Ceres and Her Serpent Chariot
Updated: Jan 3
Image of Ceres giving her chariot to Triptolemus published in Les Metamorphoses d'Ouide,1621 With this coin, I am getting back to Roman republican denarii. Thanks the Schaefer die study, I am able to, with certainty, identify the off-flan device on my coin. My coin, from moneyer M. Volteius, is one of 5 in a series referring to the 5 festivals : Ludi Romani, Plebeii, Cereales, Megalenses, and Apollinares. This coin is the one for the Ludi Cereales - the Games of Ceres. For a book with a depth of information on Ceres see Barbett Spaeth "The Roman Goddess Ceres" which describes the early evidence of Ceres in Rome:
At Rome itself, there is evidence for the worship or Ceres as far back as the regal period, traditionally dated to 753-509 B.C. First, the festival of the goddess, the Cerialia, is listed in capital letters in the pre-Julian calendar of the Roman Republic. [skip] Ceralia is celebrated on April 19 as part of a cycle of agricultural and pastoral festivals in the month of April. -Spaeth (1996) The Roman Goddess Ceres, University of Texas Press, Austin
Michael Harlan explains the obverse of coin and it's link to the Temple of Ceres, Liber and Libera at the foot of the Circus Maximus where the games of Ceres were held.
The appearance on the coin's obverse of the Roman god Liber had no part in the Greek myth of Demeter and Kore, reminds us that the Roman rites of Ceres are not to be confused with Demeter and Kore's secret mysteries celebrated at Eleusis. - Michael Harlan, Roman Republican Moneyers 81 BCE-64 BCE
Spaeth also describes how by the time this coin was minted there was quite a bit of blurring between Greek Demeter and Ceres. The reverse shows Ceres in a biga of two snakes, as described in this verse from Ovid, of the distribution of gifts from Ceres:
"The goddess of all that is fertile (Ceres), fastened twin dragons to her chariot, curbing them with the bit, between their teeth, and was carried through the air, between heaven and earth. Reaching Eleusis, by Athens, city of Tritonian Minerva, she gave her swift chariot to Triptolemus, and ordered him to scatter the seeds she gave, partly in untilled soil, partly in fields reclaimed, after lying for a long time fallow." - Ovid Metamorphoses, Book V, 642-643.
My Ceres has her head off-flan and the device to the left was a bit ambiguous.
M. Volteius M.f., 75 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint Obv: Head of Bacchus (or Liber) right, wearing ivy wreath Rev: Ceres, standing in chariot, holding lighted torches, driving biga of snakes right; pileus to left Ref: Crawford 385/3; Sydenham 776; Volteia 3
With the help of the Schaefer dies study I was able to reconstruct the missing device ("pileus") of my reverse die (#19) in Schaefer:
Ceres carries two torches, alluding to her search for her daughter Persephone and to the ceremony of the Ludes:
"Lofty Etna lies over the mouth of huge Typhoeus, whose fiery breath sets the ground aglow. There the goddess kindled two pine-trees to serve her as a light; hence to this day a torch is given out at the rites of Ceres." - Ovid, Fasti, IV.498-499
There is a similar coin RRC 449/3a from C. Vibius Pansa in 45 BC and one from C. Memius, RRC 427/2, who claimed that his ancestor was the first to celebrate the games of Ceres ~211 BC. Here's one other Roman republican coin of Ceres:
L. Furius Cn.f. Brocchus, 63 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint Obv: Draped bust of Ceres right, wearing wreath of grain ears; stalk of grain to left, barley grain to right, III–VIR across field, BROCCHI below Rev: Curule chair between two fasces; above, L • FVRI/CN • F in two lines Ref: Crawford 414/1; Sydenham 902; Furia 23