Hoards and Proserpina
Updated: Jun 27
Some of the most used reference books for ancient coins are not new. For Roman republican coins, RRC was published by Crawford in 1974 – and the many reprints since then do not add new information. The evidence used to assign dates, and connect people can be very thin. This is not generally an issue if you are interested in coins of Julius Caesar, but is a problem if you are interested in coins of M. Plaetorius Cestianus. My latest Roman republican coin requires a bit of a deep dive, it is a coin that I am glad to have in any condition. For now I will leave the date off of the attribution. Searching ACSearch you can see some interesting inconsistency in the way this coin and other coins from M. Plaetorius are dated by auction houses.
M. Plaetorius M.f. Cestianus, AR denarius Obv: Female bust (Proserpina) right, draped; quiver behind Rev: Jug (oinochoe) and torch, on right, M PLAETORI downwards, on left, CEST EX S C downwards Ref: Crawford 405/4b Note: EX S.C. = ex senatus consulto, Crawford's hypotheses is that these coins were issues by the senate outside of the annual planning process. Prosopographical Evidence Crawford assigned this coin to 69 BC, however the evidence was thin - Andrew McCabe notes on his website: “50 or so coin issues are represented by 400 coins thinly spread over a dozen hoards, less than one of each coin per hoard”. Crawford comments on p.83 of RRC about the difficulty ordering coins (71 BC to 49 BC) Crawford Nos. 401 and 403-440: "This is perhaps the most difficult period of the Republican coinage to arrange satisfactorily, at any rate if a precise arrangement is attempted; the hoard evidence helps only with part of it and the whole period is one of great stylistic diversity. I propose to use the hoard evidence to establish an outline arrangement and then with the help of stylistic and prosopographical arguments to attempt somewhat greater precision” The evidence that Crawford relies on is “prosopographical” – a word I don’t use often in polite company. Google “prosopography” and you get the “Oxford Languages” definition: “a description of a person's social and family connections, career, etc., or a collection of such descriptions”. Two sources that Crawford references are MRRP by T.R.S. Broughton, and New Men by T.P. Wiseman. Here’s what Broughton has to say about M. Plaetorius:
And here’s the family tree proposed by Wiseman in “New Men in the Roman Senate”, for this family from Tusculum. Note: the image has been digitally edited and no books were harmed in the making of this image:
This is not an easy coin to get hold of in any form with only 23 obverse dies reported in Crawford for all 3a-4c variants and because it is a particularly beautiful coin from the Roman republic. The obverse dies are shared across a variety of reverses in this series e.g. this one from the British Museum which appears to be the same die as mine with quiver control mark (image used under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license). Within each of the types no control mark has more than one die (there may be multiple dies for some control marks looking across all coins in this issue).
References to Cicero Crawford in Roman Republican coinage sometimes takes a bit of digging to decode understand his notes and citations. He highlights several references to the moneyer M. Plaetorius:
The "defective text" for Pro Fonteio by Cicero which he describes as not evidence for M. Plaetorius having held the office of quaestorship after being the triumvir monetalis.
Cicero's Letters to Atticus. v, 20, 8 about the later life of moneyer, Praetorius. While I do not have the specific notes from Shackleton Bailey, he points to a sentence in Ciciero: "That Seius got scorched in Plaetorius's fire does not grieve me much "which refers to M. Plaetorius Cestianus being condemned for extortion with M. Seius (aedile 75 BC) involved.
Proserpina Regarding this specific coin, Crawford references "Roschen 1369 fig. 16", which didn't at first glance make obvious the link between the jug and torch on the reverse of this coin and Proserpina (aka Persephone) on the obverse clear. Having found the reference - it is more understandable (image used under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license):
Left to right: Demeter, Triptolemos, Persephone, Eleusis (personified location) "On the right Persephone stands with torch in left and holding out a fluted oinochoe in right as if to pour into the phiale of Triptolemos: she wears a long chiton with studded sleeves, a bordered mantle, earrings, necklace of beads, and hair fastened in crobylos with a radiated stephane decorated with tendril pattern. On the left her name, ΦΕPΟΦΑΤΤΑ, Φερόφαττα." -British Museum Collection The myth that links the four characters: Demeter mourned for her missing daughter Persephone, who was taken to the underworld by Hades. Demeter was received hospitably by Triptolemus, Eleusian prince (hence Eleusis personified). When Persephone returned, Demeter in gratitude taught agriculture to Triptolemus and gave him a chariot pulled by serpents/dragons to share her gift with the world.[*] Which I suppose is a good reason to bring up this coin from a few years earlier with Ceres (Demeter) in a snake/dragon biga.
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 “New” Hoard evidence In 1984, Charles Hersh and Alan Walker published information on the Mesagne hoard which was found in Calabria ~1980. The information on this hoard can now be found online at CHRR Online (Coin Hoards of the Roman Republic Online). Containing 5861 denarii (861 serratus), the date that this hoard was buried is 58 BC based on the coins that it contains and dates defined by Crawford. One of the surprises from this new evidence: two common issues are missing: the Ex S.C. coins of M. Plaetorius Cestianus (C. 405 dated to 69 BC), and those of Q. Pomponius Musa (C. 410 dated to 66 BC). Hersh and Walker propose a new ordering of coins for this period base on the Mesagne hoard. While the shift is greatest for these two issues (Plaetorius and Musa) there are 53 moneyers listing with Hersh-Walker dates in the article many of whom shift dates a bit based on this new evidence. In the title for this section, I put "New" in quotes - as this is >35 years ago - not a time period that I would usually apply "new" to describe. What I find most surprising is that this new evidence not used more consistently today. RRC online seems to ignore the new dates and lists 69 BC as the date for this coin, and auction houses are mixed with some using 69 BC, some 57 BC and others listing both. The evidence of Masagne, also suggests that this coin from M. Plaetorius might not be the same M. Plaetorius. There are more than 100 recent coins of type 409/1 labeled by auction houses as 57 BC - this would contradict both Crawford and Hersh-Walker - is there some other evidence that I am not aware of?
M. Plaetorius M.f. Cestianus, 67 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint Obv: CESTIANVS - S.C, bust of female deity to right, draped and wearing the helmet of Minerva, the laurel wreath of Apollo, the crown of Isis, the wings of Victory and with the bow and quiver of Diana on her back and with a cornucopia before Rev: M PLAET-ORIVS M F - AED - CVR, eagle standing right on thunderbolt, head left, wings spread Ref: Crawford 409/1; Sydenham 809; Plaetoria 4 Mattingly describes this implication of the Mesagne evidence in a 1995 article. He suggests that there were two contemporary M. Plaetorii the moneyer and the aedile were perhaps father and son and that L. Plaetorius Cestianus, who minted with Brutus, may have been the brother of the younger M. Plaetorius Cestianus. A Plaetorius Cestianus died with Pompeian leaders in Africa in 46 (in Mattingly's view this was a good candidate for the moneyer of the Proserpina coin of 57 BC). Key References (others linked in context above):
Hersh, C., & Walker, A. (1984). THE MESAGNE HOARD. Museum Notes (American Numismatic Society), 29, 103-134.
Mattingly, H. (1995). The Mesagne Hoard and the Coinage of the Late Republic. The Numismatic Chronicle (1966-), 155, 101-108.