M. Aemilius Scaurus & M. Caecilius Metellus chosen as consuls in 638 AUC (ab urbe condita or 'from the founding of the City'). Image from Romanae et Graecae antiqvitatis monvmenta, e priscis nvmismatibvs published in 1644.
These notes are assembled to answer a few common questions about a coin, including:
- who minted it?
- where was it minted?
- what is the history of the time minted?
- what history is referenced on the coin?
To get the answers: relying on Crawford and the wikipedia don't give easy answers, so these notes try to pull the pieces together. A few references illustrated in this note are well used sources and starting points, then jstor articles, archive.org and other sources fill in the gaps or can surface more interesting detail or controversy. Chasing down original sources and epigraphic evidence helps to answer: "how do we know this"- the notes make it easier to get to these sources (embedded in the notes and linked for more context).
where was this coin minted?
Geography for this coin is simple: Rome. provincial coins and moving mints certainly bring a bit more unknown geography.
who minted this coin?
Crawford Roman Republican Coinage (RRC)
Crawford, Michael H. 1974. Roman Republican Coinage. Cambridge University Press.
For today's denarius, Crawford tells us that the moneyer is M. Caecilius Q.f. Q.n. Metellus, who was the consul in 115. His father and grandfather both named Quintus Metellus. The shield and laurel wreath on the denarius a reference to his father's victory in Macedonia in 148 BC.
Paulys Realencyclopädie (RE)
If we look up the RE reference in Crawford (RE Caecilius 77) and translate the German, we learn a bit more.
The moneyer is the third son of Metellus Macedonicus. He was consul in the year of his father's death AUC 639 = AD 115, and he administered Sardinia and Corsica up to the year AUC 643 = AD 111.
He triumphed at the same time as his youngest brother C. Metellus Caprarius because of his successes in Sardinia
"When Caius Caecilius Metellus and Cnaeus Carbo were consuls, the Metelli, two brothers, had triumphs on the same day, one for Sardinia, the other for Thrace; and news was brought to Rome, that the Cimbri had crossed from Gaul into Italy." -Eutropius 25.2
here's the denarius of his younger brother:
C. Caecilius Metellus Caprarius, 125 BC, AR Denarius (18mm, 3.8g), Rome
Obv: ROMA, helmeted head of Roma right.
Rev: C METELLVS, Jupiter driving biga of elephants left; flying Victory above (off flan)
Ref: Crawford 269/1.
Act. Tr.Fasti Triumphales preserves the dates of triumphs in stone (illustrated here)
M.CAECILIVS.Q.F.Q.N MET[ellus for the Y]ear DCXLII (642 AUC), Consul, EX (on account of victories in) SARDINIa, on the Ides of Quintilis (July 15th, 111 BC)
[C. Caeci]LIVS.Q.F.Q.N. [Metellus Caprar(ius)] in the Year DCXLII (642 AUC), Proconsul, (on account of victories in) Thrace, on the Ides of Quintilis (July 15th, 111 BC)
"About the same time the two brothers Marcus and Gaius Metellus celebrated their triumphs on one and the same day."
Possibly one of these Metelli brothers is the one who rebuilt the temple of Magna Mater that burned down in 111 BC, however it could be by the same logic L. Metellus Delmaticus n. 91. This is supported with a reference to Ovid Fasti Book IV line 348: "The name of the founder of the temple [of Magna Mater] has not survived; now it is Augustus [restored in AD 3]; formerly it was Metellus [rebuilt after fire in 111 BC] ."
The wikipedia adds a bit more to the picture: our moneyer was a Roman senator and general. The Caecilli Metelli were on the the most prominent families in the mid to late Roman republic. Marcus was the third of four sons & a triumvir monetalis (one of three) in 127 BC, and was consul in 115 BC with Marcus Aemilius Scaurus.
He would have held his praetorship by 118 BC, in accordance with the law from 180 BC, Lex Villia Annalis, that defined the age requirements for the cursus honorem.
After his consulship he was proconsular governor of Corsica and Sardinia, until 111 BC. He celebrated a triumph July 15th, 111 BC for supressing an insurrection on the island of Sardinia (the same day his brother celebrated a triumph for victories in Thrace).
Another useful reference: Broughton, T. Robert S. (1951). The Magistrates of the Roman Republic Volume II: 509 B.C.–100 B.C. New York: American Philological Association. pp. 527, 531, 541.
page 527: praetors from 118 BC
page 531: consuls from 115 BC
page 541: promagistrates from 111 BC
Here is the coin, one of the nicest I have seen of this type.
M. Caecilius Metellus Q.f. Q.n., AR denarius, 127 BC, Rome, 3.91g
Obv: Head of Roma right, without star on flap of helmet, ROMA downwards behind, X below chin.
Rev: M. METELLVS Q. F., around Macedonian shield on which elephant's head, all in laurel-wreath
Ref: Crawford 263/1b
what is the history of the time when this coin was minted?
While we know a bit about the moneyer and his move up the cursus honorem - there is little revealed about the time in which it was minted, or the story that is referenced by the elephant shield. For this we have to dig a bit more. The wikipedia reveals only that this year was "the year of consuls Ravilla and Cinna".
Attalus.org gives us a bit more information by searching Greek and Latin texts.
This coin was minted in the prelude to the Social Wars (90-89 BC) and the rise of social unrest and political violence in Rome. It was the time of the Gracchi brothers, after the death of Tiberius in 133 BC and before his brother would die similarly for his efforts in social reforms. Cicero tells of Tiberius coming to Gaius in a dream (echoed by Valerius Maximus 7.6).
"According to this same Coelius, Gaius Gracchus told many persons that his brother Tiberius came to him in a dream when he was a candidate for the quaestorship and said: 'However much you may try to defer your fate, nevertheless you must die the same death that I did.' This happened before Gaius was tribune of the people, and Coelius writes that he himself heard it from Gaius who had repeated it to many others. Can you find anything better authenticated than this dream?" -Cicero, On Divination, 56
Another important event at this time was the expansion of Rome in Asia minor. The King of Pergamum, Attalus III, died and bequeathed his kingdom to the Romans in 133 BC. Eventually Romans would clash with Mithridates of Pontus who saw himself as the protector of Asia minor from Roman meddling and exploitation.
what history is referenced on this coin?
Roman republican denarii became the political campaign advertising or social media of their time for moneyers and their families. On this coin the moneyer advertises his fathers victory over Macedonia. Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus, father of the moneyer,
The pretender in Macedonia
"Andriscus, a man of the lowest origin, had seized the throne and begun war at the same moment. It is uncertain whether he was a freeman or a slave, but he had certainly served as a hired labourer; however, being popularly called Philip from his resemblance to Philip, son of Perses, he supplied a royal presence, a royal name and a royal spirit as well." -Florus, Epitome, II.XXX
The pretender gets he upper hand
"In the meantime a certain Pseudo-Philip took up arms in Macedonia, and defeated Publius Juvencius, a Roman praetor, who had been sent out against him, with a terrible slaughter. After him Quintus Caecilius Metellus was sent by the Romans as general against this pretended Philip, and, having slain twenty-five thousand of his soldiers, recovered Macedonia, and took the impostor himself prisoner" -Eutropius, Roman History, III.XIII
Caecilius Metellus defeats the false Philip
Pseudo-Philip was a commoner and a degenerate man, who used his similar appearance to Philip to persuade people that he was his son and led the Macedonians in war, but as disorder broke out, he was captured and sent under guard to Rome, where he escaped from custody, roused up Macedonia again and took the war to Thrace. In the citadel of the kingdom, dressed in a military cloak, he gave legal judgements. Soon he was defeated by Caecilius Metellus in a massive battle and fled into Thrace, but he was betrayed by the kings and taken away for the triumph. -Ampelius 16.5
"After the false Philip had massacred praetor Publius Juventius with his army in Macedonia, he was defeated and captured by Quintus Caecilius, and Macedonia was subdued again." Livy, Periochae, 50.14
Caecilius Metellus chases away Alexander, another pretender
"Andriscus fled to Thrace and after assembling a force gave battle to Metellus as the latter was advancing on his way. His vanguard, however, was routed, whereupon his allied force was scattered; and Andriscus himself was betrayed by Byzes, a Thracian prince, and punished. One Alexander also had declared himself to be a son of Perseus, and collecting a band of warriors, had occupied the country round about the river which is called the Mestus but now he took to flight, and Metellus pursued him as far as Dardania." -Cassius Dio, XXI p385
This is the story that is celebrated on this coin by the son of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus. The elephant's head on the shield recalls an earlier victory of L. Caecilius Metellus over Hasdrubal of Carthage at Panourmus in 250 BC. This Caecilius Metellus captured Hasdrubal's elephants in the First Punic War with Carthage (264-241 BC).
Polybius tells the story of how the Carthaginian elephants in the heat of battle created a distraction for the Carthaginians giving L. Caecillius Metellus an opportunity to gain the victory.
"Caecilius, on seeing this, made a vigorous sally and falling on the flank of the enemy, who were now in disorder, with his own fresh and well-ordered troops caused a severe rout among them, killing many and compelling the rest to quit the field in headlong flight. He took ten elephants with their mahouts, and after the battle, having penned up the others who had thrown their mahouts, he captured them all." - Polybius 1.40
More on this in last year's note on Pyrrhic Victories and Battle Elephants. The elephant was an enduring symbol for this family into the civil wars at the end of the republic as illustrated by this coin from Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio minted with a traveling mint in Africa circa 47- Spring 46 BC. Jupiter is on the obverse.