From Art to Artifact:  Making Sense of Roman Coins

Denarius of Q. Pomponius Musa

Research Commentary

Quintus Pomponius Musa, otherwise unknown, minted a series of ten coins in 66 BCE. Each reverse type featured one of the nine muses, identifiable by their attributes, with the tenth type depicting Hercules Musarum, Hercules of the Muses. Here, Thalia, muse of comedy, holds a comic mask in her outstretched right hand. She is flanked by two inscriptions which identify the moneyer: Q POMPONI, right; [M]US[A], left. A laureate head of Apollo, leader of the muses, appears on the obverse, accompanied by a distinguishing mark in the field behind. The Thalia type bears a sandal.

Each coin is a pun on the moneyer's last name (Musa = “muse”), a practice that is attested elsewhere on Roman Republican coinage. The reverse type of Gaius Minucius Augurinus (135 BCE) shows two togate figures flanking a column, one of whom holds a lituus, a curved staff identifying him as an augur, a Roman religious official. Similarly, the reverses of Quintus Voconius Vitulus' coins (?40 BC or later) depict a calf (Latin, vitulus). In a society where only 10 percent of the population was literate these visual puns may have functioned to identify the individual under whose authority the coins were minted.