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Coins of the month - November 2013
Money and asylum seekers in ancient Rome
The terms 'money' and 'asylum' were born a few meters from each other in archaic Rome and were reflected in its republican coinage. It all happened in and around what is today the Campidoglio Square, near the temple of Jupiter Capitoline which then was the centre of Roman religious life and where today is the centre of modern civic life, hosted in the buildings constructed in the sixteenth century by Michelangelo on top of the Roman ruins.
The silver denarius illustrated here was minted under the authority of the magistrate M. Volteius in 78 B.C. (monetary magistrates changed every year, like the Consuls and most other public officials). The coin represents on the obverse a profile of Jupiter and on the reverse the front of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus together with his symbol, the thunderbolt, on the pediment.
The temple of Juno Moneta (Juno the admonisher) gave its name to the neighbouring mint, as well as its product, so that moneta became the Latin word for coin, which is still the Italian name for it. The Latin term for money in larger amounts was pecunia, a term related to a flock of sheeps or cows (pecus), the real source of wealth.
The term 'asylum' instead comes from the area on the Campidoglio hill between the temple of Jupiter and the temple of Juno. It was inter duos locos or a step in between two places, or asylum. Romulus, the mythical founder and first King of Rome, was said to have offered refuge to whoever wanted to come to the recently founded city. Rome needed to be populated and welcomed exiles, escaped slaves and criminals.
The coins that can be used to illustrated the link between the Roman Republican Mint and asylum are linked to the "first refugees" to arrive in Latium and then in Rome immediately after its foundation.
The first group features Aeneas and his followers, escaping from the destruction of Troy. To reinforce his political legitimacy, Julius Caesar claimed that he descended from the goddess Venus, through her son Aeneas, who had fled the sacking and burning of Troy and landed a party of Trojans on the coast of southern Latium, founding the city of Lavinia. Aeneas' son, Ascanio, founded Alba Longa, from which his descendant Romulus came to found Rome.
The coin issued by Caesar in 49 BC, here depicted, shows on the obverse a profile of the goddess of love Venus. On the reverse, a muscular Aeneas carries on his left shoulder his father Anchises and in his right hand the statue of the palladium, a wooden statue of Athena protecting the city. This coin was probably not minted in Rome, but possibly in Greece after Caesar defeated Pompeus Magnus in Pharsalus in 49 BC, or in Spain or Africa during other anti-Pompeian military operations. Travelling mints accompanied the armies of Ceasar as well as those of Pompeus and Marc Antony.
The role of the twins Romulus and Remus in the foundation of Rome is illustrated in its coinage with the image of the she-wolf who fed the two infant twins. The Tyrant of Alba Longa, who feared their legitimate right to rule (they were the grandsons of the deposed king) had ordered their death by abandoning them in the river Tiber. The river god, however, protected them, and then a she-wolf fed them when they reached ground, together with a woodpecker, until the two toddlers were found and adopted by the shepherd Faustulus and his wife Acca Larentia. Once adult, Romulus and Remus rescued Alba Longa from its tyrant and then left to found a new city. The conflict between the two brothers on naming and control of the new city ended with the murder of Remus by Romulus (although other versions exist). The last denarius illustrated here, minted in 137BC by Sex. Pompeius Faustulus, associates on the reverse the twins, the she-wolf, the birds and Faustulus, while the obverse bears a profile of Roma with a helmet and the letter X, which indicates that the silver denarius was worth ten bronze asses.
Luca Einaudi, Centre for History and Economics