The Roman Empire
The Pompeians





Coin Details

Origin/Country: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL Sextus Pompey, d.35 BC
Design Description: Pompeians AE As
Item Description: AE As Pompey Mag. janiform/prow Sicilian mint, c.43-36 BC
Full Grade: NGC Ch VF Strike: 5/5 Surface: 4/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Roman Empire
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

To appreciate ancient Rome's ferocious military machine, consider the firsthand account by historian Josephus: “…as if born ready armed they never have a truce from training…no indiscipline dislodges them from their regular formation, no panic incapacitates them, no toil wears them out…victory over men not so trained follows as a matter of course.” Indeed, ancient Rome's war machine excelled in many aspects, including its size, weaponry, training, communications, and engineering.

Of course, Rome also boasted many eminent generals. Among the most talented was Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, who supported Sulla’s rise to become Rome’s first dictator in over a century. Pompey pursued his anti-Sullan foes into Africa, where he also subdued the Numidians. For these efforts, Pompey earned the honorific cognomen Magnus, i.e., the Great, and his first Triumphus, i.e., Triumph. A Triumph was an elaborate religious and political celebration to publically advertise a Roman military commander’s achievement. Shrouded in pomp and circumstance, Triumphs were reserved for particularly epic occasions. (Even so, the Fasti Triumphales published in 12 BC listed well over 200 instances.) On this occasion, Pompey was eager to make an unprecedentedly grand appearance, entering Rome on a chariot powered by no less than four elephants. To the imperator’s chagrin, the pachyderms did not fit through the city gates! Subsequently, a far less impressive entrance was improvised.

Over the following decade, Pompey racked up further military achievements, for example victories over rebel forces in Spain. He returned to Italy, and aided his imperatorial rival Crassus defeat a widespread slave revolt led by the celebrated former gladiator, Sparticus. Pompey participated in his second Triumph (this time, without elephants).

Even greater victories were in store for Pompey. In 67 BC, he took to the Mediterranean Sea to stamp out a growing piracy problem. Afterwards, he was given command over forces warring against Rome’s eastern nemesis, namely Mithradates VI. In a few years, Pompey managed to eliminate the Pontic King. He also took the liberty to transform lands such as Pontus, Cilicia, and Syria into Roman Provinces, and appoint client Kings in lands such as Armenia, Cappadocia, Galatia, and Judaea. For expanding Rome’s influence in the east, Pompey earned his third (and what turned out to be his final) Triumph.

By 60 BC, Pompey took part in the ill-fated faction known as the Triumvirs, joining with Crassus and another, increasingly famous imperator, Julius Caesar. The arrangement lasted for a time, but ultimately disintegrated due to competing ambitions, egos, and jealousies. Caesar took command over Gaul, and racked up impressive victories over the next decade. Meanwhile, Crassus warred against the up and coming Parthians, and was killed in the attempt. It was now down to Pompey and Caesar, and after the latter's famous Rubicon crossing the alliance was over, and the pair clashed. Their final battle was waged at the Greek city of Pharsalus. Although favorably positioned to outlast his foe, Pompey followed the Senate’s directive to attack. The results were disastrous. One of Rome’s all-time greatest generals met an ignominious end; disguised, Pompey fled the losing battle and disembarked in Egypt, only to be decapitated by King Ptolemy XIII.

Continuing the conflict with Caesar were Pompey’s sons, Pompey Jr. and Sextus Pompey. The former met his death by Caesar in 45 BC, but Sextus managed to escape to Sicily. The following year, Caesar was famously murdered by a group of Roman aristocrats including Brutus and Cassius. Three of Caesar's successors, namely Octavian, Marc Antony, and Lepidus, formed a new Triumvirate to pursue those responsible. Eventually, Brutus and Cassius were defeated at the battle of Philippi. Meanwhile, the situation provided Sextus Pompey an opportunity to consolidate his position.

While growing his forces in Sicily (42-38 BC), Sextus Pompey struck this interesting bronze coin. The obverse depicts Janus, the two-headed Roman god of beginnings, transitions, and endings. A uniquely Roman concept without Hellenistic equivalent, Janus was associated with gates, doors, and passageways. He manifested two faces, one looking ahead to the future, the other reflecting back to the past; the month of January was named in his honor. Importantly, Janus presided over the start and end of conflict, hence, war and peace. At his temple in the Roman Forum, the doors were closed during peaceful times, and opened - quite often, and with great fanfare - when Rome warred. Along with Jupiter, Janus was one of the most powerful of all Roman Gods. On this coin, the janiform portraits resemble Pompey the Great. Further invitation to associate god and imperator is provided by the inscription MAGN.

The coin’s reverse features a galley, a type of Roman naval ship associated with many of the Pompeians’ military successes. The galley’s details include a corvus (a Roman-developed boarding bridge), an acrostolium (the curved end of the prow, typically fashioned to resemble an animal), and an apotropaic device known as the Eye of Horus, thought to promote safe passage.

Galleys similar to the one depicted herein formed a crucial component of Sextus Pompey’s Silician forces that, at least for a time, successfully defended against the second generation of Triumvirs. In 39 BC, the parties agreed to a truce, but it didn’t last, and Sextus Pompey and his navy were finally defeated around 36 BC. The last son of Pompey the Great was caught the following year in Miletus, and, like his father before him, ignominiously executed without a trial.

Coin Details: ROMAN IMPERATORIAL, POMPEIANS, Sextus Pompeius Magnus Pius, As (31 mm, 24.6 gm), Sicily circa 42-38, NGC Grade: Ch VF, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Laureate Janiform head of Pompey the Great, MAGN, Reverse: Prow, PIVS, IMP in exergue, References: Babelon Pompeia 20 C 6; Sydenham 1044; Sear Imperators 336; Woytek Arma et Nummi page 558; Crawford 479/1.

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