The bull that isn't one

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by DonnaML, May 23, 2020.

  1. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Much to my surprise, since I always assumed the animal on the reverse was a bull when I saw photos and descriptions of this coin type, and when I bought it. Not that I mind! It's a very interesting coin, and I was able to get it for less than what I think is the usual cost of an example in similar condition, because Diana has lost her bucranium -- a very painful condition, I'm sure!

    Roman Republic, A. Postumius A.f. Sp.n. Albinus, AR Serrate Denarius, 81 BCE. Obv. Draped bust of Diana right, with bow and quiver over shoulder, bucranium above [off flan] / Rev. Roman priest standing facing on rocky ground (on Aventine Hill), head left, with right arm extended holding aspergillum, sprinkling bull [Crawford & Sear], ox [RSC], or heifer [Harlan*] which he is about to sacrifice, a lighted altar between them, A POST - AF - SN • ALBIN [AL in monogram]. RSC I Postumia 7, Crawford 372/1, Sydenham 745, Sear RCV I 296 (ill.), BMCRR 2836. 18.54 mm., 3.85 g. Ex. Spink & Sons Ltd. (before 2000; perhaps before 1974).**

    Seller's photos:

    Postumius - Albinus (Priest & Ox) jpg version 1.jpg My own larger photos, to show a bit more detail:

    Postumius Albinus (Diana-Sacrifice) Obv 1.jpg

    Postumius Albinus (sacrifice) - Rev 1).jpg

    * On the bull vs. ox vs. heifer issue, see Michael Harlan, Roman Republican Moneyers and their Coins, 81 BCE-64 BCE (2012) (using this coin-type as the cover illustration for his book). At pp. 3-4, Harlan argues that in the legendary tale which, as Crawford acknowledges, is the basis for the reverse of this coin -- namely, the sacrifice to Diana on the Aventine Hill founding her temple there ca. 500 BCE, establishing Rome as the caput rerum for all of Italy [and symbolizing the victory of Sulla over the rebel Italians in 82 BCE] -- the sacrificed animal was a heifer with wondrous horns, not a bull or an ox. (Citing Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, ch. 45 [available at]):

    "45. The state being increased by the enlargement of the city, and every thing modelled at home and abroad for the exigencies both of peace and war, that the acquisition of power might not always depend on mere force of arms, he endeavoured to extend his empire by policy, and at the same time to add some ornament to the city. [2] 1The temple of Diana at Ephesus was at that time in high renown; fame represented it to have been built by all the-states of Asia, in common. When Servius, amid some grandees of the Latins with whom he had taken pains to form connexions of hospitality and friendship, extolled in high terms such concord and associa- [p. 60]tion of their gods, by frequently insisting on the same subject, he at length prevailed so far as that the Latin states agreed to build a temple to Diana at Rome, in conjunction with the Roman people. [3] This was an acknowledgment that Rome was the head of both nations, concerning which they had so often disputed in arms. Though that object seemed to have been left out of consideration by all the Latins, in consequence of the matter having been so often attempted unsuccessfully by arms, fortune seemed to present one of the Sabines with an opportunity of recovering the superiority to his country by his own address. [4] A cow is said to have been calved to a certain person, the head of a family among the Sabines, of surprising size and beauty. Her horns, which were hung up in the porch of the temple of Diana, remained, for many ages, a monument of this wonder. [5] The thing was looked upon as a prodigy, as it was, and the soothsayers declared, that sovereignty would reside in that state of which a citizen should immolate this heifer to Diana. [6] This prediction had also reached the ears of the high priest of Diana. The Sabine, when he thought the proper time for offering the sacrifice was come, drove the cow to Rome, led her to the temple of that goddess, and set her before the altar. The Roman priest, struck with the uncommon size of the victim, so much celebrated by fame, thus accosted the Sabine: “What intendest thou to do, stranger?” says he. “Is it with impure hands to offer a sacrifice to Diana? Why dost not thou first wash thyself in running water? The Tiber runs along in the bottom of that valley.” [7] The stranger, being seized with a scruple of conscience, and desirous of having every thing done in due form, that the event might answer the prediction, from the temple went down to the Tiber. In the mean time the priest sacrificed the cow to Diana, which gave great satisfaction to the king, and to the whole state." [Notes omitted.] [This translation says cow rather than heifer, but I don't know what the original Latin says. One would think that a heifer would be more appropriate for sacrifice! And even this translation indicates that the "cow" in question had recently been calved.]

    I am persuaded. No bull.

    ** Here are the old Spink tags for the coin:

    Spink tags for Postumius Albinus (sacrifice) denarius.jpg

    The tags have to be from before 2000, because that's when Spink moved from King St. to Southampton Row in Bloomsbury. See The reason I think they might be from before 1974 is that the only catalog citation is to Sydenham (S. 745), with no citation to Crawford -- which was published in 1974 and almost immediately replaced Sydenham as the most authoritative reference book for Roman Republican coins.

    Edited to add: Does anyone have any other ancient coins that specifically show heifers or cows (rather than bulls or even oxen)? [I had to look up bull vs. ox vs. steer, just to make sure I properly understood the difference. I've never examined any of them that closely!]
    Last edited: May 23, 2020
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  3. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    Anatomically, I think that's a bull. An ox would have shorter horns and have a heftier build. At least that's the appearance.
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  4. Alegandron

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

    Heifer, no anatomical sex, ergo, I buy that she's a Heifer.

    @robinjojo , why would an Ox have shorter horns? Ox are just mature (over 1 year) castrated bulls. Castrating them makes them more docile. Many times you would poll them so that they don't goad, or even trim the horn back to remove the points. But the male is typically the larger of the two sexes. Typically, you eat the Steers (they are a pain and too rambunctious), bred the Heifers, and created Oxen to work. Of course you kept the best Bull (probly culling every 3 years), and used them for breeding to keep the herd strong.
  5. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    I don't know. I guess I'm not up on my bovine types. I've always thought of oxen as animals of burden, hauling barges and wagons back in the 1800s and earlier - big lumbering beasts.

    Here's a picture of oxen that I think of as oxen, but, as they say, I think, One man's ox is another man's bull...

    The bull, or ox, on Donna's coin looks like the type used in Spain for bull fighting.

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  6. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I agree with you, @Alegandron . Bulls on Roman coins tend to be large and anatomically correct -- often aggressively so! For a Roman Republican example, look at the bull on the reverse of the Thorius Balbus denarius; for an example from the Empire, look at the Julian II bull. This little bovid, on the other hand, has nothing showing at all. And I'm sure that choice was deliberate. Whoever designed the coin was undoubtedly familiar with the legend on which the design is based, and followed it right down to having the scene take place on rocky ground. Not to mention having Diana on the obverse. People may disagree with some of Harlan's conclusions about coin dating, but on this issue I think he's clearly right. That's a heifer!

    PS: @robinjojo, I don't think the heifer on my coin looks anything like the oxen in that photo. Anyway, I think the fact that the coin follows the legend is dispositive. You know that cows and heifers have horns too, right?
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  7. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    Sure they do, so that could be a heifer. I do not want milk the subject, and avoid getting into a big beef, so I'll hoof it and agree...
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  8. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Since you mentioned the bucranium, we need to show one. With or without, it is a nice coin.
    Mine was one of my first Republican coins - ex. Brauer collection and NFA 1988. That was the year I retired from the Army and got a civilian job so money for coins was more plentiful and I started branching out a little. Before this most of my coins were Severan or at least Imperial. The coin is bright silver and has not toned in these last 32 years so I suspect it was treated in some way but I do not know how.
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  9. Alegandron

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

  10. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    That's a beautiful coin.
  11. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    One what?
  12. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    I would try to claim that this is a favorite - but I'm sure I've said that about a dozen or more RR denarii especially from this time period. I've also posted this coin a couple of times (not this photo) labeling the reverse "bull". I have now corrected.
    A. Postumius Bull.jpg
    Postumius A. f. Sp. n. Albinus, 81 B.C
    Obv: Draped bust of Diana right, with bow and quiver over shoulder, bucranium above
    Rev: Togate figure standing left on rock, holding aspergillum over bull heifer, between them, lighted altar, A POST A F S N ALBIN around
    Size: 3.87g, 18.0mm
    Ref: Crawford 372/1; Sydenham 745
  13. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Also a beautiful example. I actually hesitated a bit before I bought mine because the obverse is so off center that the bucranium was pushed off the flan, but decided that the coin is so nice in all other respects that I really wanted it. The fact that the provenance seems to date back at least to the 1970s didn't hurt. Like you, I have quite a few "favorites" from the Roman Republic, and this coin immediately became one of them.
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  14. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    a beautiful example and the tags a nice bonus. For other coins of cows/heifers - here are three that I don't own from a quick search of Roman heifers on ACSearch:
    Augustus denarius from Pergamum
    Vespasian aureus thought to represent the bronze heifer by Myron
    Hadrian sestertius with a sacrificial heifer hiding behind the alter​
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  15. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Very interesting coins! Thank you.
  16. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Excellent coin -- on my want list for a while, sigh -- and a great writeup... which now makes me sigh even more about lacking an example!

    Someone thought the original engraving wasn't quite aggressive enough on this sucker...
    (No, I didn't buy it! :bag:)
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  17. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    The cover of Harlan's book, with what looks like a wonderful example of this coin used as the illustration.

    Harlan, Roman Republican Moneyers 81-64 BCE (cover).jpg

    I didn't know when I ordered the book last week -- or ordered my example of this coin the other day -- that he had used the coin as his cover illustration.

    According to Harlan's credits, the illustrated coin was sold at CNG's Triton VIII Auction as Lot 866. The date of the sale was Jan. 10, 2005, and the sales price was $425 before adding the buyer's fee, so around $500 in total. See I would think that it would sell for more now. This one sold for $850 (before the buyer's fee) as Lot 586 at Triton XXIII in January of this year: Perhaps needless to say, I paid a great deal less for mine! It helps when you're willing to accept some flaws (like an off-center obverse) on an otherwise great coin.
    Last edited: May 24, 2020
  18. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    My "like" is for the first part of your post. As to the second part, no comment!
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  19. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Well, you learn something new in cointalk every day! Now I know what a bucranium is. I don't have a Roman bull I am afraid, but I have a Greek one! Or at least something with horns that is bigger than a goat and you would find in a farm!

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  20. Alegandron

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

    Not sure what that was. I may had been reading the site while walking Blue, put the phone in my pocket, and it typed a bit.

    I might have a small advantage. I raised sheep and cattle growing up, and had a few horses. I used to show cattle and sheep in county and state fairs, even used to judge cattle at county fairs. I helped raise mainly Angus cattle, and they can have a meaner streak occasionally. For a period, we I worked a farm that we had a 1/3 share of the Canadian Grand Champion Angus Bull for stud. He was a monster. He topped out a shy over 3,000 lbs. Later, I moved into the business world, and farming had to pass, due to travel and relocating a lot.

    When I expatted in the UK, my contract enabled me to lease a home on a sheep farm out in the hedgerows. They only had 50 head, but had about a dozen horses too. My kids and I helped the farmer during my assignment.

    RR L Rustius 76 BCE AR Den 19mm 3.6g Mars SC Rome - Ram L RVSTI Cr 389-1 Sear 320

    Roman Republic
    214-212 BCE
    AE Quadrans
    28.1 mm, 19.28 g, 1 h
    Sicilian mint.
    Obv: Head of Hercules right, wearing boar's-skin headdress; three pellets behind / Rev: ROMA, bull charging right; grain ear and three pellets above, snake below. Crawford 72/7; Sydenham 94.
    black patina, lightly porous.
    Ex RBW collection (not in previous sales)
    Last edited: May 24, 2020
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