What Roman Kingdom coinage was Suetonius talking about?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Gam3rBlake, Sep 22, 2021.

  1. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    Gaius Suetonius was a 1st century Roman historian whose most well known work was “De Vita Caesarum” commonly referred to as “The Twelve Caesars”.

    Today I was re-reading his biography of Augustus and Suetonius says the following:

    “Festivals and holidays he usually celebrated very expensively, but
    sometimes only with merriment. In the Saturnalia, or at any other time
    when the fancy took him, he distributed to his company clothes, gold, and
    silver; sometimes coins of all sorts, even of the ancient kings of Rome
    and of foreign nations.”

    But I thought Roman coinage wasn’t minted until long after the Roman Kingdom had ended?

    Considering Suetonius was alive only a few decades after Augustus’s death I imagine his information regarding Augustus would be pretty accurate. Unlike some historians who write centuries after the time period they are writing about.

    Does anyone have any information on what Suetonius is referring to when he says that Augustus gifted people coinage of the Roman Kingdom?

    Source: Project Gutenberg
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2021
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  3. Herodotus

    Herodotus Well-Known Member

    Adapted in translation/comprehension. In the LATIN text, there is no mention of the old Kings specifically being Roman Kings.

    SATURNALIBUS ET SI QVANDO ALIAS LIBVISSET MODO MVNERA DIVIDEBAT 'Saturnalia and any other time that it was pleasing divvyed gifts'

    'Clothing and gold and silver'

    'Money of all types also of old kings and pilgrims'

    'Sometimes nothing but hair cloth and sponges and pokers and tongs and other different things obscure and ambiguous'
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2021
  4. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    Ah okay looks like I must’ve gotten a poorly translated copy. I thought since it was translated by Project Gutenberg that it was the official translation or something.

    I wonder where they got the “Kings of Rome” from in their translation.

    Thanks for the clarification!
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2021
  5. Dwarf

    Dwarf Member

    Peregrinos doesn't refer to pilgrims (in our modern sense) but just to "peregrine" - exotic or foreign.
    Suetonius is talking about coins from the time of the old (Roman ?) kings and of foreign origin
    Only trust your own translation. I just checked half a dozen German and English ones - everyone different.
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  6. Herodotus

    Herodotus Well-Known Member

    I agree. Perhaps a more apt term for modern times might be 'tourist' or 'traveler' from abroad.

    As mentioned by the OP -- The old kings of Rome did not have coinage. So it would logically lead one to the understanding that Seutonius was not referring to 'Old Roman Kings'(VETERES REGIOS ROMANI), rather he was referring to other 'Old Kings'.

    The cool take on it is that Augustus was a collector of ancient coinage too. Wouldn't it be awesome having a Syracuse Tet or a Stater from Asia Minor with provenance dating back to old Auggie himself?
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2021
  7. JayAg47

    JayAg47 Well-Known Member

    My guess is that he referred to the coins issued by the kings from the lands that are now under the Roman control as provinces, makes sense given there'd be loads of Greek silver coins issued by local kings still being used in the empire for their metal content!
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  8. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    I absolutely love this thread. It shows the importance of NOT relying on translations in the study of history, political or in this case, numismatic history, or any other kind of history where the language used is not one's native tongue. It also demonstrates the importance of documents when used in citation. Authors tend to cite sources in their own language which if used for a while tend to be accepted as primary, original sources that few then ever check on, with error achieving the status of erudition. Even in one's own native language, words used several hundred years ago may have a totally different meaning now than they did earlier. As for this thread, I think the old kings mentioned here are those of the Greeks. Remember that in the time of Augustus, King Alexander the Great was some three hundred years in the past. For us the coins of William of Orange, Louis XIV, or Peter the great are those of "reges veteres" (old kings) and to present day American or Australian or Italian are equally "nummi peregrini" (foreign coins). All that this ancient text means is that at various times of celebration Augustus like to give away presents of "old and unusual foreign coins".
  9. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    My personal theory -

    Lucius marcius philippus denarius 56bc.jpg

    Lucius Marcius Philippus was one of several Roman moneyers to claim descent from the quasi-legendary kings of Rome (Ancius Marcius), and to feature their busts on his coinage. He also happened to be the guy to marry Atia, Octavian's widowed mother. Augustus certainly would have had felt some connection to the coins issued by his step-father, so in my mind, if "coins... of old kings" refers to the Kings of Rome (who presided over a pre-monetary Rome), then the late Republican moneyer issues featuring those kings would be a logical first choice. Maybe old man Augustus had fond memories of his step-dad excitedly showing his family the first coins that had been minted in his name.
  10. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    To Augustus, I would suspect the 'old kings' would be the Seleucids and other Hellenistic rules that he, and Rome, had replaced as the prime world power. There is no such thing as 'translation'. There is no 'right' or 'direct' word for word translation even if our dictionaries give one. What we have are 'versions' written in a different language with different degrees of attention paid to matching idioms or concepts. Even within one language, English being a prime example, we can need extensive footnotes to insure we are receiving the ideas as intended by the author when they come from different areas or have learned the 'second' language differently. I was taught that one can not be considered 'fluent' in a language while they are still thinking in a different language and translating. We have machine translations with huge vocabularies but most people who know the language make fun of the output. It is hard to discuss the subject without using terms some might find offensive. It is not limited to versions from any particular place or region.

    In this case I doubt PEREGRINOS meant anything more than 'foreign' but it could have meant foreign lands not governed by an 'old king' (or issuing coins with types not showing a king). My old dictionary takes up three column inches to define and give examples of the uses of peregrinus ranging from foreign and non-Roman to strange and outlandish.

    Did Augustus speak 'good' Latin? Those around him would not say otherwise.
  11. Ed Snible

    Ed Snible Well-Known Member

    Project Gutenberg supplies an exact copy of Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Translated by Alexander Thomson and Thomas Forester. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1890.

    However, the 1890 edition is a reprint. There is a 1855 edition by H.G. Bohn, based I believe on a 1796 translation. Thus perhaps not up to modern standards.
  12. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Officials had better be careful when accepting gifts on Saturnalia, lest one be charged with accepting bribes. However, the practice was apparently widespread.

    Gaius Julius Bassus, for example, was indicted in the Roman Senate on such charges, but was successfully defended by Pliny the Younger [Pliny Ep. 4, 9, §7], who argued sola se munuscula dumtaxat natali suo aut Saturnalibus accepise et plerisque misisse -- that he had only received gifts on his birthday and Saturnalia such as were sent to most people.
  13. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Or as Boss Tweed would have put it, honest graft.
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  14. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Close! The term "honest graft" was coined by George Washington Plunkitt, a Tammany Hall boss and political operative easily confused with Boss Tweed.
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  15. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Great thread. It reminds me of relying on translations of hieroglyphs by James Henry Breasted in Egyptology. While one of the first to translate the language into English, and having the knowledge to decipher hieroglyphs, his use of "thees" and "thous" inserts an archaizing tendency into what should be clear and forceful renditions.

    Kurt Sethe and Adolf Erman were much more accurate, but for both German was their native language.
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  16. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    OK, and but when he was bought, he stayed bought.
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  17. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    Didn’t Jean-Francois Champollion decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs first?
  18. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    It’s tough trying to learn when things like this happen.

    I put in the time and effort to do the reading but in the end I still got the wrong information.
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  19. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Yep. He was able to crack the code by comparing hieroglyphs to the Greek words. However, later researchers were able to translate many more of the hieroglyphs and expand the lexicon. Faulkner published a "Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian" at Oxford. Also, the phonetic elements were re-introduced through the study of Coptic in part, although Champollion was able to identify the word "Ptolemaios" because it was placed within a cartouche, and also able to match the hieroglyphs with the pronunciation to determine how some of the symbols were actually pronounced.
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  20. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    It was the Greek words from the Rosetta Stone that was the key to solving hieroglyphs right?

    If I remember what I learned from school the key to translating hieroglyphs was the Rosetta Stone because it said the same thing in Greek & hieroglyphs and since people knew what the Greek said they were able to figure out what the hieroglyphs meant.

    Isn’t that how it happened? Or am I just confused?
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2021
  21. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Yeah the Rosetta Stone had three different inscriptions of the same content - Greek, Hieroglyphic, and Demotic.

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