Tag Archives: Vercingetorix

The Power of a (Roman) Name: Celtic Coins in the Name of Aulus Hirtius

Figure 1. Treveri in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 45 BC. Bronze, 18.5 mm., 3.56 g. Elephant advancing r., trampling on horned serpent; in exergue, A HIRTIVS. / Simpulum, sprinkler, axe, and apex. Depeyrot, NC VII, 102. De la Tour 9235. Scheers 1977 no. 162. RPC 501. Ex Naville Numismatics 28 (2017), 140.
Figure 1. Treveri in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 45 BC. Bronze, 18.5 mm., 3.56 g. Elephant advancing r., trampling on horned serpent; in exergue, A HIRTIVS. / Simpulum, sprinkler, axe, and apex. Depeyrot, NC VII, 102. De la Tour 9235. Scheers 1977 no. 162. RPC 501. Ex Naville Numismatics 28 (2017), 140.

In 45 BC Aulus Hirtius, the governor of Transalpine Gaul (modern France), issued the coin here presented in Figure 1. This coin was produced in the territory of the Treveri, a tribe dwelling in the northeast corners of modern France (Fig. 2). The mint responsible for this coinage was very likely located in the oppidum of Titelberg, in modern Luxembourg, where more than 20% of the specimens have been found (Fig. 3).

Figure 2. Gaul at the time of Julius Caesar. Courtesy of the Department of History, United States Military Academy.
Figure 2. Gaul at the time of Julius Caesar. Courtesy of the Department of History, United States Military Academy.
Figure 3. The Celtic settlement (oppidum) of Titelberg in modern Luxembourg.
Figure 3. The Celtic settlement (oppidum) of Titelberg in modern Luxembourg.

Aulus Hirtius had spent most of the previous decade in Gaul, since he had been first a legate of Julius Caesar’s starting around 54 BC and served as an envoy to Pompey in 50. A staunch Caesarian, he is said to have dined with Caesar, Sallust, Oppius, Balbus, and Sulpicius Rufus on the night after Caesar’s famous crossing over the Rubicon river into Italy on 10 January 49 BC (Fig. 4).[1]

Figure 4. Caesar crossing the Rubicon depicted in the carton for murals for the Panthéon in Paris by French academic painter Paul Chenavard (1850) on display in the Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon) in Lyon, France.
Figure 4. Caesar crossing the Rubicon depicted in the carton for murals for the Panthéon in Paris by French academic painter Paul Chenavard (1850) on display in the Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon) in Lyon, France.

After the beginning of the Civil War between Caesar and Pompey he served in Spain, probably as a tribune. According to Suetonius (which should not always be trusted), he had the chance to “meet” in quite an informal way the young Octavian, who was only 16 at the time.[2] In 43 BC, he died, together with his consular colleague Pansa, in the battle of Mutina in 43 BC, fought between the consular armies loyal to the Senate, which were supported by the legions of Caesar Octavian (later Augustus), and the Caesarian legions of Mark Antony.[3] The death of the two consuls of 43 BC, whose tombs were laid side-by-side in the Campus Martius marked for most contemporaries the end of the Roman Republic (Fig. 5).

Figure 5. Tombstone of the consul Aulus Hirtius from Roma, Palazzo della Cancelleria. Text: CIL 6. 40899. A(ulus) Hirtius / A(uli) f(ilius). It was found under the northwestern corner of Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome in 1938, now in Palazzo della Cancelleria (Inv. No. 39016).
Figure 5. Tombstone of the consul Aulus Hirtius from Roma, Palazzo della Cancelleria. Text: CIL 6. 40899. A(ulus) Hirtius / A(uli) f(ilius). It was found under the northwestern corner of Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome in 1938, now in Palazzo della Cancelleria (Inv. No. 39016).

While being a political figure of a certain magnitude, he also completed Caesar’s narrative on his wars in Gaul, the Commentarii De Bello Gallico. Specifically, Aulus wrote about Caesar’s Gallic campaigns in 51–50 BC, the momentous years between the final submission of the Gallic League and of its general Vercingetorix in the battle of Alesia (52 BC) and the beginning of the Civil Wars in January 49 BC (Figs. 6–7).[4]

Figure 6. Lionel Royer, Vercingetorix throwing down his weapons at the feet of Julius Caesar (1899).
Figure 6. Lionel Royer, Vercingetorix throwing down his weapons at the feet of Julius Caesar (1899).
Figure 7. R. Goscinny – A. Uderzo, Vercingetorix after the Battle of Alesia in Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield (1967). Original French title: Le bouclier arverne, "The Arvernian Shield."
Figure 7. R. Goscinny – A. Uderzo, Vercingetorix after the Battle of Alesia in Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield (1967). Original French title: Le bouclier arverne, “The Arvernian Shield.”

The coin in Figure 1 is extremely significant because it presents the same imagery of a coin issued by Julius Caesar. In 49 BC, right at the beginning of the Civil War, Caesar struck a coin series in his name showing an elephant trampling a snake on one side, and the emblems of his position as chief priest of Rome on the other (Fig. 8).

Figure 8. Mint moving with Caesar, Julius Caesar (49–48 BC). Silver denarius. 3.85 g. CAESAR - Elephant right, trampling dragon. Border of dots. / Pontifical emblems - culullus, aspergillum, axe, and apex. Border of dots. RRC 443/1. ANS 2004.14.71.
Figure 8. Mint moving with Caesar, Julius Caesar (49–48 BC). Silver denarius. 3.85 g. CAESAR – Elephant right, trampling dragon. Border of dots. / Pontifical emblems—culullus, aspergillum, axe, and apex. Border of dots. RRC 443/1. ANS 2004.14.71.

While there is no general scholarly agreement on the meaning of the elephant and snake on the obverse of Caesar’s coin, it is certain that the coin was produced in unprecedented volumes in order to finance Caesar’s war effort. The coin issued for Hirtius four years later in Transalpine Gaul, the province conquered by Caesar’s legions one decade before, shows that the Caesarian types used in RRC 443/1 were remembered and thus could be used by Hirtius to underline his personal allegiance to Caesar and the legitimacy of Roman power over the province. This coin is all the more significant because its style shows that the die-cutters were certainly Celtic. The assimilation of Caesar’s imagery four years after the original Caesarian denarius issue was such, that the types elephant/ sacerdotal emblems could be used (and recognized) on the local production of bronze coins. As perfectly exemplified by Aulus Hirtius’ coin of 45 BC, Roman coins were intended as “monuments in miniature”, a privileged means to transmit ideology, not only paying devices.

Moreover, the name of Aulus Hirtius is also present on the coinage issued by another Gallic tribe, the Remi (Figs. 9–11). While scholars still disagree on the exact date of production of these coins, they could be safely dated to the years 45–25 BC. This means that Aulus Hirtius was not propraetor of the Gallic province anymore, so these coins were not issued under his authority, but only bore his name. On these coins, the names of the local chieftains ΑΘΙΙDIAC (ATESIOS on previous coins), INIICRITVRIX and CORIARCOS are paired to the name of A.HIRTIUS IMP(erator). Tellingly, the coins bear on the obverse the names of the local chieftains and on the reverse, the name of the Roman title closest to the chieftain authority, the IMPERATOR (the commander-in-chief). Local and Roman authorities were thus at the same level, deriving their power one from the other. Or at least this is what these coins are aiming to show. Years after the end of Aulus Hirtius’s propraetorship on Gallia, his name was still used to legitimate local power.

Figure 9. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 14.7 mm, 3.04 g. ΑΘΙΙDIAC, draped male bust right wearing torques/ A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8086. RPC I 503a. Scheers 1977, no.153, class I. ANS 2015.20.401 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.
Figure 9. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 14.7 mm, 3.04 g. ΑΘΙΙDIAC, draped male bust right wearing torques/ A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8086. RPC I 503a. Scheers 1977, no.153, class I. ANS 2015.20.401 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.
Figure 10. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 16 mm, 3.23 g. INIICRITVRIX, draped male bust right wearing torques/ A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8092. RPC I 503b. Scheers 1977 no. 153 Class II. Ex Künker 312(2018), 1865.
Figure 10. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 16 mm, 3.23 g. INIICRITVRIX, draped male bust right wearing torques/ A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8092. RPC I 503b. Scheers 1977 no. 153 Class II. Ex Künker 312(2018), 1865.

Figure 11. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 16.2 mm, 3.33 g. CORIΛ[RCOS], draped male bust right wearing torques / A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8094. RPC I 503c. Scheers 1977, no.153, class III. ANS 2015.20.404 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.
Figure 11. Remi in the name of A. Hirtius, ca. 50–30 BC. Bronze, 16.2 mm, 3.33 g. CORIΛ[RCOS], draped male bust right wearing torques / A • HIR • IMP, lion standing right on ground line. De la Tour 8094. RPC I 503c. Scheers 1977, no.153, class III. ANS 2015.20.404 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.
This is not the only instance of a name of a Roman magistrate “frozen in time” on coins issued in Roman provinces. A few years earlier (90–65 BC), the province of Macedonia (now modern Greece) had issued for almost forty years tetradrachms in the name of Aesillas, a Roman quaestor who governed the province in the 90s BC (Fig. 12). While so completely different in style and provenience, the coins issued in the name of Aulus Hirtius in Gaul and the ones issued in the name of Aesillas in Macedonia show that Roman power, even in the form of a governor’s name frozen in time, was perceived as a way to legitimize local coinage already in the mid-first century BC, well before the appearance of the effigy of the Emperors on local coinage.

Figure 12. Coinage in the name of Aesillas, ca. 70–65 BC. Silver tetradrachm. 27 mm, 16.47 g. CÆ. PR. ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΩΝ, diademed head of Alexander; Θ. / AESILLAS; below, Q . Money chest, club, and chair; all within wreath. AMNG III, p. 69, n. 214. Fisher 1985, p.82 (O3). de Callataÿ 1996, p. 136, D93. Bauslaugh 2000, p. 63, Group VII (O86/R310, this coin). HGC 1112. ANS 2015.20. 2178 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.
Figure 12. Coinage in the name of Aesillas, ca. 70–65 BC. Silver tetradrachm. 27 mm, 16.47 g.
CÆ. PR. ΜΑΚΕΔΟΝΩΝ, diademed head of Alexander; Θ. / AESILLAS; below, Q . Money chest, club, and chair; all within wreath. AMNG III, p. 69, n. 214. Fisher 1985, p.82 (O3). de Callataÿ 1996, p. 136, D93. Bauslaugh 2000, p. 63, Group VII (O86/R310, this coin). HGC 1112. ANS 2015.20. 2178 ex R. B. Witschonke Collection.

[1] Dando-Collins 2002: 65–76, esp. 67 (with bibliography). Crossing of the Rubicon: Caesar, Civil War 7; Suetonius, Life of Caesar 31–32; Lucan, Pharsalia 1.185–205.

[2] Augustus, The Deeds of the Divine Augustus 5. Aulus Hirtius in Spain: Suetonius, Augustus 68 (on the alleged relationship between the young Octavian and A. Hirtius): After sacrificing his honour to Caesar, he (Octavian) gave himself to Aulus Hirtius in Spain for 300,000 sesterces. Trans. J. C. Rolfe.

[3] Res Gestae Divi Augustus 5. Velleius 2.61. Ovid, Tristia 4.10.6. Tacitus, Annals 1.10 (with the possible allegation that Hirtius and Pansa did not simply fall in battle, but were cut down (caesis), with Octavian the main beneficiary). Tacitus, Dialogus 17 (dating the death of Cicero on the basis of the year of their consulate). Suetonius, De Rhetoribus 1 (reporting the mistaken tradition that Cicero was responsible for the rhetoric instruction of Hirtius and Pansa).

[4] Suetonius, The Deified Caesar 56: He (Caesar) left memoirs too of his deeds in the Gallic war and in the civil strife with Pompey; for the author of the Alexandrian, African, and Spanish Wars is unknown; some think it was Oppius, others Hirtius, who also supplied the final book of the Gallic War, which Caesar left unwritten. Trans. J. C. Rolfe.