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De Peltae

My coin of interest today is a Roman Republican denarius from 103BC. The first one shown here was little used and well preserved from the day it was minted. The scrape that removed the nose of Mars is from the day the coin was minted.

Roman Republic, Q. Minucius Thermus M. f., AR Denarius, Rome, 103 BC

Obv: Helmeted head of Mars to left

Rev: Two warriors in combat, one on left protecting a fallen comrade; Q•THERM•MF (ligate) in exergue

Ref: Crawford 319/1; BMCRR Italy 653-6; RSC Minucia 19.


Ancient coins don't all come in MS-70 (perfect mint state, with no flaws, scratches, or wear visible under 5x magnification).


This next version of the same coin type looks like all of its 2100+ years - some interesting coloring, a little de-lamination on the left cheek of Mars, some light roughness on the reverse, the metal overall looks brittle and crystalized, even a little light encrustation on the obverse. All told, it is also a coin that I found attractive with a high relief reverse and expressive portrait on the obverse.

The moneyer's ancestor of the same name, Quintus Minucius Q. f. L. n. Thermus, was elected consul in 193 and assigned Liguria as his province. He was victorious over the Ligurians and ramained in Liguria for 191–190.


In 1845, C. Cavedoni wrote in "Di alcune medaglie di famiglie romane," Bullettino dell'Instituto di Corrispondenza Archeologica, in 1845, on pages 184-185 about this coin:

"Of the two fighters, on each side of the Roman citizen on the ground, the Roman seems to me to be the one on the left. His opponent holds a clipeus (shield) very similar to the Thracian pelta (shield) (See: Xenoph. Anab. VII.4, Pollux, I, 134: Varrò, Lingua Latina VII.43 : Eurip. Alcest. v. 498. cf. Trésor de Glypt. B. rèi. du Parthenon, Pl. XIV).

We learn from Livy that Q. Mìnucio Termo, who had defeated the Ligurians and triumphed over Hispania, was sent as a legate to Asia, and on his return was mortally wounded in a conflict with the Thracian robbers, who attacked the army of Gnaeus Manlius in year 566 of Rome (Livius XXXVIII, 44, 46, 49)

"In eo proelio cum et impedimentorum et calonum pars et milites aliquot, cum passim toto prope saltu pugnaretur, cecidissent, plurimum Q. Minuci Thermi morte damni est acceptum, fortis ac strenui viri."

"In that battle, since it was fought at various points virtually all along the defile, some of the baggage and some camp followers were lost as well as a number of fighting men, but the most serious setback was the death of Quintus Minucius Thermus, a man of great courage and energy.

However, he did not die on the spot, since Gn. Manlius in his defense said that it was not in his power to prevent neither the wound, nor the death of the brave and energetic man, Q. Minucius. Fortunately the match of the name and the Thracian armor of the adversary leads me to find that this coin represents the saved citizen, otherwise I could have searched in a vain through historical memories of the Minncii Termi. It can therefore be assumed that the brave Q. Minucius Termus suffered a mortal wound while he saved the life of the citizen who fell to the ground at the feet of the two combatants. If not long after, he died from the wound he received, this does not detract from the glory of the heroic deed; just as Scipio Africanus in order to save his father in the battle of Trebbia, sustained a serious wound, and would not have been less noble and glorious had the wound subsequently resulted in his death."

The notes linked in Cavedoni's paragraphs are references to various descriptions of Thacian shields. For example Xenophon describing Thacian "light shields" and "Thracians took to flight, swinging their shields around behind them, as was their custom" and Varro:

 "The ancilia ‘shields’ were named from their ambecisus ‘incision on both sides,’ because these arms were incised at right and left like those of the Thracians."

and the paragraph from Pollux Onomasticon naming parts of weapons. I don't fully appreciae the point of these citations, other than highlighting that Cavedoni did some homework on shields.

Trésor de Glypt. B. rèi. du Parthenon, Pl. XIV In this scene from the Parthenon depicting a battle with Amazons. We see on the ground the type of shield that is associated with the Thracian peltast, a shield, or pelta (crescent shield), from which they take their name.


It is easier today to search for quotes and references to πέλτη (pelte), Θρᾷκες (Thrākes), πελταστής (peltastēs) and other synonyms, when you have access to a Loeb Library of Classical literature and internet search engines. I can add a reference to a Thracian with a "light shield on his shoulder flashed with a boss of beaten gold" Euripides, Rhesus 305.


And this quote from Silius Italicus, Punica :

"Even so the band of Amazons in Thrace traverse Rhodope and the high forests on the stony ridges of Mount Pangaeus, and tire out the Hebrus by their speed; they spurn all suitors—the Cicones and Getae, the royal house of Rhesus, and the Bistones [a Thracian people] with their crescent-shaped shields."

Here's an image of a Thracian fighter from the 5th century showing a classic pelta.

"Attic red-figure drinking cup depicting a warrior (“peltast”) wearing a Thracian cloak (decorated with stripes and geometric patterns), a cap with flaps, and boots while holding both a crescent shield (pelta) decorated some sort of animal faces and a spear (ca. 470-460 BCE; now in the Sackler Museum, Harvard, inv. 1959.219):"


Paully's Realencyclopädie for the entry RE: Minucius 65 is hesitant on the association of the reverse : "Minucius's death in the fight against the Thracians was glorified a hundred years later by his descendant of the same name No. 66 on his denarii, if the barbarian depicted here, from whom a Roman warrior is protecting his fallen companion, is really characterized by the horn decorations on his helmet as a Thracian."


Crawford is more dismissive of the precise alignment to this fight:

"The types doubtless allude to an act of martial heroism of one the moneyer's ancestors - it is idle (pace C Cavedoni Bulletino 1843, 184) to speculate which."

Crawford could be a more specific about his objection to Cavedoni's argument, which I find compelling. Grueber, 1910, also seems to support this identification of the scene:

"The representation of this combat between two warriors is probably a record of the brave deeds of the moneyer’s ancestor and namesake, who was consul B.C. 193, and who was killed in the war in Thrace B.C. 188. During his consulship and the two following years, Q. Minucius Thermus was engaged in a severe contest with the Ligurians, when he is said to have performed many brave deeds, especially on the occasion of a night attack on his camp. Babelon (vol. ii., p. 235) has identified the head on the obverse as of Roma, but it is probably of Mars, being very similar to that on coins of L. Julius Caesar struck at Rome in the previous year (see vol. i., p. 209), and on those of C. Poblicius Malleolus (see below, p. 307). The head of Mars would be more appropriate to the reverse type than Roma. There is a restoration of this denarius by Trajan, and specimens were countermarked by Vespasian. The denarius is the only denomination known of this issue."
-Grueber, H.A., Coins of the Roman Republic in the British Museum: volumes 2. London, 1910 p.302.

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