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Signa Militaria

Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.
     Signa militaria.   Military ensigns. -- The
Romans entrusted these to the custody of the
Quaestors, who preserved them with the aerarium
or public treasury, in the temple of Saturn. --
See Saturnus.
     The ensigns of the legions are common on
Roman coins, especially the imperial, not with
the bundle of hay (manipulus foeni), but with
small bucklers on the top, in which were painted
images of the Gods and of the Caesars, and
even of illusCtrious men. On a colonial medal
(of Caesaraugusta) the simpler and more ancient
form of the signum manipulare is exhibited,
namely the fasciculi of corn-ears, straw, or hay. As
symbols of the soldiery they were held by the
Romans in the highest veneration ; auspices
were taken upon, and divine worship paid to,
     The signa militaria, captured by the Parthians
from M. Crassus and M. Antony, but restored
by that nation to Augustus, in consequence of a
renewed treaty between the Parthians and the
Romans, are found alluded to on several moneyer denarii, such as those of Aquilla, Caninia,
Durmia, Petronia
, which have perpetuated the
remembrance of this event by a diversity of
types and symbols ; that is to say, by the kneeling
figure of a Parthian holding an ensign ; or
by a triumphal arch with a quadriga on the top
of it ; or by the naked image of Mars standing
with an eagle in his right hand, and the
standard of the legion in his left ; or by a similar
figure holding a trophy and standing in the
temple of Mars. The same fact is also typified
by an eagle in a thensa, or sacred chariot,
drawn by four horses ; or by votive shields
placed between the eagle and the ensign of
the legion ; likewise by oaken garlands and
civic crowns ; or by a capricorn, the
astrological sign of Augustus's birth, with the
addition of various inscriptions. -- Augustus
always treated his recovery of these last standards
as holding the place of a great triumph to himself.
-- The signa militaria, taken by the Germans
in the slaughter of the legions under
Varus, and recovered by Germanicus, are also
commemorated on coins of Tiberius. -- Domitian's
pretended re-capture of Roman standards from
the Sarmatians occasioned coins to be struck,
like Augustus's, replacing the name, Sarmati for
     Signa militaria form a frequent type on
colonial coins, and they were engraved thereupon
in memory of the colony having in its origin
been formed of legionary veterans. "For (as
Rubenius says in his notes on the Arschot collection) Augustus, who had partly associated the
legions of Lepidus and Mark Antony with his
own, after the division of the provinces with
the people, disbanded a great many soldiers,
and sent them into such of the colonies as
needed a supply of men." This fact is proved
from a multitude of coins, the most rare of
which exhibit the names of the legions. Thus,
as Vaillant teaches us, the signa veteranorum
are found on medals of Antioch in Pisidia,
under Caracalla, Elagabalus, Gordianus Pius,
Philip, and Decius ; on those of Apamea, under
Caracalla ; on those of Cremna and of Sidon,
under Elagabalus and his family ; of Dacia,
under Philip ; of Deultum, in honour of
Tranquillina ; of Heliopolis, under Macrinus ;
of Viminacium, under Gordian.
      On the reverse of a fine brass medal of
Tiberius, struck at Caesaraugusta (Sarragoza)
in the thirty-seventh year of that emperor's tribunitian power, appears a standard (or labarum)
between two military ensigns, with the initial
letters of the colony, and with the names of the
duumvirs and of the legions who had been sent
to settle there. Nor are any types more common
on Imperial coins of Roman die than the
legionary eagle, the vexillum, and other ensigns
of the army, in the hands either of the emperor
himself or of his cohorts, or in the grasp of
some personification, or placed before an Emperor,
Empresss, or Caesar, throughout the series
from Tiberius down to Constantine, accompanied
by legends declaratory of the concord,
the fidelity, the glory of soldiers, who were
continually quarrelling amongst themselves,
murdering their sovereigns, oppressing their
fellow-subjects, and betraying the empire they
were entrusted to defend.
     The eagle-standard, as distinguished from the
ordinary ensigns of the Roman legions, is well
portrayed on a silver coin of Nero, and still
better on a second brass of Galba, where these
peculiar objects of the soldiers' idolatry are
planted on prows of ships. -- See Legionum

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