top of page
  • Writer's picturesulla80

A Coin for Juneteenth


On June 16th 2021, Public Law 17 from the 117th Congress established June 19th as "Juneteenth National Independence Day", a legal public holiday. US President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, abolishing slavery in the Confederate States.


While the proclamation ended slavery officially, the Civil War continued and it was not until the end of the war in mid-1865 that many of the enslaved people in former Confederate states were freed. Texas ended slavery when Major General Gordon Granger arrived on Galveston Island with federal troops and issued this "General Order" that enforced the emancipation of all enslaved people in Texas:

Image Source: public domain via Wikimedia Commons


The reality is that slavery did not end in 1865. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation only applies to the "rebellious states" and those which had not already come under Northern control. Slavery remained legal in Delaware and Kentucky and other states. Formally the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was passed in December 6, 1865 and ended slavery nationwide.

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
-The 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution

Delaware didn't ratify the 13th Amendment, formally acknowledging the end of slavery until 1901. Kentucky took longer, and it was not until 1976 that Kentucky formally adopted the 13th amendment. Exceptions to New Jersey's "Gradual Abolition of Slavery Law" mean that there were still somewhere between 16 and 400 people legally enslaved in New Jersey until January 23rd, 1866 when an amendment to the state constitution was passed.

This coin of Cn Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus, a silver denarius, from the Roman Republic in 88 BC, has both a great portrait of Mars and comes from a period in the history of the Roman Republic in which groups rose up against the Republic to gain equal rights as citizens and freedom.


This coin has many flaws. However, it is linked to the Social War that ended just as this coin was minted, and the rebellion known as the "Third Servile War" or "War of Spartacus".

Roman Republican, Cn. Lentulus Clodianus, 88 BC, AR Denarius (19mm, 4.04g, 3h), Rome mint

Obv: Helmeted bust of Mars right, seen from behind, wearing balteus over right shoulder with parazonium, vertical spear behind left shoulder

Rev: Victory, holding wreath and reins, driving galloping biga right

Ref: Crawford 345/1; Sydenham 702; Cornelia 50; RBW 1312


In 88 BC, Mars on the obverse and victory on the reverse may commemorate Rome's victory in the Social War (Bellum Sociale) fought against Italian cities and tribes who wanted Roman citizenship. Although Rome won the war, they ended up granting Roman citizenship to their Italian allies to avoid another fight. Mars may also refer to the victory by the moneyer's ancestor M. Claudius M. f. M. n. Marcellus over Hannibal in the second Punic war in Italy and Sicily, which culminated in the capture of Syracuse in 212 BC (see Roman Silver Coins, Seaby).


The moneyer, is presumed to be the Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus who years after issuing this coin became consul, in 72 BC, and was defeated by Spartacus, in a rebellion of gladiators and slaves who had had enough of abuse at the hands of their Roman masters. The story begins with Spartacus escaped from fighting school in Capua with ~64 men. From there he soon amassed an army of tens of thousands. The Senate began to pay attention:

In the new year, (72 BC) the Senate, at length realizing the gravity of the danger, sent the consuls, Lucius Gellius and Lentulus Clodianus, with four legions into the field. Crixus was attacked by Gellius and the praetor Arrius near Mount Garganus in Apulia, and fell in the defeat which his headstrong folly had provoked. The hoard, which no commander could have restrained from excesses in the camp or in the march, obeyed him in the battlefield. Followed by Gellius, he was moving through the high lands of Picinium with the intention, which he had never abandoned, of crossing the alps when Lentulus appeared in front. Spartacus defeated him, then turned on pursuers and defeated them.
-T. Rice Holmes (1855-1933), The Roman Republic and the Founder of the Empire, 1924 p.155-159

When the Senate learned of the defeat, Marcus Licinius Crassus was appointed as the general in charge of the war against Spartacus. Crassus brought some harsh approaches to motivating men to learn from defeat - (in this specific case two defeated legions led by Mummius):

"What is more, Crassus selected five hundred of the soldiers who had been the first to run from the field of battle, especially those who had displayed open cowardice, and divided them into fifty groups of ten each. He then executed one man who had been selected by lot from each group. He thereby revived an ancestral punishment of soldiers that had not been used for a long time. It is a shameful type of death in its mode of execution: many terrible things are done during the imposition of the penalty, while all the other soldiers are forced to look on as spectators."
-Brent D. Shaw, The Spartacus Slave War, 73-71 BC, 2001 

This practice is the source of our word: decimate from Latin root word for removing a tenth (decimatus).


Spartacus was not successful in changing conditions for enslaved people and gladiators. Crassus defeated the armies of Spartacus - although, Pompey arrived at the right moment to take credit and receive the triumph.


Crassus had 6000 gladiators/slaves who survived, crucified along the Via Appia, between Rome and Capua, and the bodies left to rot as a gory reminder of the price of rebellion. Perhaps also a reminder that freedom has often taken too long and required a high price. It is estimated that more than 600,000 people died in the US Civil War.


The defeat by Spartacus wasn't the end of Lentulus Clodianus' political career - with Pompey's support he became censor in 70 BC and his story continued from there. Crassus would famously die at the hands of the Parthians. There is a story of the Parthians pouring molten gold down his throat, mocking his greed.

"And not only the others fell, but Crassus also was slain, either by one of his own men to prevent his capture alive, or by the enemy because he was badly wounded.This was his end. And the Parthians, as some say, poured molten gold into his mouth in mockery; for though a man of vast wealth, he had set so great store by money as to pity those who could not support an enrolled legion from their own means, regarding them as poor men."
-Cassius Dio, 40.27 

Juneteenth a reminder not only of the injustice of slavery, and a celebration of progress, but also a reminder of the agonizingly slow movement of justice.


References




53 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page