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Salacia/Amphitrite

This week, we return to Rome with a (Crawford 399) denarius depicting Neptune and Amphitrite/Salacia. The time period a few years after the death of Sulla and in the middle of the third and final Mithridatic War (73-63 BCE) between Rome and Mithridates VI of Pontus after the death of Nicomedes IV in 74 BC and his bequest of Bithynia to Rome. Mithridates was aided by the rebellion of Sertorius in Iberia which distracted Rome until Sertorius was murdered in 73 BCE.

"His (Sertorius') negotiations with Mithridates also gave proof of his magnanimity. For Mithridates, after the fall which Sulla gave him, rose up, as it were, for another wrestling bout and tried once more to get the province of Asia into his power. At this time, too, the fame of Sertorius was already great and was travelling every whither, and sailors from the west had filled the kingdom of Pontus full of the tales about him, like so many foreign wares. Mithridates was therefore eager to send an embassy to him, and was incited thereto most of all by the foolish exaggerations of his flatterers. These likened Sertorius to Hannibal and Mithridates to Pyrrhus, and declared that the Romans, attacked on both sides, could not hold out against two such natures and forces combined, when the ablest of generals was in alliance with the greatest of kings. "
-Plutarch, Lives, Sertorius 23 

The “Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus”, a relief frieze from the second half of the 2nd century BC of a monumental statue base. This Marine thiasos (grouping of religious figures) shows the wedding of Poseidon and Amphitrite, 2nd half of the 2nd century BC from the Munich Glyptothek Museum, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons. They are attended by two Tritons or mermen with sea snake legs/lower bodies.


The Roman equivalents of Poseidon and Amphitrite were Neptune and Salacia. The Encyclopedia Britannica mentions that Neptune may have originated as a fresh water deity and become associated with Poseidon by the early 4th century BCE. Salacia a goddess of "leaping stream water" as her origins. This use of leaping suggests saltus Latin for "leap" as an origin for her name. However, the Romans by the time of today's coin document Salacia as the "goddess of the sea and salt" and her name originates from the Latin word for salt, sal, and salum "surging sea" and not saltus or the other option salax the latin adjective that translates to lustful as in Ovid:

"sitque salax aries, conceptaque semina coniunx reddat, et in stabulo multa sit agna meo"
-Ovid, Fasti, IV lines 771-2
Translated: "lustful be the ram, and may his mate conceive and bear, and many a lamb be in my fold."

Varro explains:

"Neptune, because the sea veils the lands as the clouds veil the sky, gets his name from nuptus ‘veiling,’ that is, opertio ‘covering,’ as the ancients said; from which nuptiae ‘wedding,’ nuptus ‘wedlock’ are derived. Salacia, wife of Neptune, got her name from salum ‘the surging sea.’ Veniliac was named from venire ‘to come’ and that ventus ‘wind’ which Plautus mentions..."
- Varro, On the Latin Language, Book V section 72 

and one other reference:

"Paulus: ‘Salacia.’ A name they used to give to a goddess of water, whom they believed ‘salum ciere,’ that is to say, to set the sea in motion. Pacuvius—From there we fled the spitefulness of the Stirrer of the Sea (Salacia)."
-Pacuvius, Unassigned Fragments, III The Sea 7-8 

There are Latin writings that reference Amphitrite including Virgil:

"ipse pater timidam vacua complexus harena coniugium castae violaverat Amphitrites"
- Virgil Appendix Vergiliana. Ciris line 71-2
Translation: Father Neptune himself had embraced the frightened girl on the lonely strand, and broken his conjugal vows to chaste Amphitrite) 

One more side-trip, to note that salax is the root of the English word "salacious" here used in a 17th century translation of Virgil:

"These things premis'd, when now the Nuptial time
Approaches for the stately Steed to climb;
With Food inable him, to make his Court;
Distend his Chine, and pamper him for sport.
Feed him with Herbs, whatever thou can'st find,
Of generous warmth; and of salacious kind."
- The Third Book of the Georgics, Translated by John Dryden (1631-1700), published in THE WORKS OF VIRGIL: Containing His PASTORALS, GEORGICS, AND AENEIS, p.102, by Jacob Tonson, London, 1697.

Given Roman fondness for wordplay perhaps all of these words intermingle in the name of this goddess. When Poseidon first desired to marry Amphitrite, she fled. A dolphin advocated on Neptune's behalf and convinced her to marry him. Neptune rewarded the dolphin by making the constellation Delphinus. For more on the myth see Amphitrite at worldhistory.org or Theoi.com or Catasterismi in by Eratosthenes, chapter XXXI, 1795 publication, (or "The Constellations" in English, translated by and with commentary from Theony Condos, 1997).


This original portrait of Salacia generated with openai.com's DALL-E AI image generator (image public domain).

For a depiction from closer to the time of today's coin - here's a 1st century CE mosaic from the House of Neptune and Amphitrite at Herculaneum.

All of this exploration of words, art and myths leads to this Roman Republican coin from 69 BC. This is a difficult coin to find in nice condition with an estimated 24 obverse dies documented by Crawford, and this coin has a well centered reverse, loses little other than the control on the obverse and has good surfaces, even toning and is overall a stunning coin.

Roman Republican, Q. Crepereius M.f. Rocus, AR serrate denarius (3.87g, 19 mm), 69 BC, Rome

Obv: Draped bust of Salacia/Amphitrite right, seen from behind; fish to left, H to right.

Rev: Q CREPEREI / [ROCVS], Neptune, holding reins and brandishing trident, driving sea-chariot drawn by two hippocamps right; H above.

Ref: Crawford 399/1a.


There is little to say of Q. Crepereius, son of Rocus, other than the fact that he was the triumvir monetalis and perhaps younger brother to tribunus militaris M. Crepereius in 69 BC. He is potentially linked to Crepereii, negotiatores (business men), that are known from the Greek East. The scene on the reverse alludess to sea-faring or naval military services that Crawford (in Roman Republic Coinage) describes as "tolerably appropriate for a man with such a background". Cicero in Verrine Orations I mentioned: "Marcus Crepereius, who belongs to an equestrian family of the strictest traditions."


In Wiseman, T. P. “Legendary Genealogies in Late-Republican Rome.Greece & Rome 21, no. 2 (1974): 153–64, Wiseman suggests "about 72 B.C. a moneyer from a new family, Q. Crepereius Rocus, put Neptune on his coins, perhaps alluding to a supposed ancestor amongst the god's innumerable offspring".


Finally, there is another Creperius who is killed in Nero's attempt to kill his mother Agrippina. Given the scarcity of this name, it seems likely that the Crepereius Gallus is a relative of the moneyer - although how related is undefined.

Crepereius Gallus, stood near the helm, while Acerronia, reclining at Agrippina's feet as she reposed herself, spoke joyfully of her son's repentance and of the recovery of the mother's influence, when at a given signal the ceiling of the place, which was loaded with a quantity of lead, fell in, and Crepereius was crushed and instantly killed. Agrippina and Acerronia were protected by the projecting sides of the couch, which happened to be too strong to yield under the weight.
-Tacitus, Annals, 14.5 

There were events at this time that might also be linked with Poseidon, as the god of earthquakes:

"But Syria, though unmolested by enemies, was laid waste by an earthquake, in which a hundred and seventy thousand people, and several cities, were destroyed; a portent which the soothsayers declared to presage a change in things. "
-Justinus, Epitome, 40.2

or increasing dangers on the seas with piracy increasing throughout the Mediterranean sea.


Although no connection with Neptune or Salacia, 69 BC was year in which Cleopatra VII was born. Cleopatra who had children with both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Octavian used Mark Antony's relationship with Cleopatra as an important propaganda tool in defeating Antony for control of Rome. He turned Romans away from Antony, characterizing him as a weak pawn to foreign power in a lustful relationship with a manipulative female ruler.....and enemy to Rome.


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