The Temple on Mt. Eryx
Updated: Apr 29
In the second major battle of the second Punic wars, the Carthaginian general, Hannibal, defeated the Romans on Lake Trasimene. Quintus Fabius Maximus was declared dictator in Rome. Consulting the Sibylline books, Fabius Maximus dedicated a temple to Venus Erycina on the Capitoline hill. Erycina, derived from, Eryx, on the western edge of Sicily, which was the site of a major Roman victory during the First Punic War.
"When the decemvirs had inspected the [Sibylline] Books of Fate, they reported to the Fathers that the vow which had been made to Mars on account of this war had not been duly performed, and must be performed afresh and on an ampler scale; that great games must be vowed to Jupiter, and temples to Venus Erycina and to Mens; and finally that a supplication and lectisternium must be celebrated in honour of the gods, and a Sacred Spring be vowed, if they proved victorious and the state remained as it had been before the outbreak of hostilities."
- Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22.9.9
Where is Eryx?
Monte Erice in 2016 seen from Valderice, Civa61, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
"On its summit, which is flat, stands the temple of Venus Erycina, which is indisputably the first in wealth and general magnificence of all the Sicilian holy places. The city extends along the hill under the actual summit, the ascent to it being very long and steep on all sides."
- Polybius, World History, I.55
My latest Roman Republican denarius has an amazing birds-eye view of the temple from Sicily or the replica that was constructed in Rome - there is room for interpretation on this with arguments for the Roman replica made in Michael Harlan's book on Roman Republican Moneyers.
C. Considius Nonianus, 56 BC, AR Denarius (17mm, 4.0g, 12h), Rome mint
Obv: Laureate and draped bust of Venus Erycina right, wearing stephane and earring; C • CONSIDI • NONIANI downward to left, S • C upward to right
Rev: Temple on summit of rocky mountain surrounded by wall with towers on each side and gate in center; ERVC above gate
Ref: Crawford 424/1; Sydenham 886; Considia 1
When was this coin issued?
In 1984, Charles Hersh and Alan Walker published information on the Mesagne hoard which was found in Calabria ~1980. The information on this hoard can now be found online at CHRR Online (Coin Hoards of the Roman Republic Online). Containing 5861 denarii (861 serratus), the date that this hoard was buried is 58 BC based on the coins that it contains and dates defined by Crawford. Using hoard evidence, Hersch-Walker adjusted the date by a year from Crawford's reference, Cerutti also advocates that style adds additional support for this date.
"Although Rockman feels C. Considius Nonianus should remain in 57 and not be moved to 56, as Hersh and Walker would like, the style of the coin identifies it as the work of the die engraver of the issue of Faustus Sulla (C. 426/1) in 56, and therefore it should be moved to that year."
- Cerutti, S. (1993). BRUTUS, CYPRUS, AND THE COINAGE OF 55 B.C. American Journal of Numismatics (1989-),5/6, 69-87.
The moneyer is not otherwise known, but would have been a relative or perhaps the brother of M. Considius Nonianus, who was praetor in 52BC, and is mentioned in 49 BC by Cicero as the intended successor of Julius Caesar in Gaul, and assisting Pompey in Capua. (see Grueber and Crawford)
>30 years of Provenance
This coin was listed for sale as coming from the "Portland Collection" That Baldwin's described as: "a superb collection formed over the last 50-60 years, containing a small group of ancients". This wasn't much to go on, so I was happy to find this coin also listed in ACSearch: NAC Auction 92 Lot 355 23-May-2016 - this entry led to two more sales in 1997 and 1989, both from NAC. This led to the catalog from Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG Catalogues Auction 1 1989 Lot 689. The right coin - but so far that's where the trail ended. I have a search going with ex-Nummis (so far no hits with this service with many tries) to see if I can find more.
This coin is from the time of the first Triumvirate of Julius Caesar, Marcus Licinius Crassus, and Pompey the Great.
"...the triumvirate was not at heart a union of those with the same political ideals and ambitions. Pompey, Crassus and Caesar were all seeking personal advantage. Pompey wanted land for his veternas and the ratification of his Eastern Settlement, Crassus relief for the tax collectors of Asia. Caesar was very much the junior member, who needed powerful backers if he was to achieve anything in the face of a recalcitrant consular colleague and gain an important provincial command afterwards."
- Adrian Goldworthy (2006), Caesar, Life of a Colossus p.166
There are also Sulla references possible for this coin as Pompey's supporters - opposing Julius Caesar's populism and advocating for the conservative control by the nobles or optimates - claimed favor by Venus as successors to Sulla. Pompey started his career as a supporter of Sulla in his return to Rome after the First Mithridatic War and married Sulla's daughter Aemilia. Pompey later remarried, it is unclear what happened to Aemilia. The reference to Sulla could also be to the Temple of Venus outside the Colline Gate where Sulla camped before his definitive victory in the last Battle with the Marians in 82 BC. Crassus, and Pompey both fought for Sulla in the Battle of the Colline Gate, and Crassus played a key role in this victory.
"The first instance of a landscape type appearing on an extant ancient coin is on a denarius issued at Rome ca 60/59 B.C. by the moneyer, C. Considius Nonianus (fig. 1), apparently minted to commemorate the aid in construction, or reconstruction, of the temple of Venus Erycina at Rome by an ancestor of this moneyer."
-Michael Cheilik (1965), Numismatic and Pictorial Landscapes, Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies
Grueber(1910) relates that "It is not improbable that an ancestor of the moneyer was in some way connected with the building of this temple or, as Babelon suggests, with the restoration of the temple at Eryx itself."
"The earliest sacred landscape found on a Roman coin is on a denarius minted by the Roman Republican moneyer C. Considius Nonianus in 57 b.c.e. The reverse of the coin shows a temple on top of a mountain, identified by the inscription “ERVC”; it is the famous temple of Venus in the Sicilian town of Eryx. The coin shows an elaborate wall with an arched gate girdling the base of the mountain. A small temple sits on the peak of the rocky acropolis."
- Jane DeRose Evans. (2011). FROM MOUNTAIN TO ICON: Mount Gerizim on Roman Provincial Coins from Neapolis, Samaria. Near Eastern Archaeology, 74(3), 170-182.
A denarius that I am thrilled to own: beautiful, in excellent condition, from a politically interesting period in the history of the Roman republic, depicting a temple to the unusual Venus Erycine with Phrygian roots and links to Aeneas and the Punic Wars, with an innovative landscape scene, relevant to my Sullan collection (admittedly for most RR coins of the first century I can make this claim), with >30 years of provenance found. An exciting addition.
Re-Claiming Sicily: The Chthonic Aspects of Venus Erycina and Cybele in the Aeneid, Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides, Giornale Italiano di Filologia, Volume 70, pp. 89-126
Galinsky, K. (1069), Aeneas, Sicily, and Rome, Princeton University Press
Polybius, World History, I.55
Cerutti, S. (1993). BRUTUS, CYPRUS, AND THE COINAGE OF 55 B.C. American Journal of Numismatics (1989-),5/6, 69-87.
Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG Catalogues Auction 1 1989
Michael Cheilik (1965), Numismatic and Pictorial Landscapes, Greek Roman and Byzantine Studies
Jane DeRose Evans. (2011). FROM MOUNTAIN TO ICON: Mount Gerizim on Roman Provincial Coins from Neapolis, Samaria. Near Eastern Archaeology, 74(3), 170-182.
Beatrice Lietz. La dea di Erice e la sua diffusione nel Mediterraneo. Un culto tra Fenici, Greci e Romani. Edizioni della Normale, 2012, 978-88-7642-436-6.
Livius.org, Lake Trasimene (217 BCE)