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Goats, Beans and Biscotti

‘With these beans I throw I redeem me and mine.’

If you keep asking, "what evidence is there to support this?", and follow the trail of references, researching an ancient coin leads you to interesting connections, related and unrelated to the coin. With today’s coin, I didn’t expect to end up with goats, fava beans and biscotti.

Events of the Time

Let’s start with some context for the coin. In 86-85 BC, Sulla was engaged in the first war with Mithridates VI of Pontus, the siege of Athens. In Rome, Cinna was consul and Gaius Marius had returned from Africa to take his 7th consulship with Cinna. Marius and Cinna declared Sulla a public enemy. Marius died shortly afterward and was succeeded by L. Valerius Flaccus. Marcus Junius Brutus, co-conspirator in the assassination of Julius Caesar was born in 85 BC. Flaccus went to join the war to replace Sulla, and eventually was killed by Gaius Fimbria, one of his generals. In a rush to attend to affairs in Rome, Sulla made a treaty with Mithridates.

Gaius Fimbria is remembered by Cicero in this way - Quintus Scaevola had tried to reconcile Marian and Sullan factions:

“We lately had a most audacious man in this city, Caius Fimbria, a man, as is well known among all except among those who are mad themselves, utterly insane. He, when at the funeral of Caius Marius, had contrived that Quintus Scaevola, the most venerable and accomplished man in our city, should be wounded…”

After making peace with Mithridates, Sulla turned his armies against Fimbria and the latter committed suicide.

The Denarius

With this backdrop, this coin was minted in 85 BC. A particularly nice specimen, fresh, well executed dies, perfectly toned, off-center obverse with no major elements lost. Recently, I’ve found it hard to come by Roman republican coins where I am willing to pay the price. This coin a satisfying find.

Mn. Fonteius C.f., 85 BC, AR denarius, Rome mint

Obv: MN FONTEIUS C. f., Laureate head of Vejovis (or Apollo) right; Roma monogram below chin, thunderbolt below head

Rev: Infant winged Genius or Cupid seated on goat, standing right; pilei of the Dioscuri above; thyrsus with fillet in exergue; all within laurel wreath

Ref: Crawford 353/1a; Sydenham 724; Fonteia 9

The Monogram

Crawford is rarely off the mark, even though many years have passed since his first publication of Roman Republican Coinage (RRC) in 1974. However, his note on the monogram on the obverse of this coin seems off. He associates the monogram with Apollo. Instead, Roma seems to me to be a more obvious answer. The coins of L Piso Frugi seem to offer compelling support for the interpretation of Roma with the monogram, and full spelling in same position between these two variants of Crawford 340 :

This evidence is mentioned from Tyler’s 2019 paper and observed earlier by Leopold Montague in 1895. There is just enough difference between the monogram on these coins and the monogram on mine to leave a little room for doubt (crossbar on the A in ROMA).

The Fonteius family was from Tusculum, a center for the cult of the Dioscuri, which probably explains the two caps on the reverse.

Who is represented on this coin?

For the deity on the obverse and reverse – the picture is complicated. There are Arguments made for Apollo, for young Jupiter, for a vulcanic and underworld anti-Jupiter. All deserve some critical looks at "what evidence is there to support this?".

Georg Wissowa in 1902 provides the anti-Jupiter explanation for Vejovis in Religion und Kultus der Römer. He outlines support for Veiovis as a god of the underworld. May 21st, between Lemuria and the Carnaria, according to the inscription of the Fasti Venusini (CIL I * p. 318), held a festival for the god Vediovis. The name, Vediovis or Vedius or Vejovis, identifies him as the opposite of Diovis, Dius, Jovis that is, the god of heaven pointing to an underworld god. (i.e. Ve-jovis meaning anti-Jupiter)

She-goats, raw meat, ivy and beans appear to all be associated with the underworld and death. This from Aulus Gellius is one of many restrictions on the Flamen Dialis, high priest of Jupiter.

“It is not customary for the Dialis to touch, or even name, a she-goat, raw flesh, ivy, and beans.”

- Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights X.15

In 1917, A.L. Framingham provides a well researched overview of evidence, extending the underworld concept and connects the god to volcanic activity, underground thunderbolts, and the passing of souls. A key passage from Julian in the 4th century, referencing Veiovis used to support the vulcanic connection with a reference to Veiovis and thunder.

“et [Severus, master of the horse] qui saepe universos ad fortiter faciendum hortabatur et singulos, tunc dissuasor pugnandi contemptus videbatur et timidus mortem fortasse metuens adventantem, ut in Tageticis libris legitur et Vegonicis fulmine mox tangendos adeo hebetari ut nec tonitrum nec maiores aliquos possint audire fragores.”

-Ammianus Marcellinus, Roman History, Antiquities, XVII.10.2

And he [Severus, master of the horse] that had often encouraged one and all to brave deeds, now advised against fighting and seemed despicable and timid — perhaps through fear of his coming death, as we read in the books of Tages​ or of Vegoe that those who are shortly to be struck by lightning are so dulled in their senses that they can hear neither thunder nor any louder crashes whatsoever.

This passage comes with the added complication of debate about whether the reference is to Veiovis or Begois.

Although I cannot begin to guess the sex of the goat on the reverse of the coin, Tyler notes that the goat is male. This asserted earlier by TJ Luce (1968) "...The statue, moreover, was of a she-goat, which Ovid confirms (Fasti 3-443); on the coins a he-goat is pictured..." This does seem to be supported and more obvious on the other coin in this issue Crawford 353/1c.

Mn. Fonteius C.f., 85 BC, AR Denarius (19.5mm, 3.59g), Rome mint

Obv: Laureate head of Apollo-Vejovis right; thunderbolt below

Rev: Infant Genius seated right on goat; pilei of the Dioscuri above; below, filleted thyrsus right; all within wreath

Ref: Crawford 353/1c; Sydenham 724a; Fonteia 10.

Even the later Romans were confused – and Ovid’s explanation of "little Jupiter" seems easy to reject without additional evidence (not to mention the question of she-goat vs. he-goat):

“A she-goat also stands (beside the image of Veiovis); the Cretan nymphs are said to have fed the god; it was the she-goat that gave her milk to the infant Jove. Now I am called on to explain the name. Countrymen call stunted spelt vegrandia, and what is little they call vesca. If that is the meaning of the word, may I not suspect that the shrine of Veiovis is the shrine of the little Jupiter?”

-Ovid Fasti III NON. 7th [429]

Babelon (1885) is the source of "winged genius" and Amalthee is clearly challenged again by the goat's sex. He also identified the monogram with Apollo.

Liv Mariah Yarrow adds another thought to this with Aphrodite Pandemos, mentioned in her blog, referencing Pausanias.

"The precinct of the other Aphrodite is surrounded by a wall, and within the precinct has been made a basement, upon which sits a bronze image of Aphrodite upon a bronze he-goat. It is a work of Scopas, and the Aphrodite is named Common. The meaning of the tortoise and of the he-goat I leave to those who care to guess."

and this reference from p.230 of "Religion and Social Transformations in Cyprus" by Gioros Papantoniou (2012).

Two temples are associated with Veiovis, with ambiguity in the reading of the text from vague spelling and unfamiliarity with Vediovis. The first temple was begun by L. Furius Purpureo during his consulate in 196 BC on the Tiber Island and inaugurated on January 1, 194 BC. The second was inaugurated in early 192 BC. Described by Livy:

“Two temples to Jupiter were dedicated that year on the Capitoline; Lucius Furius Purpurio had vowed one while praetor in the Gallic war, the other while consul; the dedication was performed by Quintus Marcius Ralla the duumvir.”

-Livy History of Rome, XXXV.41.8

The links to Vejovis are tenuous (the lightning bolt on the coin), and the iconography of Vejovis summarized by Tyler(2019) quoting Fulvio Orsini from 1577: “Orsini’s original conclusion regarding the iconography of Veiovis: mihi quidem obscurum est (‘this is indeed obscure to me’).”

Apollo and Dionysus at Delphi, Attic vase, 4th Century BC, Source: wordpress blog

For the imagery on this coin, I do linger on possibility (and yet cannot conclude) that there is a straight forward answer lurking: Apollo and Dionysus connected in mythology and on the coin, two sons of Jupiter, one logical and the other emotional, often associated as in Delphi where Dionysus ruled for three winter months each year while Apollo was amongst the Hyperboreans. Veiovis a fiercer aspect of Apollo connected to a more ancient tradition, in opposition to Sullan Venus..... in 85 BC as the threat of Sulla's return loomed.

Beans and Biscotti

Wandering a bit from the coin, following the Veiovis as underworld god theme and his festival in May. May is the month named for elders (ancestors) in Latin maiores, and this passage from Ovid is connected to the discussion of Veiovis and the festivals in May:

It was May month, named for our ancestors (maiores),
And a relic of the old custom still continues.
When midnight comes, lending silence to sleep,
And all the dogs and hedgerow birds are quiet,
He who remembers ancient rites, and fears the gods,
Rises (no fetters binding his two feet)
And makes the sign with thumb and closed fingers,
Lest an insubstantial shade meets him in the silence.
After cleansing his hands in spring water,
He turns and first taking some black beans,
Throws them with averted face: saying, while throwing:
‘With these beans I throw I redeem me and mine.’
He says this nine times without looking back: the shade
Is thought to gather the beans, and follow behind, unseen.
Again he touches water, and sounds the Temesan bronze,
And asks the spirit to leave his house.
When nine times he’s cried: ‘Ancestral spirit, depart,’
He looks back, and believes the sacred rite’s fulfilled.
- Ovid Fasti Book V, Lemuria 

Fave dei Morti (Biscotti)

The association of beans and death and the tradition referenced by Ovid, lives on with "Beans of the Dead" cookies, a Halloween/All Saints Day tradition today in some parts of Italy. I haven't tried them yet, but I did look up a couple of recipes (from many): and


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