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Lentulus Clodianus, defeated by Spartacus

Roman republican coins capture faces from the first and second century BC. 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 an interesting period in the history ofthe Roman republic.

This coin has many flaws, roughness on left side of the obverse, some sort of clogged die or weak strike issue on the reverse, a jagged edged and chipped flan. However, the portrait of Mars on the obverse and the victory on the reverse are, to me, exceptional, and it is good metal, heavy in hand, high relief, darkly and evenly toned. It also 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.

Obv: Helmeted bust of Mars (Corinthian Helmet) seen from behind, wearing balteus (legionary sword belt) over right shoulder with parazonium, vertical spear behind left shoulder

Rev: Victory in biga holding reins in left hand and wreath in right hand, in exergue, CN LENTVL, border of dots.

Size: 4.03g 18mm

Ref: 345/1

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. Another reference may be to the victory 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 B.C. 212. This second reference is found in RSC/Seaby - I would like to find more information on this.

The moneyer, Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus, years after issuing this coin became consul, 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, they appointed Marcus Licinius Crassus as the general in charge of the war against Spartacus. Crassus brought some interesting approaches to motivating men to learn from defeat (in this 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 

Crassus eventually 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.

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.


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