Denarius minted by P. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus, representing Rome crowned by the Genius of the Roman People (100 BCE)



100 BCE




Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 

British Museum

Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Bust of Hercules seen from behind, with head turned to right, wearing lion’s skin, and club over left shoulder. On left, shield and control-mark.
Below, inscription: ROMA
Border of dots.

Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

On the left, Roma standing facing, holding spear in right hand and wearing helmet with triple crest. On the right, male figure crowning her with right hand and holding cornucopia in left hand. Control-mark between the two figures.
Below, inscription: LENT. MAR. F.
Laurel-wreath as border.

Weight (g): 

RRC 329/1a, p. 329.

This coin is a denarius, minted, according to Michael Crawford’s dating, in 100 BCE. It depicts on the obverse a bust of Hercules seen from behind, recognizable by his lion’s skin and his club over his left shoulder. Two characters are represented on the reverse. The one on the left has been identified as a personification of Roma in arms, as she is holding a spear in her right hand and wearing a helmet with triple crest (see Mommsen, Geschichte, n° 204, p. 577; BMCRR Rome 1704; Crawford, RRC I, p. 329). The character on the right is a bare-chested male wearing a hip-mantle. Holding a wreath in his right hand, he is crowning the first character, while he is also holding a cornucopia in his left hand. Comparing this character with that of posterior coins dated between 76 and 74 BCE (RRC 393/1a and RRC 397/1), it is possible to identify him with a personification of the Genius of the Roman people, that we could define as a sort of abstract and supernatural double of the collective entity formed by the Roman people, an entity which was worshiped because it protected the Roman people, and because it represented it in its very core (see Mommsen, Geschichte, n° 204, p. 577; BMCRR Rome 1704; Kunckel, Der Römische, p. 17; Crawford, RRC I, p. 409). Actually, as in RRC 397/1, the Genius is holding a cornucopia, and he is represented as an “hipmantled figure”. Both moneyers seem to have largely stressed on the muscular aspect of his torso (Koortbojian, The Divinization, p. 92). These similarities between the two coins mean that the character represented on the right of this issuemay be a personification of the Genius populi romani. Another element can confirm this identification, it is the identity of the moneyer responsible for the minting of the issue, whose name appears in the legend on the reverse of the coin. He has to be identified with P. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus (RE Cornelius 230). This man was a member of the prestigious gens Cornelia, more precisely of the lineage of the Lentuli. This family is particularly known because it was under the authority of some of its members that other coins bearing a representation of the Genius populi romani had been produced during the first century BCE. Actually, the name of P. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus’s son, Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus (RE Cornelius 228), appears on another coin whose obverse has a representation of the bust of the Genius populi romani (RRC 393/1a).

If we admit that the scene on the reverse of this coin represents the Genius of the Roman people crowning Rome in arms, it would be its first iconographic representation. However, the invocation of this Genius went further back in time. According to Livy, in 218/217 BCE, in the panic following the battle of the Trebia during the second Punic War, after the consultation of the Sibylline books, five major victims were sacrificed to the Genius of the Roman people for the salvation of the Roman State (Livy, History of Rome XXI.62; about this cult, see Palombi, “Genius”).

Considering the way the Genius populi romani is possibly represented on this coin, we first notice the association with the cornucopia. The cornucopia symbolizes the prosperity and the good Fortune of the Roman people. It remained an unavoidable attribute of the Genius populi romani (see for instance RRC 397/1, the Genius of the Roman people on the reliefs of the Arch of Titus, on the Cancelleria reliefs and on the Arch of Trajan at Benevent), but also of the Genius of the emperors (see Kunckel, Der Römische, p. 22-28). According to Rufus Fears, the association of the Genius of the Roman people with the cornucopia may be representative of the fact that this Genius gathered “into a single Roman religious idea the Hellenic cults of the Tyche and the Demos of the city” (Fears, “O ΔΗΜΟΣ,” p. 286).

The physical aspect of the Genius populi romani is also interesting. Hille Kunckel considers that, even under the Republic, the iconography of this Genius would have taken two distinct forms. The first one is that of a mature, bearded man (Kunckel puts RRC 393/1a and RRC 397/1 in this category, see Kunckel, Der Römische, p. 16-17). The second one, the most widely spread during the imperial period, is the image of a semi-nude, young and beardless man looking like a hero. Hille Kunckel puts our coin in this second category and she considers that this first representation of the Genius populi romani is precursory of the iconography of the Genius of the emperor and of the Roman people during the imperial period (Kunckel, Der Römische, p. 17). It is true that the posture and the semi-nudity of the Genius echo some later representations, as that of the Genius of the emperor sacrificing above an altar (see RIC I, 83-87, p. 158). But one point of Hille Kunckel’s comparison seems uncertain: the fact that the representation of the Genius populi romani on this coin is that of a young and beardless man. Actually, the damage of the coin makes that it is impossible to have a precise idea of the age of the man representing the Genius of the Roman people, but also if he has a beard or not. If it was the case that he did have a beard, the representation of the Genius populi romani would be consistent with the two others produced later by other members of the same family (RRC 393/1a and RRC 397/1). The iconographic representation of the Genius populi romani during the Republican period would have been that of a muscular, manly and quite mature man. The choice to represent the Genius populi romani mostly as a young and beardless man may have become a necessity during the imperial period, perhaps for some ideological reason (the necessity to link the Roman people with an ideal of youth and renewal), but clearly also to differentiate it from the Genius of the Senate (whose first appearance is on the Arch of Titus).

Scholars disagree on the reasons explaining why this motif was chosen. For Jean Gagé, the fact that members of the Cornelii Lentuli used no less than three times the motif of the Genius populi romani may prove that this gens had a special devotion to the Genius of the Roman people (Gagé, Jean, “Les Cornelii,” p. 219-223). Arguing from a very different perspective, Jean Béranger has suggested that through the issuing of coins bearing a representation of the Genius (RRC 329/1a-b; RRC 393/1a-b), the Cornelii Lentuli may have wanted to associate this figure to the politic program of the populares (Béranger, “Le GENIUS,” p. 412). Even if Rufus Fears also considers that the appearance of Genius Populi Romani on the coinage “may have popularis association” (especially for the issue RRC 329/1a-b), he also recalls that each Genius-issue has to be considered in its own political context, and that the Cornelii Lentuli cannot be considered as “having popularis sympathies” (Fears, “O ΔΗΜΟΣ,” p. 282, n. 29).

Michael Crawford has rejected both Jean Gagé’s interpretation of a personal use of the Genius populi romani by the Cornelii Lentuli (Crawford, RRC I, p. 409); and Jean Béranger’s idea according to which this image of the Genius populi romani had some “popularis associations” (Crawford, RRC I, p. 409, n. 3). As the father of the moneyer of this coin, M. Claudius Marcellus (RE Claudius 226), had served as a legate in the army of Marius during the operations against the Teutons in 102 BCE (Frontinus, The Stratagems II.4.6; Plutarch, Life of Marius XX.5; XXI.2), Michael Crawford has suggested that this issue may have been minted in 100 BCE to celebrate Marius’s victory over the German tribes (the Cimbric campaigns ended in 101 BCE; Crawford, RRC I, p. 409; II, p. 730). Even if Michael Crawford’s dating and interpretation of this coin are right, the fact that it was the son of one of the victorious legates of Marius who ordered the minting of this coin shows that there may have been some personal issues behind this emission. Instead of concluding that the Cornelii Lentuli would have claimed that they had a personal relationship with the Genius of the Roman people, it may be better to think that the motif of the Genius might have remained in the memory of the family as a kind of hallmark used by some of its members when they had a position which entitled them to mint coins. If this coin had actually been minted to celebrate the victory of Marius over the Germans, the general message broadcasted by its reverse would have been that the Roman people – here represented by its abstract and supernatural double – congratulated Rome in arms on her victory and probably granted her protection. The reverse of this coin would gather in one scene one deity and one allegory and would thus symbolize the domination of Roma and of its people over the world.

Keywords in the original language: 

Bibliographical references: 

“Le GENIUS POPULI ROMANI dans la politique impériale,”

Béranger, Jeanarticle-in-a-bookPrincipatus. Études de notion et d’histoire politiques dans l’Antiquité gréco-romaineJean Béranger411-427“Le GENIUS POPULI ROMANI dans la politique impériale,”coll. Paschoud François and Ducrey PierreGenèveDroz1973
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