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New Beginnings & Ancient Symbols

It is a new year, 2022! Appropriately, today's post opens with new beginnings and Aeneas arriving from Troy to the shores of Italy and the River Tiber. Along with the new beginnings we also take a look at some enduring (and evolving) images of power and freedom.

"The Arrival of Aeneas at Pallanteum", by Claude Lorrain (Champagne 1600 – Rome 1682) dated and signed AD 1675. Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire. The Fairhaven Collection (National Trust) Public Domain image.

Here are signs for you to keep in mind:
When in anxiety by a stream apart
Beneath shore oaks you find a giant sow,
Snow-white, reclining there, suckling a litter
Of thirty snow-white young: that place will be
our haven after toil, site of your town.
And have no fear of table-biting times;
The fates will find a way for you; Apollo
Will be at hand when called.
-Aeneid, translated by Robert Fitzgerald, p79-80 lines 388-396

These verses from the Aeneid describe how Aeneas will recognize the location where he builds the city of Lavinium, named for his wife Lavinia.

C. Sulpicius C.f. Galba, AR serrate denarius, Rome, 106 BC Obv: Jugate, laureate heads of the Dei Penates left. Before, D P P downwards. Border of dots. Rev: C SVLPICI C F, L (control letter) above, two male figures standing facing each other, each holding spear in left hand and with right hand pointing at sow which lies between them. In exergue, legend. Border of dots. Size: 18.5mm, 3.96g Ref: Crawford 312/1, RSC Sulpicia 1

This coin came with a surprise of finding it in the Richard Schaeffer RR die project.

But Cato, in the Origin of the Roman Race instructs us thus: that a sow bore thirty piglets in the place where Lavinium now is, and when Aeneas had decided to establish a city there and was lamenting on account of the sterility of the soil, that in sleep there appeared to him likenesses of household gods encouraging him to persevere in the establishment of the city which he had begun; for, after as many years as were the offspring of that sow, Trojans would move to fertile spots and more fruitful soil and would establish the city of the most famous name in Italy.
- Origo Gentis Romanae, Thomas M. Banchich 2004

And an interesting tale of the Dei Penates (family gods brought from Troy by Aeneas) refusing to leave Lavinium with the building of Alba Longa:

A temple with an inner sanctuary had been built for the images of the gods which Aeneas had brought with him from the Troad and set up in Lavinium, and the statues had been removed from Lavinium to this sanctuary; but during the following night, although the doors were most carefully closed and the walls of the enclosure and the roof of the temple suffered no injury, the statues changed their position and were found upon their old pedestals.
-Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities​ I.67.1

Shifting to another city origin story; depicted this time on a modern coin: a 1909 AD One Peso coin from Mexico. The eagle and a snake on the reverse telling an Aztec origin story of Mexico city: Tenochtitlan. The Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, instructed the Aztecs to search for an eagle eating a snake on a prickly pear to identify the location to build their city.

This coin echos not only an ancient story but also a pileus or liberty cap, an attribute of Libertas, and a cap given to emancipated slaves in ancient Rome, and a snake and eagle fighting. Both symbols that have been used on coins for thousands of year.

The similar coin from 1940 was about 10g lighter (27g v 16.7g).

...about 2200 years earlier the eagle and snake on this coin from Chalkis

Euboia, Chalkis, circa 338-308 BC, AR Drachm (3.68g) Obv: Head of the nymph Chalkis left Rev: Eagle flying left, carrying serpent in talons; torch above Ref: Picard Em. 1; BCD 118; SNG Copenhagen -. The liberty cap most best known from the Eid Mar coin of Brutus after the assassination of Julius Caesar, and also found on many other coins depicting Libertas. It is seen here on a Roman republican denarius with a small liberty cap (pileus) behind Libertas on the obverse:

L. Farsuleius Mensor, 76 BC, AR Denarius (18mm, 3.91 g, 5h), Rome mint Obv: MENSOR, diademed and draped bust of Libertas right; S • C above pileus (liberty cap) to left Rev: L. FARSULEI, Roma in biga, holding spear and reins, assisting togate figure into chariot; LXXII (control mark) below horses Ref: Crawford 392/1b; Sydenham 789b; Farsuleia 1. Toned. VF. A cap is a cap; or so it was confused in the 18th century when a Phrygian cap and pileus became interchangeable as symbols of liberty. Here's a Phrygian cap on an ancient coin from Lydia on the moon god Mēn Axiottenos:

Saitta, Lydia, Pseudo-autonomous, AE17, 1/3 Assarion, time of Septimius Severus, 193-211 AD Obv: Bust of Mēn Axiottenos on crescent right, wearing Phrygian cap Rev: CAITTHNΩN, Apollo standing facing, head to left, holding branch in his right hand and leaning left on bow set on ground Size: 2.26g, 16.3mm Ref: SNG von Aulock -; SNG Copenhagen -; BMC 17; Lindgren I 789 Plate 27 (same dies as this coin);

One could continue a while with this theme of ancient symbols and the references of thousands of years (and drifting associations). There are many examples. This gaming token from ~1797 in Germany has an interesting mix of Pax (Peace with olive branch), Roma (seated figure) and Minerva (explicit name on the coin and the helmet) and a prancing horse on the reverse that brings to mind ancient Carthage, or neighbor Numidia. A little something for everyone in this 18th century German gaming token.

Obv: Minerva seated with olive branch in left hand and spear in right

Rev: MIT MUTH U: GLUCK., prancing horse, IETON in exergue

Engraver: Lauer, Ref: Jeton de Jeu Allemande

Translation of Reverse: With Courage and Luck, Token in exergue

Here's a seated Roma on the reverse of an AS of Commodus from the second century AD.

Roman Imperial, Commodus (AD 177-192), AE Dupondius (12.03g, 23mm), Rome

Obv: M COMM ANTON AVG PIVS BRIT, radiate head right.

Rev: P M TR P VIIII IMP VII COS IIII P P, Roma seated left on shield with spear and Victory.

Ref: RIC 443

and here a prancing horse from Numidia neighbor of ancient Carthage in North Africa in the second century BC. Although going left instead of right, separated by nearly 2000 years, it is an amazingly similar pose for the horse.

Kings of Numidia, Massinissa or Micipsa, Æ, 203-148 BC or 148-118 BC

Obv: Laureate and bearded head to left

Rev: Horse galloping to left; pellet below

Best wishes for a Happy New Year !

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Alfred Kowsky
Alfred Kowsky
Jan 01, 2022

Sulla, I enjoyed your latest article 🙂. Seeing the Mexican coins you pictured reminded me of another ancient origin myth depicted on the Roman provincial coins of Antioch, Syria. In 300 BC Seleucus Nicator asked priests to determine where his capital city should be located. An animal sacrifice was carried out & an eagle swept down from the sky & carried a leg of the animal to another location. That location was to represent the city of Antioch. Antioch tetradrachms from the period of Hadrian to Elagabalus depict an eagle with an animal leg in it's talons commemorating the occasion. Pictured below is a favorite coin of this type in my collection.

Syria-Antioch, Caracalla, AD 198-217 (struck AD 205-207). AR…

Jan 02, 2022
Replying to

Fantastic coin - and a great addition of another city founding story. Thanks & Best wishes for a Happy New Year!

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