Roman Republican No. 61: Lucretius Trio with Sol, Crescent Moon, & 7 Stars

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by DonnaML, Sep 5, 2021.

  1. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I should note at the outset that I still haven't done write-ups for Nos. 58-60, even though I bought them all several months ago. One reason is that there's a lot to say about them, but at this point I think it's mostly a writer's block situation! One of these days, I'll finally get to it. In the meantime, I'm skipping them to post a write-up (complete with footnotes!) of this coin, which I received from the UK last week. It's a type I've admired and wanted for a long time (partly to go with my other Lucretius Trio denarius; see photo in first footnote below), but it seems difficult to find nice examples at prices that aren't exorbitant.

    Roman Republic, L. Lucretius Trio*, AR Denarius, 76 or 74 BCE.** Obv. Radiate head of Sol right / Rev. Crescent moon surrounded by seven stars (three above and two on each side); TRIO between horns of crescent***; L• LVCRET(I) below crescent. Crawford 390/1, RSC I Lucretia 2 (ill.), BMCRR I Rome 3245 (ill. BMCRR II, Pl. XLII No. 11), Sear RCV I 321 (ill.), Sydenham 783, Harlan, RRM 1 Ch. 16 at pp. 98-100 [Michael Harlan, Roman Republican Moneyers and their Coins, 81 BCE-64 BCE (Vol. I) (2012)]. 18 mm., 3.83 g.****

    This is the dealer's photo; the coin in hand is not nearly so dark as, and really much brighter and nicer than, this photo, especially on the obverse:

    Lucretius Trio (Sol, crescent moon & 7 stars) jpg lightened.jpg

    I tried to do better, but discovered that the obverse is actually so bright and shiny that given my very limited photographic skills, I had to photograph it in dim light or any photo I took ended up being blurred. Still, perhaps this gives a somewhat better idea of the coin. Please trust me when I say that it's actually one of the better examples I've seen for sale in the last few years!

    Lucretius Trio stars NEW COMBINED.jpg

    * All authorities agree that the moneyer, Lucius Lucretius Trio, is “not otherwise known” (Crawford I p. 404), except insofar as he was presumably a descendant of or otherwise related to Cn. Lucretius Trio, moneyer ca. 136 BCE (the issuer of Crawford 237/1). See BMCRR I p. 396 fn. 2 (suggesting that Lucius may have been a grandson of the previous Lucretius Trio). Lucius’s one other coin depicts Neptune on the obverse and Cupid riding a dolpin on the reverse. See Crawford 390/2, Sydenham 784, RSC I Lucretia 3 [ill.], Sear RCV I 322 [ill.]. BMCRR Rome 3247. My example, which is one of my favorite Republican denarii because of the wonderful reverse:

    Lucretius Trio (boy on dolphin).jpg

    **See Crawford pp. 82 & 404 (citing the Roncofreddo hoard for the 76 BCE date), RSC I p. 59, BMCRR I p. 396 (same). But see C. Hersh and A. Walker, “The Mesagne Hoard,” ANSMN 29 (1984) (chart 2), dating L. Lucretius Trio’s coins to 74 BCE, which is the authors’ new terminus date for the Roncofreddo hoard. Harlan assigns this moneyer to an even later date, 72 BCE, for the reasons stated at RRM I p. 98.

    ***The raised dot beneath “TRIO” is a centration dimple and is not part of the design. See the several discussions of such dimples on Coin Talk; see also “On a number of Imperial coins from the 3rd and 4th Centuries AD, die "centration dimples" have been found. On one example of RIC 35 minted at Ostia, such a dimple can be clearly seen in the centre of the coin. On the die, this would have taken the form of a small depression. So, what is its function? My suggestion is that the depression is for one of the points of a pair of compasses that were used to 'score' the part of the die where the beading was to be engraved. So, why does the dimple appear on some coins and not on others? After the beads had been engraved, the central area of the coin would be 'filled in' with the rest of the image. In RIC 35, this area contains the raised legs and hooves of the two horses which were engraved over the dimple. On the coin below, that central area is not engraved so the dimple can still be seen.” This would explain why no dimple is visible on the obverse of my Lucretius Trio denarius. (Visible centration dimples are less common, I believe, on earlier Imperial and on Republican coins than on later Imperial coins, but I have no reason to think that they aren't ever present.)

    ****The authorities are almost uniform in interpreting the seven stars on the reverse of this coin as a pun or allusion referencing the moneyer’s cognomen, “Trio.” As such, they represent the seven stars of the septem Triones [plough-oxen] within the Ursus Major [Great Bear] constellation. See Crawford I p. 404, RSC I p. 60, H.A. Grueber, BMCRR I p. 396 fn. 3, Harlan, RRM I p. 100; E.E. Clain-Stefanelli, Life in Republican Rome on its Coinage (Smithsonian 1999), p. 93 (“The names of the stars were a ‘type parlant’ to the [cognomen] of the moneyer ‘Trio’”) (adopting a term used by Grueber). The seven stars of the septem Triones form an asterism (not the same as a constellation!) currently known in the USA as the “Big Dipper,” and in the UK as the “Plough.” See

    Although not mentioned in any of the authorities I’ve consulted, I believe that the separate placement of the cognomen “TRIO” within the crescent moon, surrounded by the seven stars -- rather than at the bottom of the reverse, together with and beneath the gens name LUCRETI, as on this moneyer’s other coin (see photo above) -- also supports the “pun” theory, by suggesting that the TRIO is intended to be seen as associated with, and as effectively identifying, the seven stars.

    The only contrary interpretation I have seen is in an article by Mike Markowitz entitled “The Star and Crescent on Ancient Coins,” Coin Week, Sept. 25, 2017 (, stating as follows in discussing this coin: “The most visible cluster of seven stars is the Pleiades, important to ancient peoples because its appearance above the horizon marked Spring planting and Autumn harvest seasons. Occultations of the Pleaides by the moon occurred in October and December of 75 BCE, and would have been noted by Romans of that time.” [Footnotes omitted.] Of course, this interpretation could not be correct if the traditional date of 76 BCE for this coin were accurate (see above). But leaving that aside, the author does not even mention the fact that all other authorities interpret the seven stars as a pun on the moneyer’s cognomen, let alone attempt to explain why he rejects that interpretation. In light of the absence of such an explanation -- and given how common puns on moneyers’ names were on Roman Republican coinage, as well as the weight of authority favoring the septem Triones theory, bolstered (in my opinion) by the separate placement of TRIO within the group of stars -- I am somewhat skeptical of Markowitz’s theory, at least as applied to this coin. (I express no opinion on the meaning of the seven stars and crescent moon depicted on the reverse of a number of Imperial coins, including denarii of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna minted in Emesa more than two centuries later; see RIC IV-1 Septimius Severus 417 & 629. There are similar reverses on coins issued for Diva Faustina I and Diva Faustina II; see RIC III Antoninus Pius 1199, RIC III Marcus Aurelius 750.)

    Turning to the other design elements on this Lucretius Trio denarius in addition to the seven stars -- the radiate Sol on the obverse, and the crescent moon on the reverse surrounded by the stars -- this is apparently only the second Roman Republican denarius to depict a radiate Sol on the obverse; the first one also depicted a crescent moon and a group of stars on the reverse. (See Crawford 303/1, a denarius of Mn. Aquillius issued ca. 109/108 BCE with a radiate Sol facing right on the obverse, and a reverse depicting Luna in a biga, as well as a small crescent moon and four stars.) The traditional interpretation of the radiate Sol and crescent moon on the Lucretius Trio denarius is that these depictions, like the seven stars, are also a pun -- namely, an allusion to the moneyer’s gens, Lucretia, in the form of a pun on the word “Lux,” meaning “light.” See Grueber, BMCRR I p. 396 n. 3 (“The sun and moon which give the greater light (lux) are intended to refer to the gentile name, Lucretius”), RSC I p. 60 (same).

    However, Crawford does not adopt that interpretation of the depiction of Sol and the crescent moon on this coin, stating instead (see Vol. I pp. 404-405) that “the moon doubtless merely sets the scene,” and that the depiction of Sol “seems to be chosen to complement the . . . reverse type[].” The presence of Sol and a crescent moon (plus Luna herself) together with a group of four stars on the earlier denarius of Mn. Aquillius (cited above) -- for which no pun has been suggested as an interpretation -- would appear to support Crawford’s view that the design elements of Sol (sun) and crescent moon were chosen to accompany the seven stars on this Lucretius Trio coin for thematic reasons, i.e., because they complement each other, rather than as a pun.

    Harlan, by contrast, presents a rather convoluted argument (see RRM I pp. 99-100) for the proposition that the gens Lucretia had a Sabine origin, and, therefore, that “the sun and moon indicate Sabine origin rather than a pun on the name Lucretius.” He points to the fact that “Titus Tatius, the Sabine king who became joint ruler in Rome with Romulus, was the first to build an altar to the Sun and Moon in Rome.” (RRM I pp. 99-100, citing Dionysius of Halicarnassus, 2.50.3; Varro, De Ling Lat., 5.74.) Part of the argument analogizes to an interpretation of the obverse depiction of Sol and the reverse depiction of a crescent moon and five stars on a later denarius of P. Clodius M.f. Turrinus, issued ca. 42 BCE (Crawford 494/21), as referring to the Sabine origin of the gens Claudia (see RSC I Claudia 17 at p. 32). Harlan also suggests a connection between the gens Lucretius and the mountain Lucretilus in Sabine territory. (RRM I p. 100.) However, as noted above, Harlan does accept the interpretation of the seven stars on the reverse as a pun on the moneyer’s cognomen Trio, representing the septem Triones.


    Please give any thoughts you may have on the various interpretations of this coin, and post your own ancient coins with radiate Sols on the obverse, and/or depicting crescent moons (and/or Luna herself), and/or groups of stars -- whether constellations, asterisms, or otherwise! Examples of some of the other coins mentioned above, whether of Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, Diva Faustina I or II, Mn. Aquillius, or P. Clodius M.f. Turrinus, would be especially welcome, together with your interpretations of the groups of stars depicted on those coins.

    And, of course, my apologies for skipping Nos. 58-60!
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2021
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  3. octavius

    octavius Well-Known Member

    My Lucretius Trio denarius with Sol obverse and crescent reverse.
    Also, my Mn Aquillius denarius depicting Sol on obverse with Luna driving Biga and constellation of stars.
    Also, I have added an interesting sestertius - Antoninus Pius with him as Sol on the reverse.

    @DonnaML - that was a great write up - I enjoyed it.

    sx5X9BCrt2JZ6Mg6o4S4KFn3D7JjiZ.jpg 934427.jpg 943207.jpg
  4. ominus1

    ominus1 When in Rome, do as the Romans do Supporter purdy Donna! :)
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  5. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    That's a lovely denarius, @DonnaML! A very worthy addition to your collection. Very informative write-up, too, as usual.

    There's clearly a significance to the number seven on these crescent and stars coins of the Roman empire. Here are the Faustina types (Only Middle bronze for Faustina I; only AR denarius and middle bronze for Faustina II):

    Faustina I, AD 138-140.
    Roman Æ as or dupondius, 13.77 g, 28.1 mm, 11 h.
    Rome, AD 140.
    Obv: DIVA AVGVSTA-FAVSTINA, veiled bust, right.
    Rev: S C, crescent and seven stars.
    Refs: RIC 1199b; BMC 1478; Cohen 276; Strack 1249; RCV --.
    Notes: Ex Walter Neussel, Peus E-Auction 420, lot 5290, 18 Nov 2017, acquired October 1959, Maison Platt, Paris.

    Faustina Jr, AD 161-175.
    Roman AR denarius, 3.14 g, 17 mm, 11 h.
    Rome, AD 175 or later.
    Obv: DIVA FAVSTINA PIA, bare-headed and draped bust right.
    Rev: CONSECRATIO, crescent moon around large star, surrounded by six stars.
    Refs: RIC 750; BMCRE 718; Cohen 83; RCV 5219; MIR 63; CRE 172.
  6. Black Friar

    Black Friar Well-Known Member

    Beautiful group.
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  7. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks. It makes sense that Septimius Severus and his wife would use seven stars given his name, but is there any consensus on why there were seven for the two Diva Faustinas?
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  8. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    All beautiful coins! Thanks for posting them.
  9. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    It's a mystery. Nothing beyond the Pleides and Ursa Major theories. Mattingly's comments are limited to "Crescent and stars are the symbol of Eternity" (BMCRE4, p. lxxxiii). MIR merely notes the existence of the reverse type without postulating about its iconography. Neither work by Beckmann discusses the issue because his study of Faustina I was limited to aurei and sestertii and his study of Faustina II was limited to aurei. This reverse type does not appear on these denominations.
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  10. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    Thanks for your great writeup, Donna.
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  11. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    @DonnaML , your first two coins are truly beautiful. The juxtaposition of a solar crown on the obverse with a crescent moon on the reverse are so incredibly beautifully Pagan! I love how radiant the rays on your crown are. It seems like the radiant crowns rather decreased their length by the Roman era.

    Your third Dolphin is rather lovely.
    I only have a mediocre Diadumenian bronze provincial dolphin.
    Commodus BCD Corinth 819.JPG
  12. Scipio

    Scipio Well-Known Member

    Here is my semilibral uncia from rhe anomalous series; unfortunately, so far the whole group’s iconography meaning hasn’t received an explanation yet. 800ABB76-B486-4DAE-9112-CA613BD2DD36.jpeg FBE26EB4-D649-429A-9DAF-80D0DF0B78D6.jpeg
  13. rrdenarius

    rrdenarius non omnibus dormio Supporter

    I picked up a couple of ray headed guys: Sol and Helios. When I bought the uncia, a friend was the under-bidder. We had at it for a few bids. I wouldn't have bid against him had I known.
    DSCN5710 - Copy.JPG
  14. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks for posting the uncias, @Scipio and @rrdenarius. When I said that my coin was only the second Republican denarius to show a radiate Sol on the obverse (with or without a crescent moon and stars on the reverse), I knew about the earlier uncia -- it's in Crawford's index under Sol -- but had never seen a photo before.

    Does anyone have an example of the Septimius Severus minted in Emesa, mentioned above? Here's an example I see on the Internet (not mine). Does anyone think it's a contemporary or modern forgery, as opposed to simply reflecting an engraver's error? The obverse legend is supposed to read IMP CAE L SEP SEV PERT AVG COS II, but if you look carefully you'll see that it reads PERT VG rather than PERT AVG.

    Septimius Severus crescent moon & 7 stars Emesa.jpg
  15. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Since nobody has posted in response to my question, here is a link to an old thread on the same subject, with a number of examples posted of both the Septimius Severus and the Julia Domna crescent/seven stars types:

    And here are examples of both types, posted by @dougsmit:



    Doug also posted a similar type of Pescennius Niger (not his):


    PS: Welcome back, @dougsmit. I had noticed that you weren't around for a while, which was quite unusual (at least during the year and a half I've been here), so I was at least mildly concerned. Glad you're OK.
  16. Ryan McVay

    Ryan McVay Supporter! Supporter

    If there are no other stars on this coin, I would attributes the reverse to Selene. The two "stars" would represent Venus - a wander - and is actually the morning star and evening star, Venus.
    You would then end up Sol on the Obverse and Selene on the reverse. Makes sense to pair the two.
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  17. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I was still very unhappy with both the dealer's and my photos of the obverse of this coin, so I tried one more time in natural lighting on a windowsill. I'm not completely satisfied -- as I've said many times, I know nothing about photography! -- but I do think it's closer now to what the obverse actually looks like.

    Lucretius Trio Sol new Obv 4.jpeg

    Lucretius Trio Sol, moon & stars NEW NEW COMBINED.jpg
  18. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    @DonnaML, is the obverse really a bit purple?
  19. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Not in my eyes! But I don't really see that in the photo, either.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2021
  20. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Fantastic writeup and coins, @DonnaML ...and everyone else.
    I don't know astronomy, whether regarding the science, the cultural history, or their obviously frequent points of convergence from ancient times. But this has to evoke the two collective examples from late Antiquity and the High Medieval period that I know of, for the crescent-and-(one) star motif, independently of Islamic issues; Sasanian drachms, and deniers of the Bohemonds of Antioch (both given extensive coverage here, within easy memory).
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  21. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Must be my ancient monitor.
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