The Social War. Coinage of the Marsic Confederation, 90-88 BC. Denarius (Silver, 18 mm, 3.75 g, 10 h), Bovianum (?), 89. 'viteliú' (in Oscan) Laureate head of Italia left, wearing pendant earring and pearl necklace. Rev. Warrior standing front, head to right, holding transverse spear in his right hand and resting his left on sword scabbard, his left foot placed on uncertain object; to right, recumbent bull; in exergue, Oscan 'N'. Campana 143 (D99/R120). Sydenham 627. Rare. A beautifully toned and very attractive example of this interesting issue. Struck from the usual somewhat worn dies, otherwise, good very fine.
From the Lampasas Collection, Triton XXIV, 19-20 January 2021, 938, and the collection of Dr. Charles Schulz, Classical Numismatic Group E-Auction 446, 19 June 2019, 282, ex Classical Numismatic Group 46, 24 June 1998, 1042, Classical Numismatic Review XXII.3, Fall/Winter 1997, 57, Sternberg XXXII, 28 October 1996, 222 and Numismatica Ars Classica 1, 29 March 1989, lot 601.
Few conflicts in the history of the Roman Republic were as dangerous to the Roman state as the Social War, a revolt of Rome’s Italian allies (the ‘socii’), which started in 91 BC. This explosive rebellion was born out of frustration with the political and economic position of the Italians – while they sent off their sons to Rome’s wars of conquest, they lacked Roman citizenship and representation in the Senate, meaning they had no control over foreign policy. Several Roman lawmakers tried to redress the situation, but when the tribune Livius Drusus, who made the Italians’ case to the Romans, was assassinated, the situation quickly spiraled out of control, and before the end of the year, several Italian tribes were in open revolt under the leadership of the Marsi and the Samnites.
The Romans racked up one defeat after another, and in a stroke of pragmatism, Roman citizenship was granted in 90 BC to those Italians who had stayed loyal, thus ensuring their cooperation. The fortunes of war eventually shifted in the Romans’ favor – in no small part due to the intervention of Marius and Sulla – and by 87 the revolt was contained. The broadscale grant of citizenship to Italians proved to be a crucial turning point in Roman history as the Italian peninsula would thereafter be united as a single political entity.
As fascinating as the history behind the conflict are the coins associated with it. In order to pay their troops, the Allies quickly started producing their own currency, and the choice of designs and script on some of the coins betrays an almost proto-nationalistic tendency. Thus, on the present piece Roma is replaced by Italia, and the legend is in Oscan rather than in Latin. On the reverse, we see a proud Italian warrior, armed and ready for war, the bull next to him serving as the symbol of the Marsic Confederation. Indeed, though the animal is at rest here, on another issue struck by the rebels, it is shown goring the Roman she-wolf, a defiant message to any who would dare challenge the allies in their fight for liberty.