Roman Silver Denarius, Hacheston

front and back of a Roman silver Denarius

A Roman silver denarius struck by the moneyer Publius Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus around 50 BC, found near Hacheston.

With this coin Marcellinus wanted to commemorate his ancestor Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who was a famous general and consul of the Republican period and lived between the 268 BC and the 208 BC.

The obverse of the coin bears the portrait of the consul Marcellus with the triskel behind his head, while the reverse depicts a veiled man, who is Marcellus himself, advancing towards a tetrastyle temple and holding a trophy.

The obverse of the coin bears another symbol, which commemorates another important victory of Marcellus: the conquest of Sicily in 212 BC. The triskel behind the head of the Consul refers to the symbol of the Island, as it has been since the Greek period; it depicts the head of the gorgon Medusa overlaying three legs conjoined at the hips and flexed in triangle.

Every element on the coin celebrates Claudius Marcellus and his deeds, who was remembered for having served Rome as Consul five times: the legend on the reverse, although not preserved on this coin, would have read MARCELLVS [COS QVINQ] (“Marcellus, [consul for the fifth time]”).

The scene that is portrayed on the reverse refers to the great honour that Marcellus earned after the battle against the Gaulish tribes in Northern Italy. The sources say that during the battle in 222 BC, Marcellus killed the enemy’s king Viridomarus in single combat and took his amour as the spolia opima (“the best spoils”). Marcellus dedicated the spoils at the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius, carrying them himself in a procession to the Capitoline, as the reverse of the coin represents.

The killing of the king Viridomarus placed Marcellus among the heroes of the Republic because the spolia opima was the most prestigious award a Roman general could earn. The Roman tradition recognises only three instances when spolia opima were taken. The precedent was set in Rome’s legendary history, when in 752 BC Romulus defeated and stripped Acron, king of the Caeninenses, following the Rape of the Sabine Women. In the second instance, Aulus Cornelius Cossus obtained the spolia opima from Lar Tolumnius, king of the Veientes, during Rome’s semi-legendary fifth century BC. The third is the case of Marcellus, after him few other men in Roman history claimed that honour.

Marcellus, in fact was sent to Sicily to fight the Carthaginians and the Greek cities allied with them; he sieged Syracuse and took it after two years, partly because the Roman effort was thwarted by the military machines of the famous inventor Archimedes. During the fighting, Archimedes was killed, an act Marcellus regretted. Plutarch writes that the Romans rampaged through the city, taking much of the plunder and artwork they could find. This has significance because Syracuse was a Greek city filled with Greek culture, art and architecture. Much of this Greek art was taken to Rome, where it was one of the first major impacts of Greek influence on Roman culture.

Marcellus died on a battlefield in Southern Italy, where he was ambushed by a Carthaginian force of Numidian horsemen and impaled by a spear.

View the full record on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database

Thank you to the finder for allowing this object to be featured.

This find was recorded by the Suffolk Finds Recording Team, supported by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

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