The Roman Empire
Vedius Pollio

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Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN PROVINCIAL (2nd CENT BC - 3rd CENT BC) LYDIA, TRALLES Vedius Pollio,c29/8-27 BC
Design Description: Vedius Pollio AE20
Item Description: AE20 obv Vedius Pollio rv Zeus issued as Legate of Asia
Full Grade: NGC F Strike: 5/5 Surface: 3/5
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:

When it came to assimilating neighboring territories and their cuisine, the ancient Romans certainly had a hearty appetite. To sustain growing civilian populations, not to mention the large number of troops abroad, comestibles from staple grains to exotic spices were produced and distributed at massive scale. At its height, Rome achieved luxuriance, even overabundance, in food consumption. Eventually, environmental and other factors weakened the food supply and contributed to the Empire’s demise.

For the ancient Romans, gastronomy was not merely a matter of sustenance - it also held religious, social, and economic implications. Cooking typically revolved around a hearth called the focus, aptly serving as both household altar and indoor grill. In the dining room, or triclinium, Romans often reclined while they dined (especially on formal occasions) and employed a vast array of napkins and utensils. While the Empire expanded, so did the menu, as new provincial ingredients and culinary traditions were integrated. For a glimpse, one can peruse Apicius, the world’s oldest cookbook, named after (but not authored by) the 1st century AD lover of food and all items luxurious, Marcus Gavius Apicius. The cornucopia of popular items included breads, eggs, cheeses, honey, milk, fruits, vegetables, a wide variety of fishes and shellfood, meats such as boar, pork, and lamb, and fowl such as peacock, ostrich, duck, goose, and chicken. Popular items like figs and pears were available in several dozen varieties. To complement the food, a host of different wines were consumed, often mixed with ingredients such as other liquids, spices, and honey. Beer was known but disdained as a barbarian's beverage.

Not all Romans downed such fantastic fare; opulence correlated with socioeconomic standing. For Rome’s elite, dinner parties provided the opportunity to flaunt status and out-do one another. Of course, at the very top of the food chain was the Emperor, many of whom feasted elaborately while doling out staple foods to the masses. Nero reportedly ate from noon to midnight. Caligula gorged himself on many unusual delicacies; reportedly, his favorite fare was a cocktail of valuable pearls dissolved in vinegar. The overweight Vitellius used his navy to fetch rare delicacies from around the world. Elagabalus hosted elaborate color-themed banquets of gastronomical proportions.

Besides the imperium, Rome’s history is peppered with famous epicureans among the aristocratic and even equestrian, classes. A notable example was Publius Vedius Pollio, whose bare-headed bust appears on this ancient bronze coin struck in the city of Tralles in Lydia. In Tralles, Pollio built an elaborate estate where he wined and dined many important guests; after all, he served as Augustus’ legate over Asia. Pollio chose to depict himself on the coin’s obverse. This was still a relatively new practice for a living Roman at the time (29-27 BC), although not so uncommon on provincial coinage. For the verso, Pollio decided the appropriate choice was Zeus, the King of the Gods.

Perhaps Pollio’s numismatic choices provide insight into his sense of self-worth. He was the son of a freedman, and how he managed to rise to such a powerful position is not clear. In any case, Pollio gained Augustus’ favor, and the latter topped the list of celebrity guests visiting the Tralles mansion. On one occasion when Pollio was hosting Augustus, an attending servant broke a crystal cup. Pollio, famous for his cruelty as well as his wealth, ordered the perpetrator cast into his pond full of blood-sucking eels. The terrified servant prostrated himself before Augustus, begging for clemency. Appalled, Augustus ordered the destruction of all the valuable cups and forced Pollio to spare the servant. Since ancient times, historians and philosophers have cited this incident as a parable illustrating human avarice, anger, and absolution.

While Pollio apparently used his eel pond as a torture chamber, it primarily served as a source of fresh fish for his table. Such practice dated back at least to Roman consul Lucinius Muraena in mid 2nd century BC. Some Roman nobles reportedly farmed up to thousands of eels. Both saltwater and fresh water ponds were developed, wherein not only eels, but also many other species of fish and shellfish, particularly oysters, were kept. Constructing and maintaining fishponds in ancient times required great effort and expense. For example, around 75 BC Lucius Licinius Lucullus, one of Rome’s most renowned gourmets, excavated a hill to source fresh water for his pond expansion project. Beyond a source of fresh food, piscinae also offered relaxation and a chance to rear fish as pets. For instance, Augustus’ niece Antonia had a pet eel she adorned with golden earrings. Perhaps she was imitating Crassus, one of Rome’s original triumvirs and wealthiest men of all time, who fed his earringed, jewel necklaced eels by hand. It is also posited that the ancient Romans first domesticated the common carp. Archeological evidence dating from the Empire’s height suggests that the Danube legions feasted on, if not farmed, the fish. After the Roman Empire collapsed in the west, King Theodoric, ruler of the succeeding Ostrogoth Kingdom, ordered that carp be transported from the Danube to Italy, in order to imitate and propagate Roman traditions. Carp were later introduced into Asia and bred into many colorful varieties known as nishikigoi or koi, highly prized by today’s fish keepers.

To get a taste of the Lucullan lifestyle, one does not necessarily need to own a fishpond. Modern technology affords an opulent supply of fresh and processed foods that the ancient Romans could never have imaged. That is not to say that everyone enjoys our current buffet; 10-20% of the world's current population lives with hunger. This percentage is similar to the estimated slave population across the Empire - in Italy, it was much higher, perhaps 40% - so we are presumably faring better today than the ancient Romans, or at least we prefer to think so.

Additional Reading: "Origin and domestication of the wild carp, Cyprus carpio: from Roman gourmets to the swimming flowers," E. K. Balon, Aquaculture 129:3-48, 1995.

Coin Details: LYDIA, TRALLES, Vedius Pollio, Legate of Asia, 29/8-27 BC, Æ 20 mm (5.34 g), Menandros, son of Parrhasios, Magistrate, NGC Grade: F, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Bare head of Vedius Pollio right, uncertain object behind, OΥΗΔΙΟΣ ΚAIΣΑΡΕΩΝ, Reverse: Laureate head of Zeus right, MENANΔΡΟΣ ΠΑΡΡΑΣΙΟΥ, References: RPC I 2635.17; Stumpf 157p, Imhoof-Blumer, Lydische pp. 174-5, SNG München 718; SNG Copenhagen 688; BMC 76-8.

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