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The Master of Terence?

Terrence was a former slave who became a famous playwright from the Roman republic. He wrote six comic plays in the mid 2nd century BC, then inexplicably disappeared circa 160 BC. All of his 6 plays have survived to today. Suetonius wrote a short biography, which primarily highlights the conflicting and varied stories about the author.

Publius Terentius Afer, born at Carthage, was the slave at Rome of Terentius Lucanus, a senator, who because of the young man's talent and good looks not only gave him a liberal education, but soon set him free.
-Suetonius, Life of Terence, 1.1 

Mysteriously, he left Rome on a trip and never came back.

Codex Vaticanus Latinus 3868, a 9th-century illuminated manuscript of the Latin comedies of Publius Terentius Afer. Public Domain Image via Wikipedia.

During the time of Augustus, Horace counted him among the “authors mighty Rome learns by heart” (Epistles, II.1,55). Cicero quoted him in his arguments. In Pro Caecina he references:

“the banker, surnamed Phormio, no less black and no less brazen than the Phormio in Terence”

Julius Caesar admired the author's clean dialog:

"Thou too, even thou, art ranked among the highest, thou half-Menander, and justly, thou lover of language undefiled. But would that they graceful verses had force as well, so that thy comic power might have equal honour with that of the Greeks, and thou mightest not be scorned in this regard and neglected. It hurts and pains me, my Terence, that thou lackest this one quality."
-Julius Caesar quoted in Suetonius, Life of Terrence, 5 

What does this have to do with an ancient coin?

The Terence who minted this coin, was not the playwright, however....this denarius is attributed by Crawford (RRC) to Terence Lucanus : the moneyer, Terence, is either the senator who was the master of Terence the playwright, or perhaps the son of the senator. This coin issued in 147 BC.

C. Terentius Lucanus, 147 BC, AR Denarius, (18mm, 3.74 g, 8h), Rome mint.

Obv: Helmeted head of Roma right; behind, Victory standing right, holding wreath, above X (mark of value, below victory a bit hard to see on this coin), border of dots

Rev: C.TER LVC, Dioscuri riding right, each holding a spear, ROMA below, line border

Ref: Crawford 217/1; Sydenham 425; Terentia 10

There is also a Gaius Terentius Lucanus who popularized posters for gladiatorial events:

This portraiture of gladiators has been the highest interest in art for many generations now; but it was Gaius Terentius Lucanus who began the practice of having pictures made of gladiatorial shows and exhibited in public; in honour of his grandfather who had adopted him he provided thirty pairs of gladiators in the forum for three consecutive days, and exhibited a picture of their matches in the Grove of Diana.
-Pliny, Natural History, xxxv.33 
A gladiator mosaic at the Roman villa in Nennig, Germany, modified from a photo by Carol Raddato, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

The victory on this coin is also interesting, which could reflect a victory in battle from the Third Punic War (149-146 BC) or in some other war that Rome was engaged in at this time. In 147 BC, Scipio Africanus took over the siege of Carthage:

Carthage, which had a circumference of thirty-four kilometers, was besieged with much labor, and captured part by part; first by deputy Mancinus, then by consul Scipio [Aemilianus], to whom the African command had been assigned without casting lots. Because the old harbor had been blocked by Scipio, the Carthaginians dug a new one, and quickly and secretly built a large fleet, with which they fought an unsuccessful naval battle.
Livy, Periochae, 51.1-2 

Now Scipio set fire to the camp of the enemy, which they had abandoned the day before, when they took refuge in the city. Being in possession of the whole isthmus he began a trench across it from sea to sea not more than a stone's throw from the enemy. The latter were not idle. Along the whole distance of 4½ kilometer he had to work and fight at the same time.
Appian, The Punic Wars, 24.19 

By 146 BC Carthage was destroyed. Polybius, cited by Appian, reports that Scipio wept at the destruction of Carthage:

“Scipio, when he looked upon the city as it was utterly perishing and in the last throes of its complete destruction, is said to have shed tears and wept openly for his enemies. After being wrapped in thought for long, and realizing that all cities, nations, and authorities must, like men, meet their doom”
-Polybius, Fragments of Book XXXVIII, 22.1 

References (in addition to others linked inline)

  • Horace. Satires. Epistles. The Art of Poetry. Translated by H. Rushton Fairclough. Loeb Classical Library 194. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926, p.403.

  • Cicero. Pro Lege Manilia. Pro Caecina. Pro Cluentio. Pro Rabirio Perduellionis Reo. Translated by H. Grose Hodge. Loeb Classical Library 198. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1927, p.123.

  • Mark Damen, Classical Drama and Theatre, SECTION 4: ROMAN DRAMA, Chapter 14: Roman Comedy, Part 2 (Terence), 2021

  • C. Suetonius Tranquillus, Loeb Classical Library, 1914

  • Davis, J. E. (2014). TERENCE INTERRUPTED: LITERARY BIOGRAPHY AND THE RECEPTION OF THE TERENTIAN CANON. The American Journal of Philology, 135(3), 387–409.

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Alfred Kowsky
Alfred Kowsky
Jun 05, 2022

Sulla, Another very interesting article with accompanying research & illustrations 🙂. I find it difficult to believe your coin has anything to do with the famous playwright; if it were the case why would we see the Dioscuri on the reverse, & furthermore an ex slave being honored on a Roman coin seems unlikely too. I think your hunch that the coin relates to the Third Punic War seems the most likely 😉.

Jun 06, 2022
Replying to

The Terence who is listed on the coin was either the senator and master of the slave who went on to be playwright or possibly the son of the senator. I've adjusted the wording to make sure that is not ambiguous. Cheers, S

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