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Pro Plancius

Although today's note will start with a trending TikTok theme, it will eventually lead to a Roman Republican denarius and the question of "what do we know about the people and time of this coin"?


First, the trending TikTok videos that have prompted a flurry of articles about the level of interest in the Roman Empire.

An Egyptian Papyrus

Fascination with Ancient Rome is not new, the founders of the United States looked to the Roman Republic and ancient Greek city states for examples to support them in creating their new republic.

Egyptians in the 5th century studied ancient Roman speeches, as seen from the papyrus fragment in Latin of Cicero's speech, Pro Plancius:

Berlin Papyrus Databank: P. 13229 A + B: Cicero, Pro Plancio

The Coin

Pro Plancio, is a speech written by Cicero to defend his friend Gnaeus Plancius who supported him during his exile in Macedonia. Plancius was the curule aedile in 55 BC, which brings us to today's coin of interest:

Roman Republican, Cn. Plancius, 55 BC, AR denarius (4.03g)

Obv: AED CVR S.C. CN PLANCIVS, head of Diana right, wearing causia, earring, and necklace

Rev: Cretan goat standing right; bow and quiver behind

Ref: Crawford 432/1; Sydenham 933; Plancia 1

The Obverse is debated - Crawford identifies the female head on the obverse as personified Macedonia, which would pair well with the Cretan goat on the reverse. The combined obverse and reverse both references to his career in Macedonia and Crete. Cn. Plancius served as propraetor in Africa under A. Torquatus and in Crete in 68 BC under Q. Metellus. He was in Macedonia first and a military tribune under C. Antonius in 54 BC and then as quaestor of Macedonia in 56 BC. Cicero defended him against charges that he bribed his way to victory in his election to curule aedile.

The Reverse:

Hunting of wild goats was a popular tradition in ancient Crete, and this is the reference of the bow and arrow with Cretan goat.

Hunting scene of a dog chasing a Cretan goat, from the The Archaeological Park of Kato Pafos which is home to mosaic floors of four Roman villas (Dionysos, Theseus, Aion, and Orpheus).

Diana Planciana

Crawford dismisses the link to Diana Planciana. Michael Harlan agrees with Crawford and argues that Diana Planciana woudl have been an obscure reference and is inconsistent with the Macedonian hat.

Diana Placiana is known from a temple from the collis Latiaris of the Quirinal in Rome. There was a senatorial tradition of giving personal epithets that recognized the family responsible for the temple. This practice was ended by Augustus. There is an open question on which Plancius may have constructed this temple, with Gnaeus Plancius of this coin a leading contender.

Digital Augustan Rome: Diana Planciana, Aedes by Elisha Ann Dumser, Ph.D.

A Contentious Election

Plancius won a heated election for curule aedile against Marcus Juventius Laterensis. Laterensis, who had the more noble family background, was shocked. He charged Plancius with corruption under Lex Licinia de soldalitatibus, a law issued by Crassus in 57 BC to address "a particular form of electoral bribery, which was organized on a collective basis by groups of nobles who where themsilves running for office or intended to do so in the near future" (Plebs and Politics, Mouritsen).

Cicero had been protected by Pancius during his exile in Macedonia, and defended Plancius in the trial. Cicero speaks at length about his gratitude to Plancius throughout the speech from August of 54 BC.

"I proceeded into Macedonia to Plancius. But as soon as ever Plancius heard that I had crossed the sea.—(listen, listen, I say, and take notice, O Laterensis, that you may know how much I owe to Plancius, and that you may confess at last that what I am doing I am doing out of proper gratitude and piously; and that the trouble which he took for my safety, if it is not to do him any good, ought at all events not to be any injury to him,)—as soon, I say, as he heard that I had arrived at Dyrrachium, he immediately came to me himself, without his lictors, without any of the insignia of his office, and with his robe changed for one of morning."
- Cicero, Pro Plancius, 41.98 

Here is a second example of the ancient artifact of contentious elections from 55 BC, and Cicero's defense of his suppoter, Plancius.


With enough interest in ancient Rome to trigger a viral TikTok trend, it is surprising that these ancient coins are still relatively accessible. This note provides some context and references for this coin from 55 BC for Cn. Plancius. The outcome of the trial of Plancius is unknown, but he is known to have been in exile in Corcyra and alive in 46 BC. This letter from Cicero was written in the midst of Caesar's war against republicans in Spain. Cicero describes the war in his letter as "no easy matter in a war which threatens to end in massacre from one side or in slavery from the other".

"Rome, ca. end of 46 From M. Cicero to Cn.Plancius greetings. I have received two letters from you, dispatched at Corcyra. In one you felicitate me on hearing that I maintain my former standing. In the other you wish me good fortune and prosperity in the step I have taken."
-Cicero, ad Familiares, IV.15


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