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Wikipedia and Britannica show this bust in their articles about Arminius:
The caption in Wikipedia says:
This Roman sculpture of a young man is sometimes identified as Arminius.
The description in Wikimedia Commons is this:
German, so called Arminius. Cast in Pushkin museum after original in Dresden
Besides being found in Dresden (I guess), What reasons have led some historians to identify this as Arminius?
Doesn't look much barbarian to me (what, no moustache?)
The earliest reference I've found to this bust is from 1854, in the section 'Supposed Bust of Arminus' of The Ruins and Museums of Rome: A Guide Book for Travellers, Artists, and Lovers of Antiquity by Emil Braun.
The author states that apperently this bust was earlier identified with Cecrops, but
The supposition of a professional archaeologist which reached me indirectly, that this bust may represent the hero of the Teutonic civil war struck me as a highly suggestive idea.
The author agrees that
The abundant hair the incipient down on the chin the rather massive cheekbones announce the son of the North.
The article also states that the bust was originally found near Naples, and the Britanica article lists it as in the Capitoline Museum, so I don't find any significance to the Dresden reference, unless that is its current location.
The consensus seems to be that the hair is too un-Roman like, and in fact, if you look closely, the trace of that 'barbarian' mustache is visible over the lip. Some more recent works such as Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg by Jason R. Abdale discuss that this may have been a more generic image of the 'Germanic Barbarian' type.
Identifying Roman Marbles: A Collectors Guide
Roman statues and busts, especially those made of marble, are extremely desirable collection items. They often reach high prices at auctions, so it would be helpful to collectors to know how to spot the difference between Republican and Imperial marbles. As well as identify Greek from Roman pieces. This article aims to point out some expert facts about Roman marbles, which will help collectors in their future acquisitions.
Was Messalina a Murderess?
Messalina is known in history as a very devious, ambitious, and controlling woman. The first child of the royal couple, Octavia, was born in 40 AD. Their son Tiberius Claudius Germanicus, called Britannicus, was born three years later.
A 16th-century cameo of Messalina and her children ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Messalina was blamed for using her influence to enact a large number of prosecutions, and she supposedly used her power to achieve political and personal aims. The first on the list of her alleged victims was Appius Junius Silanus. He was a commander of three legions in Spain when he was asked to return to Rome and marry Messalina's mother. Historical resources say that Messalina created an intriguing story and claimed that she had dreamed that Appius intended to assassinate Claudius, thus bringing about the commander’s end.
Another person who probably died because of the ambitious empress was a commander of the Praetorian Guard, Catonius Jutus, who was a witness to her promiscuous behavior. She is also said to be guilty of killing Julia Livilla, a niece of Claudius, and Julia, the granddaughter of Tiberius. Messalina was said to have ordered their deaths because she was jealous of their beauty.
Due to her orders, Marcus Vinicius, the husband of Julia Livilla, was poisoned as well. He died because he suspected that she had been complicit in his wife's death and had rejected Messalina as a lover. The list of possible murders and crimes by Messalina is much longer, but there is very little proof for any of these stories.
As part of tribal obligations to appease Rome, Segimer, the powerful Cherusci chief, surrendered his sons Arminius and Flavus to the Roman emperor Augustus. The young boys left the village and tribal lands of their birth in central Germania Magna to be taken to Rome. We can only imagine their culture shock. Ripped from a rural life surrounded by wilderness, they found themselves in the greatest metropolis of their age where the streets thronged with people. Such is assumed to be the background of Arminius and Flavus not only because Rome commonly took noble child hostages, but also because of the prominent positions the brothers were to achieve among the Romans. One of them was destined to change the course of history, but not in the way Rome would have foreseen.
The two Cherusci brothers were treated as members of the Roman upper class. They were granted the coveted Roman citizenship, tutored in Latin and in Roman methods of warfare. Many years later, in ad 4, the Cherusci gained federated status in the empire. As part of treaty obligations, Rome demanded recruits for auxiliary units. Who better to lead them than the Romanized sons of Segimer?
Earning equestrian “knightly” rank, Arminius and his brother served Rome bravely in battle. As part of imperial prince Tiberius’ massive army, the brothers suppressed huge insurrections in Pannonia and Illyricum. Tiberius was finishing off the rebels in ad 8 when Arminius was moved to the headquarters of the Roman governor Publius Quinctilius Varus at Vetera (Xanten) on the west bank of the lower Rhine River. Just under 26 years old, lean and fit, Arminius was in the prime of his life. A contemporary Roman bust shows Arminius with stubble beard and thick, wavy hair that covered his ears and fell to just above his shoulders. From his new posting, Arminius would get a chance to see his family and his homeland again.
Vetera was in Germania Inferior, one of the two subdistricts of the Roman province of Gallia Belgica. At the time, Roman presence east of the Rhine, in Germania Magna, was limited to forts and towns concentrated around tributaries giving access into the interior. It was the mission of Varus to turn this semi-pacified area into a full-fledged province. Arminius would not only command Varus’ auxiliaries, but also act as a valuable liaison between Rome and the tribes. Respected by both his countrymen and the Romans, Arminius’ career in the “Roman” Germania was on the rise.
It would be hard to imagine two men of more different temperaments than Arminius and Varus. Whereas the first was a natural leader of men, used to hardships of war, life under the sun and stars, the other was a pen- and scroll-pushing bureaucrat without an inkling of the harsh conditions of the northern frontier.
Varus received his appointment as governor in ad 7, about a year before Arminius’ arrival. Varus held overall command of no less than five legions and auxiliaries, perhaps a fifth of Rome’s entire frontline strength. Before obtaining such an important position, the middle-aged Varus, who had marriage ties with the emperor’s extended family, served as consul, as proconsul of Africa, and as governor of Syria.
With his command on the Rhine front, Varus was continuing a long legacy of relations between Rome and the Germanic tribes. Although there had been times of peace and trade, there had also been much war. The Romans never forgot the devastating Germanic-Celtic Cimbri, Teutones, and Ambrones invasion of Gaul and Italy at the close of the second century bc, or Caesar’s harrowing mid-century battles with Germanic tribes along Rhine. In 17 bc the Fifth Legion suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Sugambri tribe. After that there was continuous strife along the border. “Different peoples at different times would cause a breach, first growing powerful and then being put down, and then revolting again, betraying both the hostages they had given and their pledges of good faith,” wrote Greek historian Strabo.
In 12 bc, Drusus, Tiberius’ younger brother, set off to conquer the troublesome Germanic tribes. Roman victory would strengthen the security of Gaul and Italy, provide slaves, and open vast timber reservoirs. Four years of bloody campaigns took Drusus to the Elbe. There a giant woman is said to have appeared, telling Drusus to turn back and warning him of his eminent doom. Drusus died shortly after, either from disease or from falling off his horse. A mournful Tiberius took over, leading the war effort against the German tribes into the early years of the first millennium ad. Nine times Augustus sent Tiberius into Germania, but in the end more was achieved by diplomacy than by the strength of arms.
At the time of Varus’ arrival, relations between the tribesmen and the Romans proceeded amiably. The natives bartered milk and cheese, game meat, fowl, cattle, sheep, goats, and hides. In return they received the luxuries of Roman civilization: glassware, silver cups, bronze trays, and more than anything, wine. A Roman town was discovered near modern Waldgermis on the River Lahn. Here a gilded bronze statue of the divine Augustus mounted on a horse served as a reminder of the empire’s omnipotence. Farther west, on the Rhine, at the settlement of the Roman-friendly Ubii tribe, Oppidum Ubiorum (Cologne), a Germanic priest worshipped at Augustus’ altar. The altar looked out toward Germania, where its chieftains likewise honored the emperor. The Germans were being conquered and assimilated into the empire without even realizing it. But, so far, the tribesmen paid no tribute to speak of and retained their uninhibited lifestyle, laws, customs, and weapons.
A Roman bust might be Cherusci Chief Arminius, who commanded German auxiliaries attached to Varus’ army.
The continued independence of the Germans did not sit well with Varus. If Germania were to be a Roman province, the Germans would have to pay tribute in silver and gold. After all, how could Varus line his own pockets if there were no taxes to be collected? Varus decided to govern Germania as he had done Syria, draining the land of its wealth and maintaining order through brutality. To Varus the Germans were little better than animals, humans in appearance only, to be ordered around like slaves and kept in line with Roman law. Varus held an assembly, boasting that he would control the “savagery of the barbarians with the lashings of the lictor and the voice of the herald,” wrote modern historian Hans Delbrick.
Gold and silver were rare in Germania. The common goods and livestock seized as tribute, in lieu of precious metals, further impoverished the already poor tribesmen. Villagers cursed and spat at Roman rule. Chiefs met and reminisced about the freedom too easily given away. The barbarians “sadly watched their swords rusting and their horses unexercised, when they realized that the toga and court were worse than weapons,” wrote Delbrick. Ridding themselves of the Roman presence, however, would be no easy task. Although the Roman outposts were few, they were strongly held. The Germans decided to bide their time and outwardly yield to the demands of Varus.
As was common practice, after overwintering on the Rhine, Varus planned to spend the summer of ad 9 at an advance post deep inside the barbarian wilderness. Varus would take with him the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Legions from Germania Inferior. The First and the Fifth Legions, under the command of Varus’ nephew, Lucius Nonius Asprenas, remained in Germania Superior. From the plateau of Moguntiacum (Mainz), Asprenas kept watch across the river. Asprenas was ready to defend not just the middle Rhine but also the lower Rhine of Germania Inferior, which after Varus’ departure would only be held by a few legionary detachments and auxiliaries.
The first shoots of green foliage and a warm wind heralded the end of winter’s cold grasp and the approach of spring. Early in March, at the beginning of the Roman campaigning season, Varus and his army crossed the Rhine over a narrow pontoon bridge. He followed the traditional route into Greater Germania along the Lippe River valley through Sugambri territory. The Roman column stretched mile after mile, shadowed by a small fleet of boats carrying the heavy supplies. After a night in a marching camp, Varus reached Rome’s main base on the Lippe at Aliso. Varus conferred with the Nineteenth Legion’s camp prefect Lucius Caeonius, whose detachment held the fort, reorganizing the forty tones of daily grain and fodder consumed by Varus’ army.
From Aliso, Varus struck farther east along the Lippe, pressing onward for two days to the fort at Anreppen. The legions had now marched more than 100 miles since they left Vetera. At Anreppen, Varus left the Lippe and made his way north through the Teutoburg Forest and the western reaches of the Weser Hills. Upon reaching the upper Weser, Varus built his summer camp on the western bank in the middle of Cherusci territory.
Varus’ summer camp dwarfed any of the local settlements, the larger of which consisted of some two score houses. The camp housed around 12,000 legionaries as well as three auxiliary alae (cavalry squadrons), and six cohorts of auxiliary light troops. Alongside Arminius’ Cherusci, the auxiliaries likely included strong elements of Rome’s staunch allies, the Ubii and Frisii, and numbered 4,000 men. Attending the soldiers were several thousand servants, not to mention the illegal wives and children of the legionaries. A few hundred of the more adventurous merchants from the Rhine bases also had followed Varus’ army.
Varus’ legions were well trained, among the best units in the Roman army. Historian and veteran of the Pannonian and German wars, Roman historian Marcus Velleius Paterculus praised the legions’ “outstanding discipline, courage and combat experience.” First raised in 49 bc, by Julius Caesar during the beginning of the civil war, the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Legions consisted of Italians, Gauls, and a few Syrians and North Africans.
The Germans had little chance of breaching the ditch and the rampart of the well-defended summer camp, not that Varus ever imagined they would try. After all, Arminius’ family was thoroughly integrated into the Roman military and government. His brother Flavus continued to serve Rome abroad. Their father, Segimer, and his brother, the renowned warlord Inguiomerus, as well as another Cherusci noble, the huge and physically powerful Segestes, were respected allies of Rome. Segestes’ son, Segimundus, even served as a priest at the altar of Augustus in the Ubii capital of Oppidum Ubiorum. Varus’ entourage included nobles from other tribes as well, such as a young Boiocalus from the Ampsivarii.
Arminius and Segimer feasted at Varus’ table and assured him that all was well. Cherusci tribesmen came to Varus’ court, asking him to dispense Roman justice on complicated trials and replace might with right. Varus felt as if “he were the city praetor meting out justice in the Forum rather than commanding an army in the middle of Germany,” wrote Paterculus. Believing the land to be at peace, Varus risked splitting the troops, sending them out to deal with petty robbers and to protect and improve the supply route back to Anreppen.
Although outwardly Arminius assured Varus of his goodwill, Arminius had come to hate everything Roman. To Rome the German tribes were not equals, as he once thought. Germania’s sons fought and died for Rome while her daughters served the conquerors and her wealth fattened the pockets of men like Varus, who knew nothing of honor and battle.
Arminius was not alone. He met with other tribal chiefs to forge plans on how to rid themselves of the Roman despots. When Arminius saw the Romans triumph in Pannonia, he learned of their strengths and their weaknesses. Arminius knew that an assault on Varus’ camp was out of the question. Likewise, when drawn up in battle formation, the legions were near unbreakable.
Roman Governor Publius Quinctilius Varus, who is shown on a Roman coin, dismissed rumors that Arminius was plotting a revolt. When he learned of the disaster, Emperor Augustus cried, “Varus, give me back my legions!”
Although, since the days of Caesar, the tribes had become wiser in the ways of war and fielded more and better swords and spears both in equipment and discipline, the German warrior remained markedly inferior to his Roman counterpart. The bulk of the tribal army consisted of farmers, and many of them could afford little more than wattle shields, woodman’s axes, clubs, and bone-tipped spears. Furthermore, Arminius knew that his warriors remained difficult to control on the battlefield since they were not enlisted soldiers. The Germanic warrior fought purely out of personal choice, for martial glory, for vengeance, to gain loot, or due to social pressure. The only real power that Arminius possessed to make them obey was his personal charisma.
Arminius told the assembly that to negate the legions’ superior equipment and training the tribes had to attack under favorable conditions. When strung out on the march, in difficult terrain that favored the quick and nimble, lightly armed Germanic warrior, the legions could go down in defeat. The leaves rustled in a cool wind, heralding the coming of fall. Soon Varus and his legions would return to Vetera on the Rhine for the winter. The time for the Cherusci to strike was drawing near. Arminius’ fiery eyes blazed with passion as the chiefs rattled their weapons in approval.
Word about his impending treachery leaked out and reached Varus’ ears. Not all the Cherusci chiefs were ready to abandon their flourishing careers in the Roman Empire, most notably Segestes. Segestes divulged the news about a brewing conspiracy to Varus after a banquet. Segestes urged Varus “to arrest Arminius and the other chiefs, and also himself, on the grounds that their removal would immobilize their accomplices and Varus could then take his time in sorting out the guilty from the innocent, wrote Roman historian Tacitus. Varus had heard it all before. Even though Segestes seemed more anxious than usual, Varus would not listen. Arminius had his eye on Thusnelda, the daughter of Segestes, who, as fate would have it, was betrothed to another. Varus accused Segestes of slander. He likely thought that Segestes was only being a protective father and acting out of his personal dislike of Arminius.
Almost immediately after Segestes’ latest accusations against Arminius, Varus received the news that a few distant tribesmen, perhaps the Angrivarii to the northwest, had rebelled. For Varus the timing was less than ideal, for his army was ready to begin its late summer march back to Vetera on the Rhine. Arminius advised Varus that to deal with the rebels, Varus should lead his army back to Vetera on a different route from the usual military road. The detour would take Varus along the northern edge of the Weser Hills and the Teutoburg Forest, where the highlands descended into the swamps and forests of the North European Plain. Varus agreed his legions would set out at once to crush the insurrection before it could grow any larger. Word was sent to the Roman detachments that were strung out along the supply route back to Anreppen, or were chasing robbers in local villages. The detachments were ordered to catch up with Varus’ slower main column.
Arminius and his Cherusci contingent joined the legions marching out of the camp gates. Above each legion bobbed its eagle standard, proudly carried by the first cohort. Wings spread, talons gripping thunderbolts, it was an icon of near religious nature, representing the invincibility of Rome. No doubt the soldiers who marched beneath those proud standards thought that the rebels would easily be dealt with. The legionaries were in good spirits. If things worked out, the legionaries would be back in their secure winter base at Vetera in no time. Their pockets were full too, having just received the third installment of their stipendium, their annual salary, which they could top off with loot and slaves from the rebels.
The clatter of armor and iron-nailed sandals resounded through the woods. Arminius and his entourage galloped along the long Roman column. Reigning in his steed at Varus’ position, Arminius exclaimed that he and his men must dally behind. More tribal reinforcements were on the way. Arminius would gather them and then return to Varus.
The cenotaph of First Centurion Marcus Caelius of the Eighteenth Legion, who was slain in the Teutoburg Forest. The numbers of the three Roman legions destroyed in the battle were never reallocated.
Arminius and his attendants rode off to muster the other Cherusci chiefs. Segestes, however, at first refused to join the rebellion. Hoping to avert disaster at the last minute, Segestes’ men seized Arminius and threw him into chains. The debacle only delayed the inevitable, for Segestes had no support from the other chiefs, who soon freed Arminius.
Arminius led an army of between 10,000 and 17,000 warriors back to Varus, and several times as many were still on the way. Word of the impending attack on the Romans continued to spread from one farmstead to the next. Not just among the Cherusci did warriors gather but also from their allies the Marsi and the Bructeri and possibly from the Angrivarii, Chauci, Chatti, and Sugambri as well. Roman patrols and work parties along the route to Anreppen and in the countryside were caught off guard and slaughtered by Cherusci whom they at first thought to be allies. The Ampsivarii noble Boiocalus likewise was taken unawares and imprisoned when he refused to break his Roman allegiance.
Out on the farmsteads, the tribal families gathered provisions of millet, barley, and livestock. Priests took sacred emblems from their holy groves and carried them into battle. The Germanic warriors would fight side by side with their family members. Fathers, sons, and brothers were comrades in arms, families were their squadrons and clans were their divisions.
Varus’ army made good progress over relatively open country, covering 15 miles before setting up its first marching camp. In the middle of the camp, torches flickered off the silver and golden eagles planted in sacred ground. Early in the morning, trumpets called for the soldiers to wake. By the time they sounded twice more, the packing and loading was completed and the legions stood ready to march.
The path to the rebels led through heavy woods. Dark clouds of the northern fall hovered over the horizon. Soon Varus had his hands full just moving his army ahead. Oak and birch, beech and alder, boulders and rocks hemmed in the legions as if the very woods and mountains were turning against the Romans. There were no real roads by Roman standards. Legionary pioneers wiped beads of sweat from their foreheads as they lifted axes to chop trees blown onto the trail, which hindered the passage of the convoy wagons. Above them, tree limbs of giant oaks groaned and leaves rustled in the wind. Rain belted down and somewhere in the distance thunder burst and flashes of lightning cut the sky.
Tired feet stumbled over slippery roots. The armor and camp gear carried by each legionarygot heavier and heavier. The officers were luckier many rode horses and most of their gear was in the baggage train. Wooden wagons slid into swampy pools. Men groaned and whips lashed at sweat-coated mules as both strained to free wheels embedded in mud. Treetops broke and fell upon the Romans. Streams, swollen by the rain, had to be forded. The convoy became more and more stretched out. The legionaries hopelessly intermingled with the accompanying camp followers and with pack animals and the herds of livestock. Everything slowed to a snail’s pace.
Whistles cut through the air. Here and there, all along the convoy, javelins and slingshot showered upon the Romans. The wind carried guttural bellows: the barbarians calling upon their spirits and their gods. Ghostly figures, pale-skinned, near-naked bearded giants, appeared and disappeared among the trees.
The barbarians, lightly armed, carrying nothingt but large oval shields were at home in the woods. They struck at will wherever the Romans were at their weakest. Overwhelming numbers of Germans would mow down half a dozen legionaries. Before the Romans could gather sufficient reinforcements, the barbarians would flee back into the impenetrable thickets. In their heavy mail or the newer segmented armor, the legionaries were too slow.
Slowly, painfully, the Roman convoy dragged itself onward. The barbarian attacks never let up, striking at man, woman and beast alike. The enemy was everywhere, and to the Romans, their numbers seemed without end. Arminius, the other chiefs, and their personal guards, distinguished by mail shirts and iron helmets as befitted their ranks, were likely in the thick of it. Probably Arminius galloped back and forth along the Roman column, directing and partaking in prepared ambushes led by the chiefs. The Romans suffered mounting losses without being able to seriously harm the enemy. The only blessing was that at least the rain stopped for a while.
At last, Varus’ battered convoy reached a place to set up camp. Despite the physical strain of the march and fighting, the legionaries’ iron endurance enabled them to dig a deep ditch and pile the excavated soil into a rampart. Many remembered their training days when they cursed at having to carry equipment that was twice as heavy as their regular 70 pounds of armor and gear. Now that training paid off.
The two servants that attended to each contubernium of eight legionaries brought up their pack mule to unload the tent and the heavier baggage. Fires sprang up between the ordered rows of thousands of gable-roofed tents. Unfortunately, a lot of oxen, pigs, and sheep had been lost during the harrying attacks of the day. For many legionaries, the only meat to supplement their bread was perhaps a strip of dried bacon. The legionaries huddled around the fires, wrapped in their red military cloaks, the sagum, enjoying a last few swigs of cheap wine. The woolen sagum probably doubled as their blanket.
The groans of the heavily wounded broke the still night air. Ordinarily, the skill of Roman medics was such that despite their dangerous profession, Roman soldiers enjoyed a longer life span than their civilian counterparts. In the Teutoburg, though, it was difficult to keep wounds clean and to administer the required aid. Many of the wounded, victims of shock and blood loss, would never awake.
Somewhere deep in the forest, the Germanic warriors too took their rest. Their woolen trousers, tunics, and cloaks dried quickly beside smokeless fires. The Germanic women bandaged open wounds and applied healing herbs. They also provided moral support, praising their men who risked their lives for their families and who fought with courage. Alongside their usual porridge of barley and millet, the warriors ate pork and beef, some of the latter having no doubt come from the Roman column. As they wrapped themselves in blankets and furs and drifted into slumber, the Germans too thought of sons, fathers, and friends lost in battle.
German tribesmen assault Romans amid the ancient trees of the trackless, rugged terrain. A range of low, forested hills in the German Central Uplands was the scene of the disaster.
The next morning, the Romans burned any surplus equipment and most of the wagons. They left behind their heavily wounded, doubtlessly killing many to spare them capture and torture. It would not have taken long for the Romans to identify their attackers of the previous day as Cherusci and Arminius were likely spotted in the fighting. Clearly, the initial news of a rebellion had been a sham meant to lure Varus and his army into the wilderness and disaster. The question for the Romans was how to proceed. The untried routes ahead, to the Ems and to friendly Frisii territory or to the lower Rhine, were far shorter than backtracking to the Lippe road. Their load lightened, the Romans pushed on northwest the next morning.
The barbarian attacks continued and their numbers grew. At times the road improved and led through cleared areas of pasture meadows, barley, and wheat fields. Yet even in these open areas the Romans faced ambushes by barbarians hidden in the long grasses. And thereafter the track always led back into the foreboding woods. Roman attempts to lash back at the barbarians in close infantry and cavalry ranks faltered as the trees jumbled up their formations. On the third day the overcast sky erupted anew, drenching the legions.
Fortunately for the legionaries they came upon good defensive ground for the next marching camp. They were now skirting the northeasterly to northern side of the 350-foot-high Kalkrieser Berg. The hill protruded from the Wiehengebirge on the northern extremity of the Weser Hills into the Great Moor. Behind the mauled convoy, back along its 20-mile passage to the southeast, lay 13,000 dead that were left as food for flocks of ravens and packs of wolves. The heaviest casualties were among the thousands of servants, slaves, and civilians who would have made the easiest targets. The fatigued legionaries must have been ready to drop, but training and discipline paid off, enabling them to set up a defensive barrier.
In his command tent, Varus held council with his remaining senior officers. With two of his legion commanders having fallen in battle, Varus relied on his remaining legate Vala Numonius and his two camp prefects, the third in command of a legion, Ceonius and Lucius Eggius. In the end there remained only one choice. There was no going back and with no supplies they could not hold out. Plunging north or south into the even harsher terrain of the swamp or hills was tantamount to suicide.
Perhaps sitting by a fire, Arminius conferred with his chiefs as well. The battle had gone well, the Romans were beaten, and many called for an assault on the camp. Likely against the wishes of Arminius, who characteristically would have seen no point of risking his warriors on a premature attack, the loot-hungry council overruled him.
It was likely just before dawn that trumpets blared and Varus’ banner, a large square identifying the commander and his army, was raised to signal the call for battle. From all directions, barbarians charged at the camp, plunging through the shallow ditch and storming the ramparts. Volleys of Roman arrows swooshed into the howling masses but the barbarians came on with a fury. The legionaries were able to fight in formation and defend from above, behind earthen ramparts and walls of sharp stakes. Released of their pent-up frustration, of not being able to come to grips with their foes, the legionaries fought with renewed vigor. The barbarian waves pounded against the Roman shield wall, only to be gutted and stabbed from above by Roman swords. Though swaths of tribesmen lay at their feet, with each assault the Roman lines became thinner until they gave way. The Roman breastwork half torn to pieces, the tribesmen burst into the camp.
Wounded in battle, Varus knew the end was near. Shamed by the disaster he had brought upon his legions, Varus chose the honorable death of suicide. In the footsteps of his father who met defeat at Philippi when Varus was but a child, Varus and his highest ranking officers fell on their swords. Word of Varus’ death caused the troops to lose their last hope. A few imitated Varus and took their own lives. Others threw away their arms.
The last legionary line protecting Varus’ body collapsed while his men tried to burn his body. Camp prefect Ceonius decided to surrender he was killed. Legate Vala Numonius, the last legion commander, took command of the Roman cavalry. Vala, otherwise a brave man, decided that his only chance was to abandon the infantry and he vanished with his cavalry into the forests. They were never heard of again. The only one who retained his composure was the remaining camp prefect, Lucius Eggius. Retaining order among his own cohorts, he rallied fleeing legionaries to him. Gathering what provisions they could on mules and taking with them their wives and closest servants, the legionaries of Eggius’ ad-hoc battle group fought their way out. Probably they faced only sporadic opposition as the bulk of the barbarians were busy ransacking the Roman camp.
When the spoiling attacks on Eggius’ retreating column abated, his men proceeded in silence. Hoping to elude their pursuers, Eggius’ men even muffled the bells attached to the mule harnesses with tufts of grass and earth. Their hopes were dashed when the way ahead narrowed into a choke point between deep swamp to their right and an earth embankment to their left. A waist-high palisade of stakes, interlaced twigs, and branches ran along the top of the embankment, and behind it lurked more tribesmen. The legionaries locked their shields above their heads in tortoise formation. Under a deluge of missiles, they tried to force the barrier. The wooden mesh bent but did not break easily under the blows of Roman axes and entrenching tools. When the Romans faltered the barbarians sallied forth. Groups of Romans died fighting to the end, including brave Eggius. Others finally panicked, risking all for a mad dash into the swamp. Only a very few lucky legionaries managed to make a desperate escape to the Rhine.
A red haze clouded the barbarians’ eyes as they “struck down man and beast,” wrote Roman historian Cassius Dio. Somewhere on the battlefield, out of the hands of the Roman standard bearers slipped the gilded silver or golden eagle standards. Two eagle standards, the physical embodiments of the legions, fell into barbarian hands. One was claimed by the Cherusci, another was taken into the land of the Marsi. The third legionary eagle was broken off its shaft by its bearer, who hid the eagle under his clothing and disappeared into the swamp.
The Germans dug up the half-burned body of Varus. One of them walked up to the ghastly blood- and mud-soaked corpse. He lifted his blade and lopped off the head. No doubt a wild cry went up from the bystanders this was the fate of the Roman “conquerors.” From a platform, Arminius addressed his exuberant warriors, who cheered his mocking of the eagles and the Roman standards. The grim trophy of Varus was eventually sent to Maroboduus, Arminius’ rival and king of the Marcomanni, a sign of the power of Arminius and the Cherusci.
The barbarians took cruel vengeance, especially on the leaders, the stripling, thin-stripe tribunes, and the hardened first centurions. “They pierced out the eyes of some and cut off the hands of others. In one case, they cut out the man’s tongue … and the barbarian who held it in his hand shouted at him: ‘Now, snake, your hissing is finished,’” wrote Roman historian Publius Annius Florus.
The merciless Germanic gods also demanded their due. Several hundred Roman prisoners were sacrificed, dragged to altars in forest groves. The Romans had their throats slit or they were hanged from trees. Weapons, armor, and ornaments were thrown into sacred ponds.
Others were dragged into slavery, a fate the Romans had meted out to so many other people. “Men who might have hoped to enter the Senate someday spent the rest of their lives as shepherds or doorkeepers,” wrote Roman historian Seneca. Amazingly, 40 years after the battle, a few Roman survivors were recovered by allied German tribal levies who intercepted a party of Chatti raiders into Upper Germania.
Since ambushes and javelin barrages killed the majority of Romans in the Teutoburg, German casualties probably numbered less than 4,000 killed and wounded. Of the wounded, a few hundred more died days or weeks later from the common battle ailments of tetanus, gangrene bacterium infections and blood poisoning. The bodies of the German dead were placed on funeral pyres alongside their weapons. As flames engulfed the fallen, women wailed in anguish and sorrow while the men held back their tears.
The barbarians pressed onward to Aliso on the Lippe. Arminius displayed the heads of slain legionaries in front of the besieged Roman garrison. Camp prefect Lucius Caedicius replied with volleys of Roman arrows that mowed down the assaulting barbarians. Caedicius held the walls until his provisions were used up and most of the tribesmen had moved off. During a stormy night his garrison made its way west, reaching the Rhine but abandoning a large number of civilians. Farther south, on the Lahn, the Romans burned down their town at Waldgermis and fled to the Rhine.
On the Rhine, Asprenas’ two legions had their hands full as tribesmen on the river’s west side were causing trouble. At Oppidum Ubiorum, Segestes’ son Segimundus removed his insignia of the Roman priesthood and ran off to join his father, who sided with the rebels. Allegedly, Segimundus even desecrated the corpse of Varus. Everything that had been gained in nearly 30 years of campaigning had been lost in a single battle.
The news of the disaster reached Augustus at Rome along with the head of Varus, courtesy of Maroboduus, which the emperor honorably laid to rest in Varus family vault. Augustus disbanded his German bodyguard and sent patrols into the streets to prevent an uprising. He promised the people games in honor of Jupiter, the father of the Roman gods. Tiberius, who had just brought the Illyrian revolt to an end, respectfully postponed his triumph in light of the Varian disaster.
German tribesmen overrun a Roman unit. Unlike in Gaul, the lack of large urban centers and good roads in Germany made it difficult for the Romans to subjugate the scattered militaristic population.
To maintain stability abroad, Augustus prolonged the terms of the provincial governors. As in the crisis of the Illyrian insurrection, Augustus requisitioned slaves for freedmen cohorts to shore up the Rhine defenses. The freedmen would have to suffice until six additional legions and large numbers of auxiliaries were transferred from the barely ended fighting in Dalmatia.
The numbers of the lost legions, the Seventeenth, the Eighteenth, and the Nineteenth, were never reallocated. The defeat in the Teutoburg was unquestionably a major setback for the Roman conquest of Germania, one that became the turning point in the Germanic wars.
For months after news of the defeat, the 72-year-old Augustus let his beard and hair go untrimmed. He beat his head on a door and shouted, “Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions.” The anniversary of the Varian disaster remained a day of mourning. More important, it convinced Augustus to abandon his plan for extending the Roman frontier to the Elbe.
Why the change in Augustus’ policy? After all, the Roman Republic had absorbed greater losses against the Cimbri and Teutones and against Hannibal—even though, theoretically, the Republic had a much smaller recruiting base than Augustus’ huge empire. Augustus even retained the state’s right to recruit by compulsion and extended it to the provinces. In reality, however, political considerations likely limited the ability of Augustus to conscript citizen troops.
Two new legions were raised, the Twenty-first and the Twenty-second. The Twenty-second was probably made up of Galatian troops, recently granted citizenship. The Twenty-first was made up of the sentina, literally the dregs of the population of the city of Rome, who had never before been a source for the legions. Roman citizens who lived the good life saw no reason to risk life and limb. This was a far cry from Republican days, when serving in the legions was the right and duty of the Roman citizen, and the only recruits normally passed up were the poor.
Likely another reason for Augustus’ turn about was that the conquest of Germania was the brainchild of Drusus and not of Augustus. The Varian disaster confirmed that the cost of a German conquest far outweighed the benefits henceforth, the Rhine was to remain the eastern border.
In ad 10 Tiberius returned to the German frontier to carry out some half-hearted raids into Germania. Two years later, when he returned to Rome, Tiberius held his postponed Illyrian triumph. Notably, there was no triumph de Germania. Neither Aliso nor any other Roman presence in the German interior had been restored. In the face of his stepfather’s old age, Tiberius was more worried about ensuring his accession than pressing the conquest of Germania. Others in the upper military echelons thought otherwise.
Drusus’ young son, Germanicus Julius Caesar, who inherited his father’s spirit and popularity, called for vengeance. Germanicus became a Roman hero but his campaigns were hard fought, costly in lives and in coin, and ultimately indecisive. After three years of campaigning against the tribes east of the Rhine, Germanicus was recalled by Tiberius, now emperor. Tiberius reasoned that “the Cherusci too and the other insurgent tribes, since the vengeance of Rome had been satisfied, might be left to their internal feuds.”
Unlike in Gaul, the lack of large urban centers, poor roads, and hostile terrain nullified any Roman victories because they made it difficult to subjugate the scattered population. All the wars, all the bloodshed, of the last three decades had achieved naught but to further militarize the already dangerous Germanic tribes.
Arminius was left free to square off against Maroboduus. Although victorious, Arminius was killed in ad 19 by tribesmen who resented his perceived claim to kingship. Arminius died young but he had already profoundly changed the course of history. His victory in the Teutoburg and his resistance freed the tribes from Roman subjugation and, centuries later, made possible the emergence of Germany, France, and England.
Calixtlahuaca-Tecaxic Roman Head
The Calixtlahuaca-Tecaxic “Roman Head” was discovered by José Garcia-Payón in 1933 whilst excavating a burial site within the Matlatzinca city of Tecaxic (now named Calixtlahuaca). The Roman bust was found amongst a cache of offerings, including gold, turquoise, crystal and pottery, buried three floors beneath a sacred pyramidal structure. The burial site appeared undisturbed and dates between 1476 and 1510 AD. This means the piece must predate the Spanish conquest, which didn’t reach the shores of Mexico until 1519. So how did a “Roman” figurine head find its way into a pre-Columbian burial?
In 1995 the head was sent to Germany for scientific thermo-luminescence testing by Forschungsstelle Archäometrie. The results they provided gave a production date between 184 BC and 616 AD, which proved it is much older than the grave it was found within and could have been taken to the Americas in very ancient times. The date of production was further narrowed by classical historian Ernst Boehringer, who identified the piece as being stylistically in keeping with Roman artwork of the 2 nd and 3 rd centuries AD. This was further narrowed to the 2 nd century by Bernard Andreae of the German Institute of Archaeology in Rome, who stated:
Roman Head found at Calixtlahuaca “[the head] is without any doubt Roman, and the lab analysis has confirmed that it is ancient. The stylistic examination tells us more precisely that it is a Roman work from around the 2 nd century A.D., and the hairstyle and the shape of the beard present the typical traits of the Severian emperors period [193-235 A.D.], exactly in the ‘fashion’ of the epoch.”
Assuming, then, that the head is authentic, the most convenient answer on how it found its way into the grave is that it was planted there. The site was undisturbed and it is extremely unlikely that robbers would break into a grave and deposit even older and more valuable artefact, so the only opportunity to introduce the head would have been during the excavation – as a hoax. Following Romeo H. Hristov and Santiago Genovés’ 1999 publication on the Calixtlahuaca Roman head, a researcher named Paul Schmidt from the lnstituto de lnvestigaciones Antropologicas at UNAM, Mexico City, claimed exactly this in an informal letter in which he wrote:
“…the figurine was planted in Don Pepe’s [José Garcia Payón’s] dig, the saying goes, by Hugo Moedano. Don Pepe took it so seriously that no one had the heart to tell him it was a joke. This I remember having been told by John Paddock….Taking into consideration Hristov’s known unethical behavior and the obvious controversy which would result from the publication, I find it extremely hard to believe that two of the three serious and professional referees … would support the article.”
However, nobody present during the excavation was alive to verify or deny the controversial claim, and no-one else connected with research of the site recalls any such claims being made. Payon’s son stated that Moedano hadn’t even been present at the excavation site. So, although Schmidt’s argument is the most logical, there is no evidence that there is any truth in it.
If it was not a modern introduction as a hoax, then it had to be introduced at the time of the burial and before the arrival of Europeans on the mainland. This is possible, because although the Conquistadors did not reach the Mexican mainland until 1519, the nearby islands of the Caribbean had been colonised since the late 15 th century, and Columbus’ parties had also reached mainland coastal regions from Honduras to Panama. So it is possible that the piece was brought from Europe and traded with the indigenous population and then the piece travelled via trade networks all the way to Calixtlahuaca. Whilst this would explain how a small Roman bust could have found its way to the burial site, it does also raise the inexplicable questions of why a Spanish colonialist or explorer would take a small 3 rd century Roman head with them to trade and why an Aztec nobleman would choose it to accompany them to the afterlife.
Monte Alban – Bearded Man The answer to the latter question is that although it looks like a 3 rd century Roman Emperor, and possibly is, there are plenty of pieces of Mesoamerican artwork that feature European or Persian looking bearded men and were highly revered. The ancient Olmec civilisation were particularly keen at creating foreign looking figurines – epitomised be their most famous pieces, the huge African looking Olmec heads. Other civilisations of middle Mesoamerica, such as the Zapotec, frequently used imagery of bearded foreign looking men. This region is also home to a city called Comalcalco, which appears to have been built using Roman techniques. In the north, the Toltec claimed their civilisation was founded by a God named Quetzalcoatl who was a bearded white man – or least this is what the Aztec ruler, Moctezuma II, allegedly told Cortes and his party of Conquistadors when they arrived. So there is actually some evidence to suggest an Aztec nobleman would bury a Roman head with them.
The question then rests on whether the head was manufactured by Romans, or whether it just looks Roman and was actually the imaginative work of a Mesoamerican artist. With Roman and Greek sailors reaching the Canary Islands and being such keen explorers, it is almost certain that they would have tried to
Comalcalco – Bearded Man explore further west, but the lack of written accounts in Roman Europe suggests they never succeeded on the return journey. Of course, this doesn’t prove that Romans never landed in the Americas and the only way to answer this question is to find Roman artefacts and evidence of their influence in artwork and architecture within the Americas. Unfortunately, the Roman head of Calixtlahuaca is not conclusive evidence of Roman contact because the archaeology surrounding its discovery is not sufficiently robust – the documentation is massively deficient with a total lack of photography, the absence of drawn plans of the excavation and no drawings of the piece on discovery or the stratifigraphic context of the find. However, it cannot be discounted either and should be added to the ever increasing list of uncertain anomalies that suggest there was ancient contact between the Old World and the New.
The Calixtlahuaca Roman Head is held at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, where it is archived as a Colonial piece.
The Love Affair of the Roman Emperor Hadrian and the Handsome Antinous
Not much was known of the young Antinous before he attracted the attention of the ruler of the Roman world at its zenith. He was born in 111 AD in the Roman province of Bithynia, which would include the Asian side of Istanbul and surrounds, in modern Turkey. He was very likely not from a wealthy family - in fact, he was even said to have been a slave. However, because of his mysterious bond with Roman Emperor Hadrian, by the end of his short life, Antinous was a house-hold name all over the Roman Empire.
Bust of Hadrian probably from Rome, Italy AD 117 – 138. Bust of Antinous From Rome, Italy AD 130-140. The presence of an ivy wreath in this portrait links Antinous to the god Dionysus, the closest Greek equivalent to the Egyptian god Osiris. (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Antinous was deified upon his death and worshipped as a hero, a god and a conqueror of death - a city was founded in his name and games were held to commemorate him. More images have been identified of Antinous than of any other figure in classical antiquity with the exceptions of Augustus and Hadrian himself. However, despite his fame, we knew very little about him apart from his relationship with Hadrian.
Fake Antiquity: this is Julius Caesar. Really?
We normally do not think about simple things like this, but may be we should. This thread is a spin off of the thread titled Questionable antiquity of the "ancient" statues. I will try to keep it short. I think that our civilization has no idea who most of the ancient busts displayed in various museums, and private collections belong to. Have you ever though of what magic sources are being used by the historians to put "a name to a face"? I suggest you do. Don't just blindly accept "this is the bust of Plato". Verify why it is Plato, and not some mannequin head.
We have hundreds of the so-called "Ancient" busts/statues of various individuals. They are supposed to be close to 2,000 years old, with some being much older. Whatever museums host them provide us with something similar to the below bust of Julius Caesar. I chose this one, because it has some sort of an explanation of why this bust is supposed to be representative of Julius Caesar.
Julius Caesar. Why him?
The Tusculum portrait, possibly the only surviving sculpture of Caesar made during his lifetime. Archaeological Museum, Turin, Italy.
- The Tusculum portrait or the Tusculum bust is one of the two main portrait types of Julius Caesar, alongside the Chiaramonti Caesar. Being one of the copies of the bronze original, the bust is dated to 50–40 BC and is housed in the permanent collection of the Museo d'Antichità in Turin, Italy. Made of fine grained marble, the bust measures 33 cm (13 in) in height.
- The portrait's facial features are consistent with those on coins struck in Caesar's last year, particularly on the denarii issued by Marcus Mettius. The bust's head is prolonged, forming a saddle shape which was caused by Caesar's premature ossification of the sutures between the parietal bone and the temporal bone. The portrait also exhibits dolichocephalia. According to several scholars, the Tusculum portrait is the only extant portrait of Caesar made during his lifetime.
- The Tusculum portrait was excavated by Lucien Bonaparte at the forum in Tusculum in 1825 and was later brought to Castello d'Aglie, though it was not recognised as a bust of Caesar until Maurizio Borda identified it in 1940. The portrait was exhibited in the Louvre alongside the Arles bust. There are three known copies of the bust, in the Woburn Abbey and in private collections in Florence and Rome.
More on this coin
Above are the denarii issued by Marcus Mettius. These denarii were used to identify the above bust with Julius Caesar. Really? So we have two main busts of Julius Caesar (Tusculum and Chiaramonti), and these coins to tie them all together. Let's take a look.
Why not Napoleon?
. or Alexander the Great?
I do not know if I'm the only one seeing a whole bunch of issues here, but here is my take on this:
- First ever bust of Julius Caesar was excavated by Lucien Bonaparte? A younger brother of Napoléon Bonaparte? Really?
- . copy of the bronze original. I see this phrase very often in the description of various busts, or sculptures. Where is this knowledge coming from?
- Julius Caesar died in 44 BC. His (allegedly) bust was "discovered" in 1825. It was identified as Julius Caesar in 1940.
- The above coin, assisted by some scientific gibberish was used to identify the bust as that of Julius Caesar.
I am not even talking about Julius Caesar looking like this back in the early 1400s. The fact that 600 years ago people could have had a much better idea of what Julius Caesar looked like can only be overshadowed by a blatant TPTB lie according to which we only learned of Julius Caesar's appearance in 1925.
Julius Caesar and Attendants + SH Link
Just think about it. These busts spent 2,000 years in the dirt, or wherever. There are no inscriptions on them stating that this bust indicates this, or that person. There are no documents to support these frivolous identifications. Naturally, how do we identify all of the individuals depicted in the so-called "ancient" stone? Agreed, historians "know better", why would we question them?
Why would we not question them? As a matter of fact lets do it?
Socrates - Why?
Socrates: 470 BC - 399 BC
A marble head of Socrates in the Louvre. How do we know that this is Socrates?
Plato - Why?
428/427 or 424/423 BC - 348/347 BC
Roman copy of a portrait bust by Silanion for the Academia in Athens (c. 370 BC). How do we know that this is Plato?
Homer - Why?
Homer: 800 BC - 701 BC
Roman bust of Homer from the second century AD, portrayed with traditional iconography, based on a Greek original dating to the Hellenistic Period. How do we know that this is Homer?
This list could be endless. As far as the above three individuals go, they lived 2400, 2300, and 2800 years ago. I can bet my left pinky finger that all of the above busts were not even "discovered" until, at least, 2,000 years after the said individuals allegedly died.
- For thousands of years there was no information. How do we know who these busts supposed to represent?
KD: One day I will hopefully get to writing an article on Poggio Bracciolini. In my opinion he was the very first person who, around 1418, gave us the Antiquity. I am not saying that he did it on his own, but his name is attached to it like no other. Prior to his "discoveries" of the so-called "copies" of some 1500-2500 year old originals, this world had no idea about things like Ancient Greece, etc. The other person to thank would be Marsilio Ficino, assisted by Father of the Fatherland Cosimo de' Medici.
When we factor in things covered in the below mentioned threads, the issue becomes more obvious.
I think that for the reasons of replacing the true history of this world, the "Antiquity" is being forced upon us. Indoctrination of these busts could be meant to strengthen the original position by attaching faces to names. The world has to know its heroes.
The works (i.e. Odyssey), clearly exist. The question here is when they were really created: some 2,000 years ago, or around the 15th century? Would that bear any difference for us as a Civilization? I think it would.
Once again, the above is just my personal opinion. As always, do your own research, check, and double-check, and, most importantly - question, and verify for yourself.
- The collection consists of 620 sculptures – including statues, portrait busts and sarcophagi – 92 of which are on display, after cleaning and restoration
- The family amassed the hoard by buying other private collections, and from excavations on its own estates
- The exhibition opened in October in the Villa Caffarelli in Rome, but closed more than once because of the pandemic – it reopened most recently on 26 April and is due to end on 29 June
- No dates have yet been set for the exhibition’s foreign tour
For decades Torlonia family inheritance squabbles prevented any agreement on the future of the priceless and irreplaceable private collection. The breakthrough came a few years ago, shortly before the old prince died, when a cultural foundation was created to restore the collection under Italian government supervision.
Before a new permanent home is found for them in Rome, some of the marbles will travel on loan, to the Louvre, the British Museum and to the US.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is a large marble plaque showing a vivid scene at Rome’s sea port of Ostia. Two large sailing ships crammed with cargoes from Africa are seen at anchor. Maritime historians say it’s a unique pictorial record of how Roman navigators brought huge quantities of grain from what is now Libya to feed the burgeoning population of the capital city.
The sailing boats also brought heavy granite obelisks and coloured marble columns all the way from Egypt to embellish Rome’s temples. In the background you can see a stone representation of the flame at the top of the lighthouse which signalled the entrance to Rome’s harbour for ancient mariners. A touch of red was added by the sculptor to enhance the scene. It seemed as if he’d tried to apply a smudge of lipstick to illuminate and enliven a pallid face. Restorers also reported finding traces of the Egyptian blue, which originally coloured the representation in stone of the swirling harbour waters.
Another big marble plaque shows a unusually vivid scene from what looks like an ancient Roman butcher’s shop. Carcasses of animals – two pigs, three geese and a hare – hang upside down on the wall while two women in long loose robes pose behind the cash desk.
Many of the portrait busts have been identified as those of famous – and infamous – Roman emperors and their wives. Caracalla, for example (see above), and his barely teenage wife, Plautilla, who was murdered on her husband’s orders, and suffered the indignities of being declared a non-person. It was common practice in the ancient world to erase the names and images of a disgraced person from the public record – in Latin this was called Damnatio Memoriae.
Dozens of the portraits were originally dug up with smashed noses and gouged eyes indicating they had been officially deleted from history. Questionable restorations of missing fingers and limbs and mismatches of heads and bodies have sometimes been criticised by art experts. But that’s a separate story.
GREEK SCULPTURE HERITAGE & CHANGE OF STYLE
In general, Roman statues weren't much different from those made by the ancient Greeks, actually most were copies of the Greeks or original Roman statuary with no much variation from classical standards. However, from the second century, and especially from the reign of Constantine I, the increasing influence of Eastern art determined a gradual elimination, with some periods of recovery, ups and downs of the Classical canon, leading to the development of a more abstract and disproportionate style that would be the transition for the establishment of the Byzantine art. A great example of the variations of styles during the empire is the difference between Trajan's column (more Eastern) and Column of Marcus Aurelius (more Classical).
Trajan's Column - East Side (Click to Expand)
Photography by Matthias Kabel
Roman emperor statues were presumably more idealized than others, closer to the gods, represented as religious authorities or Pontifex Maximus, or as Imperator commander of the army. However, it is during the reign of Hadrian when there it seems to be an increase of Hellenistic idealization, with the appearance of the beard for the first time in the lineage of emperors, and a new trend of emphasizing the pupils, features of great expressiveness added to the portraits of this period. Great example is Antinous, Greek youth favorite of emperor Hadrian, deified after his death and widely immortalized in the form of idealized sculptures.
Clad in gold equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius
Photography by Zanner
History of Roman coins
To trace the history of Roman coins is to travel back to ancient Roman civilization. Aside from being used as money, early Roman coins were also used as medium to relay message and ideals through the designs and wording etched on the coin.
Also, many historians believe that the early currency of Rome was used as newspapers to announce won battles among other significant events. During the Roman Empire, coins bore the image of the reigning emperor and Roman deities. And apart from all these, the coins were also considered portable pieces of art.
Ancient Roman civilization and the history of Roman currency
The Roman Republic (509 BC–27 BC) was the ancient civilization in Rome following the republican form of government. In other words, the people or a part of its people had an impact on its government as opposed to monarchy wherein the head of the state or the monarch holds supreme power.
The Roman Empire (27 BC–AD 476 / 1453) was the succeeding phase of the ancient Roman civilization identified for its autocratic form of government and its control over some territories in Europe and the Mediterranean.
Although at this period Rome was ruled by an emperor (a monarch) enforcing autocracy, Caesar Augustus who was bestowed as first Roman emperor, did not want to associate himself with anything suggestive of monarchy and dictatorship.
Roman Republic coins
The Roman Republic coins began with minting silver coins & cast bronze to be used for commerce and trade with Greek colonies and in Central Italy respectively.
What images to be placed on the currency were decided by “the three men responsible for casting and striking bronze, silver and gold” or the tresviri monetales, also sometimes referred to as the mint magistrates. The trio was composed of young statesmen aspiring for political office.
Roman Republic coin designs would represent the entire Roman state usually bearing the bust of Roma, a female deity of the traditional religion in Rome, on the obverse.
As time went on, the ancient Roman coins also bore images of the moneyer’s family members who wanted to be elected for a position in the government, making the currency an advertising tool.
The reverse sides would as well bear images signifying important events such as election or voting scenes, Roman soldiers getting ready for battle, victories of Roman politicians and generals during wars, etc.
For example is the Faustus Cornelius Sulla, AR Denarius minted in the late republic. Its reverse side featured the image of Sulla, Roman politician and general, seated between Bocchus, King of Mauretania and Jugurtha, King of Numidia both kneeling. This represents one of the most remarkable events of Sulla’s life – his victory against the two kings.
The main silver coin of the Roman currency for more than 400 years called the denarius, was first introduced in 211 BC still during the republican Rome.
Roman Empire coins
The rise of the Roman Empire consequently marked coinage reforms. Local authorities & colonies were mostly allowed to strike bronze coins but not silver coins. Only Rome itself was authorized to mint coins made from precious metals like silver and gold.
The image on the old Roman coins became drastically significant when Julius Caesar (military general and political leader who played vital role in transforming the republic to an empire) issued coins that bore his own portrait. The Roman Caesar coins were the first in the Roman money that featured the image of a living individual.
Then on, the Roman Empire currency already featured the portrait of the reigning emperor (often times attempting to make the emperor appear god-like) and embodied the policies that he instituted during his rule.
Apart from the image of the reigning emperor, the coins may also feature the portrait of the predecessors, successors, and other family members. To add, the legitimacy of an heir’s succession to the throne is only acknowledged when there were coins issued bearing his image.
For these reasons, it was inevitable that the Romans attached high regard and value for the images etched on their coin money.
Roman Republican currency and Roman Imperatorial coinage
Many coins from the ancient Roman civilization are either unnamed or unknown. It is also important to note that there were types of coins used both in the Roman Republic and Empire especially during the transition years.
Here are a few named pieces in the history of Roman coins. Some of these were given names only in later time during their discovery.
|Antoninianus / Radiates||215 BC|
|Aureus||100 BC-300 AD|
|Follis / Nummus||294 AD|
Other highlights of Roman coinage history
• As is an old Roman coin money originally made from bronze and later from copper. It was introduced in the year 280 BC. As is also the base unit of Roman coinage with fractions bes (2/3 of an as), semis (1/2), quincunx (5/12), triens (1/3), quadrans (1/4), sextans (1/6), uncia (1/12), and semuncia (1/24).
• The Roman coins denarius (plural denarii), was a main imperatorial coin in the working class and the most common piece produced having existed in the Roman currency for more than four centuries.
It was a silver ancient Roman coin which at first weighed 4.5 grams then was reduced to 3.9 grams. In the middle of the 3rd century, it was replaced by the antoninianus which was believed to be worth 2 denarii.
• The aureus was an ancient Roman gold coin about the size of a denarius but heavier due to its gold content.
The aureus was never in everyday circulation but were used by administrators, bankers, or rich merchants.
Because it was prone to wear when handled frequently and gold being difficult to find and mine in those times, the aureus gold Roman coins were often melted down and recycled.
The aureus was replaced with solidus around 300 AD by the emperor Constantine.
Roman coins collecting
The coin collecting history start with the creation of Roman coinage. In fact, the first known collector of coins was the first Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. He collected old precious coins and some of them he gave to his guests as gifts during festivities.
True, ancient Roman coins are amazing pieces of history. Today, many people still find Roman coin collecting as an enjoyable and worthwhile pastime.
It is believed that the history of Roman coins have started around fifth century BC, if not earlier. At this time, Roman economy was growing and the barter system (exchanging of farm products and other trade goods) was widely used.
– Aes rude (Rough bronze)
As commerce eventually developed, the Romans felt the need of having a more effective medium of exchange. To address this need, people used lumps of bronze called aes rude as money. The values of aes rude were according to their weight – heavier lumps constituted higher value.
– Aes signatum (Signed bronze)
Later, the ancient coins were standardized by marking designs on the cast lumps of bronze. These were called aes signatum which meant signed bronze. With weight still as the measure for value, marked “coins” had to be broken when smaller denominations were needed. These were used during 290 – 235 BC.
– Aes grave (Heavy bronze)
Aes grave or heavy bronze came to the Roman currency around 269 BC and was considered the first true Roman coins. These coins were more practical and convenient to use for they had varying shapes and recognizable designs to distinguish different denominations and values.
The aes grave became very largely used by the Romans in their trade. Eventually as time went on, the Romans learned the skills of etching more elaborate portraits and marks on their coins.
Identifying your old Roman coins
Identifying Roman coins can be easy, especially with ancient Roman coins. The following basic elements were usually found on the Roman’s coin money:
On the obverse or heads of the ancient coin
Portrait of the reigning emperor the image of an emperor’s relative such as his son
Legend – the wording etched right below the rim (outline) of the coin above the emperor’s head usually the legend would be the name of whose portrait appeared on the coin.
Headdress of the emperor – if a portrait does not have a headdress (or any ornaments on the head) it may signify a person of lower rank than an emperor
Bust type – the drapery or armor that is worn by the image on the coin would show his rank or status in the government or society
Motif – the motif is the image or message stamped on the coin. It usually recorded certain important events during the specific period that the coin was issued sometimes the motifs portray religious images or commemorate won wars.
Some historians suppose that the coins were also used as “newspapers” during the reign of the Roman Empire
Legend – in the reverse side of the ancient coin, the legend or wording right below the rim of the coin would briefly describe what the motif is about
Exergue – was similar to a track mark that would tell where the coins were minted (like a mint mark in modern coins)
Factors affecting the value of Roman coins include authenticity, grade or condition, rarity, historical significance, and eye appeal. In general, coins from the ancient Roman civilization are affordable because of the large number of old Roman coins available in the market today. Collecting Roman coins is said to be the hobby of novice and low-budget collectors.
To know the prices of Roman coins from early eras, refer to online price guides or printed Roman coin catalogs. You can also avail of coin appraisal services.
Taking care of your Roman coin collection
Protect your collection of Roman coins from deterioration and damage by giving them the proper care and maintenance. Purchase coin collecting supplies such as coin holders, coin flips, albums, and folders for storage and display. You may also need cotton gloves & coin tongs in handling your coins.
Also remember to choose the right quality of coin supplies. There are cheap brands that contain chemicals which react adversely with the coins causing permanent damage.
Cleaning antique Roman coins
Cleaning coins is often discouraged by numismatists except during a few circumstances. Because most old Roman coins are full of grime and corrosion, some collectors would opt to clean Roman coins using detergent, baking soda, or vinegar and coin electrolysis for more stubborn dirt.
When you do clean your coins, always consult an expert numismatist first.