ROMAN REPUBLIC, Spinther AR Denarius
Rome, The Republic.
Pub. Lentulus P.f.L.n. Spinther, 71 BCE.
AR Denarius (3.85g; 18mm).
Obv: Q●S●C; Hercules head right.
Rev: P●LENT●P●F / [L]●N; Genius Romani seated facing on chair, holding coruncopia and scepter, being crowned by Victory.
Provenance: ex Collection of a Director [Triton XX (10 Jan 2017) Lot 525; ex Eton College Collection [Sotheby's (1 Dec 1976) Lot 219).
In my humble opinion, this is one of the more artistic reverse types of the Roman Republic denarius series – almost Greek in execution. It depicts Genius of the Roman People exerting dominance over the world with one foot on the globe while being crowned victorious. The message may be related to the ongoing wars with Sertorius in Spain, Mithridates in the East and possibly the servile revolt led by Spartacus in Italy (if the 71BC date proposed by Hersh and Walker is accepted, see below). Other members of the Cornelia gens also depicted Genius of the Roman People on their coinages, so the cult of Genius may have been important to the family, or it may be coincidental that the Corneliae happened to strike these coins during strife when the message of the Genius of the Roman People would have been appropriate. Crawford agrees with the latter explanation. SC [Senatus consulto] in the obverse legend suggests it was struck by special decree of the Roman Senate.
The coin is scarce and missing from many major hoards, making it difficult to precisely date. In fact, it’s listed in only four hoards on Table XIII in Crawford’s Roman Republican Coin Hoards. Of those four hoards: in two hoards (Cosa and Palestrina), it’s deemed the final issue (terminus ante quem), lacking the context of later coins; in the third hoard (Tolfa), it’s the next to last issue with the last being a serrate denarius of Q. Creperei Rocus, which Crawford dates to 72BC; and in the fourth hoard (San Gregorio), it appears in the middle context in which Rocus is again the next latest coin. Crawford’s Roman Republican Coinage dates the coin 74BC, concurring with Grueber’s dating in the British Museum Catalogue. David Sear stuck with Crawford’s dating of 74BC in the Millennium Edition of Roman Coins and Their Values. However, in their 1984 analysis of the Mesagne Hoard (which contained no examples of this coin), Hersh and Walker revised the dating to 71BC, which lumps the Spinther issue with several other, non-serrate, “SC” issues of the late 70s. Hersh and Walker re-date the serrate Rocus issue to 69BC, where it is lumped with other serrate issues. In my collection catalogue, I’ve chosen to use the 71BC date proposed by Hersh and Walker, because it fits neatly with the fabric and special circumstances of the coinage and is consistent with the cursus honorum dates discussed in the following paragraph.
The moneyer was the Quaestor, P. Cornelius Lentulus, whose nickname was Spinther (reportedly because he resembled an actor by that name). It was a nickname that he clearly liked as both he and his son later used it on coins. Spinther, an aristocrat of the Cornelia gens, was liked by Julius Caesar and rose through the cursus honorum, beginning with his Quaestorship when this coin was struck. He was elected Aedile in 63BC and worked with Cicero in suppressing the Cataline conspiracy. The date of his Aedileship is important in that 6-8 years was the required waiting period between Quaestor and Aedile in the cursus honorum, the career path for a Roman politician, which is consistent with Hersh and Walker’s proposed dating of this coin issue to 71BC; Crawford’s dating of 74BC implied that Spinther failed to reach the Aedileship for several years after he qualified for the position (being elected in the first qualification year was an important distinction to the Romans, though certainly an accomplishment that many Roman aristocrats failed to attain). He was later governor of part of Spain. With Caesar’s help, he was elected consul in 57BC, when he recalled Cicero from exile. Thereafter he governed Cilicia, at which time Cicero wrote him a still-surviving letter. As relations deteriorated between Caesar and Pompey, Spinther sided with Pompey. Despite initial offers of amnesty by Caesar, Spinther would not remain neutral and was eventually killed or committed suicide during the civil wars. His son later allied with Caesar’s assassins and struck the well-known LENTVLVS SPINT coins for both Brutus and Cassius.
This example comes from the Eton College Collection, which was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1976. Eton College initiated its ancient coin collection by acquiring a large group of British Museum duplicates in the 1870s, and Eton added to this collection in the ensuing years. By the mid-1970s, the ancient coin market was white-hot, and Eton decided to cash-out the lion’s share of its collection, keeping a representative core for study purposes. I’ve contacted the British Museum’s Department of Coins and Medals to link this coin to the original tranche of BM duplicates purchased by Eton. Unfortunately, before adoption of modern curatorial standards, the BM did not accession duplicates into the BM collection; rather, they simply put duplicates into the “duplicates cabinet” without cataloging them. These uncatalogued duplicates would be sold or traded from time to time to acquire needed specimens for the BM collection. There might be record of the transaction somewhere at the BM, but there would be no description of the duplicates sold. By 1980 or so, the BM began cataloguing all coins, even duplicates. There is an 1880s book published about Eton's Roman coin collection, but it describes only a representative sample of the collection and this coin is not included.