The coins I get the most excited about adding to my collection are those that tell the most compelling story. Those coin types that can be traced to long distant events that inspire the imagination. I feel very fortunate to have acquired just such an ancient coin recently. This coin was very likely struck from silver looted from some of the most famous cities of the ancient world and then used by the Roman Republic to pay for the soldiers and supplies needed to fend off the assaults of the mighty Hannibal. This denarius was the first of its kind (Crawford 44/5) and would go on to become one of the most iconic and influential issues in numismatic history. Be aware that this is likely to become a long (even for me) two part post. Roman Republic, Second Punic War (218-201 BC) AR Denarius. Anonymous, struck ca. 211 BC Wt.: 4.2 g Dia.: 20 mm Obv.: Helmeted head of Roma right. X in left field Rev.: Dioscuri galloping right. ROMA in exergue and partially incuse on raised tablet Ref.: Crawford 44/5. Sydenham 167. RBW 169. Old cabinet tone 1.0 – The Mediterranean World before the Introduction of the Denarius Figure 1 – The Mediterranean at the start of the Second Punic War (Wikipedia) The year is 212 BC and the Mediterranean world is in turmoil. To the Hellenistic east the Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires are nursing their wounds after concluding another bloody and costly conflict in their seemingly endless struggle for control of Syria and Judea. In the west the Roman Republic and the Carthaginian Empire are at the height of the Second Punic War. Just four years earlier the Roman Republic had nearly been brought to its’ knees after a series of devastating encounters with the brilliant general Hannibal Barca of Carthage. On the Italian peninsula, at the battles of Trebia, Trasimene and Cannae, Rome had suffered a humiliating string of defeats and had lost a demoralizing 20% (1 in 5) of its’ male citizens of military age . In Hispania and Gaul, Roman and Carthaginian armies jostled to gain the upper hand. In Macedonia, King Philip V of Macedon had concluded a treaty of alliance with Hannibal that opened up yet another front for the bruised and financially stretched Republic. After the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC many of Rome’s previously loyal allies became convinced that it would lose the war and defected to Carthage. Capua, a city with close cultural and political ties to Rome, was the most shocking of these defections. Northern Italy (Cisalpine Gaul) had already been in open revolt and had even supplied troops to Hannibal after his initial invasion. To top all this off the Greek city-state of Syracuse came under the sway of an anti-Roman faction after the death of Hieron II. This was a situation that had the potential to cut the grain supply to Rome from that important region. Compare Figure 1 above to Figure 2 and you start to get a sense of the dire situation that the Romans found themselves in around 212 BC. They had lost control of vast expanses of territory and were in financial ruin with a shortage in precious metals leading to a severe debasement of the republic’s silver currency, the quadrigatus, from 97% in 218 B.C. to as little as 30% by 212 B.C. . Rome knew that in order to survive it would have to find a way to punish its disloyal allies and find new sources of bullion to fund its desperate struggle with Hannibal. Figure 2 – Roman territorial losses at the time of the Siege of Syracuse 2.0 – The Siege of Syracuse Figure 3 – The city of Syracuse. The city’s geography and defenses made it difficult to assault (Wikipedia) Because of the importance of keeping control of Sicily the Roman senate sent perhaps its finest general, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, to end the Syracusan threat. Marcellus was famous in his own time for being possibly the only historically verifiable person to win the Spolia Opima by killing an enemy general in single combat during battle. Despite his skills and accolades the city held out against his assaults for over two years. This was partly due to the ingenuity of the great scientist and mathematician Archimedes, who designed war machines and inventive countermeasures to repel all of the assaults that Marcellus made on the city . This success seems to have made the Syracusans over-confident and when Marcellus heard that the city was preparing to celebrate the feast day of Artemis he decided to stage a surprise attack on a stretch of underdefended wall near the Hexaplon fortress to the north. He managed to take most of the mainland portion of the city with this assault and even the practically impregnable Euryalus Fortress was cut off from resupply and soon surrendered . Marcellus took the rest of the city through treachery by bribing a Spanish mercenary to open the Arethusa Gate (See Figure 4). The sack that followed was brutal and it was at this time that Archimedes was killed (allegedly too busy studying to pay the Roman soldiers any attention). The treasury of Herion II at Syracuse was famed in antiquity and we know that it was located on the island of Ortygia. So it would have been during the last phases of the siege that the Romans would have gained access to the precious metals they would need to prop up their economy. We are not given an exact amount of silver that was captured during the sack but Livy does tell us that; “Such, by and large, was the capture of Syracuse, and the quantity of booty taken was so great that more would hardly have been forthcoming if it were Carthage that had been captured ” Figure 4 – Important Stages of the Roman Capture of Syracuse Figure 5 – Remains of the Euryalus Fortress Showing the Extent of the Impressive Fortifications of Syracuse The capture of Syracuse was a major turning point for the Roman Republic in the Second Punic War and would likely provide the bulk of the silver used to strike the first denarii. The Romans had managed to take the city that both the Athenians and the Carthaginians at the height of their power could not. With the end of the siege the last great independent Greek city-state from the Greek Classical Era had fallen and with it the world had lost perhaps its greatest scientific mind in Archimedes. 3.0 – The Capture of Capua Adding to the bounty from Syracuse was the successful capture of Capua (Italy’s second largest city at the time) in 211 B.C. The Romans were particularly harsh to the disloyal Capuans and in this instance Livy does tell us that the sack yielded 31,200 pounds of silver and 2,072 pounds of gold . 4.0 – The First Denarii and the Enigma of Roma Flush with newly looted silver from the sacking of Syracuse and Capua the Romans were in a good position to stabilize their silver currency after it’s debasement had led to severe inflation by 212 B.C. . Instead of trying to restore faith in the old currency the Roman senate chose to institute an entirely new system based on an entirely new denomination, the denarius, which was valued at 10 newly reduced bronze Asses of the sextental standard (thus the X behind Roma). The first denarius and its fractional denominations would serve as the primary means of paying the legions fighting Hannibal. It would also go on to serve as the backbone of the Roman monetary system for over four and a half centuries. Crawford places the first denarius issues as running from roughly 211 to ca. 208 BC  and groups several types into this initial mintage. Subsequent scholarship conducted by Hersh  using hoard evidence has clarified a more linear chronology of these types. The first few he lists in his chronology are as follows. 1. Crawford 44/5 – Sydenham 140, 167 & 168 2. Crawford 46/1 – Sydenham 140 3. Crawford 45/1 – Sydenham 166 In around 210 BC the general who would ultimately defeat Hannibal, Scipio Africanus, would take approximately 2,400,000 of these early denarii (11.9 tons of silver!) with him to fund his conquest of Hispania . 4.1 – Obverse: Roma with Winged Helmet For the obverse of the new silver issues the Romans chose to exclusively depict the personification of their city, Roma, instead of gods such as Apollo or Mars that had featured prominently in previous silver issues. To our modern eyes this may seem like a natural and obvious choice but to other ancient Mediterranean peoples the way the Romans personified their city would have been somewhat strange. In the Greek world of the third century BC the most common personification of a city would have been a local variant of the goddess Tyche (Fortuna) wearing a mural crown made of the city’s walls . The famous Tyche of Antioch is a good example of this and would have been known to the Romans. However, having such a tame and fickle goddess represent their mother city was something that the culturally war minded and aggressive Roman people could not tolerate. As Roman artists began to look around for influences to model Roma after they seem to have quickly settled on the warrior goddess Athena/Minerva (Figure 6). In the decades leading up to the introduction of the denarius it is possible to follow the influence of the Greek Athena on depictions of Roma as seen in Figure 7. Take special note of the shift from the Phrygian helmet to the Attic helmet by the time of the denarius. Also notice the reverse of the Republican didrachm showing Nike, commonly associated with Athena in Greek art. Figure 6 – Tyche of Antioch with mural crown and Athena Parthenos carrying implements of war (Modified from Wikipedia images) Figure 7 – Stylistic Progression from Athena to Roma on Coins By the time the denarius was first struck it seems that Roma’s iconography had developed to the point that the celators were incorporating more and more local influences into her depiction. I was very happy to find an image of the below winged Attic helmet and the funerary painting (background) showing Italic helmets from the Samnite tribe in South-central Italy. Notice that in addition to the wings both examples show the helmet topped with a griffin head. Figure 8 – Italic Influences on Roma 4.2 – Reverse: The Dioscuri The reverse of the first denarii depict the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) riding horses, carrying spears and wearing a pelius cap or helmet. The twins were especially sacred to the Romans because according to Roman legendary history the twins disguised themselves as young Equites and fought with the Romans to repel the last attempt by the Roman King Tarquinus Superbus to retake the city at the Battle of Lake Regillus (499 or 496 BC ). The inclusion of the pelius may have been understood to represent the remnants of the egg that the twins were born from  or perhaps even a very early example of the cap’s association with liberation considering the twins had helped liberate Rome from the monarchy by joining the Romans in battle. Perhaps the Romans were even hoping that the twin deities would see fit to join battle with the Romans once again against Hannibal as they had done against Superbus. Figure 9 – The Dioscuri Fighting in the Battle of Lake Regillus (Photo from Wikipedia) 5.0 – Analysis of the Silver and Lead Isotopes in Early Republican Coins to Establish Provenance This essay outlines the most established theory regarding the introduction of the denarius. However, there is not universal agreement on the subject as can be seen from differing attribution information from some major auction houses. While researching this essay I came across a recent research paper published by Geochemical Perspectives Letters that looked at the silver and lead isotopes of pre and post reform Roman coins. The study concluded that pre-denarius silver was largely sourced from southern Spain and can most likely be linked to the tribute silver that was paid to Rome by Carthage after the First Punic War . The study further concludes that the silver used in the first denarius came from a new source, most likely from the sack of Syracuse and Capua . The lead isotope analysis indicates that much of the silver refining of the first denarii was facilitated with scrap lead instead of from a consistent and steady source as would be seen with later Roman silver . This might indicate that the currency reform that produced the denarius was the result of a sudden windfall of silver resources into the Roman treasury, such as silver obtained from looted cities. These results seem to support the conclusions of Crawford that the reforms that produced the denarius can be dated to 211 BC or slightly before.  Cottrel, Leonard. Enemy of Rome. Evans Bros, 1965, ISBN 0-237-44320-1. pg 102  Livius, Titus.The History of Rome. Online: http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt/ah/Livy/  Harl, Kenneth. Coinage in the Roman Economy, 300 B.C. to A.D. 700. Pg. 30  http://research.omicsgroup.org/index.php/Roman_Republican_currency  Dummet, Jeremy. Syracuse, City of Legend. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd. 2010  Crawford, M. Roman Republican Coinage. Cambridge University Press, 1974; Cambridge, UK.  Hersh, Charles A. Notes on the Chronology and Interpretation of the Roman Republican Coinage: Some Comments on Crawford’s “Roman Republican Coinage”. The Numismatic Chronical 137: p. 19-36  Albarede, F., Blitchert-Toft, J., Rivoal, M., Telouk, P. A Glimpse into the Roman Finances of the Second Punic War through Silver Isotopes. Geochemical Perspectives Letters v2, n2. April 2016.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castor_and_Pollux#CITEREFKerenyi1959  Burnett, A. M. 1986. The Iconography of Roman Coin Types in the Third Century BC. The Numismatic Chronicle 146: p. 67-75.