Prelude to Munda
The later Republican period of Rome was marked by civil wars and the eventual transition to empire under Octavian/Augustus. There is a rich numismatic and literary legacy that provides a lot of information about the people and events of this time. The denarii of this era offer a tangible connection to the moneyers who, from this early position in Roman government, often grew into key leaders in Roman society and politics.
Prominent figures like Cicero and Caesar documented the civil wars that led to the Republic's downfall and the rise of the Roman Empire. Through their writings, we gain insights into the personalities and events that shaped this period.
Bust of Julius Caesar by Andrea di Pietro di Marco Ferrucci, Italian ca. AD 1512–14 (public domain image with thanks to the NY MET).
Deciphering Reference Materials
Diving into reference books and journal articles about Roman denarii and the triumviri monetalis, the officials responsible for coinage, can be challenging. Their stories are often encapsulated in cryptic references, such as "RE" for Pauly's Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft.
"RE" was published by Georg Wissowa (1859–1931) from 1890 and completed in 1980. It built on the work of August Friedrich Pauly (1796–1845). It remains an important reference today for classical studies. The availability of online editions that are full text searchable make this even more useful.
Today's note is largely a translated and expanded version of the RE:Cassius_70 entry for Quintus Cassius, with links added for convenient exploration of text from reference sources.
The Denarii of Quintus Cassius Longinus
This coin was issued by Q. Cassius Longinus. Even with a reasonable ability to read German, a first look at the RE : Cassius_70 entry for Q. Cassius is daunting and hard to read. Could you just read the wikipedia entry for Q Cassius? Yes, but quality varies in wikipedia entries and you will not be able to explore deeper the stories and the evidence that supports what we know today.
Roman Republican, Q. Cassius Longinus, 55 BC, AR denarius (19 mm, 3.99 g, 5 h), Rome
Obv: Head of Genius Populi Romani to right; behind, scepter
Rev: Q•CASSIVS, eagle standing front on thunderbolt, head to right, flanked by lituus and jug
Ref: Babelon (Cassia) 7; Crawford 428/3;. RBW 1535; Sydenham 917
Symbols of Power and Piety
The iconography on these coins is not mere decoration but a language of political and religious symbolism. For instance, the jug and lituus represent the augurs' role in Roman religious rites, while the eagle and thunderbolt symbolize the supreme power of the consulship. Consider this reference from Plutarch describing the consul Marius and his aspirations to a seventh consulship as he fled Rome after losing his confrontation with Sulla over command of the war against Mithridates VI.
"When, that is, he was quite young and living in the country, he had caught in his cloak a falling eagle's nest, which had seven young ones in it; at sight of this, his parents were amazed, and made enquiries of the seers, who told them that their son would be most illustrious of men, and was destined to receive the highest command and power seven times." -Plutarch, Life of Marius, 36.5
Crawford in Roman Republican Coinage, connects the jug and lituus on the reverse of this coin to imperium - the augurs were required to be present for the passing of Lex curiata which was required to confer or reinforce the right to imperium for higher offices.
Crawford also references a passage from Asconius which describes a law passed in 104 BC by a relative of the moneyer.
"In 104 BC was passed the Lex Cassia of the tribune L Cassius Longinus of which Asconius" says "quae populi iudicia firmavit" (by judgement of the people). He adds that Cassius carried a number of laws to weaken the power of the nobles, "quibus hanc etiam ut, quem populus damnasset cuive imperium abrogasset, in senatu non esset." (whomever the people have condemned and removed their imperium should not be in the Senate) 'The law was aimed chiefly at Q. Servilius Caepio consul two years before, who had been deprived of his command by the people because of his defeat by the Cimbri." -Pro C Rabirio, Appendix
Q. Cassius Longinus, 55 BC. Denarius (19.3 mm, 3.89g, 5 h), Rome
Obv: Q•CASSIVS LIBERT Head of Libertas to right
Rev: Curule chair within hexastyle Temple of Vesta with conical roof surmounted by statue; in field to left, urn; in field to right, voting tablet inscribed AC (absolvo condemno)
Ref: Babelon (Cassia) 8. Crawford 428/2. RBW 1534. Sydenham 918
Political Messages in Miniature
Ancient moneyers, akin to modern social media strategists, used coinage to broadcast their family's achievements and political allegiances. These coins are not just currency but also a canvas for propaganda. They narrate the family's contribution to legal reform and civil service, alluding to figures like L. Cassius Longinus Ravilla, who prosecuted Vestal Virgins for impiety.
One could read the overall message of the coin as "The Cassii are an honorable, prestigious family with a long history of contribution to liberty, justice and good governance".
L. Cassius Longinus Ravilla, in 113 BC, was the special prosecutor in the case of three Vestal Virgins accused of violating their vows of chastity.
Lucius Cassius [Longinus Ravila, consul 127, censor 125] was (as I have already often noted) a man of greatest severity. As often as he was a quaesitor in some trial in which inquiry was being made concerning the murder of a man he would advise and even instruct the jury as to what Cicero is now advising: that they should consider in whose interest (cui bono) it was that the man perish whose murder they were investigating. Because of this rectitude, on the occasion on which Sextus Peducaeus the tribune of the pleb indicted Lucius [Caecilius] Metellus [Delmaticus] the Pontifex Maximus [from before 114 to 103] and the whole College of Pontiffs on the grounds of having improperly passed judgment [December 16 and 18, 114] on the chastity of the Vestal Virgins, because they had condemned only one, Aemilia, but exonerated the other two, Marcia and Licinia, the Populus appointed this Cassius to investigate the same Vestal Virgins. He condemned the two of them, and several others besides, with too great asperity (as people think). - Asconius note 32 on Cicero's Pro Milone
The obverse of Liberty a reference to the lex Cassia tabellaria in 137 BC provided for a secret ballot for juries except in cases of treason. The leges tabellariae (ballot laws) were regarded as a great achievement for the common good of Rome, and the ballot (voting tablet) was called "the guardian of liberty". [See: Wirsubski, C.H., Libertas as a Political Idea at Rome during the late Republic and early Principate. Cambridge, 1950]
Moneyers would use coins as a form of political advertising to promote rise through the cursus honorem - the political career ladder in Rome..
Quintus Cassius: An Ally to Caesar
Our moneyer, Q. Cassius Longinus, emerges as a committed ally to Caesar during the civil war. Broughton "Magistrates of the Roman Republic vol. II " is another excellent source for cryptic source mateial and is also indexes on RE numbers.
Q. Cassius Longinus (70) : Pro-Caesarian (Cic. Att. 6.8.2). With Antony, he supported Caesar in the Senate in early January and departed to join him when the last decree was passed (Caes. BC f.l-8; Cic. Letters to Friends 16.ll.2; Liv. Per. 109; Plut. Ant.5.5; App. BC 2.33; Dio 4l.l-3; Oros. 6.15.2; Zonaras l0.8; He received military command from Caesar and went with him to Spain (Cic. Att. 7.18.2; Caes. BC 2.19.1)
Cicero speaks of Q. Cassius Longinus in his letters to Atticus writing from Laodicea. From this letter we see that Quintus Cassius was a friend of Atticus and cousin of C. Cassius - although the word "frater" is used in the Latin from Cicero, interpretation varies with cousin more frequent than brother. There seems to be some open debate as to whether he was brother or cousin to C. Cassius Longinus that assassin of Caesar.
"You ask me what Cassius, your friend Q. Cassius’ cousin, meant by that dispatch. It was more modest than the one he sent later, in which he claims to have brought the Parthian war to an end. True, they had retreated from Antioch before Bibulus arrived, but not because of any success on our part. -Cicero, Letters to Atticus, Laodicea, 13 February 50
Triumvir Monetalis (55 BC)
Quintus Cassius was a triumvir monetalis in 55 BC - as we know from this coin - and there is a reference to Theodor Mommsen's "Geschichte des römischen Münzwesens" or "History of Roman Coins". T. Momsen won the Nobel prize for literature in 1902 for his three volume work on Roman History. We can find this entry for for Q. Cassius in Mommsen's book on Roman coins: Münzwesen p. 635 #278.
The entry describes the three types from this issue of denarii - today's coin is type "c" with "eagle on lightning; next to it is an augur's staff and a jug"
Quaestor and Propraetor in Farther Spain (54-49 BC)
Quaestor under Pompey 54-49
Next we read that after 700 AUC (ab urbe condita) from the founding of Rome or after BC 54 Quintus Cassius was quaestor to Pompey in Hispania Ulterior (Farther Spain).
Navigating Civil War and Governance
From his role as quaestor under Pompey to his controversial governance of Hispania Ulterior, Quintus Cassius's career was a microcosm of the broader political upheaval of his time.
Atticus sends a letter to Cicero from Ephesus on October 1, 50 BC a few months before Caesar's treasonous "crossing of the Rubicon with his legions" (Jan 10, 49 BC). Pompey is considering fleeing Rome:
"Batonius brought me quite bloodcurdling reports of Caesar, and told Lepta more still—untrue I hope, but certainly enough to make one shiver: that he will on no account give up his army, that three Praetors-Designate, Q. Cassius the Tribune, and the Consul Lentulus are on his side, and Pompey is minded to abandon Rome." -Cicero ad Atticus 122 (VI.8)
Quintus Cassius returned to Rome and he was appointed tribune of the people (tribunus plebis) in 705 = 49 and in this office he and his colleagues were on Caesar's side as Ceasar threatened to march on Rome.
"Now we have to deal with eleven legions, all the cavalry he may want, the Gauls beyond Po, the city populace, all these Tribunes, our demoralized youth, and a leader strong in prestige and hardihood. We must either fight him or allow his candidature as by law authorized. ‘Better fight than be a slave,’ you say. For what? Proscription if you’re beaten and if you win slavery just the same? What am I going to do then?" -Cicero, Letter to Atticus, 130 (VII.7.7) written from Formiae, 19 (?) December 50
Advocating for Caesar in the Senate
At the Senate meeting on January 1st, M. Antonius (Mark Antony) and Quintus Cassius forced the consuls to read Caesar's report. The majority of the assembly rejected Caesars conciliatory proposals and passed resolutions against him, which amounted to a declaration of war. Both tribunes intervened, but as a result they saw their personal safety threatened and left Rome on the 7th January 49.
"Thus most of the senators, compelled by the language of the consul, intimidated by the presence of the army and by the threats of the friends of Pompeius, against their will and yielding to pressure, adopt the proposal of Scipio that Caesar should disband his army before a fixed date, and that, if he failed to do so, he should be considered to be meditating treason against the republic. The tribunes M. Antonius and Q. Cassius intervene. The question of their intervention is immediately brought before the senate. Opinions of weighty import are expressed, and the more harsh and cruel the speech the more it is applauded by the personal enemies of Caesar." - Julius Caesar, Civil War, I.2.8
Joining Caesar in Civil War
Antony and Quintus Cassius met Caesar in Ariminum (Caesar I.8.1), and Quintus Cassius was already in a military position for Caesar before Cicero's letter from Formiae, 3 February 49.
"There is a report here that Cassius has been thrown out of Ancona and that the town is in our hands. A useful bit of work, if it is to be war. As for Caesar, they say that notwithstanding L. Caesar’s peace mission he is intensely active in raising troops, occupying positions, and securing them with garrisons. Unscrupulous brigand! Can any peace make up for this national disgrace? " -Cicero ad Atticus VII 18.2
After Quintus Cassius entered the capital, he convened the Senate with Antony because all the magistrates had fled (Dio XLI 15, 2). He then accompanied Caesar on the Spanish campaign (Caesar, Civil War, II.19.1) and was left behind as propraetor of the province at the end (Caes. II.21.3; De Bello Alexandrino 48.1; Livy Periochae 111; Dio XLI.24, 2nd Appian II.43.
Propraetor in Hispania Ulterior
Quintus Cassius was made governor after the Battle of Ilerda which took place in June 49 BC between Julius Caesar and Pompey The Great.
Caesar was the victor and in December 49 BC for Rome leaving Quintus Cassius Longinus as governor (propraetor).
"Having done this, he (Caesar) assigned that nation to Cassius Longinus, because the latter was familiar with the inhabitants from his quaestorship which he had served under Pompey; and he himself proceeded by ship to Tarraco. Thence he advanced across the Pyrenees, but did not set up any trophy on their summits, because he understood that Pompey had gained no good name for so doing; but he erected a great altar constructed of polished stones not far from his rival's trophies." -Dio, 41.24.2
Quintus Cassius was hated in Spain for his harshness and an attempt was made to assassinate him.
"Q. Cassius Longinus had been left behind in Spain as propraetor to govern the further province. Whether it was due to his own natural disposition, or because he had formed a hatred for that province from having as quaestor been treacherously wounded there, he had greatly added to his unpopularity; which fact he was in a position to observe equally from his own intuition — believing as he did that the province reciprocated his own sentiments — and from the manifold signs and indications afforded by those who found difficulty in concealing their feelings of hate; and now he was anxious to offset the dislike felt by the province with the affection of his army." -Unknown Author, De Bello Alexandrino (B.Alex) 48.1
His actions damage Caesar's reputation in Spain.
"Since Caesar's brilliant victory at Ilerda in 49 much had happened to lessen his prestige and revive memories of Pompey's earlier feats of arms in the peninsula. The prolonged misgovernment of Q. Cassius had exasperated the Spaniards and driven several of the Roman legions to open mutiny; and though this had been quelled with but little bloodshed and Cassius had fled, the mischief was done. The mutinous legions, fearing Caesar's retribution, expelled the new governor, Trebonius, and chose Scapula and Aponius as their leaders; and when, in the autumn of 46, Pompey's elder son, Gnaeus, landed in the province, he was at once elected as their commander." -Unknown Author, De Bello Hispaniensi (B.Hisp)
Quintus Cassius' rule in Spain, although he was aligned with Caesar, set the stage for Pompey to take control of the province and fight against Caesar.
"For these reasons it so fell out that, since Longinus as commander-in‑chief was employing the same tactics he had used as quaestor, the provincials once again embarked upon similar plans for his assassination. Their hatred was intensified by some of his friends who, although they were employed in that plundering partnership, none the less hated the man in whose name they did wrong, and so, while putting down to their own credit whatever they had gained by their plundering, attributed to Cassius whatever came to nothing or was foiled. He enrolled a new legion — the Fifth. Hatred increased as a result of the actual levy and the expense of the extra legion." -Unknown Author, D, Bello Alexandrino (B.Alex ) 50.1
The following events are mentioned in de Bello Hisp. 42; Livy Periochae 111; Livy Fragments 36–38 in Priscian VI 22. Val. Max. IX 4, 2. Dio XLII.15.16; XLIII 29.1; the main source de Bell. Alex. 48–64 (special edition by Landgraf as a report by C. Asinius Pollio on the Spanish unrest of 48 BC, Leipzig 1890); about their chronology see Judeich Caesar in the Orient 191ff.
Quintus Cassius had four legions, mostly consisting of converted Pompeians and natives; He wanted to rely on them so that he could change things as he pleased. After a few small successes against the Lusitanians, he accepted the title of imperator. After spending the winter in Corduba and committing the most shameless extortions, he received the order to fight King Juba in the spring of 706 = 48. This initially gave him the excuse to burden the province with new oppressive taxes and to raise a fifth legion. The general discontent had already led to a conspiracy by several provincials against Quintus Cassius. Now he was attacked in the market in Corduba and seriously wounded, but recovered, had the conspirators executed unless they ransomed (compare Calpurnius No. 113), and treated the country more harshly than ever. After his recovery, he went to Hispalis to soon open the African campaign, when first the two former Varronian legions in Ilipa and shortly afterwards the troops in Corduba, led by the quaestor M. Marcellus, revolted. The rebels managed to unite, while Quintus Cassius took up a firm position near Corduba with the legions that remained loyal, fought frequent battles and sent requests for help to King Bogud of Mauritania and M. Lepidus, the proconsul of Hispania Citerior (October AUC 706 = AD 48).
"Cassius gessisset cum Trebonio bellum, si Bogudem trahere in socielatem furoris potuisset" Priscian VI 22
Overpowered by Marcellus he withdrew to the mountain town of Ulia and was surrounded by Marcellus. Now Bogud and Lepidus arrived as mediators; At first Quintus Cassius was suspicious of them, but ultimately the negotiations resulted in him being allowed to leave freely. Just then, at the beginning of AUC 707 = AD 47, his appointed successor C. Trebonius arrived, he quickly sent his legions to their winter quarters and embarked with his ill gotten gains for Malaca.
The author of the Alexandrine war, describes the season, winter, as "unfavourable for navigation" and Quintus Cassius as trying to "avoid the humiliation of traveling through a province a great part of which had revolted from him".
"after he had taken shelter in the river Ebro to avoid sailing by night, the weather then became somewhat stormier; believing, however, that he would run no greater risk if he sailed, he set forth: but what with the swell rolling in head on against the river mouth, and the strong current preventing him from putting about just as the huge waves made it impossible to hold on straight ahead, his ship sank in the very mouth of the river, and so he perished." -Caesar (more probably Hirtius), The Alexandrine War, 64
Epilogue: The Aftermath of Quintus Cassius's Rule
Despite his allegiance to Caesar, Quintus Cassius's harsh rule in Spain sowed the seeds for further conflict. According to Livy (Fragments 38) Cassius entertained the idea of breaking from Caesar:
In fact, he remained loyal to him. Of course, his terrible rule he did much damage to the dictator's cause in Spain and prepared the ground for the final uprising of the Pompeians at the Battle of Munda (17 March 45 BC) with Gnaeus Pompey Magnus (the elder son of Pompey the Great and brother of Sextus Pompey).
Plate 10: Death of Pompey in the Battle at Munda, from 'The History of Caesar', Matthäus Merian the Elder (Swiss, Basel 1593–1650 Schwalbach) Etching after Antonio Tempesta (Italian, Florence 1555–1630 Rome) Date: AD 1610–50.
Caesar was made the dictator for life as a result of his victory over the Pompeians, but his dictatorship did not last long when he was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC.
Related coins and notes: