L. Plautius Plancus, Rome, 47 BC

L. Plautius Plancus, Rome, 47 BC


AR Denarius, 3.61g (16mm, 7mm). Facing mask of Medusa with disheveled hair; coiled serpents flanking / Victory (or winged Aurora) flying right, head slightly left, holding reins and conducting four rearing horses of the sun.

References: Crawford 453/1a-b CRI 29; Sydenham 959-959a; Plautia 15-15a; RBW 1583-4

Grade: Small indentation on cheek but otherwise well-centered and good strike. EF/aEF (rr1076)

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The coinage of the moneyer L. Plautius Plancus is fascinating and has elicited several theories on why he chose the imagery he did. On the obverse of the coin is a mask of Medusa, a beauty turned into a gorgon by the enraged Athena when she broke a vow and married Poseidon instead of remaining celibate her entire life. The reverse shows a winged Aurora, goddess of dawn, holding the reins of four horses before her brother, the Sun.

The story in the year 442 BC, the Tibicines, flute players from Tibur, were offended by the Romans (in particular the stern senator Appius Claudius) when they were not permitted to eat in the Temple of Jupiter. They left immediately back to the town of Tibur. The Senators, which were fearful of the repercussions of this slight asked the Tiburtines to send back the Tibicines. It was then that a relative of L. Plautius Plancus, a certain C. Plautius, deceived Appius Claudius by devising a plan to get the Tibicines to return. When the Tibicines refused to return they instead held feasts in the homes of the Tiburtines. The Tiburtines gave the Tibicines lots of wine, making them drunk. Once they were asleep, they were loaded in waggons and taken to the Forum in Rome. To avoid arousing interest and being recognized they were put in masks and women’s clothing. When they awoke they were surrounded by the Romans who greeted them cheerfully and welcomed them back to Rome. The Tibicines anger subsided and they agreed that every year for three days they would return to Rome, feast in the Temple of Jupiter and ramble around the city enjoying themselves. The festival Quinquatrus Minusculae was celebrated every June 13 to commemorate this day with the participants wearing masks as the Tibicines once did.

The coin with the Medusa head on the obverse is relatable to this story and the reverse with the allusion to the early arrival at dawn of the Tibicines back to Rome.

There is much speculation about whether the moneyer L. Plautius Plancus would have really known this history to reflect it on his coinage but the story is fun and gives more credibility to the themes that this moneyer.