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Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Discovery of a Lifetime


Väinämöinen

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Marcus Tullius Cicero is best known as a writer, an orator, and a statesman of the late Roman Republic. When it comes to his political exploits we tend to remember the crushing of the Catiline conspiracy, the feud with Publius Clodius Pulcher, and his involvement with the First and the Second Triumvirates. There is, however, a brief lesser known period from 51 to 50 BC when Cicero reluctantly left Rome to become a proconsul in Asia Minor, more specifically the province of Cilicia.

Numismatically the province of Cilicia stands out for it was one of the regions in the very late Roman Republic that held on to a pre-Roman monetary standard for silver coins. We commonly know this as the cistophoric standard. Cistophoric coinage originally started as federal coinage under the Attalids. It had lasted to Cicero's times and would go on to survive deep into the Roman Imperial era. Furthermore, we may find a chain of Roman aristocrats who served as proconsuls in these old Attalid lands and minted not only civic coinage bearing the names of the local magistrates but also coinage bearing their own names. These coins are known to have been minted in the provinces of Asia and Cilicia, and in at least five mints: Ephesos, Pergamon, Tralles, Apameia, and Laodiceia. There are also a few mysterious emissions which may have been produced elsewhere in the East. 

Despite Cicero's dislike for his governorship post, we as coin collectors are blessed by the turn of events. I have not just once or twice seen quoted that there are no coins minted under or even referencing Cicero. Some say that the coins most closely associated with the man are the bronze coins minted under his son, M. Tullius Cicero Minor. These are lies and falsehoods. Cicero was no a stranger to the proconsular tradition of immortalizing oneself on precious metal. Silver tetradrachms were issued under him in both Apameia and Laodiceia. On these coins his name sees many forms, from the legends M TVLLIVS M F CICIIRON to just TVLLIVS to the more recognizable M CICERO M F. Some of the coins refer to him as an imperator, after having been hailed as such on October 13th 51 BC.

Most proconsular cistophoric tetradrachms are scarce and many of them are rare. Cicero's coinage stands out as being ridiculously rare; the last one to sell was in the 1960s, and all of the currently known coins reside in public collections.

Until now. 

A coin recently appeared for sale. It was described as a tetradrachm issued under Appius Claudius Pulcher, who had served as the proconsul of Cilicia just before Cicero. Some of their coins even share the same magistrate. This magistrate may also have been the method used to identify the coin in question. Some people, including a friend of mine, decided to take a closer look and noticed something off. This snake basket was no Pulcher. 

The coin was a tetradrachm issued under Cicero in Apameia. The reverse carries the legends M CICERO [M F] / PRO COS, with the name of the magistrate ΘEOΠΡOΠOΣ / AΠOΛΛΩNIOΥ below. Two coins of this type are previously known, one in Berlin and one in Paris.

Quote

Phrygia, Apameia. M. Tullius Cicero M.f. 51-50 BC. AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm (28.5 mm, 12.55 g). Theopropos Apolloniou, magistrate. Cista mystica within ivy wreath / Bow case between two serpents; M CICERO [M F] / PRO COS in two lines above; AΠA to left; two flutes to right; ΘEOΠΡOΠOΣ / AΠOΛΛΩNIOΥ in two lines below. Stumpf 89; Metcalf 470-471; Pinder 200.

Long story short - a heated competition ensued amongst those in the know and the coin has now arrived to its owner. I have had a chance to inspect it and attached are some photographs. This is now the only known coin issued by Cicero in private hands.

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Edited by Väinämöinen
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Wow! That is an amazing pickup and tremendous sleuthing!

Even though I don't usually collect Roman, even I would have gone for a coin from Cicero. However, I don't feel too bad about this one because I would have been left behind very quickly in the bidding. 🙂

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 On these coins his name sees many forms, from the legends M TVLLIVS M F CICIIRON to just TVLLIVS to the more recognizable M CICERO M F

Interesting, is the former legend a misspelling/mistranslation of the Latin by a Greek engraver? And in terms of using the nomen vs cognomen, as in the case of TVLLIVS vs CICERO, was there a general convention as to which one was more often used by the proconsuls on their coins? 

Congrats again on the win!

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On 10/6/2023 at 11:41 AM, Kaleun96 said:

Interesting, is the former legend a misspelling/mistranslation of the Latin by a Greek engraver? 

If I'm not mistaken, this is considered a misspelling and typically even mentioned as "CICIIRON (sic)". It's not the first such mistake on a proconsular cistophorus. Some dies seem like they've missed individual letters and have been hastily corrected, while some have more radical misspellings such as one die reading PVLEHR instead of PVLCHER. The lettering on the mentioned Pulcher coin seems shaky in general. Other mistakes include PVLHCRI, PVLCRI, PVLCRHI, PVLCHFR, and LFNTVLVS. I guess it's fair to say that the Greek-speaking engravers may have struggled with some of the Latin names and lettering.

On 10/6/2023 at 11:41 AM, Kaleun96 said:

And in terms of using the nomen vs cognomen, as in the case of TVLLIVS vs CICERO, was there a general convention as to which one was more often used by the proconsuls on their coins? 

Cicero is a bit of an outlier. We most commonly see the abbreviated praenomen followed by the cognomen and often the patronymic, for example AP PVLCHER AP F or P LENTVLVS P F. 

Edited by Väinämöinen
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An exciting find @Väinämöinen, congratulations on your wonderful coin!  Here's a quite common coin that seems appropriate for this thread, Cicero defended Gnaeus Plancius, named on this coin, against charges that he bribed his way to victory in his election to curule aedile.

https://www.sullacoins.com/post/pro-plancius

image.png.59de15bf3abd8549beae326c657194dd.png

Roman Republican, Cn. Plancius, 55 BC, AR denarius (4.03g)

Obv: AED CVR S.C. CN PLANCIVS, head of Diana right, wearing causia, earring, and necklace

Rev: Cretan goat standing right; bow and quiver behind

Ref: Crawford 432/1; Sydenham 933; Plancia 1

 

Edited by Sulla80
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Discovery of a lifetime indeed! Personally I place this coin in the same league as the other titans of Roman Republican coinage, an eid mar would surely rack up a hammer three, four or even five times what this did but they are both equally important historically in my mind. Despite what the new owner might think, I can't help but hope more of these turn up soon!

The present coin adds a new obverse die to the series, which is quite significant when taking into account how limited this emission seems to be. Here are the Berlin and Paris specimens of this type:

image.jpeg.f3fb277d82e32c720e55d99dad926444.jpegimage.jpeg.579e81347c54648dedd0302b3c8c67ac.jpeg

                                         Apamea, O1-R1. Berlin. 18204062                                                                                       Apamea, O1-R2. Paris. (12148)btv1b8503718b

The "Ciciiron" specimen was also mentioned previously in this thread so I figure I'd upload it here as well. It is currently the only one known and resides in Berlin.

image.jpeg.b91596c73cbf20b821d2083188c710f4.jpeg

Laodicea, O2-R2. Berlin. 18292717

I hope I'll be forgiven for sharing a cistophor of my own... This coin was issued by Gaius Septimius as proconsul in Asia 56-55 BC. Septimius was one of a number of men Cicero publically acknowledged for lobbying his return from exile in 57 BC. 

 

image.jpeg.0bd367bb4cd18530adce8a4981193d2b.jpeg

Promagisterial Cistophori. Gaius Septimius as Proconsul in Asia. Polydeukes, magistrate. AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm. Tralles 56-55 BC. Serpent emerging from cista mystica; all within wreath / C·SEPTVMIVS·T·F·PROCOS. Two serpents entwined by bow case; In the left field, TPAΛ. In the right field, Pileus of Pollux. ΠOΛYΔEYKHΣ in exergue. 28 mm, 11,98 g. Stumpf 42; Metcalf 333 (This coin, O6/R32).

Edited by zadie
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8 hours ago, zadie said:

The present coin adds a new obverse die to the series, which is quite significant when taking into account how limited this emission seems to be.

This is a good point. Metcalf identifies the previously known obverse die as O23 and the die used on Fannius' coinage as O24. It seems that with this coin we have to adjust the chronology and the new Cicero is O24 while Fannius' coinage comes with O25. It would be curious to know whether there's any obverse die overlap between Cicero and Fannius with O24. I would also love to know whether the coin was minted before or after he was hailed imperator, meaning whether or not there was a gap in production or the mint (or even Cicero himself?) just opted to go with PRO COS over IMP regardless.

I just noticed that the number of twists made by the snake on the obverse is consistent from O3 (Lentulus) up until Fannius' obverse die O25 which reverts back to the design of O1-2 and features one fewer. It's hard to argue that this is evidence for.. anything, especially since the style remains otherwise consistent. 

8 hours ago, zadie said:

I hope I'll be forgiven for sharing a cistophor of my own... This coin was issued by Gaius Septimius as proconsul in Asia 56-55 BC. Septimius was one of a number of men Cicero publically acknowledged for lobbying his return from exile in 57 BC. 

When in Rome, and so on. I think this is perfectly related to the topic and another example of a proconsular cistophorus to demonstrate what these are all about.

I'll also throw in another coin from Septimius (/Septumius). This one is from Pergamon and design-wise slightly duller than your example. I do enjoy how fresh it is, obverse included. The obverse dies were commonly used to the point of becoming almost unrecognizable.

Quote

Mysia, Pergamon. C. Septimius T.f. 57-55 BC. AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm (28 mm, 12.41 g). Menogenes, magistrate. Cista mystica within ivy wreath / Bow case between two serpents; C SEPTVMI TF / PRO COS in two lines above; ΠEPΓ to left; staff of Asclepius to right; MHNOΓЄNHC below. Stumpf 38. Metcalf 121-123.

septvm.png

Edited by Väinämöinen
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  • 6 months later...
Posted (edited)
On 10/6/2023 at 9:14 PM, Sulla80 said:

An exciting find @Väinämöinen, congratulations on your wonderful coin!  Here's a quite common coin that seems appropriate for this thread, Cicero defended Gnaeus Plancius, named on this coin, against charges that he bribed his way to victory in his election to curule aedile.

https://www.sullacoins.com/post/pro-plancius

image.png.59de15bf3abd8549beae326c657194dd.png

Roman Republican, Cn. Plancius, 55 BC, AR denarius (4.03g)

Obv: AED CVR S.C. CN PLANCIVS, head of Diana right, wearing causia, earring, and necklace

Rev: Cretan goat standing right; bow and quiver behind

Ref: Crawford 432/1; Sydenham 933; Plancia 1

 

Thank you for that tidbit @Sulla80

upload_2021-2-3_21-52-10.png
Roman Republic Cn Plancius 55 BCE Macedonia causia Cretan Goat quiver Sear 396 Craw 432-1

mine appears heavily worn from all the bribing hands that it passed through…

🙂

 

Edited by Alegandron
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3 minutes ago, Alegandron said:

Thank you for that tidbit @Sulla80

upload_2021-2-3_21-52-10.png
Roman Republic Cn Plancius 55 BCE Macedonia causia Cretan Goat quiver Sear 396 Craw 432-1

mine appears heavily worn from all the bribing hands that it passed through…

🙂

 

I have to say it's great to see you posting here again, @Alegandron! Welcome back.

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7 minutes ago, DonnaML said:

I have to say it's great to see you posting here again, @Alegandron! Welcome back.

Thank you. I appreciate that!

am trying to post here more. Going thru some life changes, but all is well.

Hope you are well, my Friend!

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Posted (edited)

Yeah, allow me to second @DonnaMLTerrific to see you back here, @Alegandron!!!

And your return may have been propitious, since I missed this post the first time.

@Väinämöinen, all I could say was,

'Oh. 

My. 

God....' 

This will be no surprise, but I couldn't have guessed in a lifetime that there were coins of Cicero.  Right, in a colonial post.  Isn't there a tradition of exile, of one sort or another, among major literary figures of the period?  And (edit:) the full (the <--edit: no, not there; I was too excited) legend, clear as you would ever need, In. LatinDespite the continuation of the original design.  This is all you could ask for.  As far as the forum in general is concerned, this summarily made my day, if not week.  Please receive my most profound congratulations on being the very evidently Worthy owner.

Edited by JeandAcre
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Posted · Supporter
Posted (edited)

What an amazing find!  And what irony!

Cicero himself was known to dislike cistophori. Cicero writes in "De Lege Manilia (de Imperio Cn. Pompei)" about how the fertility of Asia Minor brought large revenues and enormous quantities of cistophori. In Ad Attic, lib. ii. ep. 2., Cicero comments on his vast holdings of cistophori, with some annoyance, "I have in Asia the sum of 400,000 sestertii in cistophori."

When Marcus Tullius Cicero departed as governor of Cilicia, he left his brother Quintus as governor. Quintus had been serving as his legate. Cicero comments to Atticus (his childhood friend a.k.a. Titus Pomponius): "I have written to the city quaestors on my brother Quintus's affairs; take care that they answer, and see what hope there is of obtaining the denarii, otherwise we shall be obliged to content ourselves with Pompey's cistophori." - Ad Attic, lib. ii. ep. 6.

In "On the coins called Cistophori," the Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Numismatic Society, 1846-7, M. Du Mersan explains: 

"Pompey brought out of Asia, after the war with Mithridates, besides other immense riches, 17,050 talents of coined silver, more than 25,000,000 of our livres (French). It appears that he had placed his cistophori here, and that the quaestors who paid the salaries of the governors of the provinces wished to pay Quintus Cicero in that coin. That governor wished for Roman money."

It is ironic that the only coins of Cicero were cistophori, which he disliked, preferring denarii.

Edited by Bonshaw
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3 hours ago, JeandAcre said:

Yeah, allow me to second @DonnaMLTerrific to see you back here, @Alegandron!!!

And your return may have been propitious, since I missed this post the first time.

@Väinämöinen, all I could say was,

'Oh. 

My. 

God....' 

This will be no surprise, but I couldn't have guessed in a lifetime that there were coins of Cicero.  Right, in a colonial post.  Isn't there a tradition of exile, of one sort or another, among major literary figures of the period?  And (edit:) the full (the <--edit: no, not there; I was too excited) legend, clear as you would ever need, In. LatinDespite the continuation of the original design.  This is all you could ask for.  As far as the forum in general is concerned, this summarily made my day, if not week.  Please receive my most profound congratulations on being the very evidently Worthy owner.

Thank you for the kind words. I will try to be around more. Miss yall. Some life changes over the past few months. But alles ist gut.

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