The Lectisternium

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Jochen1, Jan 30, 2021.

  1. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    Dear Friends of ancient coins!

    In the meantime there are new interpretations for the depiction of the lectisternium on the well-known series for Titus, which I would like to report on here.

    1st coin:
    Titus, 79-81
    AR - Denarius, 3.30g, 18mm, 180°
    Rome, 80
    Obv.: IMP TITVS CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M (counterclockwise)
    Laureate head n.r.
    Rev.: TR P IX IMP XV COS VIII PP (line over III)
    Throne draped with cloth falling in folds, on it winged thunderbolt
    Ref.: RIC II, 23; C. 314; BMCR II, 51
    EF, excellent portrait
    Usually the representation on the reverse is called a pulvinar of Jupiter and Juno.
    2nd coin:
    Titus, 79-81
    AR - Denarius, 3.51g, 17mm, 180°
    Rome, 80
    Laureate head n.r.
    Curular chair, on it a wreath (struppus)
    Ref.: RIC II, 25(a); C. 318; BMCR 66(?)
    Usually the representation on the reverse is called a pulvinar of Mars and Venus.
    The depictions on the reverse are each a lectisternium. This is understood to mean a ceremonial meal brought to the gods. An image of the deity, or its attribute (exuvia), was placed on a sumptuously decorated cushion, the pulvinar, and this was then served with food.

    For Titus there is a whole series of denarii showing a lectisternium, according to Mattingly for Jupiter and Juno, Apollo and Diana(?), Mars and Venus, Neptune and Minerva(?) and once again a denarius for Apollo and Diana(?). And then there is another denarius for Domitian with the pulvinar of Minerva(?).

    A similar kind of worship of the gods existed in Greece under the name of Theoxenia, which seems to be of pre-Greek origin. The Lectisternium is strongly influenced by this, proof of the influence of Greek on the Roman cults. Therefore, the duoviri sacris faciundis were responsible for it.

    A lectisternium was only held on special occasions. The 1st lecisternium that has been handed down took place in 399 BC to avert a plague raging in Rome. This took place on the basis of an oracle after the Sibylline Books had been consulted. Dionysius of Halicarnassus writes that Apollo and Latona, Hercules and Diana and Mercury and Neptune took part. Their images were placed in pairs on couches in front of the tables. From Livius ("Ab urbe condita") we learn of further lectisternia for the same gods on the occasion of epidemics.

    A completely different lectisternium was organised on the order of the Sibylline Books after the devastating defeat of Hannibal at Lake Trasimeno. These were pairs formed from the 12 Olympian gods. During the 2nd Punic War, lectisternia took place on the Capitol, at the temple of Iuno Regina and at the temple of Saturn. These were therefore a form of sacrifice organised in times of particularly great need and distress. They served to appease the gods and were intended to ward off further disaster. They were supplications, so-called supplicationes. There were no parallels in the Greek area. The closest is perhaps an inscription from Magnesia on the Maeander for the festival of Zeus Sosipolis, but that was not in times of need (Pauly).

    The lectisternium is also known in the private sphere, e.g. at funerals. Later, there were also lectisternia only for goddesses, called sellasternia, because lying at the table was considered unseemly for women. In temples there were lectisternia for individual gods or in public places for several together.

    (1) Lectisternium, from Latin lectus, bed, cushion, and sternere, to spread. This name was recommended in the 1930s by Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf for the Greek theoxenia.

    (2) Theoxenia, from Greek, theos god and xenos stranger. It meant a banquet for the reception of foreign gods, but also a visit of foreign gods, during which they examined the behaviour of their hosts and then rewarded or punished them.

    (3) Exuvia, Lat. the stripped, discarded clothing, discarded weapon armour, weapon booty, animal skin. Here it means the attributes deposited by the gods on the pulvinar.

    (4) Pulvinar from Greek pulvinar cushion. Then also the pulvinar in the Circus Maximus, which lay between the Palatine and the Aventine, a sanctuary set up by Augustus during the renovation of the Circus Maximus on the side facing the Palatine. In this the images of the gods carried in the procession to the Circus (pompa circensis) were placed so that they could watch the games, but from Augustus onwards the emperors also watched the games so that they sat among the gods.... This pulvinar had great political significance (Pliny the Younger) and was also mentioned by Augustus in his Res gestae. It was often called the imperial lodge. In Greek it was called naos = dwelling of the gods.
    Circus maximus with Pulvinar. It is understood that later Pulvinar also meant temple.

    New interpretation:
    While there is mostly agreement on the description of the Titus denarii, there is controversy about their occasion.

    Mattingly speaks of an offering on the occasion of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, which buried Pompeii and Herculaneum, among other places. It is also possible, however, that it was a petition offering because of the great fire that also struck Rome in 79 AD. This is the opinion of the main stream.

    However, there is also a completely different opinion on the meaning of the lectisternium on coins. This goes back to Latte, SDAW 1960, no. 7, 12ff. He already considered the 1st lectisternium to be an embellishment by Calpurnius Piso: "In the case of a plague, one does not celebrate together, he thought! It was understandable that Apollo was at the top as the god of healing. The further selection of the gods, however, was Piso's invention.

    There are the following arguments against the depiction of a lectisternium:

    (1) Elkin points out that negative events are not depicted on Roman coins. For example, after the great fire of Rome (64 AD), a sellisternium took place under Nero to propitiate the gods, and under Antoninus Pius a lectisternium took place to avert the Antonine plague (167 AD). But neither measure was reflected in the coinage programme.

    (2) Under Domitian the series of these representations continues from autumn 81 to spring 82. That this refers to a single lectisternium is very unlikely.

    (3) The depiction of Minerva on a throne for Domitian as Caesar has the legend PRINCEPS IVVENTVTIS and does not refer to a lectisternium.

    (4) The restitution issues for Divus Vespasianus and Divus Titus by Trajan in AD 107 certainly do not refer to the Lectisternium of AD 80, but are meant to commemorate the builders of the Colosseum where Trajan held his 123-day festival to celebrate his victory over the Dacians.
    Pulvinar of Colosseum. One can understand that Pulvinar later also meant temple.

    Therefore, Ben L. Damsky writes that the coins in question are references to spectacles at the Colosseum, since the games held to inaugurate the Colosseum seem to be the only logical candidate for a performance of such significance. This interpretation is meanwhile also mentioned in the new RIC.

    Something similar to a lectisternium still exists today. It is the custom of the Jews to keep a chair at the table free for Elijah, the messenger of the Messiah, on certain occasions. Originally, the table was an object of worship for them, according to the OT. The normal meal was eaten sitting on the floor. In the NT, under the influence of Hellenism, the triclinium became common, i.e. one lay on a couch at the table. The Elijah chair is set up at the feast of circumcision, at Passover and at the end of the Sabbath at the transition to a new week.

    (1) Suetonius, The Lives of the Emperors
    (2) Dio Cassius, Roman History
    (3) Livius, Ab urbe condita
    (4) Pliny, Natural History

    Secondary literature:
    (1) The Kleine Pauly
    (2) BMCR Volume II
    (3) RIC II
    (4) Gemoll, Griechisch-Deutsches Schul-.und Handwörterbuch
    (5) Latte, Die Religion der Römer und der Synkretismus der Kaiserzeit,
    (6) Damsky, Ben L., The throne and curule chair types of Titus and Domitian, in:
    Schweizerische numismatische Rundschau, 4 (1995)
    (7) Reinhard Stupperich, Gedanken zu Obelisk und Pulvinar in Darstellungen des
    Circus Maximus in Rom, in "Migratio et Commutatio. Studien zur Alten
    Geschichte und deren Nachleben". Thomas Pekäryzum 60. Geburtstag, St.
    Katharinen 1989

    Online Sources:
    (1) Wikipedia

    Best regards
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  3. Pellinore

    Pellinore Supporter! Supporter

    A very interesting story, of which I didn't know anything!

    I only know this form of a lectisternium - it must be the variant where it is thought unseemly for women to lie at a table, for this is the goddess Tyche. For me, it looks as if the goddess is leisurely rowing in a coffin, but I'm sure that's not the right interpretation.

    3278 Gordian lect.jpg

    Tetradrachm Gordian III (238-244), Alexandria. Dated RY Z (7, = 244). Obv. Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right. Rev. Tyche reclining left on lectisternium (couch), holding rudder, resting elbow on pillow and leaning head backwards on hand. 22 mm, 13.89 gr.
  4. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Titus (79 - 81 A.D.)
    AR Denarius
    O: IMP TITVS CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M•, laureate head right.
    R: TR P IX IMP XV COS VIII P P, facing empty throne of a deity (pulvinar) with a triangular back, back ornamented with uncertain objects and a cross at the peak, seat draped with a fringed cover.
    Rome Mint, 80 A.D.
    RIC II, part 1, 124; RSC II 313a; BMCRE II 61; BnF III 50; SRCV I 2515
  5. Jochen1

    Jochen1 Well-Known Member

    @Mat Damsky writes, that it is his belief that the ornamented semicircle and triangle is a back for the throne. And this throne ist not for a god but for an Emperor or a Divus, here probably for Divus Vespasianus in the coliseum.
    Pellinore likes this.
  6. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Here is the pulvinar of Juno depicted adorned with a crescent-shaped struppus , a band-like wreath to be wrapped around the head.

    From Melville Jones – A Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins:

    Diva Faustina Senior, died AD 140/1.
    Roman AR Denarius, 17.6 mm, 3.71 g, 6 h.
    Rome mint, under Antoninus Pius, AD 147-161.
    Obv: DIVA FAV-STINA, diademed and draped bust right.
    Rev: AVGV-STA, scepter leaning against draped throne upon which wreath sits.
    Refs: RIC III 377 (Pius); BMCRE 455 (Pius); RSC 131; RCV 4590; CRE 143.
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