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The First Roman Silver Coin and the Equus October


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I recently crossed off a type from my collecting bucket list that also serves as an important bookend for my collection: a Mars/Horsehead “ROMANO” didrachm, the first silver coin of the Romans. As is the case with many early Roman coins, the date and mint at which it was struck, along with the context surrounding its striking, have long been the subject of debate. Various authors have placed it as early as 340 B.C. and as late as the 260s B.C., with Metapontum, Neapolis and Rome, along with the general area of Campania commonly proposed as mint locations. Dating of course drives the context discussion, but some commonly proposed contexts have been the start of the Second Samnite War, the Foedus Neapolitanum, the building of the Via Appia, the funding of the Pyrrhic War and virtually every other important late fourth/early third century BC event in Roman history.

The dating I’ve cited below is roughly based on what most recent scholarship seems to be pointing to, with this issue being minted somewhere in the latter quarter or so of the fourth century, and to me the mint location at Neapolis seems most likely since these coins were minted at the Neapolitan weight standard and, at least I am told by collectors of Greek coinage, that the fabric matches contemporary Neapolitan issues. On top of that, these coins are never found in hoards around Rome, so while there is the possibility that they were minted in Rome by some sort of Greek “contractors”, it seems most likely they were minted in Neapolis, which makes sense since, at this time that roughly coincides with the Second Samnite War, Rome would have had plenty of dealings in Campania.

As far as the devices themselves, it’s easy to look at Mars and the bridled horse head on the obverse and think these are generic martial imagery and leave it at that, but as Crawford, Burnett and others have pointed out the choice of a wheat-ear behind the horse head perhaps offers a hint that there’s more going on here. Specifically, these devices when taken together seemingly refer to the Equus October(the October Horse). Each year, at the beginning and end of the combined campaigning season and agricultural cycle, festivals to Mars(who was not just the god of war, but also a guardian of agriculture) would be held, culminating in a series of chariot races at the end of season festival. The outside horse of the winning chariot would be ritually slain and sacrificed to Mars, as thanks for the recently completed harvest and as an offering asking Mars to protect the next one. This is notably the only horse sacrifice known in Roman religion.

As many of my recent coins have, this coin also has a wonderful old provenance to the Count Luigi Brunacci Collection sold by P & P Santamaria in Rome, 24-28 February 1958, where, fitting its position as the first Roman silver coin, it was lot 1. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find any biographical information about Brunacci at all. If anyone here has anything to share, I’d be most interested in it.


Roman Republic AR Didrachm(7.27g, 6h), anonymous, circa 326-300 BC, Neapolis mint. Helmeted head of bearded Mars left; behind, oak-spray / Horse's head right on base; behind, corn-ear; on base, ROMANO. Crawford 13/1; Burnett 5(Ob/R2); BMCRR Romano-Campanian 1; Sydenham 1
Privately purchased from M.V. Collection on 15 September 2022, ex Count Luigi Brunacci Collection, P & P Santamaria 24-28 February 1958, lot 1


As always, feel free to share anything relevant.

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  • 4 weeks later...

very beautiful coin, much better than my didrachme (20 mm, 6.12 gr, 12 h)

Crawford dates this coin 280/276 BC, this coin occurs as the only Roman issue in five published  hoards and one unpublished. Comparing the coins and the quality of the coins of this hoards, it is hard to date the introduction before the Pyrrhic War (280-275 BC).

The mint is incertain, Crawford supposes Metapontum, because the obverse is very similar tn the coins of Metap. and the horse referencing to the very well Punic coins. The corn ear also can be a reference to Metapontum

The inscription ROMANO  is supposed to be an abbreviation on Romanorum, indicating the town in the genitive plural, as the Greeks did and Rome on his first known coin. It can also be an ablative meaning : made by the Romans.

These coin was only used in the south of Italy, where the rite of Equus October was unknown. It is the first time I read this, do you have a good reference

For a similar obverse of Matapontum :




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3 hours ago, antwerpen2306 said:

Crawford dates this coin 280/276 BC, this coin occurs as the only Roman issue in five published  hoards and one unpublished. Comparing the coins and the quality of the coins of this hoards, it is hard to date the introduction before the Pyrrhic War (280-275 BC).


Crawford actually later changed his opinion on this issue in Coinage and Money Under the Roman Republic(which covers many areas where Crawford's thinking has changed since RRC) and no longer believes it to be from Metapontum. He also moved the date up a bit to around 300 BC, as many more recent authors have done based on more recent hoard evidence.


1 hour ago, AncientJoe said:

I missed this post the first time around but congratulations on a great example of a tough type, @red_spork!

Thanks, AJ! I am definitely very happy with it, and it's a much better example than I ever thought I'd own.

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2 hours ago, antwerpen2306 said:

@red_spork I use allwayd RRC for reference, date and mint and CRRO to compare dies

Crawford is an excellent reference and a good place to start but RRC is going on 50 years old. There have been many new hoards, new types, new varieties, etc published since RRC and many die studies which have added considerable new information so it's good to look at these new sources of information and see what they have to say. Crawford did a good job of mostly getting the overall framework and story of the coinage right but we now know that a lot of specific details were wrong. Unfortunately no one has yet compiled everything into a single updated reference but it is sorely needed at this point.

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On 10/16/2022 at 2:43 PM, red_spork said:

Unfortunately no one has yet compiled everything into a single updated reference but it is sorely needed at this point.

Maybe you, @Andrew McCabe@SteveJBrinkman, @Phil Davis and others would consider writing an appendix to Crawford... 😇

I'm glad I didn't miss this post the second time around, that's a phenomenal new coin RS!!  That would be extremely cool if it is in fact associated with the Second Samnite War.

I have nothing remotely worthy to post, but that never stops me. 🙃  As it happens, I have improved my early Republican struck coinage a bit this year, in my bargain-hunting kind of way.  Expert comments gratefully received!  Especially if there is some post-Crawford research on these that I don't mention.

First was this "litra" - which it isn't, really – more likely a quartuncia somehow related to the similar issue from Cosa, Etruria (see Buttrey's article in Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome 34, 1980):


Its weight is 6.15g, pretty close the the theoretical 6.75 for the quartuncia.  It's also a scarce variety, 17/1g, and unusually for these each letter is at least partially visible. (Big flan at 23mm!)

And just the other day I was flabbergasted to land a later didrachm I never hoped to own at a very reasonable price:


It's a 27/1 issued c. 235(?) and I've barely looked into it as of yet.  I just tossed in a cheap bid and ended up winning! 😁👍

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I have a few types from the pre-denarius period. Some Aes rude:
Italy, Æ Aes Rude(55.02g, 55.81g, 69.57g, 80.41g, 95.05g), before 4th century B.C.. Irregular cast lump with no stamp or mark of value. Vecchi ICC 1
Ex Andrew McCabe Collection, CNG e-Auction 452, 18 September 2019, lot 728, ex RBW Collection, before 2010

An Aes Grave uncia, Crawford 14/6

Roman Republic Æ Aes Grave uncia(27 mm, 25.52 g), anonymous, 280-265 B.C., Rome mint. Astragalos(sheep knucklebone) seen from above; • / •. Crawford 14/6; Vecchi ICC 31; HN Italy 273; Thurlow-Vecchi 6a; Haeberlin plate 40, 19
Ex Triskeles Auction 20(Vauctions 325), June 30 2017, lot 513, ex CNG E-Auction 115, May 25 2005, lot 328 

A goddess/lion dilitra or semuncia which looks like it has bronze disease, but eh bright green are actually hard mineral deposits, perhaps malachite:
Roman Republic Æ double litra or semuncia(12.95g, 25mm, 6h), anonymous, after 264 B.C., mint in Southern Italy. Female head right, hair bound with ribbon / Lion advancing right with spear in mouth, in exergue, ROMANO. Crawford 16/1a; Sydenham 5; HN Italy 276

And a relatively scarce Minerva-right/Horsehead-right litra or quartuncia:

Roman Republic Æ litra(5.75g, 18mm), anonymous, after 264 B.C., Cosa mint. Helmeted head of minerva right; border of dots / Horse's head right, on base; behind, ROMA[NO] upwards. Crawford 17/1d; BMCRR Romano-Campanian 12; Sydenham 3a
Ex Thersites Collection, Roma e-sale 32 lot 662, ex Andrew McCabe Collection, acquired in 2009

I'm really going to have to add some more examples of these struck types to my collection and upgrade what I have. Most of these were budget examples that I picked up occasionally when I saw one selling too cheap but now, as silly as it sounds, since I have such as nice didrachm I feel like these look a bit out of place. Hopefully there will be some more of this early roman coinage in my collection in the near future.

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Fabulous type I would be glad to add to my trays as a companion coin to the Hercules/She wolf type


Roman republic, didrachm (heavy denarius) - Rome mint c. 269-266 BC
No legend, Diademed head of young Hercules right, with club and lion's skin over shoulder
ROMANO, She wolf right, suckling Romulus and Remus

7.29 gr

Ref : Crawford # 20/1, RCV # 24, RSC # 8, Albert # 30


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  • 2 weeks later...

The coins shown above are fascinating. 

The Roman Republic is not really my area of collecting. However, I put in a low bid on the coin below and was surprised that I won it.


Weight: 6.67g

Date: 225 - 214 BC


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  • 4 weeks later...

Great capture @red_spork, congrats.


Roman Republic
Anon AR Heavy Denarius / Didrachm
7.3g, 21mm, 310-300 BCE
Helmeted Bearded Mars
Horse head, Grain behind / ROMANO
Crawford 13-1
FIRST Silver Coin of Rome. Tarriffed at 10 Asses; ERGO, actually is a Heavy Denarius, being struck before the Denarius Reform of 211 BCE.

In reading Kenneth Harl's book, although this coin does not feature an Aquaduct, it was used to pay for the building of Via Appia and Aqua Appia. These were the first major projects that Rome embarked, creating their first "super-highway" and first major Aquaduct program. The Censor Appius Claudius Caecus built the Aqua Appia in 312 BCE as well as built the Via Appia

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Seems the Carthaginians were possibly the inspiration for this coin:


Carthage - Sicily AR Litra 4th C BCE 9.5mm 0.65g Palm Tree Horse Head SNG Cop 74 EE Clain-Safanelli R



Carthage - Zeugitana AV 1-10th Stater-Shekel 350-320 BCE 0.94g 7.5mm Palm- Horse Head SNG COP 132




Carthage Zeugitania Æ17 6.1g 350-320 BCE Palm Tree Horse Head SNG Cop 102


And, Rome even displayed Mars without a Beard a little later...


RR Anon AE Litra 241-235 BC Mars Beardless Horse Head Cr 25-3 S 594

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