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Roman Grasshoppers

The Gates of Janus were an important symbol of war and peace in Rome: they were opened when Rome was at war (most of the time) and closed when it was at peace. The first time the doors were closed (at peace) was after the First Punic War in 241 BC. They would not be closed again until after the War at Actium in 29 BC after the deaths of Anthony and Cleopatra.

XX. He also has a temple at Rome with double doors, which they call the gates of war; for the temple always stands open in time of war, but is closed when peace has come. The latter was a difficult matter, and it rarely happened, since the realm was always engaged in some war, as its increasing size brought it into collision with the barbarous nations which encompassed it round about. But in the time of Augustus Caesar it was closed, after he had overthrown Antony; and before that, when Marcus Atilius and Titus Manlius were consuls, it was closed a short time ; then war broke out again at once, and it was opened. 
-Plutarch, Lives, vol 1, Life of Numa, XX 

This coin references Rome's success: "Victorious on land and sea"

C. Malleolus, 96 BC, AR Denarius, 18.2mm, 3.92 g, 5h, Rome mint

Obv: Helmeted head of Mars right; mallet (malleolus, a play on the moneyer's name) above; mark of value below chin

Rev: CMAL, Naked warrior standing left before trophy, holding spear in right hand, and placing right foot on cuirass, on left, a trophy, and behind, grasshopper above prow, border of dots

Ref: Crawford 335/3d

Note: link here for my other coin of this moneyer

Crawford (Roman Republican Coins) provides a reference for the scene on the reverse that leads to "peace through victory on land and sea". It took some effort to chase down the article from Momigliano: Journal of Roman Studies (JRS) 1942. This article brings us to a few passages a in Lycophron's Alexandra.

Lycophron is thought to have been a poet from the court of Ptolemy II and a theme of the poem is conflict between and dominance of Europe and Asia. Cassandra tells of the fate of her ancestors (i.e. Aeneas and his descendants in Rome, rulers over "earth and sea") in this passage:

The prophesy of Cassandra

Lines 1226-82

"And the fame of the race of my ancestors shall hereafter be exalted to the highest by their descendants, who shall with their spears win the foremost crown of glory, obtaining the sceptre and monarchy of earth and sea. Nor in the darkness of oblivion, my unhappy fatherland, shalt thou hide thy glory faded...."

and 1434-50

"And many contests and slaughters in between shall solve the struggles of men, contending for dread empire, now on land, now on the plough-turned backs of earth, until a tawny lion – sprung from Aeacus and from Dardanus, Thesprotian at once and Chalastraean – shall lull to rest the grievous tumult, and, overturning on its face all the house of his kindred, shall compel the chiefs of the Argives to cower and fawn upon the wolf-leader of Galadra, and to hand over the sceptre of the ancient monarchy. With him, after six generations, my kinsman, an unique wrestler, shall join battle by sea and land and come to terms, and shall be celebrated among his friends as most excellent, when he has received the first fruits of the spear-won spoils."

The context for these passages being written could be one or more of the

- Pyrrhic War - Roman defeat of Pyrrus

- Second Macedonian War - Roman defeat of Philip V

- Roman-Seleucid War - Roman defeat of Antiochus at Thermopylae

Thermopylae defeat of Antiochus by Rome

"Acilius Glabrio the consul, with the aid of King Philip, defeated Antiochus at Thermopylae and drove him from Greece, and also subdued the Aetolians. Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica the consul dedicated the temple of the Mother of the Gods, whom he himself had established on the Palatine, after being adjudged the best man by the senate. He also received the surrender of the Gallic Boii after their defeat, and triumphed over them. Besides, naval victories over the officers of Antiochus are recorded."
-Titus Livius (Livy), The History of Rome, Book 36, Summary, Evan T. Sage, University of Pittsburgh

So, if I follow the bread-crumbs correctly, a general expression of Roman "terra marique parta (victoriis) pax" == "peace through victory on land and sea" on the reverse and perhaps specific contributions to Roman victories of the moneyer's ancestors.

The Grasshopper

As far as I know the grasshopper is just used as a control symbol, however, I do wonder: What would a Roman in 96BC have seen in a grasshopper/locust/cicada symbol?

- a reference to a location?

- some musical reference, perhaps connected to Bacchus or Apollo?

- a reference to a plague?

- a link with grain crops?

- a metaphor for Roman troops who would swarm and destroy their enemies like locusts destroying crops?

- other? e.g. reference to a meal enjoyed by weird foreigners

"A short distance from this tribe on the edge of the desert dwell the Acridophagi (locust eaters), men who are smaller than the rest, lean of body, and exceeding dark. For among them in the spring season strong west and south-west winds drive out of the desert a multitude beyond telling of locusts, of great and unusual size and with wings of an ugly, dirty colour. From these locusts they have food in abundance all their life long, catching them in a manner peculiar to themselves."
-Diodorus Siculus,Library of History, Book III 29.1

There are Ptolemaic references to locusts in the positive (Egyptian army) and negative (enemy armies) & the time period (305 BC to 30 BC) overlaps nicely with the Roman republic. For more than anyone should ever want to know about locust references in Ptolemaic texts, see:

Sayed MR. Locust and its signification in Ptolemaic texts. J His Arch & Anthropol Sci. 2018;3(4):584‒588.

  • "make your infantry soldiers as numerous as locusts, and your children as numerous as grains of sand."- Dendara III 176 ,4-5

  • "lord of eternity, your circle of protection is behind you, the combatants are like locusts, they protect you every day." - Dendara IV 18, 4-6

  • "numerous of infantry soldiers like locusts, treading the battlefield, to bring an end to one who attacks"- Edfou VII 200, 4-5

Here's another Roman Republican denarius with grasshopper / locust from 4 years later.

C. Allius Bala, 92 BC, AR Denarius, Rome mint

Obv: Diademed female head (Diana?) right; H below chin

Rev: Diana driving biga of stags right, holding spear, reins, and torch; grasshopper below; all within laurel-wreath

Ref: Crawford 336/1b; Sydenham 595; Aelia 4

A search in ACSearch turns up the following where grasshopper/locust/cicada is mentioned:

  • The two already in this thread (Crawford 336/1 92 BC & 335/3 96 BC)

  • Crawford 340/1, a denarius of L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi. 90 BC, Apollo; cicada behind

  • Crawford 337/2, a denarius of D. Silanus L.f., 91 BC, Victory in biga; grasshopper below horses. With a note that the grasshopper symbol is an engraver's mark.

  • Crawford 361/1, a denarius of Pub. Crepusius, 82 BC, Apollo; grasshopper below chin

  • Crawford 408/1, a denarius of C. Piso L.f. Frugi, 61 BC, Horseman galloping; grasshopper above

  • Crawford 412/1, a denarius of L. Roscius Fabatus, 59 BC, Juno Sospita; grasshopper behind

Key References - additional references embedded in the notes above:

Note: this set of notes originally published Jan 15 2021 and updates Oct. 28, 2023.

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