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225/1 #09131-38 L.ATILI NOM Roma Victory biga Denarius | by Ahala
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225/1 #09131-38 L.ATILI NOM Roma Victory biga Denarius

Denarius. 141BC. 3.79grams. Rome mint. Atilia. Crawford 225/01 L.ATILI NOM. Obverse: hd Roma r. Reverse: Victory biga r, L.ATILI NOM. Extremely Rare.

This is the very first denarius issue with something other than ROMA under the exergue line, the name of the issuer being written L.ATILI NOM. This is a very rare issue and for a long time numismatists assumed it was an error, NOM for ROMA, until it was deduced there are six different reverse dies (still a very small number).


Contribution by Mark Passehl:


Rare indeed; 2 pieces in the Hersh/Sardinian mega-hoard, 1 in Riccia, and none in any of the other nine approximately contemporary hoards listed by C. A. Hersh (NC 1977, 25, Table II).

H. A. Grueber (BMCRR III, 8-9) marks it as present in only six of his 49 hoards; nos. 2 (Riccia), 8 (Oliva), 9 (Ricina), 15 (Mt. Codruzzo), 17 (S.Miniato al tedesco), 22 (Licodia).

The punning understanding of NoM replacing ROMA on the reverse tablet can be taken a step or two further; that L. Atilius designed his denarius shortly after the initial publication of the first edition of the Annales Maximi (c.142 B.C.) and decided to skate on some pretty thin ice by punning on the concealed true name of his city. Roma was the long established cover-name to protect the urbs from dire religious assault of the Italo-Latin evocatio ceremony, summoning a city's protecting deity to leave. But for the these prayers to work they needed to use the correct names of the targeted place and divinity. Accordingly divulging Roma's true name or that of the tutelary deity was punishable by death. Given the tiny size of the Atilius issue and the lack of accompanying bronzes his mint magistracy was probably cut very short by the Senate, whether by his death or sacking from office.


According to one version of the founding legends (such as addressed in works like the Annales Maximi) while Romulus was in the act of establishing "Roma" (the cover-name), his twin Remus was founding a settlement of his own which he called Mons Remonia. It was because of this piece of rivalry at the sacred moment that Remus had to be slain by the furious brother.

Significant elements converge here: Mons Remonia as the true name of the original foundation, and death to those who reveal it. Atilius' simple legend can thus be understood:

read normally (l. to r.) NOM(en urbis), the name of Roma (since ROMA is the displaced legend),

then reading retrograde (r. to l.) MONs reMONia (since REMus is the legendary name of its founder, perhaps REMOS in the archaic orthography of the pontifical records, but in any case the relationship of the names Remonia and Remus seems clear enough). But this was allusion rather than divulgence, so he was more probably sacked than punished capitally. And it's likely enough that his survival is on record as one of the senators of the epigraphically preserved consilium de agro Pergameno of 129 B.C., where modern supplement has created a probably non-existent L. A[fin]ius L. f. in the Oufentina tribe out of a miscut name with a short lacuna in the middle. Better restored as L. A[til]ius L. f. Ouf.

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Taken on January 13, 2013