Skip over navigation
Brown shield Brown shield Brown University Brown shield Brown shield Brown University Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World

RRC 234/1, Rome, 137 BCE, JIAAW 031.07.01, 3.84g


Can you describe this coin for us?

On obverse of the coin is a bust of Mars facing right, draped and helmeted (the helmet has long crest, and a plume on each side). Behind Mars is an X, denoting that the coin is a denarius worth 10 asses, and T I • VET (as a monogram) moving downwards. The reverse contains an oath-taking scene in which two warriors face each other, one bearded and without armor, one beardless and in armor; each holds a spear in their left hand and a sword in their right. Their right hands touch a pig held by a central figure kneeling between them; ROMA is inscribed above.

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

This coin is a silver denarius, was minted in Rome, and can be dated to the year 137 BCE due to the identification of the moneyer and the associated iconography. Other than the fact that this coin previously belonged to a collection (the Harkness Collection) that was subsequently donated to the Joukowsky Institute, we have very little information regarding the history of this particular object, especially in terms of either findspot or archaeological context. This is unfortunate but hardly uncommon when dealing with private, and even most public, numismatic collections.

This denarius is a pivotal piece in terms of the development and evolution of Roman coinage. This coin type marks a major shift in the use of coins in terms of individual expression, identity, and contemporary historical events. While the imagery of the coin was certainly not original, the selection and timing of the iconographic choices made by the moneyer Tiberius Veturius was groundbreaking and led to a major change in how the imagery and inscriptions of coins functioned within the late Roman Republican political and social system.

This denarius of Tiberius Veturius combined previous numismatic designs in such a way as to reference current events which highlighted both a political position regarding Roman foreign policy, and the civic honor of Veturius’ family. Although these images were not new to the numismatic repertoire, because they had been reused on the denarius (a type that had seen very little iconographic change in almost 75 years), it likely would have come as a major shock to a population used to seeing and handling one unchanging type of coin. Carlos Noreña goes so far as to label this moment a “critical rupture,” and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, a “decisive break.”

By combining archaic iconography into a new visual program, Tiberius Veturius was not only continuing but also dramatically advancing the previous trend in which the moneyers advanced their family prestige and personal honor through coin images. Although some scholars do not believe that we can ever truly decipher what the moneyers may have had in mind when designing coins, it does seem that such a dramatic break with tradition needs contextualization and almost certainly can be explained by one remarkable event. It is likely that the choice to include the god Mars over Roma meant to highlight, not necessarily war in its most basic sense (the fact that Rome was indeed at war when this coin was minted is not necessarily relevant—Rome was often at war and there does not seem to be any correlation between that and the numismatic appearance of Mars, who had other associations beyond the martial), but a family connection to that deity’s cult: in 204 BCE, Tiberius Veturius Philo had served as a flamen Martialis or priest of Mars.

Beyond that, it is the oath scene that has caused the most discussion by scholars. Several authors have connected this particular scene to two different historical oaths or alliance events in Roman history. The first is the Treaty of Caudine Forks in 321 BCE, which occurred during the consulship of Tiberius Veturius’ ancestor, T. Veturius Calvinus. It was during this time that Rome was at war with the Samnites and because the Romans were not in an advantageous position during that conflict they agreed to less than agreeable terms in a treaty. By the time of the minting of this coin, Rome had already been involved for decades in a slow and bloody conquest of Hispania. In 137 BCE, after yet another unsuccessful siege of the fortified city of Numantia, Rome again submitted to a treaty, this time (and here the allusion to the Caudine Forks Treaty is clear) as equals, a foedus aequum. The treaty (the foedus Numantium) was not well received in Rome. The Senate refused to recognize it, and it took a further two years before Numantia was finally taken by the Roman army. The oath scene of this coin then can be interpreted as a call to the Romans to adhere to and support the treaty, which would certainly have saved the lives of soldiers and allies alike. The coin not only represents a turning point in the development of Roman coinage, it also encapsulated a turning point in the development of the Roman psyche.

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

The coin produced by Tiberius Veturius in 137 BCE is linked to a watershed moment in the development of the denarius as the numismatic iconography moved from that which was initially anonymous, to that which honored the moneyer’s family and finally by the end of the century, the moneyer himself. This coin recycled familiar imagery in order to publicize the moneyer’s famous ancestors and to highlight the moneyer’s position on current political events. At the very least, 137 BCE was a monumental year for Rome’s early development and this coin represents some of that uncertainty, potential, and transformation.

Kathryn McBride
h o m e
late 3rd c BCE
2nd c BCE
1st c BCE