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A Ceres for the Plebs

David Atherton

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Last month (yes, it took me this long to get around to posting this!) this coin caught my eye with its uniform symbolism on both obverse and reverse.





Æ Quadrans, 2.78g
Rome Mint, 84-85 AD
Obv: IMP DOMIT AVG GERM; Ceres bust l., draped
Rev: S C in field; Basket of corn ears
RIC 245 (R). BMC 493. BNC 532.
Acquired from London Ancient Coins, June 2022.

An undated issue of small bronzes were struck early in Domitian's reign. RIC places them within the 84-85 time period based on Domitian titled as 'Germanicus' (which could only be post 83) and before 85 (after which all these small issues were dated). RIC also speculates many of these quadrantes were struck 'al marco', i.e. by batch weight, because of the variable weights encountered on many specimens. Ceres briefly appeared on the obverse of Domitian's quadrantes in 85-86. She frequently was paired with an appropriate reverse design, such as a basket of corn ears as seen on this example. Some seller's erroneously refer to the obverse as Domitia.

The quadrans in the early imperial period typically lacked an imperial portrait. Tariffed at a quarter of an As, the denomination was possibly deemed too lowly by mint officials to warrant a portrait. They were struck haphazardly and functioned primarily as an urban low value coinage in Rome and central Italy. The quadrans was the typical fee for entry into the baths, a urinal, or for a tryst in a cheap brothel. Being of rather low value quadrantes were not typically hoarded and thus are relatively scarce today being virtually absent from site finds outside central and south-central Italy (in contrast, over 1,827 quadrantes have been found at Pompeii).

Please share your 'lowly' plebeian coins.

Thanks for looking!

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