The First Roman Silver Coin and the Equus October

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by red_spork, Sep 23, 2022.

  1. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis

    I recently crossed off a type from my collecting bucket list that also serves as an important bookend for my collection: a Mars/Horsehead “ROMANO” didrachm, the first silver coin of the Romans. As is the case with many early Roman coins, the date and mint at which it was struck, along with the context surrounding its striking, have long been the subject of debate. Various authors have placed it as early as 340 B.C. and as late as the 260s B.C., with Metapontum, Neapolis and Rome, along with the general area of Campania commonly proposed as mint locations. Dating of course drives the context discussion, but some commonly proposed contexts have been the start of the Second Samnite War, the Foedus Neapolitanum, the building of the Via Appia, the funding of the Pyrrhic War and virtually every other important late fourth/early third century BC event in Roman history.

    The dating I’ve cited below is roughly based on what most recent scholarship seems to be pointing to, with this issue being minted somewhere in the latter quarter or so of the fourth century, and to me the mint location at Neapolis seems most likely since these coins were minted at the Neapolitan weight standard and, at least I am told by collectors of Greek coinage, that the fabric matches contemporary Neapolitan issues. On top of that, these coins are never found in hoards around Rome, so while there is the possibility that they were minted in Rome by some sort of Greek “contractors”, it seems most likely they were minted in Neapolis, which makes sense since, at this time that roughly coincides with the Second Samnite War, Rome would have had plenty of dealings in Campania.

    As far as the devices themselves, it’s easy to look at Mars and the bridled horse head on the obverse and think these are generic martial imagery and leave it at that, but as Crawford, Burnett and others have pointed out the choice of a wheat-ear behind the horse head perhaps offers a hint that there’s more going on here. Specifically, these devices when taken together seemingly refer to the Equus October(the October Horse). Each year, at the beginning and end of the combined campaigning season and agricultural cycle, festivals to Mars(who was not just the god of war, but also a guardian of agriculture) would be held, culminating in a series of chariot races at the end of season festival. The outside horse of the winning chariot would be ritually slain and sacrificed to Mars, as thanks for the recently completed harvest and as an offering asking Mars to protect the next one. This is notably the only horse sacrifice known in Roman religion.

    As many of my recent coins have, this coin also has a wonderful old provenance to the Count Luigi Brunacci Collection sold by P & P Santamaria in Rome, 24-28 February 1958, where, fitting its position as the first Roman silver coin, it was lot 1. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find any biographical information about Brunacci at all. If anyone here has anything to share, I’d be most interested in it.

    Roman Republic AR Didrachm(7.27g, 6h), anonymous, circa 326-300 BC, Neapolis mint. Helmeted head of bearded Mars left; behind, oak-spray / Horse's head right on base; behind, corn-ear; on base, ROMANO. Crawford 13/1; Burnett 5(Ob/R2); BMCRR Romano-Campanian 1; Sydenham 1
    Privately purchased from M.V. Collection on 15 September 2022, ex Count Luigi Brunacci Collection, P & P Santamaria 24-28 February 1958, lot 1

    As always, feel free to share anything relevant.
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  3. Cherd

    Cherd Junior Member Supporter

    What a coincidence, I just learned about this coin for the first time last night when reading up on early Republic coinage, and then you post this (I don't necessarily believe that Simulation Theory is correct, but sometimes I wonder o_O).

    Nice coin, and an important one to boot!

    Edit: I read about the coin on the Republic Currency Wikipedia page. You apparently have a more nuanced knowledge base on the coin, but they state that it was most likely commissioned by Rome and minted in Neapolis (a possibility that you stated). This is the example that they show for the first silver coin actually minted in Rome:

    (From Wikipedia)
    150px-Cr_20-1_Obverse.jpg Cr_20-1-Reverse.jpg
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2022
    Johndakerftw, Bing and Inspector43 like this.
  4. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis

    There's so much debate and so many possibilities around the exact mint locations, dating and context surrounding the minting of basically all the Roman coins down to 200 BC or so and then again later in the Imperatorial period that I think it's good to really research and understand all the different arguments that have been put forth over the years. To me that mystery is a lot of what makes these coins so intriguing. This issue is a really great one if you're into that sort of research since, being the first Roman silver coin, an inordinate amount of ink has been spilled by authors writing about it for hundreds of years.
    Cherd likes this.
  5. GinoLR

    GinoLR Well-Known Member

    It is an interesting theory worthy to be discussed. How would you explain, then, that bronze coins were also minted with the same bridled horse head seen from three quarters but without the corn-ear and with the head of Athena (Minerva) on obverse? (NMC)
    Athena protome of bridled horse.jpg

    The bridled horse head seen from three-quarters (that's an important point in my opinion) is a reverse type first used on Thessalian coins of the 5th c. BCE. Without the bridle, it has been later widely used on Siculo-Punic tetradrachms. The bridled horse head seen from three quarters was also used in the late 4th c. BCE by the Greek artist who painted Alexander and Darius at the battle of Gaugamele, reproduced on the Alexander mosaic of Herculanum: Bucephalus is depicted like this.


    These Roman silver coins were very likely minted in Campania for circulation in Campania and other Greek or hellenized areas of Italy. Could an allusion to a typically Roman rite have any signification for non-Romans?
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  6. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    One of my favorites!
  7. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis

    These types were likely minted a few decades later in Cosa during the First Punic War, perhaps in part modeled on the silver type. Find evidence supports Cosa as the mint and they are almost identical to the Cosa bronzes to the point that occasionally a COSA Mars/Horsehead slips into the RR section of a sale mistaken for a Roman 17/1.

    The non-Romans need not fully understand the types. It is enough that they accept the money as good since it was minted at local weight standards
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  8. Silphium Addict

    Silphium Addict Well-Known Member

    @red_spork Congratulations. A great addition to your collection.
    I really like the early RR coinage before the denarius. Here is mine, purchased from @Barry Murphy several years ago:
    AR didrachm, circa 280-275 BC, 7.46 gm, RRC 13/1
    O: head Mars left wearing crested Corinthian helmet
    R: horse head right wearing bridle on plinth; grain ear to left; [R]OMAN[O] on plinth

    I am also interested in the origins of the type. There are a variety of opinions, starting with Pliny the Elder circa 78 AD: “populus Romanus ne argento quidem signato ante Phyrrhum…” (“The Roman nation did not even use a stamped silver coinage before the conquest of king Pyrrhus ,” i.e. 275 BC) which may have referred to this type. I like Seth Bernard's case for circa 280-275 BC (and the map showing almost all finds are in southern Italy) in Building Mid-Republican Rome: Labor, Architecture, and the Urban Economy 2018. The best evidence of dating is the specimen excavated at Pasteum under the Latin colony wall built 273 BC. After foedus neapolitanum 376 BC, Neapolis produced large amounts of didrachms that circulated in the areas of southern Italy controlled by Rome and probably was the mint for these coins. Here is a contemporary didrachm like those found in hoards with RRC 13/1:

    Neapolis AR didrachm, 300-275 BC, HN Italy 579; SNG Lockett 85 (this coin)
    O: female head right wearing diadem, triple-pedant earring and bead necklace; astragalus lower left
    R: man-faced bull standing right; Nike flying right above placing wreath on head; ΝΕΟΠΟΛΙΤΩΝ in exergue

    @GinoLR - I thought the same, especially since RRC 17/1a in particular looks so similar to the didrachms:
    Rome AE quartuncia, 6.23 gm, RRC 17/1a
    O: head Roma left wearing Corinthian helmet
    R: horse head on plinth right; ROMANO left

    Ted Buttrey was pretty convincing in "Cosa: the Coins" Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome v 34 1980 that RRC 17/1 coins were contemporary with the similar AEs of Cosa (founded 273 BC) because of the same style, found in the surrounding area and probably struck in Cosa.
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