top flopped forward. I don't know. I'll keep reading.
    Here are 2 ancient depictions of the freedmen's hat (pileus), from the following Wikipedia article. Notice that one shows a pointy hat, and the other shows a rounded hat. I have not yet found, any ancient depictions, of a freedmen's hat (pileus), with the top of the hat flopped forward or backward or in any other direction. I don't know, if such ancient depictions exist.
    NOTE : This is not my coin.
    Pileus_hat_1.jpg Pileus_hat_2.jpg
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2021
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  17. sand

    sand Well-Known Member

    In any case, it seems like, the cap that Liberty wears, on many US coins, was intended to be the freedmen's hat (pileus). But, the depiction of the freedmen's hat (pileus), may not have always been completely historically accurate, and may resemble the Phrygian cap, on some US coins.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2021
  18. sand

    sand Well-Known Member

    I just found other US coins, showing Liberty with a freedmen's hat (pileus). The US Gobrecht Dollar (1836 to 1839), the US Seated Liberty Dollar (1840 to 1873), the US Seated Liberty Half Dollar (1839 to 1891), the US Seated Liberty Quarter (1838 to 1891), the US Seated Liberty Dime (1837 to 1891), and the US Seated Liberty Half Dime (1837 to 1873). All of these US coins, show Liberty sitting on a boulder, holding a "Liberty pole", with a freedmen's hat (pileus) on top of the pole. However, as noted in previous posts above, the hat on the pole, may also resemble a Phrygian cap, but seemingly was intended to be a freedmen's hat (pileus).
    Here are examples of the US Gobrecht Dollar.
    NOTE : These are not my coins.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2021
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  19. Ryro

    Ryro The last of the Diadochi Supporter

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  20. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    Is this goddess seated on a rock and tramping on a tuna-fish a personification of Liberty, or of a city called Eleutheria or Eleutherion? In the late 4th c. BC when the sculptor Eutychides of Sicyon had to make the statue of the Tyche of Antioch, he made her on the same scheme, sitting on a rock and tramping on a river-god.
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  21. Ryro

    Ryro The last of the Diadochi Supporter

    here's the description from the listing:
    MYSIA, Kyzikos. Circa 334 BC. EL Stater (16.02 gm, 12h).
    Estimate $10000
    MYSIA, Kyzikos. Circa 334 BC. EL Stater (16.02 gm, 12h). Eleutheria seated left on rock, holding wreath in right hand; tunny below, ELEU-QERI in two lines on rock / Quadripartite incuse square. Von Fritze I 215; Greenwell 3; Traité pl. CLXXIV, 37; Boston MFA -; SNG France 345; BMC Mysia -; SNG Copenhagen -; SNG von Aulock -. Good VF, toned. Extremely rare. ($10,000)
    From the William and Louise Fielder Collection.
    This specimen is perhaps the most historically important stater in the entire series as it is the only stater from Kyzikos to bear an inscription, and it is this inscription, 'Eleutheria" (Freedom) that makes clear the intent of the type: to celebrate a liberation. Several different victories have been suggested, but the presence of a coin of this type in the Prinkipo Hoard, buried circa 334 BC, in conjunction with gold staters of Philip II, clearly suggests that the victory in question is Alexander's first defeat of the Persians at the river Granikos in 334 BC. The Granikos was located just to the south and west of Kyzikos, and Alexander's victory liberated Kyzikos from Persian control. Thus, not only is this a very rare stater from Kyzikos, it also represents the first coin struck as a direct result of Alexander's campaign to conquer the world, predating even Alexander's own coinage
    See lot 366 for more information on the electrum coinage of Kyzikos.
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