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The Chariot of Victory

Public Domain Image, etching "Aurora" by Guido Reni 1886

In 1637, Francescus Junius published "De Pictvra Vetervm Libri Tres" (Of Ancient Paintings Three books). Receiving a copy of this book from the author, the Flemish artist, Rubens, wrote: the images from these surviving descriptions "present themselves to us in imagination alone, like dreams; being sketched out only in words,

they are 'thrice grasped at in vain' (as Eurydice's shade by Orpheus) and

often escape to disappoint us in our hope..." He spoke of the frustration in trying to recreate these images from descriptions alone. He spoke from experience having decorated the outside of his home with images of ancient painters at work.

The reverse image of this coin is said to be inspired by a painting described by Livy from Nichomachus of Thebes, whose works only survive in written description. Pliny writes:

"To the list of these artists must also be added Nicomachus son and pupil of Aristides. He painted a Rape of Persephone, a picture formerly in the shrine of Minerva on the Capitol, just above the chapel of Juventas ["Youth "]; and there was also in the Capitol, where it was placed by imperator Plancus, his Victory hurrying her Chariot aloft."
- Pliny, Natural History, XXXV.108 

The reverse of this coin most likely a reference to this painting, placed in the Capitol by the brother of the moneyer, L. Munatius Plancus, who was the founder of Lyon and consul in 42 BC. It is possible that the work was possessed by either brother when the coin was designed. Consul Plancus is known for his switching of sides in the civil war, first supporting Caesar, then Brutus, then Mark Antony and ending up betraying Antony to Augustus. It is also possible that Munatius Plancus could have received the painting when his brother was proscribed in 43 BC. He seems to have supported his own brother's proscription according to William Smith. His mausoleum can still be visited today in Gaeta half way between Rome and Naples.

Roman Republic, L. Plautius Plancus, AR Denarius, Rome, 47 BC

Obv: Mask of Medusa facing, L•PLAVTIV [S? is there an S or just a snake in the hair] below, border of dots

Rev: Victory flying right, head slightly left, holding reins and leading four rearing horses; PLANCV below

Ref: Crawford 453/1d (PLANCV and no snakes), RSC Plautia 15, Shaeffer die project Book 9 page 179 (obverse die CXXI)

Although this coin is not a perfect specimen, I think the reverse shows nicely the elegant form of the image of Victory with quadriga (all four horses visible). The opening image of Aurora is not winged, and is a biga (2 horse chariot) instead of a quadriga (4 horse chariot), but I thought it conveyed a similar sense of motion and grace as the reverse of this coin. The figure on the reverse of this coin is sometimes attributed as winged Aurora.

"while the paintings of Nicomachus and the verses of Homer not only have power and grace besides, but also give the impression of having been executed readily and easily"

- Plutarch, Timoleon, 36.3

For another image of Nike (Victory) in quadriga see GettyImages: Scene from ancient Greek vase with Heracles on a quadriga driven by Nike, goddess of Victory, with Hermes standing before them by Piringer (after Greek original), engraving.


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Alfred Kowsky
Alfred Kowsky
Dec 05, 2021

Sulla, This is a fascinating coin style-wise, & no Roman coin that I'm aware of was made like this previously. It is highly decorative, almost baroque is style, & a refreshing change from the typical composition seen on Roman Republican coins 😊.

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