Featured The Essentials

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by kevin McGonigal, Jun 8, 2021.

  1. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    The Spartans had their Three Hundred and the Persians had their Immortals. Alexander had his Companions and his got his Successors. And in the First century BC the Romans would have what I like to call, the Essentials, those who were indispensable to Rome moving from a Republic of the Senate and People of Rome to a monarchy of a Princeps.

    Now what do I mean by "essential"? There are many characters in history who contribute to what turn out to be pivotal moments in time. Take your pick of these moments. Many characters at these times are a part of what happened, but their presence or actions were not essential to the moment. The important happening was going to happen whether or not those individuals were part of it, perhaps changing or modifying what was going to happen, but not essentially. Their absence would have been immaterial to the event occurring. The American Colonists won the war of the American Revolution and John Paul Jones was an important character in that event. But he was not essential to the Colonists winning it, (except perhaps in the mind of a grad student trying desperately to find some other reason why the Colonists won that war for his thesis). George Washington was, however essential, indispensable as one his biographers has put it, to the Colonial's victory. It is in this sense I would like to posit that there were only a few individuals whose life and actions of the First Century were absolutely essential to Rome going from republic to monarchy less than a hundred years.

    Let's go back to Rome circa 100 BC. The Republic, as an incipient empire and as an elected oligarchy was a successful and stable state. It military was first rate but its governing was staring to show cracks as its very successful expansion brought attendant growing problems, one of which was a decline in the number of acceptable recruits for the Roman Army, who had to be landholders to serve (except perhaps when the Gauls or Hannibal were at the gates). One of Rome's more successful commanders was Gaius Marius, who was frustrated by his difficulties in raising levies as the number of potential recruits diminished from slavery reducing the number of landowners and, thus, recruits. He introduced a new practice that would be important, essential, to the making the Roman Army an instrument that could protect Rome, expand it or, subvert it. Unable to get the Senate to foot the bill for his "mules" Marius undertook to pay them and reward them with land grants. In doing so he changed the army from a force preserving the state to one willing to undermine it by preserving the life and career of its commander.

    Next, forward a few years to Lucius Sulla who,after breaking with Marius over a disputed command, used his troops to wrest control of Rome from Marius. To be successful at that he had to bring his troops, armed and willing to kill its inhabitants into the city, something unheard of before. And once successful, to keep himself in power he had himself made dictator not for just the six months that the Roman constitution permitted but he had himself but for as long as he wished or, as one denarius put it, DICT ITERUM, dictator again. He demonstrated that a ruthless individual could govern Rome by himself for an extended period of time, another essential a would be princeps.

    Then would come come Pompey the Great, who actually was a great military commander and conqueror of great swaths of territory for Rome. Unfortunately his low birth (always a an important matter to the Roman Patrician class) was a stumbling block to greater recognition and power, unless of course he used that power to advance the interests of of Rome's "best" people the Patrician Optimates. They would accord Pompey all the recognition he craved but he had to do the Senate's bidding to get it and what they wanted then was for Pompey to use that power to crush another ambitious man, but one who catered to the wishes of the masses, the Populares, whose vital interests conflicted with those of the Optimates. If Pompey was willing to turn on his former associate, and relative by marriage, he would have the acclaim of the Roman Senate, but he would have to use his troops against Caesar and such a conflict would ignite an all out large scale civil war and that he was willing to do, something essential to maintain his power.

    That other leader was of course Gaius Julius Caesar who to protect his "dignitas" was quite willing to do the same and who was willing to tamper with the Republic's constitution to keep it once gotten. Packing the senate with his supporters (as did Sulla) he even opened that body to members not even from Italy while assuring his popularity with public projects and personal largesse, things any Princeps needs to do to remain in office.

    Following Julius Caesar was one of his close associates, Mark Antony, a former commander in his army and a man who knew how to use a funeral to rile up the mob and claim the power and offices of Julius Caesar. Unfortunately Caesar's will said otherwise and mark Antony would have to share everything with Caesar's grand nephew and adopted son, Octavian. The two might have shared the authority to govern a divided state and by this time the Roman populace, sick of civil strife, would have preferred that to a resumption of such a war. Neither one, at first, had the upper had but Mark Antony would make the mistake of making his rule seem to be becoming something alien and dangerous and would provide Octavian with a plausible excuse for resuming a civil war.

    And that plausibility would be provided by Cleopatra VII who got Mark Antony, to leave his Roman wife, the respected Octavia (Octavian' sister) and hitch his star to that of Cleopatra who was willing to reignite Rome's civil wars, thinking that Egypt's power combined with the inspired leadership of Antony would win out. It was her foreignness that attached to Mark Antony and convinced the Roman people to take on another war to protect the integrity of the imperium. Without her conniving and manipulation Rome might have continued as a dual condominium for some time. Cleopatra determined that it would not.

    Lastly comes Octavian, who combined the shrewdness and ruthlessness of his predecessors and was determined to save Rome by combining cleverness to the military acumen of his best friend and fireman, Marcus Agrippa, who could be counted on to win Octavian's battles and solve the few problems Octavian could not. So valued was this man to Octavian that when it appeared that Octavian (then Princeps and Augustus) was close to a premature death, gave his signet ring to Agrippa to the man he wished to succeed him. Without all the sage advice and victories managed by Agrippa, including Actium, Octavian would not have succeeded to the office of Princeps and Augustus. By the time that Agrippa died, Octavian, now Augustus, had not only succeeded in Rome as a kind of monarch (though disguised as a reformed Republic by a people willing to shut their eyes to reality) but he also determined that his form of rule would continue.

    Each of these people's roles was essential in Rome morphing from republic to monarchy. People like Crassus and Lepidus never had the ability, or luck, to be an essential part of this transition, but it is difficult to imagine it happening had the above mentioned characters not played their role in metamorphosis of governing Rome.

    And now the coins. From left to right and top row to bottom. First, a fetching quinarius issued in 97 BC by a supporter of Marius who minted a coin showing the victories of Marius over the Teutones and Victory is on the reverse, Apollo on the obverse. it is Sear 213. Second a denarius of Lucius Sulla with Venus and a little Cupid on the obverse issued in 83 BC. There were no lifetime coins minted with an image of Sulla but a relative a few decades later did do that. I don't have that coin but perhaps a reader here does and would kindly share it. It is Sear 276. Third is a denarius with Pompey the Great on it, issued by one of his sons ca. 36 BC, in fighting against Octavian (until defeated by Agrippa). It has a good image of the Great man but may be a fouree or a somewhat debased silver coin. It is Sear 1392. Next is a well circulated denarius of Julius Caesar issued just after his death (notice the DIVUS). Sear 1428 92). There follows a denarius of Mark Antony with an image of a radiate Sol on the reverse issued ca. 41 BC, Sear 1468 Then appears an even more well worn bronze of Cleopatra VII. Sear 7955. Next a denarius of Octavian ca. 28 BC, before he assumed the title of Augustus, (Sear 1557) by him as fully Augustus (Sear 1610) and lastly the famous Dupondius or As of Nemausus with Agrippa having the back of Augustus, as was most appropriate. (Sear 1731). i hope you enjoyed the write-up and have some coins to share or just to comment on the notion of "essential" people. IMG_2035Essential sunny obv.jpg IMG_2046Essentials sunny rev.jpg
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2021
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    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Terrific writeup and (--Yep) coins, @kevin McGonigal. What I found most incisive are your observations on how the later Republican Roman Empire was already stretched thin by its conquests, and how this led to increased emphasis on the military as an arm of government, with dire consequences to the state. (Broadly reminiscent of the Athenian Empire. Right, for better or worse, the phrase, 'republican empire' has never been an oxymoron.)
    ...Wish you could stop me: fast-forward a couple of centuries, after the relative calm of the Antonines, and the whole dynamic is replayed. Thinking there's a lesson here, somewhere....
  4. philologus_1

    philologus_1 Supporter! Supporter

    Wonderful summary of MUCH historical ground! And all this information reminds me of why coins of Pompey, Cleopatra VII, Mark Antony, Julius Caesar, Agrippa, and Octavian will always be in-demand by collectors.

    I admire your coin group which you included to illustrate your post. My fave is the Cleopatra! I would love to have that type! However, I'm glad though that I have its sister coin type (well, perhaps brother coin type) which was issued by Octavian right after he gained control of Egypt after Cleo VII's surrender.
    Egypt, Alexandria, Octavian, 80 Drachma, 30-28 BC.
    Obv.: Bare head, right, Augustus/Octavian; ΘΕΟΥ ΥΙΟΥ
    Rev.: Eagle, standing left, cornucopia and Π in fields; KAICAPOC AVTOKRATOC
    Diam.: 26 mm. Weight: 16.2 gr.
    Attrib.: RPC I 5001. Geissen 1. Dattari 2.
    DonnaML, Cinco71, Broucheion and 9 others like this.
  5. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Yes, but we probably won't learn from it until it is too late.
    philologus_1 and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  6. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    I didn't know that Octavian issued the same denomination coinas the one of Cleopatra.
    philologus_1 likes this.

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    A big fat Touchet to that.
    (Edit: left out the exclamation points. ...In a worst case, who would be left to write the eulogy?)
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2021
    philologus_1 likes this.
  8. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    I wish to apologize for something. When I write pieces like this I write the whole thing and then come back and edit errors. Just as i finished and put it up and started to edit, something came up at home and I had to attend it. When I came back I edited it for grammar and errors. Some readers must have picked up that some of the original post reads like gibberish. When I did come back and made the necessary changes and hit "save changes" it told me I could not because it was more than 144 minutes later. I did not know about that limitation. I feel bad for readers here to have to wade through some pretty bad writing errors. I find it painful to read them myself. I will remember this for later posts. Please be forgiving of the obvious writing errors.
  9. Cinco71

    Cinco71 Well-Known Member

    Below is a denarius issued by Sulla most likely on his second march on Rome. That right there makes him essential to Rome's shift to a rule by one. He broke the taboo of leading an army on Rome TWICE. He proved that one person could seize control of the capitol and do with it what he willed. Could be Dictator, but also be strong enough to give it all up on his own terms. Fascinating figure.

  10. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    No question about it. Marius and Sulla broke the mold. An army could be made totally loyal to its commander and the city of Rome could become its target. Pandora was out of her bag. Nice coin. i can easily read his name of the reverse.
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2021
    Cinco71 likes this.
  11. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    And the rest was history. Pompey and and Julius Caesar knew how to create armies loyal to them, not the Roman state, and these troops showed a willingness to fight each other and the inhabitants of the city itself.
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2021
  12. Alegandron

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

    LOL, I do the same. HOWEVER, being severely dyslexic, I do not see your errors! :D
    kevin McGonigal likes this.
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