RR Denarius No. 34, with a question regarding the identity of the obverse portrait

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by DonnaML, Sep 30, 2020.

  1. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    This coin arrived today from Sweden (I bought it from @Michael Stolt), and I'm very happy with it. The one thing about it that makes me curious is that none of the authorities seems to have any clear idea of the identity of the portrait on the obverse. So I'm wondering if any of you has any ideas.

    Roman Republic, C.. Allius Bala, AR Denarius, 92 BCE, Rome mint. Obv.: Diademed female head (Diana?)* right, wearing necklace; BALA behind, control mark "R" below chin / Rev.: Diana in biga of stags right, holding sceptre and reins in left hand and flaming torch in right, with quiver over shoulder; control-mark (grasshopper) below stags; C•ALLI in exergue; all within laurel wreath. Crawford 336/1b; RSC I Aelia [Allia] 4 (ill.), Sear RCV I 221 (ill.), Sydenham 595, BMCRR 1742-1771 [no control-letter "R"]. 17 mm., 3.88 g.**

    Seller's photos:

    Allius Bala orig. jpg version.jpg

    My own attempt to take a couple of photos that show a bit more close-up detail:

    Allius Bala Obv 1.jpg

    Allius Bala Rev.jpg

    * Varying identifications of obverse head: Crawford ("female head r., wearing diadem"); RSC I ("female head (Diana?)"); BMCRR (same); Sear RCV I ("female deity").

    ** Moneyer otherwise unknown. See BMCRR p. 238 n. 2: "This type may refer to the annual festival in honor of Diana held on the Aventine, where her temple stood, and at which torch races occurred. . . . C. Allius Bala was apparently the first moneyer to introduce a symbol as a mint-mark in conjunction with a letter."

    As you can see, the two earlier authorities (Grueber in BMCRR, and H.A. Seaby in RSC I) tentatively identify the obvious portrait as Diana, although each appends a question mark. But the two more recent authorities (Crawford and Sear) don't even attempt to identify the portrait, other than saying it's the head of a female or female deity.

    So my question is, why the reluctance to try to identify the obverse figure, especially since it's obviously Diana on the reverse? Is it because most portraits of Diana on Roman Republican coins (and reverses on Imperial coins, as well as Provincial coins portraying Artemis) are accompanied by objects that clearly identify her, such as bow, arrow, and/or quiver, or hound (as on my coins of A. Postumius, C. Postumius, and C. Hosidius), or, in her lunar association, a torch (as on my Gordian III/Diana Lucifera coin)? And because on this coin there's no such object to identify her?

    But if it isn't Diana, who else could it possibly be? Any ideas?
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2020
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  3. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    Another nice new addition, @DonnaML! as I have struggled to add any RRs this year, I am glad to see your posts :) This at least reminds me to enjoy the ones I already own.

    Babelon thought it was Diana, but I am in the "uncertain" camp because Crawford says so, and for the reason you mention - what evidence is there that this is Diana and not someone else? that said, I don't have another guess, just some potential candidates that are all unsatisfactory: Venus? Libertas? both would seem odd to me to combine with Diana on reverse - maybe Pietas?. If it were Diana the absence of bow and quiver seems surprising given the consistent presence on other issues e.g. C. 335/9 and 372/1.... I like the grasshoppers on these coins and the stag biga:
    _C Allius Bala denarius.jpg
    C. Allius Bala, 92 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint
    Obv: Diademed female head (Diana?) right; H below chin
    Rev: Diana driving biga of stags right, holding spear, reins, and torch; grasshopper below; all within laurel-wreath
    Ref: Crawford 336/1b; Sydenham 595; Aelia 4
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2020
  4. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    That's a lovely coin, @DonnaML ! I can't think of which deity it would be if not Diana.
    DonnaML likes this.
  5. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    On the one hand, it would seem quite odd to combine Diana on the reverse with some other female deity on the obverse. Especially given that nobody in particular comes to mind. But on the other hand, there's nothing whatsoever about the obverse portrait that calls Diana to mind. It isn't only the absence of identifying objects, it's that she simply looks too . . . I'm not sure I have the right word; perhaps she looks entirely too civilized and refined to be Diana? So I'm mystified.
  6. SeptimusT

    SeptimusT Well-Known Member

    Just off the surface, I would lean towards Venus because of the hairstyle and necklace. None of the Republican denarii definitively depicting Diana show a necklace, and the hairstyle is always quite different.

    I don't think that a reverse type is sufficient grounds for identifying an obverse; working with that assumption can lead to mistaken assumptions. Sometimes they are related, but there are other times when the relation isn't direct, but instead is maybe a reflection of the moneyer's personal deities.
    Orfew, Sulla80 and DonnaML like this.
  7. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    I agree - as for example this combination of Venus / Libertas (C. 391/1a) or Libertas / Roma and Venus (C. 391/3) and many Venus+Victory combinations. Adding another coin (not exactly Diana):
    Hostilia denarius.jpg
    L. Hostilius Saserna, 48 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint
    Obv: A Gallic woman, with carnyx warrior's trumpet behind
    Rev: Artemis facing front, holding a leaping deer by the antlers and, with the other hand, a spear
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2020
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  8. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Great photos, DonnaML.
    +VGO.DVCKS and DonnaML like this.
  9. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I think Venus is a very reasonable suggestion. The more I look at the coin, the less likely I think it is that it's supposed to be Diana.
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  10. Alegandron

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

    Very nice Denarius, @DonnaML !

    Since NOBODY knows who Bala is, I propose that the obverse is of his WIFE, Edwina... :D

    I dunno.

    Roman Republic
    C. Allius BALA,
    92 BCE denarius
    19-18 mm. 3.83 g
    Female head right (Diana?), I before neck
    Biga of stags (thus Diana), anchor below. A ALLI
    Sear 221. Crawford 336/1c. Aelia 4
    Ex: Warren Esty

    Year before the Social War with the Marsic Confederation
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2020
  11. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Interesting discussion, a great looking RR denarius, Donna.

    It just occurred to me that my most recent RR denarius also has Diana on the obverse:

    RR - Accoleia triple statue lot Sep 2020 (0b).jpg
    Roman Republic Denarius
    P. Accoleius Lariscolus
    (43 B.C.)
    Rome Mint

    Diana Nemorensis draped bust r., / Diana Nemorensis cult statue facing, supporting bar; grove of five cypresses; left figure holds bow, right figure holds [poppy].
    Crawford 486/1; Accoleia 1.
    (3.39 grams / 17 mm)

    "Triple cult statue of Diana Nemorensis (Diana, Hecate, Selene)...supporting with hands and shoulders a bar; behind, a grove of five cypresses..."
    Jochen (Coin Talk)

    "Sear maintains this coin commemorates the town of Aricia, the place of origin of the moneyer's family. Diana Nemoerensis was the chief deity of Aricia...Octavian's mother, Atia, was born in the town." Wildwinds

    There is a second variation of this coin, with hair shown going down her back(Accoleia 1a). This looks more like the OP. Here is the Wildwinds example:

    RR - Accoleia triple statue Wildwinds.jpg

    There is no bow/quiver or other Diana attributes on these and some debate on this. Jochen1 discussed this here: https://www.cointalk.com/threads/diana-nemorensis.344409/#post-4859090.
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  12. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Fascinating; thank you.
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