Denarius of C. Mamilius Limetanus: a new acquisition
A denarius is a silver coin introduced in about 211 BC as the main Roman silver coin. It remained so until the 3rd century AD.
From 211 BC the production of coinage was in the hands of moneyers - young men at the beginning of their political career. The possibilities offered by coinage for self-advertisement gradually became apparent during the second century BC; by the latter part of that century decisions about the types selected by the moneyer were effectively a private concern. A moneyer could choose what he wanted to appear on the coins he minted: he might recall his town of origin, for example, or the deeds of his ancestors. With Julius Caesar, in the first century BC, the coinage began to display his portrait (an overtly monarchical expression, as we see in the ANU Classics Museum).
This denarius that the Classics Museum has recently acquired is described as ‘serratus’, with twenty or so notched marks around its circumference, a technique that is intended to demonstrate the integrity of the coin (it is shown to be silver throughout).
On the obverse of the coin we see a bust of Mercury, with his caduceus over his shoulder; on the reverse is Ulysses (known as Odysseus in the Greek world) with his staff, greeting his dog Argus. The inscription on the coin reads C MAMIL downwards, and on the right we see LIMETAN.
The coin is dated to 82 BC.
According to the story of Odysseus, as Homer tells it in the Odyssey, the hero returns to Ithaca after 20 years’ absence, in a beggar’s disguise. His dog Argus promptly recognizes his master, but, now old and neglected, dies. (The dog’s death is absolutely necessary to the plot. It is important that the hero is not recognized by anyone at this point, since he wants to be able to rid his palace of the 108 suitors who are courting his wife—and to put his wife’s loyalty to the test.)
What we see on the coin departs from Homer’s tale: Odysseus is clearly greeting his dog. And he is not in disguise: he is wearing the garments of a respectable traveller.
Why were these images selected for this coin?
The moneyer, C. Mamilius Limetanus (whose name appears on the reverse of the coin) claims descent from Telegonus, the son of Ulysses and Circe (with whom the hero had spent a year during his voyage home from Troy). Ulysses himself was said to be the great-grandson of Mercury. Thus both Ulysses and Mercury are featured on the coin.
The coin was purchased by the Friends of the ANU Classics Museum with donations to the fund that has been established in memory of Jill Greenwell, devoted Friend of the ANU Classics Museum.