Tag Archives: socii

Developments and Preliminary Data Release for the Roman Republican Die Project

Lucia Carbone and Liv M. Yarrow

The following post is a precursor to a Long Table discussion scheduled for Friday, July 16, 1 pm. Please join us then for an open Q&A following the presentation. If you are unable to do so, please feel free to send along any questions or comments to Lucia Carbone and Liv Mariah Yarrow. 

Nearly three decades ago Richard Schaefer began collecting images of Roman Republican coins and organizing these images by one die, either obverse or reverse based on which was most distinctive for each type (Figs. 1 and 2).

Figure 1. An image of some of the drawers in Schaefer’s office, containing pre-processed clippings of specimen images.
Figure 2. Digitized pre-processed clippings on Archer (this specimen RRC 348/5).

In Summer 2020 the ANS released all the digitized images through its online archives (Archer) and connected relevant pages to the types in Coinage of the Roman Republic Online (CRRO).  You can read about the process of digitization and the background to the project in our September 2019 ANS Magazine article, “Opening Access to Roman Republican Dies”. To learn more about the materials on Archer and how to navigate them, see these earlier blog posts. For those interested in the possible research applications of RRDP, especially concerning quantification of coin production, we published an article in RBN 2020, where the data from RRDP were put in the context of the aftermath of the First Mithridatic War (89–85 BCE), in order to show the correlation between monetary production in the provinces of the Roman Empire and the Roman Republican one.

In November 2020 the ANS received a grant for a two-year pilot project to build a database capable of reflecting Schaefer’s die analyses and enabling that work to be expanded in future by both Schaefer and the RRDP team.  The present phase is focusing on the die transcription of Crawford types 336–392 (92–75 BCE).

The reason for prioritizing these decades lies in the fact that in these years Rome found herself battling at the same time with her Italian allies (socii)—the backbone of her fighting force for her conquest and control of the Mediterranean—and with the formidable king of Pontus, Mithridates VI. While Rome’s war with the socii threatened Rome’s own existence in the Italian peninsula, the war against Mithridates promised to annihilate the Roman conquests in the East. These are also the years when historical figures of the caliber of Marius, Sulla, and Pompey rose to prominence. In spite of the crucial importance of this historical period, no contemporary, continuous narrative of this period survives as a whole. Being able to quantify the coinage for this period would provide new historical insights into the funding of different military and domestic projects and allow for a comparison of relative expenditure based on threat or need.

Within this period, we are prioritizing the transcription of a part of Schaefer’s Archive known as ODEC: One Die for Each Control Mark (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. An example of ODEC issue: RRC 378/1c. (ANS 1941.131.177)

As the name suggests, ODEC issues have a specific correspondence between dies and control marks. Usually there is a univocal correspondence between obverse and reverse dies for each of these control marks. Early on, Schaefer realized the value of these types for understanding the coin production processes used at the Roman mint and also for testing and improving statistical models for estimating the original number of dies used to strike an issue.

The funding first enabled Ethan Gruber, the ANS Director of Data Science, to adapt Numishare software to create both a die database and specimen database for coins known only from images, rather than those in collections already connected to nomisma.org and thus represented in CRRO. He then connected the die database (RRDP) and the specimen database (SITNAM) to CRRO.  For most users these new developments are best seen as extensions of CRRO itself: under each type you will see a total of 5,000 more specimens and also information about known dies. How CRRO displays this still being developed (Figs. 4–6).

Figure 4. SITNAM specimens enhancing the number of specimens already in CRRO (these specimens RRC 378/1b).
Figure 5. One specimen of RRC 378/1b as displayed on SITNAM.
Figure 6. Die analysis integrated in CRRO (this specimen RRC 378/1b).

Gruber also adapted an existing, open-source tool, SimpleAnnotationServer, for the RRDP team to work simultaneously on transcribing different parts of Schaefer’s archive and annotating images in Archer (Fig. 7).

Figure 7. A page of Schaefer’s clippings as seen in Mirador, the annotation tool that connect the images on Archer, SITNAM, RRDP, and CRRO.

Thanks to Gruber’s innovation, the RRDP team is gradually understanding the challenges of the material and how to make the transcription process as smooth and as accurate as possible.  What we are sharing now is the results of this early learning process. 

These preliminary technical tools have enabled us to begin the laborious transcription process. This release includes the following Crawford types:












While we aimed to accurately reflect Schaefer’s analyses for all these issues, we also know that the very process of making them available is likely to generate feedback for improvement.  Throughout the transcription process we have regularly consulted Schaefer on his notations and where we had questions regarding his analyses, but mistakes are inevitable and regular updates are a key goal of the RRDP project.  In this we take our lead from Schaefer himself who always welcomes new observations to revise and improve the quality of the die analyses.

Many individuals have been involved thus far on the transcription project, but perhaps the most important team member is Alice Sharpless. Sharpless is currently employed part-time on RRDP, but will work full time from October onwards following the defense of her PhD thesis, “The Value of Luxury: Precious Metal Tableware in the Roman Empire.”  Sharpless brings to the team a wealth of experience digitizing the finds from the excavations at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli, as well as her on-going work cataloguing the imperial coins in Columbia Library’s Olcott Collection in advance of the collection’s digital publication.

We are also indebted to a number of volunteers including Miriam Bernstein, a class of 2021 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brooklyn College (dual major in Classics and Religion). Bernstein’s work on RRDP was initially funded by a Kurz Undergraduate Research Assistantship, but even after completing this initial commitment, Bernstein has continued to work in a voluntary capacity.  She’ll be leaving the project in autumn to begin a year in the AmeriCorps’ Literacy Program in Palm Beach, Florida.  However, we hope to welcome her back to the ANS and RRDP in future.

This release has also benefited from the keen eye and interest of Jeremy Haag.  He and Liv Yarrow discovered they were both working on RRC 378 and decided to team up.  Haag has a PhD in Plant Biology and works for Bayer Crop Science as a research scientist, but in his spare time is an avid numismatist with a deep interest in the Roman Republican series.   He will co-present at the Long Table on how RRDP has been forwarding his research. Similar updates on other volunteers and collaborators will be included in each new release.

Our biggest goals are to continue to transcribe ODEC issues, but we also want to refine the transcription process to make it more user friendly and thus enable more and faster transcription. We’ll also be reviewing community feedback and adjusting and refining the display of information. 

If this pilot project is successful, we hope to develop a means by which new materials can be directly incorporated into RRDP through a web interface, so that it can be a living die study that is constantly improving in accuracy rather than a static archive.  We also hope to collaborate with other die study initiatives to ensure the RRDP data is fully integrated into those projects. 

At the upcoming Long Table on Friday, July 16th, titled Digitized die-studies: an update on RRDP and SILVER, this possibility will be discussed in detail by Caroline Carrier. Caroline is the lead post-doctoral researcher on the SILVER project, which is building a database of all known ancient world silver die studies.

The First ITALIA on Coinage

Figure 1. ANS 1944.100.866.

The coin in Fig. 1 represents the first attestation of the name Italia on coinage. It was issued in 90 BC, in Corfinium/Italica, the capital of the Italic rebels who took arms against Rome between 91 and 87 BC and almost destroyed it in what Roman historians recall as one of the bloodiest ever fought on Italian soil (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Corfinium/Italica.

In 91 BC, Marcus Livius Drusus, a tribunus plebis who supported the conferral of Roman citizenship to the Italic people, was murdered. This was allegedly the casus belli, the occasional cause of the Social War, the conflict that would devastate the Italian peninsula for the following four years.

While the name Italia (and its Oscan correspondent Viteliu) only appears on coins in the course of the Social War, the existence of an“Italic community” was already known in the second century BC to the Greek historian Polybius. He is the first known author to make distinction between Ἰταλιώτης (Italiotes), which in classical Greek indicated only those Greeks inhabiting the colonies of Southern Italy (1.6), as opposed to the Ἰταλικοί (Italikoi), the ensemble of the indigenous populations living in this region. Italikoi, the Italic people are thus represented by the entirety of the populations inhabiting the peninsula.

The Italic people, i.e., the people living in the Italian peninsula who did not enjoy Roman citizenship, had fought in the Roman army as auxilia (auxiliary troops) in the course of all the wars that Rome had waged in the previous two centuries, giving a significant contribution to the final triumph over Hannibal in the course of the Second Punic War and then in the wars of conquest fought in the East, that had led to the creation of the first provinces of the Roman Empire (Fig. 3). Italic people were thus socii of the Roman people, their allies par excellence. According to Cicero, Publius Vettius Scato, the general of the Marsians, one of the foremost Italic tribes, defined himself as “one who is by inclination a friend, by necessity an enemy.”

Figure 3. The growth of Roman power in Italy around 100 BC. William R. Shepherd. Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, the University of Texas at Austin. Public Domain.

Amplifying Scato’s words, the Roman historian P. Wiseman argues that “the Social War was a war between friends and relatives, and there have must been many women and children who (like the Sabine women) had husbands, fathers, and grandfathers fighting on opposite sides” (p. 64).

The narrative adopted by the Romans—and by several historians in our times—is that the Italic people took arms against the Romans because they wanted to have Roman citizenship, to be fully integrated in Roman society, a society of which they were de facto already members. In the words of the Roman historian Justin (38.4.11–13), “in our very own time Italy rose up in the Marsic War, not requiring freedom (libertas), but a participation in the rule (imperium) and in the citizenship (civitas)”. The desire to obtain full Roman citizenship certainly played an important role in the rebellion, as further confirmed by the emanation in 90 BC of the Lex Iulia de Civitate Latinis et Sociis Danda, which conferred Roman citizenship to all the socii who had not rebelled yet. The law was quite likely aimed at preventing the rebellion of Etruscans and Umbrians, who were the most powerful people amongst socii, who had mostly stayed neutral at the beginning of the war. In 89 BC was passed the lex Plautia Papiria de Civitate Sociis Danda, which granted Roman citizenship to the allies which had rebelled, and represented a further attempt to stem the rebellion.

Figure 4. The “morroni” from Corfinium, remains of a circular mausoleum in the ancient capital of the ephemeral Italic state.

However, the rebellion, though downsized, lasted two more years, thus showing Roman citizenship could not have the only motivation for the Social War.  The rebellious allies not only planned a formal separation from Rome, but also the re-organization of the Italian peninsula—Italia in Latin—as its own independent federation, with its own capital at Corfinium, that was renamed Italica (Fig. 4). In M. Pobjoy’s words, “both the scale of the conflict and the establishment of Italia give the strong impression of a serious attempt at complete separation from Roman authority, and offer good grounds for disbelieving the predominant ancient version of the aims of the rebels” (p. 192).  If, with F. Carlà-Unhink, we are to believe that the creation of a common Italic identity “was a ‘top-down’ process, initiated and consequently brought forward by the Romans” (p. 293), certainly in the course of the Social War this common identity seems to have established itself and the Italic community (at least part of it) shows a clear will to get rid of the creator of that identity, which is Rome itself.

The denomination and the types of the coin presented in Fig. 1 show the aforementioned tension between the necessity of complying to what A. Burnett defines as “Rome’s virtual monopoly of the currency of the whole Italian peninsula” (p. 125) and the longing for an Italic, distinctly non-Roman, identity. First of all, this coin—as most of the coins issued by the socii—is a denarius. Since its introduction in 211 BC, this denomination supplanted any other silver denomination in the Italian peninsula, so the socii found themselves in the awkward position of issuing anti-Roman denarii, i.e., battling against Rome while recognizing that the Roman monetary system was the only one in existence in the peninsula. This is further confirmed by the fact that the denarii of the socii and the ones issued by Rome circulated together for decades after the end of the hostilities.  

Figure 5. ANS 1992.1.2.

The types adopted in the coin represented in Fig. 1 are also reminiscent of previous Roman emissions. On the obverse of this coin, Italy is personified and represented with her head crowned in laurel, in a way that recalls Roma’s portrait on a denarius issued by Mn. Aemilius Lepidus in 114/113 BC (RRC 291/1) (Fig. 5). Moreover, the legend ITALIA is in Latin, the only language common to all the rebels. However, Oscan language will become prevalent in the later years of the rebellion, after the defection of the non-Oscan speaking Umbrian and Etruscans from the rebellion in 90 BC (Figs. 6–7).

Figure 6. ANS 1967.153.19.
Figure 7. ANS 1944.100.873.

The representation on the reverse of the coin in Fig. 1 also presents motives of great interest. As A. Campana rightly points out (p. 75), the scene depicted is one of coniuratio, or oath-taking. The figure at the center of scene is a Fetial priest, a sacerdos fetialis, who is presiding to the consecration of the alliance between the Italian people. The Fetials were a college of Roman priests who acted as the guardians of the public faith. It was their duty, when any dispute arose with a foreign state, to demand satisfaction, to determine the circumstances under which hostilities might be commenced and to perform the various religious rites related the solemn declaration of war (Livy 36.3.18). In this case, the ritual referred to on the reverse of this coin is the sacrificial one, during which the head of the Fetials, the pater patratus, cursed the enemies and anybody who would have seceded from the coniuratio and evoked for them a death similar to the one of the sacrificed pig (caesa porca, Livy 1.24) Once again, the rebels were partaking in a ritual they shared with their Roman enemies. Moreover, the likely model for the scene depicted on the reverse is, represented by a gold stater with the oath-scene, issued in the course of the Second Punic War (RRC 29/1) (Fig. 8).

Figure 8. ANS 1944.100.51.

In the case of the Roman stater, the scene is inspired by the treaty between Roman and Latins, respectively represented by Aeneas and Latinus. The same scene of oath-taking is presented on the obverse of two other denarii issued by the rebel leader C. Papius Mutilus after 90 BC (Figs. 9–10).

Figure 9. ANS 1944.100.876.

While quite certainly inspired by the Roman “oath stater”, the scene depicted on the reverse of Fig. 1 represents a reversal of its model. While the oath-taking stater celebrated the peace between Romans and Latins, one of the Italic people, the denarius issued in 90 BC focuses on the end of that peace and on the commencement of a rightful war between Romans and Italic people. The rightfulness of this war is signaled by the presence of the pater patratus, who could only approve of bellum iustum, a justified war.

Figure 10. ANS 1967.153.18.

While expertly navigating the Roman monetary system from the metrological and iconographical point of view, the socii showed that they shared their religious tradition with the Romans.  While rebelling from Rome, they showed themselves tightly bound to it. Actually, their common identity as Italics could only be maintained while fighting against Rome, the power that in first place made them a nation. In A. Burnett’s words (p. 167):  

. . . the Italians were trying to create some sort of common identity for themselves. This identity, it seems, grew out of a category ‘of Italians’ created by the Romans, a categorization to which the Italians were objecting in terms of its political and institutional implications, but which nevertheless capable of being adopted by them. Italia as a concept was being fought over as hotly as the land itself.

The coin analyzed today is thus a perfect example of the tension between the longing for a common identity independent of Rome and the acknowledgement that the very same common identity was deeply merged in Roman-ness.