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RRC 448/3, Rome, 48 BCE, JIAAW 034.08.06, 3.99g


Can you describe this coin for us?

On one side of the coin, an unkempt female head is shown in profile, with a Gallic wind instrument known as a carnyx in the background. The carnyx and unkempt hair of the woman would have made clear to the Roman audience that she was not only meant to represent a foreigner, but also a Gallic prisoner of war. This image might have called to mind the thousands of similar figures which would have been brought into Rome and sold as slaves in the wake of Caesar’s recent victories, constituting a powerful and easily interpreted symbol of Caesar’s military might. On the other side of the coin, Artemis stands holding a spear in one hand while resting the other on the head of a stag. Massalia, recently conquered by Caesar, was associated with Artemis, as the goddess was an important part of the cities foundation myth, as we know from the writings of the geographer Strabo (4.1.4). The choice of Artemis, or Diana in the Roman pantheon, is uncommon on Republican coins at this time and was intended to evoke Caesar’s most recent victory.

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

This coin from the Joukowsky Institute’s collection dates to 48 or 49 BCE, a tumultuous period in Roman history. In the years leading up to and surrounding the minting of this coin, Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon (in 50/49 BCE), defeated the forces of his rival, Pompey, in Spain, accepted the surrender of Massalia in southern Gaul (modern day France), and destroyed Pompey in Greece at Pharsalus in 48 BCE. The Roman Republic was in its death throes, and by 45 BCE Caesar would be elected dictator for life. Throughout the first century BCE, Roman coinage had increasingly come to reflect this chaotic political climate, displaying an ever increasing and bewildering array of symbolic images and messages as the elite Roman moneyers competed with one another for prestige, using coin designs to glorify themselves and their families. The names on coins from this period are often those of the moneyers, as is the case here. Lucius Hostilius Saserna, or L. HOSTILIVS SASERNA as he appears on this coin, held the office of moneyer in either 48 or 49 BCE. One of several brothers, his family staunchly supported Julius Caesar, and this is reflected in his choice of coin designs. This coin is part of a series of three coins that Saserna issued, all glorifying Caesar’s recent military victories. The moneyer Saserna must have thought long and hard about his coin types, and it seems probable that his choices were meant to both flatter Caesar, who was on the rise and would soon be in a position to grant favors and honors to those who had supported him, and glorify himself as a long-time supporter of Caesar’s faction. Indeed, in 52 BCE, Caesar had been hard pressed during his war in Gaul against Vercingetorix, and for a time looked as if to be near certain defeat. It is possible that Saserna is exulting in having chosen the right side, given that recently Caesar’s cause had seemed nearly lost.

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

If you observe the obverse of the coin you will notice a small “T” which has been pressed into the face of the Gallic woman. This symbol was not a part of the design, but an ancient mark made by a banker to demonstrate that the coin had been tested for purity (or silver content). These “banker's marks” served simultaneously to test the coin for silver purity and to identify the banker who had tested the silver, providing future users of the coin with some measure of confidence in its value.

Jacob Weber
h o m e
late 3rd c BCE
2nd c BCE
1st c BCE