Roman Republic

Roman Italy (1st Century AD)

Cult of Vediovis 

Marble satue of Vediovis (ca. 80 AD) from his temple on the Capitol (now in the Musei Capitolini)

From Dr Erin Warford (referenced below)

Cult of Vediovis at Rome

According to Varrro:

  1. “... the ‘Annals’ record that, [after Romulus and the Sabine king Titus Tatius had agreed to share power in the newly-founded city],  Tatius vowed arae (altars) to ... [a number of Sabine deities, including] Vediovis ...”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 74, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 71).

However, as Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, at p. 8) observed, material evidence of the cult of Vediovis:

  1. “... appeared relatively late in Rome: two temples were built for him at the beginning of the 2nd century BC:

  2. one on the island in the Tiber, which was dedicated on 1st January, 194 BC; and

  3. the other on the Capitol,  which was dedicated on 7th March, 192 BC.

  4. ...  This evidence is reliable, but does not reveal more than that Vediovis was considered to be an indigenous god [by this time, who could therefore] receive a temple inside the pomerium.”

Each of these temples was vowed in battle by the same person, L. Furius Purpurio (cos 196 BC);

  1. As a praetor in 200 BC, and in the absence of the commanding consul, he led what was, in effect, a consular army to relieve Cremona, which was besieged by Gauls.  According to Livy, at a crucial moment in the ensuing battle, he:

  2. “... vowed a temple to Deoiove (sic), should he rout the enemy on that day”, (‘History of Rome’, 31: 21: 12).

  3. He achieved a stunning victory and was awarded a controversial triumph (since he was only a praetor and had allegedly acted against the orders of the commanding consul).  The temple that he vowed on this occasion was the temple of Vediovis on the Tiber Island, which was dedicated on 1st January, 194 BC.

  4. As consul in 196 BC, Furius and his consular colleague, M. Claudius Marcellus, were both assigned to Cisalpine Gaul.  While Claudius was awarded a triumph over the Insubrian Gauls at the end of the year, it seems that Furius was  denied one.  However, Livy recorded that:

  5. “Two temples to Iove (sic), were dedicated on the Capitol [in 192 BC]; L. Furius Purpurio had vowed  [both of them]:

  6. one while praetor [in 200 BC], in the Gallic war; and

  7. the other while consul [in 196 BC]”, (‘History of Rome’, 35: 41: 8).

  8. This second temple, which Furius must have vowed during a battle in Gaul, was the temple of Vediovis on Capitol, which was dedicated on 7th March, 192 BC. 

Unfortunately, none of the surviving literary sources shed light on the earlier history of this cult, which leaves us asking, with Howard Scullard (referenced below, at p. 56): 

  1. “... who was Vediovis ? 

As he pointed out, all we know of the origins of this god comes from the etymology of his name, which:

  1. “... appears with the same variations as Iovis , [but] with the particle ‘ve-’ prefixed  ... The meaning of ‘ve-’ is ambiguous because it can be either privative or diminutive [i.e., it can mean ‘either not Jove’ or ‘young Jove’].”  

In any case, as Cicero warned, reliance on etymology in order  to discern divine origins is:

  1. “... a dangerous practice: [anyone doing so] will be in difficulties with a great many names.  [For example], what will [he] make of Vediovis ... ?”, (‘Nature of the Gods’, 3: 62, translated by Harris Rackham, referenced below).

Fortunately, there is material evidence available to us, albeit that it is not easily interpreted.

Cult Statues from the Temple of Vediovis on the Capitol

Much of what we know about the cult of Vediovis is derived from literary records of the first cult statue in his temple of the Capitol and the archeological evidence of its replacement.

Cypress Statue of ca. 192 BC ?

Pliny the Elder (ca. 79 AD), in a passage that dealt with the durability of various kinds of wood, observed that:

  1. “Cypress ... is the wood that, beyond all others, retains its polish in the best condition for all time.  Has not the cult statue of Vediovis on the Arx (simulacrum Vediovis in arce) ... , [which is] made of cypress, lasted since its dedication in the 561st year after the foundation of Rome (a condita urbe DLXI)”, (‘Natural History’, 16: 79).

If Pliny was using Varronian dating, this would mean that the cult image in the temple of Vediovis on the Capitol had been consecrated in 193/2 BC but, as John Briscoe (referenced below, at p. 114) pointed out, we have no idea what precise dating system that Pliny’s source had used and, in any case:

  1. “... it could be that the numeral in [the surviving manuscripts] is corrupt, and that it should read 562.  It is perfectly possible that the temple and the statue were dedicated on the same day [on 7th March 192 BC] ... ”

The important point is that the original cypress statue of Vediovis in his temple on the Capitol apparently survived in Pliny’s lifetime. 

Ovid (8 AD) seems to have used the evidence of this statue to explain the nature of Vediovis to the readers of his Fasti:

  1. “He is the young Jupiter: look on his youthful face; look then on his hand, [which] holds no thunderbolts: Jupiter assumed the thunderbolts [only] after the giants dared attempt to win the sky; at first he was unarmed.  ... A she-goat [Amalthiea] also stands [beside his image]; the Cretan nymphs are said to have fed the god; it was the she-goat that gave her milk to the infant Jove”, (‘Fasti’, 3: 429-48, based on the translation of James Frazer, referenced below, at p. 153).

Thus, the statue that Ovid had seen portrayed a young (probably beardless) god standing beside a she-goat and, at least by 8 AD, he was empty-handed.  Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, at p. 9) suggested that Ovid took his identification of the god as as the ‘infant Jove’ on the basis of the following entry by the Augustan grammarian M. Verrius Flaccus (as epitomised by Paul the Deacon) on the adjective ‘vesculi’:

  1. “The prefix ‘ve-’ signifies small, and Vediovem parvum lovem (Vediovis signifies the young Jove)”, (‘De verborum significatu’, 519 L, my translation). 

He therefore interpreted the goat as an illusion to the nursing of the young god on Mount Ida and (probably) invented the story of  Jupiter’s assumption of the thunderbolts only after the emergence of the threat from the giants in order to account for the absence of thunderbolts (the traditional attribute of the mature, bearded Jupiter).

Marble Statue of ca. 81 AD ?

Christer Henriksén (referenced below, at p. 410) observed that the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD) rebuilt a number of temples on the Capitol:

  1. “... the temples of Iuppiter Tonans and Vediovis ([which had presumably been] damaged in the fire of 80 AD); the temple of Iuppiter Optimus Maximus (which had been rebuilt by Vespasian .. in 69 AD but had burned down again in 80 AD); and probably also the temple of Juno Moneta on the Arx.”

It is therefore likely that this cypress statue described above was destroyed by fire soon after Pliny’s death in 79 AD. Aulus Gellius (ca. 170 AD) probably described what was presumably the statue that replaced it:

  1. “The statue of the god Vediovis, which is in [his] temple [on the Capitol], ... holds arrows, which, as everyone knows, are devised to inflict harm.   For that reason it has often been said that that god is [a form of] Apollo; and a she-goat is sacrificed to him ‘in humano ritu’ [by a human rite, whatever that means] and a representation of that animal stands near his statue”, (‘Attic Nights’, 5: 12: 11-12).

Howard Scullard (referenced below, at p. 57) noted that:

  1. “During excavations of this temple in 1939, a marble statue [illustrated at the top of the page] was found: a male figure of Apolline type, with a cloak hanging over the left arm, although the arms and head were missing.  This must have replaced the earlier wooden statue which may have been destroyed in the fire of 80 AD.”

He observed (at p. 58) that:

  1. “Gellius may have deduced the sacrifice of a goat from the animal accompanying the statue: [however], an attribute [of this kind] does not necessarily involve it being an object of sacrifice.”

Cult Statues from the Temple of Vediovis on the Capitol: Conclusion

There is no reason to doubt either:

  1. the testimony of Ovid that the original cult statue of Vediovis (like the marble version that probably replaced it) resembled the young Jupiter; or

  2. the testimony of both Ovid and and Gellius that a goat stood beside these two  statues.

The question of what, if anything, Vediovis held in his hand is more complicated:

  1. Ovid laid great stress on the fact that the cypress Vediovis was empty-handed, but this might have reflected the state of the statue in ca. 8 AD.

  2. Gellius, on the other hand, was clear that the later Vediovis held arrows.  However, he had probably already arrived at the conclusion that the statue represented some form of Apollo because the god was depicted (as Apollo usually was) as a handsome, beardless, young man: if so, then the things in his hand would have to be arrows, the traditional attributes of Apollo. 

In other words, it is at least possible that both figures of Vediovis had originally held thunderbolts:

  1. those of the cypress statue could have been lost by the time of Ovid; and

  2. those of the later statue might have been easily mistaken for arrows. 

In my opinion, each man probably explained the iconography of Vediovis’ cult statue on the basis of pre-conceived idea of the characteristics of this deity at his time of writing.  We have no reason to doubt the testimony of  Verrius Flaccus and Ovid that Vediovis was regarded as the young Jupiter in the Augustan period, particularly since we have earlier evidence  for the worship of the young Jupiter in Latium: according to Cicero (ca. 44 BC), a statue at the sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Praeneste depicted:

  1. “... the infant Jupiter (Iovis pueri), who is represented as sitting with Juno in the lap of Fortuna and reaching for her breast, ... [which] is held in the highest reverence by mothers”, (‘On Divination’, 2: 85, translated by William Falconer, at p. 467).

Numismatic Evidence for the Roman Cult of Vediovis

Denarius of L. Caesius (?)


                          Denarius issued by L. Caesius: 112-1 BC (RRC 298/1)

                                  Obverse: Young god holding a thunderbolt                       Detail of the monogram behind the god

Reverse: Lares (identified by ’L͡A R͡E’, with dog between; bust of Vulcan above; ‘L. CAESI’ below

It is possible that a silver denarius issued by L. Caesius  in 112 or 111 BC might throw some light on the present discussion, since the obverse depicts the head and shoulders of a young god who holds a thunderbolt (as evidenced by its zig-zag shafts) in his right hand.  However, there is nothing on the coin  that explicitly identifies this god. 

Michael Crawford (referenced below, 1974, at p. 312) argued that the monogram behind his head on the obverse should probably be read as ‘AP’, identifying him as Apollo, and that:

  1. “... since the object in his hand is clearly a thunderbolt, the type perhaps results from the assimilation of Apollo with Jupiter ...”

He considered, but rejected, the hypothesis that this deity resulted from the assimilation of Apollo with Vediovis, citing the testimony of Ovid (above) that the image of Vediovis in his temple on the Capitol depicted him  before he had assumed the thunderbolt.   James Luce (referenced below, at p. 25), in his analysis of the three later coins discussed below, agreed, arguing  that:

  1. “... the [alternative] identification [of this deity] with Vediovis cannot stand. ... The evidence of Ovid ... rules this out absolutely.”

However, Peter Wiseman (referenced below, at p. 76) argued that there was no basis for privileging Ovid’s evidence for the absence of thunderbolts in the Augustan period (since, as discussed above, they might simply have been lost by his time).  However, like Crawford and Luce, he asserted (at p. 73) that the monogram:

  1. “... ought to mean AP(ollo), the identification [perhaps] made necessary by the unfamiliar attribute [of the thunderbolt rather than the usual arrows].”

He therefore concluded that:

  1. “The most economical explanation ... is that [Caesius] accepted the identification of Vediovis as Apollo, and of his weapon as a thunderbolt.”

Thus Crawford, Luce and Wiseman all believed that the monogram indicated that the young god on the coin represented the assimilation of Apollo [minus his arrows] with Jupiter and his thunderbolts, albeit that:

  1. for Crawford and Luce, Ovid’s testimony relating to the attributes of the statue in the temple on the Capitol precluded his identification as Vediovis; while

  2. for Wiseman, who discounted Ovid’s testimony in this respect, the young god was Vediovis.

However, the reading of the monogram as AP = Apollo, and this is not universally accepted.  For example, as long ago as 1895, Leopold Montague (referenced below, at p. 163) argued on the basis of two broadly contemporary coins that it more probably signified ‘ROMA’:

  1. the denarius (RRC 340/1) issued ( by L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi in 90 BC  had:

  2. the head of Apollo on the obverse;

  3. on the reverse:

  4. a horse ridden by a man waving a palm branch (perhaps a contestant in the ludi Apollinares, which C. Calpurnius Piso had established on a permanent basis in 211 BC); and

  5. a variety of  inscriptions that included both:

  6. - L PISO FRUGI ROMA; and

  7. -L PISO FRUGI followed by a monogram that is very similar to the one on the coin under discussion here; and

  8. the denarius issued by A. Postumius Albinus  in 99-6 BC had the head of Apollo on the obverse and the inscription ROMA (RRC 335/10a), sometimes shortened to the initial ‘R’ (RRC 335/10b).

It is therefore at least possible that the monogram on the coin under discussion should be read RMA = ROMA, in which case, there is no particular reason to assume that the young god on the obverse had any association with Apollo and the evidence of the thunderbolts would point towards the young Jupiter.

We might take this discussion further by considering what is known about the moneyer L. Caesius.  Gary Farney (referenced below, at p. 257) pointed out that he was:

  1. “...  the first Caesius known to have held any political post at Rome”;

and suggested that he might be the L(ucio) Caesio C(ai) f(ilio) imperatore who was recorded in an inscription (AE 1984, 495) from Alcántara as having taken the surrender of a local tribe as praetorian commander in Hispania Ulterior in 104 BC (see T. Corey Brennan, referenced below, at p. 499).  Farney also pointed out (at p. 258) that:

  1. “Several Caesii are known to have held high office early at Praeneste, and they maintained a connection to the town into the 2nd century AD.”

Clearly, L. Caesius was a Roman citizen by 112 BC: it is therefore likely thathe or his father had received  civitas per magistratum after holding office at Praeneste, since the measure that extended Roman citizenship to Latins who had held office in their own cities seems to have been enacted in ca. 122 BC (see, for example, Christopher Dart, referenced below, at p. 61).  In any case, it seems that he was a ‘new man’ in Rome, intent upon introducing himself the the electorate there in order to further his career.  This might explain the stunning portrait on the obverse of his coins, which stands out among those of the 39 denarii that were minted in the period 122-90 BC (contained in this extract from the  on-line database of the American Numismatic Society).

The next step is to look at the iconography of the reverse of Caesius’ coin, starting with the head of Vulcan. According to the so-called Verona Scholiast on Virgil (‘Aeneid’, 7: 676-81):

  1. “Cato, in the ‘Origines’ [ca. 150 BC], says that young girls found [a baby]  in the hearth and, for that reason, considered him the son of Vulcan ... [They] called him Caeculus because of his tiny eyes.  It was [Caeculus] who, with a haphazard collection of shepherds, founded Praeneste”, (translated by Timothy Cornell, in T. J. Cornell (editor), referenced below, at Vol. II, p. 197), my changed word order).

Thus, Caesius presumably included Vulcan on his coins in order to advertise his Praenestine origins: indeed, Gary Farney (referenced below, at p. 258) suggested that the gens Caesia might have:

  1. “.. used the similarity of its name and its Praenestine origins to claim [its own] descent from Caeculus, [son of Vulcan and founder of Praeneste].”

We then come to the two seated figures below the head of Vulcan.  Michael Crawford (referenced below, 1974, at p. 312) observed that the following passage by Ovid enables us to identify them on the basis of the dog seated between them: Ovid recorded that the 1st May had:

  1. “... witnessed the foundation of an altar to the Lares Praestites, together with small images of the gods. That man from Cures [Numa ? Manius Curius?] indeed had vowed them [i.e., the altar and the images], but the passage of time destroys many things and wears away stone.  The reason for their epithet is that they keep watch over everything.  They support us and protect the city walls; and they are ever-present and bring us aid.  A dog, carved from the same stone, used to stand at their feet: why did it stand there with the Lares? ... [Because], like the Lares, dogs are watchful (pervigilantque Lares pervigilantque canes)”, (‘Fasti’, 5: 129-144, based on the translation by James Frazer, referenced below, at pp. 269-271).

Crawford therefore concluded that the two figures were the Lares Praestite and that:

  1. “... the monograms [L͡A R͡E on the reverse] should be resolved as  LA[RES] PR[A]E[STITES].”

Caesius’ choice of  the Lares Praestites for the reverse of his coin  was actually more revolutionary as his use of the young god holding thunderbolts on the obverse: it is not found on any other coin in the catalogue of the known coins of the Roman Republic.  Thus, if we can deduce what Caesius’ choice of the Lares Lares Praestites for the reverse of his coin conveyed to his Roman ‘audience’, we might come closer to also understanding the identity of the young god whom he chose for the obverse.

We might usefully start with Cato’s account of the myth of Caecus’ foundation of Pranest.  In his commentary on the fragment discussed above, Timothy Cornell (in T. J. Cornell (editor), referenced below, at Vol. III, at p. 114) argued that, although:

  1. “Cato is the earliest [surviving] source to refer to the story of Caeculus, the founder of Praeneste, ... it was, beyond doubt, an ancient local myth with close affinities to other Italic foundation legends.”

He then drew attention (1t p. 115) to the following record by Solinus (3rd century AD):

  1. “... the books of the Praenestines say that the city was founded by Caeculus, whom (as the tale goes) the sisters of the Digidii found, hard by a fortuitous fire”, (‘Polyhistor’, 2: 9);

Thus, it seems that the young girls mentioned by Cato were (or had become) the sisters of the Digidi.  Cornell also drew attention to the fuller account of the myth given by Servius (4th century AD), in his commentary on the Virgilian passage mentioned above:

  1. There were, at Praeneste, two brothers who were called divine (duo fratres, qui divi appellabantur) When their sister was sitting near the hearth, a spark ... struck her womb, which, it is said, made her pregnant.  Later, she gave birth to a boy near the temple of Jupiter and abandoned him.  Maidens who were fetching water found him near a fire, which was not far from the well, and lifted him up: that is why he is called the son of Vulcan.  He is called Caeculus because he had rather small eyes ... He later collected a band around him, lived as a robber for a long time, and finally founded the city of Praeneste in the mountains”, (‘ad Aen’, 7: 678, translated by Jan Bremmer and Nicholas Horsfall, referenced below, at p. 49).

Finally, Cornell pointed out (at p. 115)that, according to Verona Scholiast, Varro had recorded that Caeculus was brought up by the ‘Depidii’, and observed that  that:

  1. “... one suspects that divi in the phrase duo fratres, qui divi appellabantur [by Servius] is a corruption of Depidii [Virgil] or Digidii [Solinus], whose sister was the mother of Caeculus.”

Gary Farney (referenced below, at p. 258) suggested that the reverse of Caesius’ coin represents:

  1. “... both sides of Caeculs’ family:

  2. Vulcan, [his father]; and

  3. the Lares Praestites, [whom he argued were] Caeculus’ divine uncles (called the Depidii or Digidii) ...)”

In Construction Below

It seems to me that, even if the legend at Praeneste was framed in those terms in 112 BC, it would have not have been common knowledge among Caesius’ Roman ‘audience’.  Thus while Vulcan on the reverse of the coins might well have signalled Caesius’ Praenestine origins, I doubt that the depiction of the Roman Lares Praestites would have served the same purpose.

This was the site of the important sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia, where Cicero located a statue:

“... of the infant Jupiter (Iovis pueri), who is represented as sitting with Juno in the lap of Fortune and reaching for her breast, ... [which] is held in the highest reverence by mothers”, (‘On Divination’, 2: 85, translated by William Falconer, at p. 467).

This suggests that the young Jupiter was worshiped in the sanctuary, where Fortuna Primigenia was considered to be his wet nurse (and that of Juno).   It is, therefore, at least possible that the monogram indicates ‘Roma’, and that Caesius wanted to underline his devotion to the young Jupiter in the form in which he was venerated in Rome (i.e. as Vediovis) on the obverse of his coin.  On this hypothesis, the coin depicted the young Jupiter, which (pace Ovid) would have reflected the iconography of the cypress statue of Vediovis in his temple on the Capitol.

I suggest that Caesius’ intention in depicting the Lares Praestites on his coins was to underline their Latin/ Trojan origins and, thereby, the common Latin origins of both the cities of Latium (including Praeneste) and Rome: although most of our surviving sources record that the house gods that Aeneas brought from Troy to Lavinium were known to the Latins as the Penates, we also see them occasionally described in our surviving sources as Lares:

  1. the poet Tibullus (ca. 30 BC) described Aeneas’ arrival in Italy as follows:

  2. “Aeneas never-resting, brother of Cupid, ever on the wing, whose exiled barks carry the holy things of Troy, now doth Jove allot to thee the fields of Laurentum, now doth a hospitable land invite thy wandering gods (lares).  There divinity shall be thine, when Numicius’ sacred waters carry thee to Heaven, a god of the native-born (indigetem).  See, Victory is hovering above the weary ships.  At last the haughty goddess comes to the men of Troy”, (‘Elegies’, 2: 39-46, translated by F. W. Cornish et al., referenced below, at p. 275).

  3. Lucan (ca. 50 AD) imagined that, on the eve of the Battle of Thapsus (46 BC), Caesar had prayed for victory as follows:

  4. “All ye spirits of the dead, who inhabit the ruins of Troy; and ye household gods (lares) of my ancestor Aeneas, who now dwell safe in Lavinium and Alba, upon whose altar still shines the fire from Troy; and thou, Pallas [an ancient statue of Athena], famous pledge of security, whom no male eye may behold in thy secret shrine: I, the most renowned descendant of the race of Iulus [i.e., Ascanius, the son of Aeneas], ... place incense .. upon your altars and solemnly invoke you in your ancient abode.  Grant me prosperity to the end, and I shall restore your people: in grateful return, the Italians (Ausonidae) shall rebuild the walls of the Trojans, and a Roman Troy shall rise”, (‘Civil War’, 9: 990-9, translated by J. D. Duff, referenced below, at p. 579).

Finally, we should consider the significance of an inscription on a small cippus from the site of a sanctuary at Tor Tignosa, near Lavinium, which was first published as:

Lare Aineia d(onom);

and then, as reproduced in  (CIL I, 2nd edition,  2843):

Lare Aenia d(onom.;

However, Adriano La Regina (referenced below, at p. 434) recently republished it in the form illustrated below:

From Adriano La Regina (referenced below, at p. 434)

Thus, while earlier scholars considered that the inscription had recorded a gift Lar Aeneas (Aeneas, the ancestor), Adriano La Regina plausibly argued (at p. 435) that it recorded a gift made by a lady, Aula Venia, to the lares (in the plural).  He dated it (at p. 435-6) to ca. 300 BC, and pointed out (at p. 436) that:

  1. this inscription represents the earliest direct attestation of the cult of the Lares in Italy, and no other surviving attestation of this kind is earlier than the 1st century BC; 

  2. other archeological evidence from this sanctuary indicated cult activity here between the 5th and 2nd centuries BC; and

  3. the sanctuary was located in the heart of Latium, at the intersection of via Ardeatina and the road that connected Lavinium with Alba Longa.

Harriet Flower (referenced below, at p. 16) argued that Lares were specifically deities who protected places, and that those recorded in this inscription lived in and protected:

  1. “... a local sanctuary in Latium, where their profile was low, and where they probably received regular offerings on a small scale.”

While that might be true, it seems to me that, in the light of:

  1. the location of the sanctuary, on the road that linked Lavinium to Alba, both locations closely associated with legends surrounding the Trojan Penates; and

  2. the passages by Tibullus and Lucan discussed above;

it would be odd if these Lares were not associated in some way with the pan-Latin Penates at Lavinium and, by extension, with the Lares Praestite and the (twin) dii Penates publici at Rome.  Thus, it is at least possible that Caesius used the Lares Praestite on the reverse of his coin to underline that common religious heritage that he and his fellow Latins shared with the Romans.

Denarius issued collectively by the 3 moneyers: 86 BC (RRC 350a)

Obverse: Young god,  thunderbolt below


         Denarius issued by Mn. Fonteius: 85 BC (RRC 353)       Denarius issued by C. Licinius Macer: 84 BC ( RRC 354/1)

                  Obverse: Young god,  thunderbolt below.                                 Obverse: Young god holding a thunderbolt 

To take this further, we need to look at three other coins (illustrated above) that had obverses that similarly depicted the head of an Apollo-like god with thunderbolts, all of which were issued in the period 86-4 BC:

  1. in the first two (RRC 350a and RRC 353), the thunderbolts were below the head on the obverse; while

  2. in the third (RRC 354/1), the moneyer C. Livinius Macer had revived the obverse of Lucius Caesius.

Michael Crawford (referenced below, 1974, at p. 364, 369 and 370 respectively) characterised the deity on the obverse as Apollo, and argued (at p. 369) that the monogram below his chin in Fonteius’ coin should again be read as ‘AP’, identifying him as Apollo.

As we have seen, James Luce (referenced below, at p. 25) insisted that the obverses of these coins depict Apollo.  He therefore included these issues in his list of coin issues of the ‘Apollo (at p. 28) in the decade up to Sulla’e emergence as dictator in 82 BC.  On this basis, he concluded (at p. 32) that:

  1. “The choice of Apollo [on the obverses of coins minted at Rome in this period] was clearly deliberate, ... [and] shows that he became, in some sense, [both] the symbol and the patron of the government in power.”

Denarii and denarii seratii minted at Rome in 87-2 BC (Michael Crawford, referenced below, 1974)

The denarii are contained in this extract from the  on-line database of the American Numismatic Society

In the table above, I have revised Luce’s list of ‘Apollo’ coins in order to bring it into line with the chronology established by Michael Crawford (referenced below, 1974).  I have also restricted it to  the period 88-82 BC, when Sulla was away from Rome.  I have also tried to place the coinage of this period in its historical context.  It seems to me that the period of Sulla’s absence from Rome falls into three distinct periods:

  1. Michael Crawford (referenced below, 1964, at p. 143) argued that the coins (RRC 349) issued by the Memmii ex senātus consultato were struck for the populist Marius, after his return to Rome in 87 BC.  His return heralded a period of violence in the city that subsided after his death in the following year. 

  2. Crawford argued (at p. 144) that the identical coins of that year (86 BC) were struck collectively by a ‘regular’, triumviral college:

  3. “... reflecting, thereby, the return to normality at Rome after the death  of Marius.”

  4. L. Cornelius Cinna, who had been consul when Marius had been invited to return, was now in the ascendancy, and held the consulship in four consecutive years before he was killed by his troops in 84 BC. 

  5. Sulla returned to Italy from the east early in 83 BC, and Italy was then engulfed by civil war.  Marius’ son, who headed the resistance to Sulla, found himself trapped when Sulla laid siege to Praeneste in 82 BC: he committed suicide just before that city fell to Sulla’s forces. 

Sulla himself finally took Rome and was proclaimed dictator in late 82 or early 81 BC.  Interestingly, three coins (RRC 369-71) that were issued at some time in 82-80 BC constituted a restoration of the coinage of 127 BC, except that the original head of Roma was replaced by the legend ROMA and the head of Apollo.  Michael Crawford (referenced below, 1964, at pp. 144-5) argued plausibly that this restored issue:

  1. “... was probably struck by Sulla after [his] capture of Rome in 82 BC, with the [twin] aims of continuing the regular coinage of the Republic without appointing extra moneyers and of proclaiming the defeat of his foes.”

If so, then this was a particularly clear example of Luce’s claim (above) that the government in power at this time chose to symbolise that power by representing Apollo on the obverses of coins that they minted at Rome.

If we now look back on the coins of the period of Sulla’s absence from Rome, it is clear that only those issued86-4 BC would have reflected the preferences of a government that actually exercised power in Rome in any meaningful sense: both before and after this interlude, Italy was in chaos.  More specifically, in this three-year period of relative stability, it seems that power resided with Cinna,.  We might therefore reasonably assume that Cinna decided on the iconography of the coins that were issued from Rome at this time, and that the moneyers of 86 BC, who identified themselves as  ‘GAR OGLV VER’, simply reflected this official preference.  In respect of the other coins issued in this period:

  1. RRC 351, which were issued by plebeian aediles in 86 BC and depicted Ceres on the obverse,  would have financed the corn supply; and

  2. RRC 356, which were issued by curule aediles in 84 BC and depicted Cybele, would have referred to their oversight of games held in her honour.

The situation in respect of the strange denarii (RRC 352) that the otherwise unknown L. Julius Bursio issued in 85 BC is almost completely obscure:

  1. the obverse depicts the head of a male deity who has the attributes of Apollo (laurel wreath and ringlets), Mercury (winged head) and Neptune (trident behind); and

  2. the reverse depicts the goddess Victory in a quadriga and (usually) the legend L.IVLI.BVRSIO.

In a minority of these denarii (RRC 352/1b), the reverse legend reads EX·A·P (ex argento publico), but Paul de Ruyter (referenced below) has demonstrated from the overlapping control marks that these too were issued by Bursio in Rome.  The reverse is hardly likely to have celebrated Sulla’s victory over Mithridates’ general Archelaus at the Battle of Orchomenus in this year: it might have celebrated the victory of Cinna’s man, Fimbria, over Mithridates at the battle of Miletopolis in the previous year, or it might have represented a forlorn hope that it would be Fimbria rather than Sulla who would definitely defeat Mithridates.  The significance of the obverse deity is completely obscure.

We know of coins issued by three moneyers from this family: the denarii from all three issues are contained in this extract from the on-line database of the American Numismatic Society:

  1. Caius Fonteius (RRC 290: 114-3 BC), who fought for Rome in the Social War and was killed at Asculum (‘Pro Fonteio’, 14) in 90 BC;

  2. Manius Fonteius (RRC 307: 108-7 BC); and

  3. Manius Fonteius, son of Caius (RRC 353: 85 BC), the moneyer under discussion here.

Cicero defended Marcus Fonteius whom he described as belonging to a prominent family from Tusculum, who seems to have been a moneyer at some stage before his quaestorship of 84 BC (‘Pro Fonteio’, 3-5), albeit that none of his coins survive.  The most economical assumption is that:

  1. Caius and the elder Manius were brothers; and

  2. Marcus and the younger Manius were also brothers, and thus both the sons of Caius.

Thus, we see both the younger Manius and his brother (or, at least his kinsman) Marcus in the service of Cinna at this period.  Nothing more is known about the younger Manius, but Cicero (‘Pro Fonteio’, 6) recorded that  Marcus was a legatus in Spain at the time of Sulla’s return to Italy.  He managed to continue in public life, serving as legate in Macedonia (‘Pro Fonteio’, 44) and was prosecuted in ca. 69 BC for alleged offences that he had committed as propraetor in Gaul.  It is possible that the younger Manius could  also have survived in public life after Sulla’s return: a coin (RRC 429/1) issued by P. Fonteius Capito in 55 BC refers on the reverse to a heroic action undertaken in battle by a military tribune, ‘MN·FONT·TR·MIL’, and Michael Crawford (referenced below, 1974, at p. 453) suggested that the this could have been the younger Manius in action at the time of his brother’s propraetorship in Gaul.  If so, then we might assume that he had not caused to much offence to Sulla by his action as moneyer in 85 BC, or at least that he had managed to keep a very low profile for a period thereafter.

On the basis of this information, we might assume that the younger Manius was

The winged child atop a goat on the reverse is identified as everything from a symbol of Vejovis, young Jupiter, Cupid, or even an infant Bacchus. The inclusion of the caps of the Dioscuri and the thyrsus of Bacchus

The most interesting thing about these obverses, irrespective of the identity of the deity portrayed, is the sudden reappearance of his thunderbolt, which James Luce (referenced below, at pp. 37-8) characterised as a threat to annihilate Sulla.

However, the problem with this is that Michael Crawford (referenced below, 1974, at p. 368) attributed another coin to Bursio: a very rare bronze coin (RRC 352/2, quinarius or sestertius), with:

  1. the obverse depicting the head of a male deity with attributes of Apollo (laurel wreath and ringlets) and Mercury (winged head) , but with no trident behind; and

  2. the reverse depicting Cupid breaking thunderbolt over knee.

If this is correct, and if the thunderbolt symbolised the power and intentions of Cinna at this time, then Bursio must have been an overt supporter of Sulla.  James Luce (at p. 38 and not 66) rejected the attribution of this coin to Bursio, and argued that:

  1. “... Sulla had something to say in reply [to Cinna’ thunderbolt].  A very rare and anonymous quinarius [RRC 352/2] appeared ... , doubtless issued from Sullan-held territory sometime in 83 or 82 BC.  Sulla's answer was blunt and uncompromising; the reverse shows Cupid breaking the thunderbolt over his knee.”

Analysis and Conclusions

Eric Orlin (referenced below, 2010, at p. 18o) outlined the political climate in which these  temples (among others) were dedicated: the Second Punic War had ended in 201 BC, and the new temple foundations at Rome in the following decades point to:

“... the Roman interest in suggesting that the Roman religious community extended throughout Italy [which was now, once more, securely in Roman hands].  This period saw a burst of new temple construction that is unparalleled in any other period of Roman history 15 new temples were definitely dedicated between 194 and 173 BC ... A remarkable aspect of these new temples is how many were dedicated to important divinities from the Italian peninsular ... The inclination to focus on Italian deities was demonstrated at the very outset of this period,  ... [when]  the Romans finally dedicated a temple [in Rome] to Juno Sospita, whom they had worshipped in common with the people of Lanuvium [in Latium] since 338 BC [see below]. 


We might reasonably wonder why Furius vowed two temples in Rome to Vediovis in 200-196 BC. [Temple of Honos et Virtus - Marcellus]

As noted above, the period 194-1 BC  saw the dedication of five temples that had been vowed in battle by an individual who belonged (or who aspired to belong) to the military élite:

  1. three of these temples were dedicated in 194 BC:

  2. the Temple to Fortuna Primigenia on the Quirinal, which had been vowed in 204 BC by the consul Publius Sempronius Tuditianus during the later stages of the Second Punic War;

  3. the Temple of Vediovis on the Tiber Island, which had been vowed in 200 BC by Lucius Furius Purpurio (as praetor) during an engagement with Gallic and Ligurian tribes in Cisalpine Gaul; and

  4. the Temple of Juno Sospita in the Forum Holitorium, which had been vowed in 197 BC by the consul Caius Cornelius Cethegus at the beginning of a battle in Cisalpine Gaul;

  5. 192 BC saw the dedication the Temple of Vediovis on the Capitol: Lucius Furius Purpurio had was vowed it as consul during another engagement with Ligurian tribes in Cisalpine Gaul in 196 BC; and

  6. 191 BC finally saw the dedication of the Temple to Iuventus on the Aventine side of the Circus Maximus, which the consul Marcus Livius Salinator had vowed in 207 BC during the Battle of Metaurus.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus dealt with Romulus’ association with this site (which Ovid mentioned in the quote above):

  1. “... finding that many of the cities in Italy were very badly governed, ... [Romulus] undertook to attract fugitives from them ... His purpose was to increase the power of the Romans and to lessen that of their neighbours; but he invented a specious pretext for this initiative, making it appear that he was showing honour to a god: for he consecrated the place between the Capitol and the citadel (which is now called, in the language of the Romans ‘inter duos lucos’ (a term that described the actual conditions at that time, when the place was shaded by thick woods on both sides where it joined the hills) and made it an asylum for supplicants.   He also built a temple there, but I cannot say for certain to which god or divinity he dedicated it .  [Thus], under the colour of religion, he undertook to protect those who fled to [this consecrated location] from ... their enemies; and if they chose to remain with him, he promised them citizenship and a share of the land he should take from the enemy”, (‘Roman Antiquities’. 2: 15: 3-4).

Plutarch also wrote of a sanctified place of asylum here:

  1. “... when Rome was first founded, they made a sanctuary of refuge for all fugitives, which they called the sanctuary of the God of Asylum.  There, they received all who came, delivering none up (neither slave to masters, nor debtor to creditors, nor murderer to magistrates), declaring that they made the asylum secure for all men in obedience to an oracle from Delphi”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 9: 3).

I wonder whether, in some traditions, Dionysius’ Romulean temple here was dedicated to Plutarch’s ‘God of Asylum’, and whether the god in question was Vediovis ??

Having said that, the surviving evidence  for the cult statue in the second of these temples is our most important source of information on the cult of this mysterious deity, followed by some numismatic evidence and (less usefully) by late speculation of the etymology of the name.

Vediovis in Etruria

Jean MacIntosh Turfa (referenced below, at p. 24) described a Etruscan liturgical calendar that contained entries for rituals of a number of gods, including Vetis/ Veove, the Roman Vediovis, to whom sacrifices were made on 24th September:  this calendar was written on a linen scroll that had been reused to wrap an Egyptian mummy (now in the Archeological Museum of Zagreb and known as the Linen Book of Zagreb.  Macintosh Turfa suggested that:

  1. “... the book’s script, associated with the region of Perugia, is dated to ca. 200-150 BC”.

Karolina Sekita (referenced below, at p. 105 and note 58) recorded an inscription (ca. 300 BC) on a cup from the southern sanctuary at Pyrgi (Caere) that recorded vei[-]is, which she completed as Veivis, observing that this was very probably an Etruscan form of Vediovis.  She concluded (at p. 109) that:

“... the name of Cavaθa’s paredros [i.e. her male cult companion) at the southern sanctuary at Pyrgi was Veivis, the underworld god, probably referred to in inscriptions as Apa (Father].”

She cited (at p. 107 and note 88) a passage from Macrobius to support her claim that:

  1. “... the underworld character of [the Roman] Vediovis was well established in antiquity.”

In this passage (‘Saturnalia’, 3: 9: 10, translated by Robert Kaster, referenced below, at p. 69), Macrobius (5th century AD) claimed to reproduce a vow that the commander of the Roman army at the siege of Carthage in 146 BC to Dis Pater, Veiovis, and Di Manes if they would permit Carthage to fall.  However, Henk Versnel (referenced below, at pp. 386-7) argued that:

  1. “It does seem that [the vow, as Macrobius reproduced it], was put together by a priest or an antiquarian on the basis of ancient material, when circumstances made another devotio necessary, [but] the result is not a success in all respects. ... [Among other oddities],  Veiovis (it has been observed many times) is a late intruder, as is Dis Pater.  ... It is quite possible, therefore, that the [vow] on the occasion of the devotio of Carthage was (re)constructed from existing formulary material ...”

In other words, the late evidence of Macrobius cannot be relied on to indicate that Vediovis was ever considered to be a god of the underworld at Rome, even if circumstantial evidence might suggest that the Etruscan Veivis was a god of the underworld.

Linked pages: Roman Temples Dedicated in 194-1 BC    Temple of Vediovis on the Tiber Island (194 BC)       Temple of Vediovis on the Capitol (192 BC)    Cult of Vediovis    Monimentom of Jupiter Jurarius    C. Servilius, Praetor of CIL VI 40896a 

Read more: 

Sekita K., “Śuri et al: A ‘Chthonic’ Etruscan Face of Apollon”, in

  1. Bispham E. and Miano D. (editors), “Gods and Goddesses in Ancient Italy”, (2020) London and New York, at pp. 100-19

Flower H., “The Dancing Lares and the Serpent in the Garden: Religion at the Roman Street Corner”, (2017) Princeton and Oxford

Warford E., “Stuck in the Middle with You: Vediovis, God of Transitions and In-between Places”, (2017) presented at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South, April 5-8, Kitchener, Ontario

Dart C., “The Social War (91 to 88 BCE): A History of the Italian Insurgency against the Roman Republic” (2016) London and New York

La Regina A., “Dedica ai Lari, non al Lare Aenia”, Epigraphica, 76 (2014) 33-6

Henriksén C., “A Commentary on Martial, Epigrams, Book 9”, (2012)  Oxford

MacIntosh Turfa J., “Divining the Etruscan World. The Brontoscopic Calendar and Religious Practice”, (2012) Cambridge

Kaster R. A., “Macrobius: Saturnalia: Voll. I, Books 1-2; and Vol. II, Books 3-5”, (2011) Cambridge (MA)

Farney G., “Ethnic Identity and Aristocratic Competition in Republican Rome” (2010) Cambridge

Wiseman T. P., “Remembering the Roman People: Essays on Late-Republican Politics and Literature”, (2009) Oxford and New York

Brennan T. C., “The Praetorship in the Roman Republic”, (2000) Oxford

Cornell T. J.(editor), “The Fragments of the Roman Historians”, (2000) Oxford

De Ruyter P. H., "The Denarii of the Roman Republican Moneyer Lucius Julius Bursio: a Die

Analysis", Numismatic Chronicle, 156 (1996) 79-147

Bremmer J. N. and Horsfall N. M., “Roman Myth and Mythography”, (1987) Groningen

Scullard H. H., “Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, (1981) London

Versnel H. S., “Two Types of Roman Devotio”,  Mnemosyne , 29:4 (1976) 365-410

Crawford M., “Roman Republican Coinage”, (1974) Cambridge

Briscoe, J., “A Commentary On Livy: Books 31-33”, (1973) Oxford

Weinstock S., “Divus Julius”, (1971) Oxford

Luce T. J., “Political Propaganda on Roman Republican Coins (ca 92-82 BC), Journal of Archaeology, 72:1 (1968) 25-39

Crawford M., “Coinage of the Age of Sulla”, Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic Society, 4 (1964) 141-58

Kent (R., translator), “Varro: On the Latin Language, Volume I: Books 5-7”, (1938) Cambridge MA

Frazer H. G. (translator,), “Ovid: ‘Fasti’”, (1931), Cambridge (MA)

Duff J. D.(translator), “Lucan: The Civil War (Pharsalia)”, (1928), Cambridge (MA)

Cornish F. W. et al. (translators), “Catullus. Tibullus. Pervigilium Veneris”, (1913), Cambridge (MA)

Montague L., “The Meaning of the Monogram on Denarii Struck by Caesius and Manius Fonteius”, Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Numismatic Society, 15 (1895) 162-3

D. Miano, “Fortuna: Deity and Concept in Archaic and Republican Italy “, (2018) Oxford

E. Orlin, “Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire”, (2010) Oxford

E. Badian, “From the Iulii to Caesar”, in

  1. M. Griffin (editor), “A Companion to Julius Caesar”, (2009) Chichester and Malden, MA, at pp. 11-22

E. Orlin, “Temples, Religion and Politics in the Roman Republic”, (1997) Leiden, New York, Cologne

H. Rackham (translator), “Cicero: ‘On the Nature of the Gods’”, (1933), Cambridge (MA)

A. L. Frothingham, “Vediovis, the Volcanic God: A Reconstruction”, American Journal of Philology,  38: 4 (1917) 370-91

W. Warde Fowler, “The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic”, (1899( London

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