Denarius minted by P. Cornelius Lentulus Spinther, representing the Genius of the Roman people seated in a curule chair and crowned by Victory (74 BCE)



74 BCE




Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 

British Museum

Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Bearded head of Hercules, looking right.
On the left, inscription: Q.S.C.
Border of dots.

Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Male figure (Genius populi Romani) seated, facing, on curule chair, holding cornucopia in right hand and sceptre in left hand, placing right foot on globe and left foot on uncertain object, crowned by flying Victory. Control-mark between the two figures.
On left sides, inscription: P.LENT.P.F.
On right side, inscription: L.N.
Border of dots.

Weight (g): 

RRC 397/1, p. 409.

This coin is a denarius minted, according to Michael Crawford’s dating, in 74 BCE. It depicts on the obverse the head of Hercules looking right. On the reverse, a mature bearded man, partially draped in a mantel and seated on a curule chair, is represented in the centre. He is holding a cornucopia in his right hand and a sceptre in his left, while he is placing his right foot on an object which could be identified as a globe. The second object above his left foot is indistinguishable. This man is represented seated while a winged Victory comes above his head to crown him with a laurel-wreath.

A comparison with other coins enables to identify with certainty the man represented in the middle of the reverse of this coin. First, it can be compared to the men represented on the reverse of the type RRC 329/1a (a type dated around 100 BCE), as it is also a hipmantled man holding a cornucopia, symbol of the prosperity and of the good Fortune of the Roman people. The main difference is that it is a reverse situation for the hipmantled man, as it is he who is crowned. Second, it can be compared to the man figuring on the obverse of the type RRC 393/1a, minted in the same period as our coin, that is in 76-75 BCE. It represents a bearded man, looking as of a certain age according to the coins, who is associated with various attributes, among them the sceptre (on the obverse and on the reverse), and the globe (reverse). The main point is that thanks to the legend GPR, this man is clearly identified with the Genius populi Romani, which can be defined as a sort of abstract and supernatural double of the Roman people, an entity which was worshiped because it protected the Roman people, and because it represented its essence. As  consequence, thanks to these two comparisons, the man represented in the middle of the reverse of this coin can be identified with a personification of the Genius of the Roman people (see BMCRR Rome 3329; Kunckel, Der Römische, p. 15-16; Crawford, RRC I, p. 409).

It is also important to take into account the context of the minting of this type. The name of the moneyer appears in the legend on the reverse of the coin – P(ublius) [Cornelius] Lent(ulus), P(ublii) f(ilius), L(ucii) n(epos) – and he can be identified with P. Cornelius Lentulus Spinther (RE Cornelius 238). This man was a member of the prestigious gens Cornelia, more precisely of the lineage of the Lentuli. This family background is particularly relevant for the study of this coin as two parents of P. Cornelius Lentulus Spinther had previously minted coins bearing a representation of the Genius populi Romani: P. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus, around 100 BCE (RRC 329/1a), and Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus (RE Cornelius 228), only one or two years before, that is in 76-75 BCE (RRC 393/1a). 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 and a personal concern for this Genius (Gagé, Jean, “Les Cornelii,” p. 219-223). Michael Crawford has rejected this interpretation, explaining that it would have been an excessively authoritative attitude (Crawford, RRC I, p. 409). Even if an issue bearing such a motif was intended to spread some official political message, it remains possible that the motif of the Genius remained in the memory of this senatorial family and was used by them as a kind of hallmark when they were in position to mint coins.

The legend on the obverse of the coin shows that this issue was minted when P. Cornelius Lentulus Spinther was quaestor, a position which gave him the right to sign coins issued by the Roman mint, thanks to a special authorization of the senate (QSC for Quaestor, ex Senatus Consulto). According to Michael Crawford, this type, together with the other one, RRC 393/1a minted previously in 76-75 BCE, perhaps in Spain, by a relative of Spinther then quaestor of Pompey (Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus), has to be related to the necessity of asserting the “claims of the Roman state against those of the rebel state of Sertorius” (Crawford, RRC I, p. 409; see also Fears, “O ΔΗΜΟΣ,” p. 282, n. 29). Actually in 76-75 BCE, Q. Metellus Pius and Pompey led military operations in Spain to defeat Q. Sertorius, an ex-commander of Cinna (who could not be considered as a real marianist) who had made secession in Spain since 80 BCE, and his ally M. Perperna. Between 80 and 76 BCE, Sertorius won some important battles and defied Rome’s senatorial armies. The watershed occurred in 75 BCE, after various defeats in Lusitania. Sertorius and Perperna progressively withdrew in the north-east, before their executions in 72 BCE. As François Cadiou remarks, during the Sertorian war, the Roman troops were still paid and maintained by resources coming from Rome and depending from the decision of the Senate. Such a situation created some difficulties, especially when the Senate wanted to punish a general by reducing his resources. That was probably the case of Pompey during the winter of 75-74 BCE, as he sent a letter to the Senate to complain about the lack of financial and material resources for his troops (Sallust, Histories II.86, Loeb edition). Such a situation may have compelled the imperatores to find new ways to fund their troops: to allow some local minting might have been a temporary solution. For François Cadiou, it is probably in such a context of emergency and shortage that, in 76-75 BCE in Spain, the quaestor of Pompey Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus might have minted the issue RRC 393/1a to provide for his troops (Cadiou, Hibera, p. 484-488). One year later, P. Cornelius Lentulus Spinther was quaestor, and we may assume that the minting of the type RRC 397/1 was also connected with the events in Spain. The chronology, the kinship between the minters and the similarities in the choice of the themes point in this direction.

If such a reading is correct, it would mean that the motif of the Genius populi Romani was used here to serve a martial and hegemonic ideology. On this coin, Rome’s military strength would be embodied by the virility (the beard appears also in the type RRC 393/1a) and the muscle structure of the Genius (see also the type RRC 329/1a of 100 BCE). Secondly, the Genius populi Romani would havebeen presented through this iconography as the power securing the domination of Rome over every land and sea. This hegemony terra marique is symbolized on this coin by the sceptre and the globe, and in the issue RRC 393/1a, also by the tiller represented on the reverse. These attributes confirm the idea that the Genius of the Roman people was presented in the official ideology as the main actor and a guarantor of the domination of Rome over the orbis terrarum. Finally, the fact that the Genius populi Romani is represented seated in majesty and that the goddess of Victory is crowning him makes this coin a quite unique representation of the Genius of the Roman people as the perfect embodiment of the hegemony and sovereign authority of the Roman people (Kunckel, Der Römische, p. 17).

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