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Attis & Cybele

Andrea Mantegna, "The Introduction of the Cult of Cybele at Rome", painted 1505–1506, Glue tempera on canvas, National Gallery, London, Public domain image via wikimedia commons.

This coin stands out for the biga of lions (chariot drawn by 2 lions) and the unusually deep and jagged indent on the obverse, "al marco" adjustment.The god on the obverse, Attis or Atys, is less familiar than his consort on the reverse, Cybele.

Control Marks & Dies

No control mark in this set is associated with more than one set of dies, so in this case all of the examples (including this one from Richard Schaefer’s archive of Roman Republican Dies) are die matches for my coin.

Original image created by OpenAI's DALL·E 3

"al marco"

Here's my coin which has an interesting feature on the obverse: this coin showa very clearly the marks of the flan being adjusted by gouging with a scorper (a sharp chisel-like tool with a curved cutting end, used to scoop) and the lunate "judder" marks of the chisel blade reversed to cut free the scraping.

This technique was first described and published by Clive Stannard in "The adjustment al marco of the weight of Roman Republican denarii" by Clive Stannard in Metallurgy in Numismatics, Volume 3 (RNS Special Publication No. 24, 1993), pp. 45-70.

M. Volteius M.f., 75 BC, AR Denarius (19mm, 3.77g, 6h), Rome mint

Obv: Laureate, helmeted, and draped bust of Attis right; amphora to left

Rev: Cybele driving biga of lions right; KΓ (control mark) above

Ref: Crawford 385/4; Sydenham 777; Volteia 4

Browsing the examples on CRRO (Coinage of the Roman Republic Online) for Crawford 385/4 you can see a wide variety in the weights for coins from this issue that doesn't seem to correlate with wear. Was there much flan control or was there more of a desire to make sure they got enough flans from a pound of sliver?

Stannard describes "al pezzo" and "al marco" as two ways to get weights right for a batch of coins. "al pezzo" the more labor intensive effort to get every flan to the right weight. "al marco" the easier approach to weigh a pile of flans and pull out the heaviest flans, adjust their weight and then toss back onto the pile until the weight of the whole averages out to the right weight. In the second method, which is the one that Stannard suggests for Roman Republican denarii, you end up with the right average weight with heavier and lighter coins overall.

The flan, after the adjustment, was struck with the dies. Sometimes the leaves little mark of the adjustment (coin above on the far extreme of "visible gouges").

Here is another example from Stannard's paper that he calls out as an example of the deepest cut.

The 385 Series

This coin from a set of 5 coins issued by M. Volteius that refer to the principal agonistic festivals celebrated annually in Rome. This coin refers to the Ludi Cereales or Cerialia, held each year for a week in mid-April.

The imagery of the Crawford 385 coins, according to Crawford, advertises the largess that would have been provided by the moneyer had he been elected aedile. (for other coins in this series see: Heroes, Gods, and Wild Boars, 385/3 Hoards and Proserpina, 385/3 Ceres and Her Serpent Chariot. 385/1 had Jupiter and the temple on the Capitoline Hill and 385/5 has Apollo and a Tripod.

Here is another example with winged thunderbolt control mark on the obverse (1053 in Schaefer's archive) and the reverse control can be determined from die matches as ΞB (r55 in Schaefer's archive):

Who is Attis on the obverse of this coin 385/4?

There are multiple stories of Attis, consort of Cybele listed on

Diodorus Siculus tells of Attis being killed by Cybele's parents, a pestilence falling on Phrygia as a consequence, and ultimately the body of Attis being properly buried and Cybelê honored as a goddess.

"Now Cybelê, the myth records, having arrived at full womanhood, came to love a certain native youth who was known as Attis, but at a later time received the appellation Papas;​ with him she consorted secretly and became with child, and at about the same time her parents recognized her as their child."
-Diodorus Siculus, 58.4 

Ovid in his Fasti tells of Attis committing a life of chastity to Cybele and violating his promise in a meeting with the nymph Sagaritis, then going mad:

"Attis went mad, and, imagining that the roof of the chamber was falling in, he fled and ran for the top of Mount Dindymus. And he kept crying, at one moment. ‘Take away the torches!’ at another, ‘Remove the whips!’ And of the swore that the Stygian goddesses were visible to him. He mangled, too, his body with a sharp stone, and trailed his long hair in the filthy dust; and his cry was, ‘I have deserved it! With my blood I pay the penalty that is my due. Ah, perish the parts that were my ruin! Ah, let them perish,’ still he said. He retrenched the burden of his groin, and of a sudden was bereft of every sign of manhood. His madness set an example, and still his unmanly ministers cut their vile members while they toss their hair.”
-Ovid, Fasti IV.221

Violets were said to have sprung from the drops of Attis' blood. After his death, Attis was changed by Cybele into a pine-tree, which was her sacred tree. And in the cult of Cybele, her priests were eunuchs.

Cybele was brought to Rome at the end of the second punic War (~204 BC) where she became known as Magna Mater (Great Mother). The rituals celebrating Cybele included each year, March 22nd, the bringing of a sacred pine tree into the temple of Cybele.

"The state was at this time suddenly occupied with a question of a religious nature, in consequence of the discovery of a prediction in the Sibylline books, which had been inspected on account of there having been so many showers of stones this year. [5] It ran thus: “Whensoever a foreign enemy should bring war into the land of Italy, he may be driven out of Italy and conquered, if the Idaean Mother (Cybele) should be brought from Pessinus to Rome.”"
-Livy, History of Rome 29.10
"They came to Pergamus to the king, who received the ambassadors graciously, and conducted them to Pessinus in Phrygia, and putting into their hands a sacred stone, which the inhabitants said was the mother of the gods, bid them convey it to Rome."
-Livy, History of Rome 29.11
"The matrons, passing her from one to another in orderly succession, conveyed the goddess into the temple of Victory, in the Palatium, on the day before the ides of April, which was made a festival, while the whole city poured out to meet her; and, placing censers before their doors, on the way by which she was conveyed in procession, kindled frankincense, and prayed that she would enter the city of Rome willingly and propitiously."
-Livy, History of Rome 29.14

Bringing Cybele to Rome (illustrated by Montagne in the opening illustration) was credited with turning the war in favor of the Romans.


There is another coin that comes to mind when I think "Ceralia". This one boasting of Aedile Memmius who made the first Ceralia. (Hayne, Léonie. “The First Ceralia.” L’Antiquité Classique, vol. 60, 1991, pp. 130–38). However, this is a story for another day.

Roman Republican, C. Memmius C.f., 56 BC, Denarius, Rome

Obv: C MEMMI C F / QVIRINVS, laureate head of Quirinus right

Rev: MEMMIVS AED CERIALIA PREIMVS FECIT, Ceres seated right on chair, holding torch and three grain ears; to right, serpent coiled right

Ref: Crawford 427/2.

Note: The moneyer is the plebeian tribune of 54 BC (Wiseman, T. P. “Lucius Memmius and His Family.” The Classical Quarterly, vol. 17, no. 1, 1967, pp. 164–67. see also followup note on the translation of Brutus 304-05 by Hamilton, J. R. “Cicero, Brutus 304-5.The Classical Quarterly, vol. 18, no. 2, 1968, pp. 412–13.)

References, in addition to those cited in-line:

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