474/1 var. Denarius L.VALERIVS ACISCVLVS Apollo Soranus axe, jewel on head (not star), Valeria Luperca on heifer, not in Crawford #1130-38
Denarius. 45BC. 3.8grams. Rome mint. Valeria. Crawford 474/01c L.VALERIVS ACISCVLVS. Obverse: hd Apollo Soranus r with jewel on head butclearly no star, axe, ACISCVLVS in wreath. RRC p560 The aberrant pieces reported by Cavedoni from the Borghesi collection are presumably simply lacking the star by the head of Apollo because of poor preservation.. Reverse: Valeria Luperca on heifer r, L VALERIVS. Rare.
There are two alternate myths -
- Valeria Luperca on a Heifer
When a plague had gained a wide hold on the city of Falerii, and many perished of it, an oracle was given that the terror would abate if they sacrificed a maiden to Juno each year. This superstitious practice persisted and once, as a maiden chosen by lot, Valeria Luperca, had drawn the sword, an eagle swooped down, snatched it up, and placed a wand tipped with a small hammer upon the sacrificial offerings; but the sword the eagle cast down upon a certain heifer which was grazing near the shrine. The maiden understood the import: she sacrificed the heifer, took up the hammer, and went about from house to house, tapping the sick lightly with her hammer and rousing them, bidding each of them to be well again; whence even to this day this mystic rite is performed. So Aristeides in the nineteenth book of his Italian History.
- Europa on a bull
Zeus was enamored of Europa and decided to seduce or ravish her, the two being near-equivalent in Greek myth. He transformed himself into a tame white bull and mixed in with her father's herds. While Europa and her female attendants were gathering flowers, she saw the bull, caressed his flanks, and eventually got onto his back. Zeus took that opportunity and ran to the sea and swam, with her on his back, to the island of Crete. He then revealed his true identity, and Europa became the first queen of Crete. Zeus gave her a necklace made by Hephaestus and three additional gifts: Talos, Laelaps and a javelin that never missed. Zeus later re-created the shape of the white bull in the stars, which is now known as the constellation Taurus.
Charles Lenormant (Nouvelles Annales 1838), Ernest Babelon (Monnaies de la Republique Romaine 1885) and Henry Grueber (British Museum Catalogue of Coins of the Roman Republic 1910) went with the former and that's what I described it as, because Babelon and Grueber are the "conventional" sources for such information.
Michael Crawford (Coins of the Roman Republic, 1974) and Henry Smyth (Catalogue of Duke of Northumberland collection, 1856) went with Europa on a bull. Both are very wise numismatists.
This is what Smyth says, adding the interesting twist that the "bull" may be symbolic only:
Europa, with a floating peplus held by both her hands, carried along on the back of a bull. The type admits of the usual mythological explanation, but the whole is a monstrous figment : more staid views bring it down to Europa's merely taking her passage in a ship having a bull for a figure-head. In like manner St. Paul embarked in a vessel "whose sign was Castor and Pollux" — a fact which Sir James Thomhill overlooked, in painting his well-known picture in our metropolitan cathedral, representing the Apostle's shipwreck.
Michael Crawford adds:
The association of these types with the myth of Valeria Luperca depends on a number of supposed links which simply do not exist. For a start, the animal is a bull and not a heifer of the myth of Valeria Luperca, [and he goes on to note that various accoutrements supposedly related to the myth of Valeria Luperca on other coins of this series may have been misread].
Mark Passehl added (April 2011)
Of course Crawford and Smyth are correct. Apart from the beast's gender (significant enough one would think), the Valeria Luperca notion could only be seriously considered if the type was original to Valerius Acisculus. But it isn't. It copies the RRC 377 Vilonius Strabo design, which is Zeus taurus conveying Europa from Phoenicia and specifically Tyre (in some versions of the myth) to Crete.
Presumably Lagid [Ptolemaic] associations with the 377 type had converted it into a Ptolemaic totem in Rome (or at the Moneta temple) by 46 B.C; i.e. 377 probably made up some of the newly minted coinage given by Sulla to Ptolemy Alexas in winter 81-80 B.C. for his voyage to Alexandreia to assume the kingship there (with Berenike III and perhaps also Cleopatra Philopator).
Alexas deposited most of this cash at Tyre, but also seems to have taken a small sum on with him to the palace in Alex. It might be supposed that he chose specifically Tyre on a whim because it was suggested to him by the Vilonius coinage depicting the Zeus/Europa myth in high artistic style. Valerius presumably reproduced the type as part of his celebration of Cleopatra VII's visits to Rome in 46-45 B.C., with the portentious new child (which spelled the end for the hopes of adoption among the great- nephews of Caesar). The other part consists of the double-cornucopiae on his sestertius reverse (RRC 474/7, recalling RRC 375, another Sullan issue from 81 B.C., including in gold which was the donative coinage par excellence during the late Republic, concluding with Pompeius' proconsular issue rewarding Juba's victory over Curio in Africa in 49 B.C. – RRC 402, misdated).
The small sum I mentioned taken on to the palace by Alexas is a deduction from trying to explain the striking, and in fact unique, hoard record of the RRC 398 Pomponius Rufus denarii, which despite not circulating in Roman territory, nor the Balkans (its not in Frauendorf), for three decades or so ended up resurfaces imitated en masse by a Balkans dynast in the late 40s, very shortly after it first appears in Roman hoards (Collecchio and Ossolaro, both buried about 45 - RRC, 90-91, Table XIV). The eagle on sceptre reverse design copied by Koson may be interpreted as symbolizing the impending Ptolemaic kingship of Alexas granted by Rome, so that the small issue was struck to the specific purpose of Sulla's donative in winter 81-80 B.C. The obverse Zeus bust and S.C legend also suit that time very well (shared, inter alia, by the RRC 377 obverse). The absence of the type from all denarius hoards until 45 B.C. is really bizarre and without parallel even for a mini issue. But if not in Roman territory until shortly before 45 B.C., it could well be that, apart from a few thousand (or perhaps only few hundred) pieces expended by Alexas in the course of his voyage in early 80, almost the whole issue remained in the Lagid palace until brought back to Rome by Caesar in 47 after his stay in the same palace; better still by Cleopatra herself in 46, or on her return visit the following year when Valerius Acisculus
celebrated her presence and/or second advent.
Subsequently much of 398 appears to have been seized by Caepio Brutus, presumably from Gaius Antonius. Thereafter its reverse was imitated by the Dacian lord Koson who perhaps wanted Brutus to recognize him as a Roman sponsored king in the manner that Alexas had been sponsored by Sulla Felix.
Mark K.P. (copyright)