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Horatii & Curiatii triplets

A Roman republican denarius from a moneyer with a family name that traces to the legendary origins of Rome (7th century BC) and the integration of the Alban, Roman, and Sabine tribes. The father of the moneyer was a tribune of the plebs who challenged the powers of the consuls.

Temple of the Three Curiatii Brothers in Albano from Archittetura e prospettive; Carceri d'invenzione, Volume 8, Opere di Giambattista Piranesi, Plate XXVII, 1748. Public doman image from archive.org.


Romulus was the first king of Rome. When he died there was a year of interregnum and debate between Roman and Sabine factions about the selection of the next king. The title was offered to 40-year-old Numa Pompilius (reigned 715–672 BC), a Sabine, who was known as a wise and peaceful king. He built the temple of Janus and established the tradition of the doors being a sign of peace and war. The doors stayed closed (signifying peace) throughout his reign.


When Numa died, there was again an interregnum, and the Romans chose a king who Livy describes as “he everywhere sought excuses for stirring up war“ (Livy 1 22.2). Tullus Hostilius (reigned c. 672–640 BC) was the third king of Rome – and was quick to take up issues of cattle theft as a reason to go to war with neighbors in Alba Longa. Romulus and Remus originated in Alba Longa, so the Romans and Albans were all related and according to legend came from Troy.


The Alban king died before the war started and the Albans chose a dictator, Mettius Fufetius. Mettius sent an envoy to Tullus and requested a less damaging resolution to their differences. Weakening each other would just open the door for the Etruscans take advantage and conquer them both. They hatched the following plan – both armies had triplets brothers (trigemini), who would fight to the death to determine the outcome. Reinforcing the close relationships between the two cities, in some accounts the triplets were born to two sisters - one of whom married a Roman and the other an Alban.

"For the mother of our Horatii is sister to the mother of the Alban Curiatii, and the young men have been brought up in the arms of both the women and cherish and love one another no less than their own brothers."
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Book III.15.2

Although tradition seems to be a bit confused, Livy tells us that the majority leaned to Roman brothers, Horatii, fighting the Alban brothers, Curiatii. The fight quickly reached a point where two of the Romans were dead and Curiatii only wounded. However the remaining Horatius fought bravely taking each on in turn and killing the three Curiatii in an unexpected change of fortune, winning the battle for Rome.

The Seven Kings of the Seven Hills, Caroline Hyde (Butler) Laing, 1804-1892, published 1872. Public domain image from archive.org.


The plot takes a surprising twist as he returns home a hero only to find that his sister is devastated by the news that her brother killed her fiancée (one of the Curiatii).Horatius shocks all by killing his sister (Horatia) for lamenting the death of an enemy of Rome. He is put on trial and only saved from death by the people’s empathy for his father.


Mettius, the Alban king, soon betrays the agreement and his betrayal is punished by Tullus:

“He then brought up two four-horse chariots, and caused Mettius to be stretched out and made fast to them, after which the horses were whipped up in opposite directions, and bore off in each of the cars fragments of the mangled body, where the limbs held to their fastenings.- Livy, 1.28.9

Then the Albans are brought to Rome, made Roman citizens and the city destroyed, only the temples of the gods were left standing. Albans were made senators and knights, and thus reinforced, Rome made war on the Sabines next.


With that introduction to the Trigemini and Curiatii, you will recognize the origins of the name of the moneyer of this coin:

C. Curiatius f. Trigeminus, 135 BC, AR Denarius (17.5mm, 3.77 g, 10h), Rome mint

Obv: Helmeted head of Roma right; TRIG behind, X (mark of value) below chin

Rev: Juno driving galloping quadriga right, being crowned by Victory from behind, holding reins and scepter, C CVRI

Ref: Crawford 240/1a (1a has TRIG on the obverse, and 1b TRIGE – die matches confirm this coin is 1a); Sydenham 459; Curiatia 2

Note: an interesting flaw in the flan shows as a divot on the cheek of Roma.


This coin is one that easily slips under the radar in an auction – another Roma obverse, another quadriga….with only 14 obverse dies reported by Crawford, this is not the easiest of coins to find. Besides the name linked to the founding legend of Rome and the integration of the Alban people, there is also the interesting context the moneyer’s father. C. Curiatus who with Sextus Licinius as tribunes of the people imprisoned the two consuls of 138 (an unprecedented move). Cicero with his colorful flourish:

“Etsi quinquennio ante D[ecim]um Brutum et P. Scipionem consules — quos et quantos viros! — homo omnium infimus et sordidissimus tribunus plebis C. Curiatius in vincula coniecit, quod ante factum non erat?”
“And, five years before, did not the tribune Curatius, the basest and foulest of mortals, cast into prison with unheard–of insolence and barbarity, the consuls Brutus and Scipio, patriots of the most effulgent renown?-Cicero, de Ligibus, 3.20 (English) 3.20 (Latin)

[55.1] When the consuls Publius Cornelius Nasica (whose surname Serapio was invented by the irreverent tribune of the plebs Curiatius) and Decimus Junius Brutus were holding the levy, something happened in front of the recruits that served as an example:
[55.2] Gaius Matienus was accused before the tribunes because he had deserted the Spanish army, and was, after he had been condemned, sent under the yoke, chastised with rods, and sold for one sesterce.
[55.3] Because it was not permitted to the tribunes to select ten men that would be free from military service, they ordered that the consuls were imprisoned.
- Livy Periochae 55.1-3

In summary, a nice addition from the collection from the time when Sulla was about 3 years old. A Roman republican denarius from a moneyer with a family name that traces to the legendary origins of Rome (7th century BC) and the integration of the Alban, Roman, and Sabine tribes. The father of the moneyer was a tribune of the plebs who challenged the powers of the consuls.


The death of Tullus Hostilius also comes with various explanations, some blaming his successor and fourth king of Rome for his death:

"After he had reigned thirty-two years he lost his life when his house caught fire, and with him his wife and children and all his household perished in the flames. Some say that his house was set on fire by a thunderbolt, Heaven having become angered at his neglect of some sacred rites(for they say that in his reign some ancestral sacrifices were omitted and that he introduced others that were foreign to the Romans), but the majority state that the disaster was due to human treachery and ascribe it to Marcius, who ruled the state after him."
- Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Book III.35.5 

The First Servile War


There was quite a bit going on during the time this coin was minted in the Roman republic. One notable event was the First Servile War. Here's another denarius minted the year before this war broke out in Sicily. Cn. Lucretius Trio is only known from his coins (RE: Lucretius 32). For comparison with the coin above - this issue has 170 obverse dies estimated by Crawford. This is 237/1a - the /1b coin has a different style necklace on Roma.

Cn. Lucretius Trio, 136 BC, AR Denarius (18mm, 3.88g, 3h). Rome mint Obv: Helmeted head of Roma right; TRIO downward behind head, X (mark of value) below chin Rev: CN LVCR, the Dioscuri, each holding spear, on horseback riding right, ROMA in exergue Ref: Crawford 237/1a; Sydenham 450; Lucretia 1; RBW 978.


In 135 BC the First Servile War broke out in Sicily, a slave rebellion that lasted from 135 until 132 BC.

"This war was started by a Syrian slave named Eunus, who gathered rural slaves, opened the workhouses, and expanded his band to the size of an army. Another slave, Cleon, gathered seventy thousand slaves, and the Roman army was frequently defeated when the slave armies had united."
- Livy Periochae, 56.10-11 

From the description of Diodorus Siculus (ca. 80–20 BC), there was good justification for the revolt:

"When the affairs of Sicily, after the overthrow of Carthage, had remained successful and prosperous for the space of sixty years, at length war with the slaves broke out for the following reasons. The Sicilians, through the enjoyment of a long peace, grew very rich, and bought up an abundance of slaves; who being driven in droves like so many herds of cattle from the different places where they were bred and brought up, were branded with certain marks burnt on their bodies. Those that were young, they used for shepherds, others for such services as they had occasion. But their masters were very strict and severe with them, and took no care to provide either necessary food or clothing for them, so that most of them were forced to rob and steal, to get these necessities: so that all places were full of slaughters and murders, as if an army of thieves and robbers had been dispersed all over the island."
-Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History, 34.2 

As you might imagine it didn't end well for the slaves:

  • Lucius Calpurnius Piso recaptured Messana and put 8,000 prisoners to death

  • Publius Rupulius recaptured Tauromenium leading to the death of Cleon and the crucifixion of ~20,000 prisoners.

  • Eunus died of illness while awaiting judgement after Tauromenium.


References


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