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RRC 28/3, Rome, 225-212 BCE, JIAAW 028.08.02, 6.54g


Can you describe this coin for us?

This Roman Republican coin (RRC 28.3) is generally called a quadrigatus (silver didrachm), a name which is at least as old as Livy (22.52.2; 22.54.2; 22.58.4) and Pliny the Elder (33.46 “notae argenti fuere bigae atque quadrigae; inde bigati quadrigatique dicti; the marks of silver [given to soldiers during the Second Punic War] were two-horse chariots and four-horse chariots; for this reason they are called ‘bigati’ and ‘quadrigati’”). It is the reverse of the coin to which Pliny refers, where one finds Jupiter riding in the four-horsed quadriga, to the right, holding a scepter in his left hand, while preparing to hurl a thunderbolt with his right hand; the quadriga is driven by the winged goddess Victory. A lined border around the reverse is still slightly visible, and inscribed in incuse below the image, in exergue, is the prominent name “ROMA.” On the other side of the coin, the obverse, is a portrait of two young gods, who are probably the Dioscuri (transliterated from the Greek "Διόσκουροι"), literally “the sons of Jupiter,” Castor and Pollux (or Polydeuces), fraternal twins of whom only one was technically said to be the son of Jupiter (usually Pollux), while the other was said to be the son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta and husband of their mother, Leda. The gods are presented in the style of Janus, another god who was depicted with two faces, on the front and back of his head, and so their portrait is here called “Janiform.” They are wearing crowns of laurel, which were granted to the victorious, and are framed by a dotted border.

Can you tell us something about the context in which your coin was minted?

Quadrigati were the last didrachms produced before the introduction of the denarius system, from c. 225 BCE through 213 BCE. This was a period of Roman expansion and ambition in both Italy and the wider Mediterranean world, and when Livy specifically mentions quadrigati by name, he does so in the context of the early years of the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE), when Hannibal was ransacking the Italian countryside and defeating the Romans in battle after battle, twice demanding quadrigati as ransom for Roman prisoners of war (22.52.2 and 22.58.4). These passages were written long after the Romans replaced the quadrigatus with the denarius, reinforcing the importance and notoriety of the quadriga found on the obverse of these didrachms, particularly in a time of war, when these coins very much represented Roman power and influence in Italy.

It comes as no surprise, then, that parallels of the quadrigatus-series were produced by Hannibal and by Capua, Atella, and Calatia, after these towns allied themselves with the Carthaginians, in 216 BCE. The Romans themselves, if they did not directly borrow elements of the quadrigatus’ design from the coinage of others, were at least members of a shared, culture of coinage, and earlier type parallels abound, particularly in Sicily, where four-horse chariots were prominent on coinage. One should note, however, that the quadriga was a prominent symbol in Roman culture long before extensive ties with the Greeks of Sicily were established, and the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill, in Rome, featured a famous terracotta statue of Jupiter driving a quadriga, in which a triumphing Roman general likewise rode, making the quadrigatus an excellent representation of Roman military and political might. The use of the Dioscuri, on the obverse, is probably rooted in long-standing Roman and Latin traditions, and Castor and Pollux were said to have fought for the Romans at the quasi-mythical battle of Lake Regillus (c. 496 BCE), and their use may have been influenced by the prominence of their cult in Tusculum, which was the origin of many Roman noble families whose members would later place the Dioscuri on Roman coinage during their tenures as moneyers, and Janiform terracotta votive statues of the Dioscuri have likewise been found in Tarquinii, in Latium.

What is the most interesting thing you have discovered doing research about this coin?

Regardless of the precise reasoning behind the use of various symbols on the coinage of the quadrigatus series, the Punic Wars must have influenced their application, and this context is what makes the quadrigatus so interesting, particularly as an element for the study of the Punic Wars. During the First Punic War, the Romans had extensive contact with Sicily, although Syracuse was never taken, and coins featuring the quadriga have been found in many coastal cities of Sicily (where RRC 42/1, the quadrigatus with a corn ear on the reverse was likely minted), but with the greatest frequency in Syracuse. The quadrigatus, then, may have been an active symbol of Roman might against the waning power of Magna Graecia and Syracuse, as well as against the Carthaginians, who were forced to leave Sicily, following their defeat. Polybius (3.22-27) preserves what he claims was a series of treaties between Rome and Carthage, the first of which, dated to the (probably) mythical consulship of L. Junius Brutus and M. Horatius, grants Romans equal trading rights in the parts of Sicily which were subject to Carthaginian rule (3.22.10), a second treaty, which is difficult to date with any precision – indeed, Polybius does not date it, although it may have been the treaty of 348 BCE, reported by Diodorus (16.69) and Livy (7.27.2) – repeats this (3.24.12). The treaty (3.27.1-6) which forced the Carthaginians to leave Sicily in 241 BCE, also required the payment of a 3,200 talent indemnity to Rome.

What better way was there for the Romans, with whom the Carthaginians were no longer mercantile equals in Sicily, to recoin Punic wealth than with the most prominent currency type of the island whence the Carthaginians were forced to leave just before emptying their coffers? General estimations suggest that, during the First Punic War, the Carthaginians minted roughly seventy times as much precious metal as the Romans, and so the latter may have been eager to display the transformed status quo by representing themselves as the victors over and new lords of Carthaginian wealth derived from Sicily. Perhaps this also is the reason why Atella, Capua, and Calatia were so prompt to copy the Quadrigatus series when they sided with Hannibal a generation later, and why Hannibal – whom Livy states demanded quadrigati as ransom payments – likely minted one: the Carthaginians had not forgotten Sicily. The Second Punic War was a time of great financial difficulty for Rome, and minting rates fell as coins grew debased. Hannibal and his allies reversed the trend once more. As wealth swung back to the Carthaginians and their new Italian friends, they followed Rome’s example, and marked the spoils of war with the symbols of the conquered.

Luther Karper
h o m e
late 3rd c BCE
2nd c BCE
1st c BCE