Mars and Rhea Silva

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Aug 21, 2019.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient mythology!

    Now I have some coins showing scenes referring to the foundation of Rome.

    (1) Mars and Rhea Silva

    Coin #1:
    Antoninus Pius, 138-161 A.D.
    AE - As, 26.71mm, 11.65g
    Rome, AD 140/144
    Laureate head r.
    Rev.: T - R - POT - COS III
    Mars, nude, chlamys over left arm, helmeted, spear in right hand and shield in
    left hand, hovering down from heaven to Rhea Silva, sleeping at his feet, nude
    except for clothes that were slipped down on her hips, leaning left on a rock,
    right arm above her head and supporting her head with her left hand.
    in the lower field SC
    Ref.: RIC III, 694; C. 885; BMC 1370
    Very rare, SS, dark, almost black patina
    ex Küncker Auction 133, Osnabrück Oct. 11/12, 2007, Lot 8870

    Prokras was king of Alba Longa and a descendant of Aeneas. At his death he left behind two sons, Numitor Silvius, the older, who was gentle and good-natured, and Amulius Silvius, the younger, who was brutal and domineering. Amulius pushed Numitor from the throne and banished him. He had his son killed. He made his daughter Rhea Silva (or Silvia) a vestal virgin so that no descendant could threaten his rule. But when Mars saw the beautiful Rhea Silva, he burned in love with her, seduced her, and she gave birth to a pair of twins. When Amulius learned of this, he ordered Rhea Silva and the twins to be killed. His servants were to drown the twins in the Tiber. But the servants gave them to the river in a basket. The basket was taken by the water and finally got stuck in the branches of a tree. In another version they were saved by the river god Tiberinus. When Mars heard of the fate of his children, he sent them a she-wolf to suckle them, and woodpeckers to feed them. The woodpeckers were the sacred animals of Mars.

    One day the shepherd Faustulus, looking for a goat, passed by the wolf cave and found the two boys. He took them with him and gave them to his wife Acca Larentia to raise. They were called Remus and Romulus. When the shepherds learned what had happened to Rhea Silva and her children, Faustulus realized that he had raised the grandchildren of King Numitor. But for fear of Amulius he remained silent. Remus and Romulus grew into strong young men and roamed the woods with their comrades. Often they had to defend their father's herds against wild animals and other shepherds. In such a dispute Remus was once captured and brought before the aged Numitor. When Faustulus and Romulus came to get Remus free, Numitor recognized his two grandchildren. Then the twins and their comrades moved to Alba Longa and conquered the castle and killed Amulius. Numitor was reinstated as king. But the twins did not want to rule in Alba Longa, but to found their own city. The rest is known!

    The pic shows the painting "Mars and Rhea Silvia" from Peter Paul Rubens, 1617, today in the Liechtenstein Museum in Wien.

    (2) Faustulus and the Twins

    Coin #2:
    Roman Republic, Sextus Pompeius Fostlus, gens Pompeia
    AR - Denarius, 20mm, 3.88g
    Rome, 137 B.C.
    Obv.: Head of the Roma with winged helmet r.
    before X, behind jug
    Rev.: SEX.PO - F - OSTLV - S
    She-wolf standing l., head turned back, suckling the twins Remus and Romulus,
    behind a tree with three woodpeckers in the twigs; on the left the shepherd
    Faustulus in short cloak and wearing a pointed hat, with crossed legs srg. r.,
    resting with left hand on a staff and raising left hand
    in ex. ROMA
    Ref.: Crawford 235/1c; Sydenham 461a; Pompeia 1a; BMC 927
    attractive VF
    ex Kagin's Long Beach Sale, Feb. 1987, lot 4474

    This coin shows the most important moment of the Roman founding myth: the discovery of the twins. The name Faustulus has not yet been clarified. The Kleiner Pauly thinks that it is probably not a family name of the mint master, but rather an indication of the figure depicted. The tomb of Faustulus was presented at the Forum Romanum. Although the Lapis niger was considered the tomb of Romulus, this contradicted the version of his ascension. Thus it came to the opinion that this tomb had been erected for Romulus, but then his foster father Faustulus was buried there.

    The location of the old Lupercal itself is not known. One showed the Ficus Ruminalis (from Lat. ruma = teat, he should have been consecrated originally to the goddess Rumina) at the Comitium at the Puteal of Attus Navius. There this Augur is said to have moved the tree from the banks of the Tiber. However, Livius tells that the Ogulnii, Aediles in the year 296 B.C., are said to have erected a statue of the she-wolf with the twins ad ficum ruminalem. But obviously there was no cave. Only Augustus, as it is said in his res gestae, built this cave at the Palatine. In January 2007, archaeologists have discovered a chamber during restoration works at the palace of Augustus, of which they believe on the basis of wall paintings that it is the Augustan Lupercal.

    The picture shows the side of the Palatine where this cave was found.

    The Lupercalia festival is older than the mythology of the twins. Lupercus was an old shepherd god and the Lupercalia were therefore a shepherd festival in honour of their protector e.g. against wolves and other wild animals. Lupa is known to mean both wolf and prostitute. This can be a coincidental synonym. Probably the story of Acca Larentia, the woman of Faustulus, who is said to have been a prostitute in a version of the myth, was invented later because of this name equality, so that there is one version with the wolfess and one without the wolfess. Mommsen says: The founding myth is new and badly invented! For Acca Larentia, please see the relevant paragraph at the end of this article.

    There are several versions of this legend. The most important ones come from Plutarch (Vitae Parallelae, Romulus), based on Diocles of Peparethos, and Dionysios of Halicarnassus. Perhaps this mythology - like that of Aeneas - was created by Greek influence in order to connect Roman history with the grandiose Greek history. With the Aeneid, Vergil succeeded in doing this convincingly.

    Rhea Silva herself is said to have been burned after one version, after another she drowned herself in the Tiber. Originally she is said to have been called Ilia (Dionysios of Halikarnassos) and to have taken on the name Rhea Silva only as a vestal virgin.

    Under Antoninus Pius there was a return to the ancient Roman religion and convictions (in contrast to his predecessor Hadrian, who was influenced by the Greeks). Thus all topics of Roman mythology which were ever to be found on coins can be found on his coins. Most of these coins originated between AD 140 and 144. However, the theory that this must be connected with the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Rome cannot be proven. It can be understood more as a basic program for the principles of its future activity. Often the themes refer to events in Rome and Latium. which were also at the centre of Antoninus' care.

    This is the first depiction of this important founding legend on Roman coins. On sarcophagi it already exists 100 years earlier, e.g. on the Columbarium of the Statilians on the Esquiline. Here Mars approaches his victim in the usual step pattern, who carries a jug which he lets fall in fright. The depiction on my coin is an illustration of the version of Dionysius of Halicarnossus.

    A wall painting in Pompeii comes closer to our representation. Finally, in Nero's Domus Aureus all binding elements can be found, but reversed. Here, however, there are still figures to be found that observe the events, and right. an unidentified temple. This terrain does not need to be indicated because of its rounding on the coin.

    The depicted topos - a deity floating down to a human figure - is also known from other legends. It can be found e.g. in Endymion and Selene or in the discovery of Ariadne by Dionysus and has been known since Hellenism. Because of the floating shape of Mars, it cannot be the image of a statue.

    (3) Acca Larentia

    We have read in the article about Diana Nemorensis that her bust on the obv. is often mistakenly called the bust of Acca Larentia. Since I only know this one coin, which has an allusion to Acca Larentia, even if only mistakenly, I want to tell you something about her mythology. It belongs in the vicinity of Remus and Romulus.

    This myth exists in two versions, one without, the other with the inclusion of the Roman founding saga. The first goes back to Varro: Once the temple servant of Hercules challenged the god to a game of dice. The prize was a meal and a girl. The servant, who rolls once for himself and once for the god, loses. The food is sacrificed to the God. The girl, Acca Larentia, dreams that the God has slept with her and promised her that she will receive her reward from the man who meets her first. This was the rich Etruscan Tarutius who marries her. After his death she becomes the heiress and later bequeaths all the wealth to the Roman people. Out of gratitude and to honour her, the Larentalia are celebrated. This happened at the time of Ancus Martius.

    In the other version Acca Larentia is the wife of Faustulus, the royal shepherd and the foster father of Remus and Romulus. Since she used to be a lupa = prostitute, the opinion arose that a she-wolf, lupa, had suckled the twins. After the death of Faustulus she married the rich Tarutius and later appointed the Roman people or Romulus as her heir.

    It is also reported that Acca Larentia had twelve sons. When one died, Romulus took his place and the college was given the name Arvales fratres, the corridor brothers. Their badge was a corn wreath and the white bandage. This leads to a connection between that legend and the worship of the rural Lares, with which the name and time of the feast (December 23, followed by a feast of the Lares on the 24th) coincide, and Acca Larentia originally seems to have been closely related to the goddess Dea Dia, if not identical. She is also said to have had the surname Fabula, which makes her the ancestress of the Fabian dynasty.

    The Larentalia are according to general opinion a feast of the dead that the Pontifices and the flamen Quirinalis celebrated at their grave situated at the Velabrum on December 23rd. On the other hand, there was also a festival for them in April. The interpretation is one of the most difficult problems, because old traditions and speculations can hardly be separated. The she-wolf of the founding legend is the animal of Mars, the human foster mother secondary, still later the connection with the Hercules-dirne. The equation lupa = she-wolf = whore is a kind of euhemeristic interpretation of the legend. Thus the nurse of the twins has a name. These two legends are connected because Hercules often appears as a double of Faunus, the god of Lupercal, whose priests are called Luperci. Probably the figure of Larentia dates from the time before the foundation of Rome, belonged to the circle around the wolf god Faunus and had a meaning in the Lupercalia, a rural fertility festival. The name Larentalia is then not derived from Larentia, but vice versa Larentia from the Larentalia. In addition, Acca Larentia was considered next to Mania as Mater Larum, the mother of the Lares.

    I have added a picture of the painting "Faustulus finds Romulus and Remus" by Pietro Da Corona, own Pietro Berrettini, 1596-1669. Here on the left side stands Acca Larentia.

    Euhemeristic, according to the Greek philosopher and mythographer Euhemeros (ca. 340 BC - ca. 260 BC). It is understood as a mythical exaggeration of historical persons, especially rulers. The humanization of the gods should serve the posthumous glory of the ruler. Was frowned upon by the Greeks, but widespread among the Romans. Later it served Christianity to reduce the pagan legends of the gods to a historical core (Wikipedia).

    (1) Livius, Ab urbe condita
    (2) Plutarch, Vitae Parallelae

    (1) Theodor Mommsen, Römische Geschichte
    (1) Der Kleine Pauly
    (2) Michael Krumme, Roman legends in the ancient minting of coins, 1995
    (3) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliche Mythologie

    Online sources:
    (1) // ... atine.html

    Best regards
    eparch, PeteB, Ryro and 7 others like this.
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  3. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Mine isn't as high grade but I could not pass it up when it turned up at a show. I had not before seen one like Jochen's with the SC right of Mars. Most have the S between his feet and the C just right. Some have the SC in exergue. I hoped mine was in exergue but it may just have been smoothed away. I believe this is possible because the SC in exergue coins I have seen seem to have the dots under Rhea Silvia as opposed to the solid line on Jochen's coin. The SC in exergue coins also show Mars a bit farther left than the SC in fields type which show him hovering over her. Comments from pros appreciated.

    Jochen's denarius is exceptionally well centered retaining the FAVSTLVS which is off flan on lesser ones like mine. Most show just one bird.
    CNG sold this three bird coin with no Roma in exergue. I have not seen a coin with three birds and full legends. Who has one?
    eparch, Ryro, TheRed and 5 others like this.
  4. Alegandron

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

    Thank you for the write up and great coins.

    She wolf

    RR Sextus Pompeius 137 BCE AR Den She-Wolf Rom Rem S112 Cr 235-1a

    RR Anon AE Sextans 217-215 BCE She-Wolf Twins Eagle Syd 95 Cr 39-3 S 609 Scarce
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