The charging bull of Octavian Thurinus

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by zadie, Aug 5, 2021.

  1. zadie

    zadie Well-Known Member

    I recently acquired a new denarius of Augustus for my 12 Caesars' set. The incredible variety of designs available made me want to sit down and ponder a little about what I wanted for my collection. While deciding which type to go after, I thought of three different criteria that would ideally be met:

    • The coin tells a compelling story about the era in which it was minted or the person being depicted.
    • Exhibits solid strikes from dies of an early die-state.
    • Is of an appealing style.
    In the end, my search concluded less patiently than I had planned (as it often does thanks to my impulsivity :banghead:)...

    Leisurely browsing upcoming auctions with friends, I came across this beauty: image00292.jpg
    Roman Empire. Augustus (27 BC - 14 AD) AR Denarius. Lugdunum, struck 15-13 BC. Head of Augustus right, AVGVSTVS DIVI F / Bull charging right, IMP X below. RIC 167a; BMC 451. 3.57 g, 19 mm.

    Immediately I knew it ticked 2/3 of my requirements. The strike was magnificent and the style superb. I knew the type was very common, as I had seen it countless times before but with a hefty price tag attached. To my knowledge however, it didn't tell a story that I found particularly interesting. A very beautiful coin sure, but not very very colourful storywise. Knowing that this was a very expensive type, I discounted even attempting to go for it and forgot about the coin entirely.

    Fast forward to the day of the auction - I'm quietly observing each lot closing, making occasional comments to my friends about this or that. Suddenly, the denarius I had looked at before shows up on my screen. It has recieved no pre-bids and no one bidding live seems interested. I almost jokingly press the bid button and to my surprise I win the coin at opening price! As the excitement wore off, I realized I needed to do some research in order to learn all that I could about the type. To my surprise and joy this coin's story was very interesting indeed:

    Gaius Octavius was born to the gens Octavia, a plebeian family on the fringes of the aristocracy. His father, also named Gaius Octavius, was a novus homo steadily climbing the cursus honorum. The senior Octavius had previously served as Quaestor in 70 BC and was elected to the office of Praetor in 61 BC. As his term was ending in 60 BC he secured for himself the governorship of Macedonia.

    Before departing to his province, the senate assigned him to deal with a band of renegades who had occupied lands close to Thurium. These troops were remnants from the revolts of Spartacus and Catiline, who had again taken up arms and begun harrassing the Italian countryside. Octavius Senior engaged the renegades in pitched battle, winning a great victory.The symbol seen on the reverse of this coin is a reference to this, as the charging bull was the symbol Thurium, often seen on their coinage.

    In commemoration of this battle Octavius Senior bestowed upon his son, by this time a few years old, the cognomen Thurinus. Thus becoming Gaius Octavius Thurinus. Mark Antony would later mockingly refer to the future Augustus as "Thurinus" prompting Octavian to respond that he was suprised using his old name could be considered an insult.

    Augustus AV Aureus. Lugdunum, 14-2 BC. AVGVSTVS DIVI F, bare head right / Bull charging right, left forefoot raised, IMP X in exergue. RIC 166a; BMC 450; Calicó 212.​

    LUCANIA, Thourioi. Circa 400-350 BC. AR Double Nomos – Distater. Head of Athena to right wearing helmet adorned with Skylla raising her right hand on the bowl. Rev. Bull butting right. HN Italy 1803; Jameson 358 (same dies).

    462968.jpg Magna Graecia, Lucania, Thurium. Distater, c. 370. Head of Athena to left wearing helmet adorned with Skylla raising her right hand on the bowl. Rev. Bull butting right, his head bent round toward the viewer; in exergue, fish to right. Du Chastel 14. HN III 1804. Noe D8.
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  3. romismatist

    romismatist Well-Known Member

    Cool backstory... I was not aware of this previously, thanks for sharing! Great coin too...
    eparch, LaCointessa and zadie like this.
  4. Niccolo

    Niccolo New Member

    Wow very cool coin and I love the style.
    LaCointessa and zadie like this.
  5. zadie

    zadie Well-Known Member

    I was not aware either! Intriguing stuff. I think it's very cool that Octavian didn't shrug from his cognomen when mocked by Antony, and subsequently struck coins highlighting this after Antony's defeat and death.
  6. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    Augustus Ar Denarius Lugdunum 15-13 BC. Obv. head right bare. Rv. Bull butting right. RIC 167a 3.69 grms 19 mm Photo by W. Hansen augustusd44.jpeg Very interesting back story. I like the coinage of Augustus. As he is one of a handful of ancient personalities with a number of sources available it is always fun to read the back stories available from his coinage. It is interesting that this coin is coupled with the celebration of his victory at Actium as well as another issue celebrating the successes of Tiberius and Drusus on the frontier. I believe that to fully understand the Roman coinage one has to look at the coins that are issued contemporaneous.
  7. Mammothtooth

    Mammothtooth Stand up Philosopher, Vodka Taster

    I like the uncluttered obverse and reverse. Lack of verbiage is good sometimes.
    LaCointessa and philologus_1 like this.
  8. cmezner

    cmezner do ut des Supporter

    Most probably this story is not about the coin.

    The cognomen Thurinus is documented by Suetonius, who was not a contemporary of Augustus, but is not documented elsewhere.

    One can read in the Life of the 12 Caesars (Suetonius, Augustus, 7.1): "In his infancy he was given the surname Thurinus in memory of the home of his ancestors, or else because it was near Thurii that his father p131 Octavius, shortly after the birth of his son, had gained his victory over the runaway slaves."

    Cassius Dio, who was also not contemporary with Augustus, tells that "Kaipias" ( was another cognomen of Augustus.

    From 38 BC at the latest, Octavian officially dropped all of his names except "Caesar", and began using the victory title Imperator ("commander").

    By 15 BC, at the time when the OP coin was minted, Tiberius and Nero Claudius Drusus had annexed Raetia and Noricum, the Alpine provinces which spanned the mountain range to the Danube and the Romans had gained control of the major invasion routes from Germania to Italy. This was followed by Nero Claudius Drusus being sent to Germania and Tiberius to Illyria. While Tiberius brought Pannonia and Dalmatia under the Roman control, his brother led four campaigns in Germania between the Elbe and the Rhine.

    Since only according to Suetonius, Thurinus was a former cognomen of Augustus, it doesn't seem plausible that on the Lugdunum coin series of 15 BC the bull is referring to Augustus former cognomen, not to forget that the bull was a symbol of Mars Ultor and the issue has the legend IMP X.
    Sulla80, zadie, Agricantus and 2 others like this.
  9. philologus_1

    philologus_1 Supporter! Supporter

    An absolutely beautiful group of charging bulls @zadie! They remind me very much of the bull on the reverse of a Seleucid bronze from my collection:
    Kings of Syria. Seleucus I (312-280 BC.) Bronze, Antioch.
    Obv.: Winged gorgon's head, r.
    Rev.: ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΣΕΛΕΥΚΟΥ; Bull charging, r., head down; exergue: Ξ.
    Diam.: 19mm. Weight: 7.31 gr.
    Attrib.: SC 21.2b. SNG Spaer 23.
    Dark green patina. Typical crowded flan.

    This bull carries a story as well. Whether the event is fanciful or actual I know not, but the supposed significance of this portrayal is that Seleucus I protected Alexander III by single-handedly diverting a charging bull that had broken loose from its binding and was headed toward Alexander while he was sacrificing at an altar.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2021
  10. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

  11. PlanoSteve

    PlanoSteve Supporter! Supporter

    Yes, the charging bulls are always magnificent, & yours, @zadie, is a nice honest specimen...nice write-up too! :singing:

    I suspect the lack of action on this coin may be due to the crack, which is evident on both sides of the coin...I know I would have been reluctant to bid...but it is a "good looker"! Be very careful handling it. :happy:;)
    zadie likes this.
  12. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    It's a beautiful coin indeed



    Sulla80, zadie, Johndakerftw and 3 others like this.
  13. zadie

    zadie Well-Known Member

    Thank you cmezner for those clarifying notes! I should probably have been a little bit more reserved in my tone when writing this, we all know the whispering nature of Suetonius.... In the end all we can do is speculate but you've raised some very interesting points. Perhaps after some additional research I can incorporate the various theories and perspectives on this in a new write-up.
    cmezner likes this.
  14. zadie

    zadie Well-Known Member

    Yes I thought so too! The flan crack is unfortunate and probably distracting for some, but not me. Had it interfered with the design in any meaningful way I'd probably not have bid. I did take a good look on the coin when it arrived and it seems to not have damaged the structural integrity all that much, in any case, I'll be careful!
    PlanoSteve likes this.
  15. zadie

    zadie Well-Known Member

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