Mythology interpretation help needed!

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, Oct 12, 2018.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Where's Joseph Campbell when you need him?

    The iconography of this Roman Republican denarius of Manius Fonteius, son of Caius Fonteius, is quite complex and I'm at a loss to put it all together. Can anyone shed some light on this? Thanks!

    Please feel free to post anything you feel is relevant -- similar coins, comments, etc.

    Fonteius Denarius Dioscuri Goat.jpg
    Mn. Fonteius C.f., 85 BC.
    Roman AR Denarius, 3.97 g, 21.0 mm, 5h.
    Rome mint.
    Obv: MN. FONTEI C. F, Laureate head of Apollo-Vejovis right; thunderbolt below; Roma monogram below chin.
    Rev: Infant Genius seated right on goat; pilei of the Dioscuri above; below, filleted thyrsus right; all within wreath.
    Refs: Crawford 353/1a; Sydenham 724; Fonteia 9; BMCRR 2476; RCV 271; Varesi 290.

    About the obverse: Most numismatists believe the portrait depicts Apollo-Vejovis. The thunderbolt under his head is consistent with this interpretation. Vejovis was an old Roman god associated with healing, and often conflated with Apollo. He is typically depicted as a young man, holding a bunch of arrows, pilum, or lightning bolts in his hand, and is accompanied by a goat. He had temples on the Capitoline Hill and on the Tiber Island. His name may be connected with that of Jupiter (Jovis), but there is little agreement as to its meaning: he may be a "little Jupiter" or a "sinister Jupiter" or "the opposite of Jupiter" (i.e., a chthonic, or underworld, god). The editors of the Encyclopedia Brittanica think the last interpretation is most likely, since his offering was a she-goat humano ritu; the term humano ritu has been defined both as on behalf of the dead and as a substitute for a human sacrifice.

    About the reverse: The goat is the most prominent feature of the reverse. She-goats were sacrificed to Vejovis, but I don't think that's enough to fully explain the iconography of the reverse. Joe Sermarini at Forum Ancient Coins believes the reverse most likely depicts a statue that was beside the statue of Vejovis in the temple of that god on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. If anyone has a reference documenting this assertion, I'd love to know.

    The goat is ridden by a winged infant. Now, some numismatists describe this figure as Cupid, whereas other numismatists believe the figure is a winged genius. Unless these winged children depict a bow or arrows, most take such figures to be genii. Some numismatists -- and I see no reason to disagree -- believe the figure on the goat represents the genius of Jupiter Crescens ("Jupiter growing"), seated on the back of Amalthaea, the she-goat who nursed him in his infancy. Indeed, there is a striking similarity to the iconography on this antoninianus of Valerian II, which specifically identifies the reverse figure as Jupiter Crescens with its inscription, IOVI CRESCENTI, an appropriate type for an imperial successor:

    Göbl 907e. Photo courtesy of the Gallienus and Family webpage.

    So, we have Vejovis, the "anti-Jove" with his thunderbolt, to whom she-goats were sacrificed on the obverse and the genius of the baby Jove riding a she-goat on the reverse. Is there a deeper relationship than this in terms of the mythology or iconography? Am I missing something?

    The second most prominent feature of the reverse are the two pilei surmounted by stars. This is obviously a reference to the two Dioscuri, the twin half-brothers, Castor and Pollux. Their relationship to Jupiter is filial: Pollux was conceived when Jupiter, in the guise of a swan, raped their mother Leda. Castor was conceived by Leda's husband. But what are the Dioscuri doing on this coin? Is there some sort of connection with Vejovis?

    The presence of the caps and stars of the Dioscuri here may be unrelated to the rest of the iconography. Hill notes that Cavedoni is of the opinion that the presence of the pilei here may be merely a reference to the moneyer's city of origin. This may well be the case because the Dioscuri feature prominently on other denarii issued by this moneyer, such as this one from the British Museum collection, which depicts the Dioscuri and their associated stars on the obverse:

    Crawford, RRC 307/1b

    There are other features of the reverse that bear discussion and which I find confusing. Note the presence of the filleted thyrsus in the exergue. The thyrsus is strongly associated with Dionysus. What's an attribute of Dionysus doing on this coin? How is that god tied in with Vejovis, the genius of baby Jove atop Amalthea, and the Dioscuri? Confusing, isn't it?

    Lastly, the whole design is surrounded by a wreath. Hill describes it as a myrtle garland. Joe Sermarini describes it as a laurel wreath. Which is it? It makes a difference. In Greek mythology and ritual the myrtle was sacred to the goddesses Aphrodite and Demeter, whereas the laurel is the sacred tree of Apollo. Now, I don't know anything about botany and can't tell you whether the leaves on the coin best resemble myrtle or laurel, but it seems far more likely, given that Vejovis is commonly conflated with Apollo, that a wreath made of branches from Apollo's sacred tree is intended here.

    Last edited: Oct 12, 2018
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  3. iamtiberius

    iamtiberius SPQR Supporter

    The AD 1st century, Roman poet, Ovid, is the earliest, circa AD 9, source for the she-goat statue near the "image" of Vejovis. This translation from Verse 429 from 3rd book of his poem, Fasti:

    "The Nones of March have only one mark in the calendar, because they think that on that day the temple of Veiovis was consecrated in front of the two groves. When Rolumus surrounded the grove with a high stone wall, “Take refuge here,” said he, “whoe’er thou art; thou shalt be safe.” O from how small a beginning the Roman took his rise! How little to be envied was that multitude of old! But that the strangeness of the name may not prove a stumbling-block to you in your ignorance, learn who that god is, and why he is so called. He is the Young Jupiter: look on his youthful face; look then on his hand, its holds no thunderbolts. Jupiter assumed the thunderbolts after the giants dared attempt to win the sky; at first he was unarmed. Ossa balzed with the new fires (of his thunderbolts); Pelion, too, higher than Ossa, and Olympus, fixed in the solid ground. A she-goat also stands (beside the image of Veiovis); the Cretan nymphs are said to have fed the god; it was the she-goat that gave her milk to the infant Jove. Now I am called on to explain the name. Countrymen call stunted spelt vegrandia, and what is little they call vesca. If that is the meaning of the word, may I not suspect that the shrine of Veiovis is the shrine of the little Jupiter"


    That verse probably accounts for the goat, thunderbolt, and infant question you had.

    The following is an explanation of devices from CNG's auction of the same coin type:

    "In the Temple of Vejovis in Rome there stood near his statue another statue of a goat with a winged Genius on its back, which alludes to the infancy of Jupiter, who, on Mount Ida, was nursed by the goat Amaltheia. The caps of the Dioscuri are placed above, because they were worshipped at Tusculum, from where the Fonteia family originated."


    I have no idea about the wreath and can't find an argument for either aside from what they call it.

  4. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Thank you! That was a tremendous help!
  5. galba68

    galba68 Well-Known Member

    interesting post..thanks..
    Roman Collector likes this.
  6. frankjg

    frankjg Well-Known Member

    Honestly, how awesome is our hobby? We are given a tremendous opportunity to not only hold history in our hands and study it but to add to the library of human knowledge. Such a cool thread.
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