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Spintria, in Italian Spindria, from “σπινξήρ, scintilla, quod velut scintillæ et fomes libidinis sit,” as Rasche, quoting Sabellicus, says: ― It is a word used to denote the inventor or inventress of obscene monstrosities, such as were patronised and employed by Tiberius, according to a passage in the work of that depraved emperor’s biographer ― “Secessu (says Suetonius, Tib. Nero Caes. Cap. Xlii.) vero Capreense sellariam excogitavit, sedem arcanarum libidinum: in quam undique conquisiti puellarum et exoletorum greges, monstrosique concubitus repertores, quos SPINTRIAS appellabat. - - - Cubicula plurifariam disposita tabellis ac sigillis lascivissimarum picturarum et figurarum adornavit, etc.” ― To the honour of the MONETA ROMAna, be it observed, however, that no numismatic monuments, even under the most profligate of her princes, have ever been found to fix the stain of such pollutions on any medallions or coins, either sanctioned by the senatorial mark of authentication, or in any way issued under the public guarantee of imperial authority. The only medals struck within the pale Roman domination, on wich shamelessly indecent figures appear, are a few Greek colonial, dedicated to the Lampsacan god ― and that suite of brass tesseræ, or counters, known under the name of Spintriæ, which exhibit on one side, in designs of coarse workmanship, immodest representations; and on the other the numeral letters I, or II. or IV. or X. tot XVI. and upwards.
Numismatic antiquaries, as well as other learned writers, are much divided in opinion respecting this “ignobile vulgus” of metallic relics; a vile class of remains, which, to use the sensible expressions of Eckhel (viii. 325) “thrown into the rear, like the suttlers, soldiers’ boys, wine sellers, strumpets of a great army, are to be recorded more to avoid the slightest deficiency in anything that could throw light upon the subject of Roman coins, than from the profit to be derived from them to learning and to a useful knowledge of antiquity.” Some think that the Spintriæ were struck to ridicule and expose that perfidious tyrant and worn-out voluptuary, Tiberius, who made the sea-girt rocks of Capræa the scene of his brutal pleasures, and, to issue them with greater facility, numerous letters were imprinted on them as on those which served as admission tickets to the theatre; others consider them to have been stamped by “the rank old emperor’s” express orders. Some, again, believe that they were used at festivals of Venus; others, for the Saturnalia, and others that they were coined for thee purpose of being flung, in showers, among the crowds of corrupt metropolis, who flocked to the public exhibition of licentious spectacles, and which were of the kind alluded to in the epigram of Martial. ( lib. Viii. 78.)
Nunc veniunt subitis lasciva numimata nimbis:
Nunc dant spectatas tessera feras.
Addison, who visited the island of Capræa, in 1701, observes (in his “Remarks on several parts of Italy”) that these medals were never current money, but rather of the nature of medallions to perpetuate the monstrous inventions of an infamous society; and he adds ― “What, I think, puts it beyond all doubt that this coins were rather made by emperor’s order than as a satire on him, is because they are now found in the very place that was the scene of his unnatural lusts.” This is certainly a fact strongly calculated to support the opinion which ascribes to Tiberius himself the coinage of these Spintriæ and their circulation amongst the companions and victims of his infamies. ― Yet it is to be remembered that such a belief is not borne by the authority of any historian. Even Suetonius, whose language we have above quoted, and who touches more fully than any other ancient writer on these revolting traits in the biography of Tiberius, says indeed that the emperor had made a collection lascivissimarum picturarum, at Capræa, but does not speak of his distributing medals of that sort, unless by the word sigillum in the passage in question be meant a medal, as Patin interprets it. But as M. Kolb, in his Traité de Numismatique, observes, “si Tibère eut fait frapper de pareilles médailles, elles se fussent répandues dans Rome, et ce trait d’infamie eût été rendu par Suétone avec plus de force et d’énergie.” Execrable, therefore, as was the personal character and individual conduct of that emperor; disgusting as is the portraiture which historians have drawn of his vices and excesses, it appears to be not without sufficient reason that Spanheim acquits him of being the originator, or (by an express command of his) the author, so to speak, of these numi obscœni, or lewd counters; first, because the are not identified by any indication with his name; and next, because Tiberius was evidently disposed rather to conceal his base enjoyments within the recesses of Capræa than to reveal them by public representations and disclosure. Nor does that profoundly erudite man, whose opinion is above referred to, associate these coins with the lascivi numismata of Martial; but rather seems to be of opinion that what are called Spintriæ are to be added to the rest of those tessaræ, or species of marks which, under impure and dissolute rules, served to admit persons to Floralia, and other public spectacles, where the grossest indecency was practised. ― It is, however, a curiosity of no creditable kind that leads to minuteness of inquiry into so filthy and profitless a subject; and it shall here suffice, therefore, to add, from Spanheim, that in the cabinets of Roman antiquaries, medelets similar to the above, are found up to number XXIX. Inscribed on them, whilst Beauvais greatly increases this estimate of their number and variety, by affirming that “more than sixty of them with different attitudes, are known. Their module is uncertain, between middle and small brass.”