Fulvia: the power behind the lion?
Fig. 1. Antony, Cisalpine Gaul, Silver Quinarius, c. 43-42 BC, RRC 489/6. (Image © the Trustees of the British Museum).
This is a Roman Republican silver quinarius, dated to 43-42 BC, believed to have been minted in Cisalpine Gaul, and is currently held by the British Museum. It was issued by Mark Antony and its iconography is similar to another coin type referring to Lugdunum.
The reverse of the coin carries the legend “ANTONI IMP XLI”, and this, together with the walking lion provide personal references to Antony. XLI (41) refers to his age, and the lion, a recurrent iconographic emblem on Antony’s coinage, may represent the claim that the Antonii were descendants of Hercules (see Plutarch, Life of Antony, 4.1). Plutarch states that Antony believed his physical attributes confirmed this heroic descent, choosing also to attire himself in a manner suggestive of Hercules. Such self-representation would have offered a counter-claim to that of the Julian family’s divine descent from Venus via Aeneas. Plutarch also states that Antony’s excesses ran to excursions in chariots drawn by lions, and this is also attested to by Pliny (Natural History 8.21) who asserts he was the first man to harness lions to his chariot in Rome. Therefore, the depiction of the lion can be read as a means to promote and emphasise both his physical strength and prowess, and also to accentuate his alleged ancestry.
The obverse has a border of dots and an anti-clockwise inscription of III.VIR.R.P.C. which expands to III vir rei publicae constituendae consulari potestate (triumvir for confirming the Republic with consular power) and refers to the second triumvirate formed by Antony, Octavian and Lepidus in 43 BC.
The portrait bust on the obverse is a personification of Victory, signified by the wings at the base of the neck, and convincing arguments exist to suggest that it is a portrayal of Antony’s wife Fulvia. This is partly due to the image’s facial features having more in common with contemporaneous lifelike portraiture than the classicism favoured for deities, and equally the hair is similar in style to what was fashionable at the time, with this particular hairstyle not being featured on other representations of female deities.
Fulvia is a fascinating, albeit not endearing, character. Antony, who she married in 47 or 46 BC, was her third husband – having previously been married to Publius Clodius Pulcher, then Gaius Scribonius Curio – and all three were supporters of Caesar. Literary sources indicate she was highly politically motivated, more so after Caesar’s death, purportedly to promote and protect Antony’s interests while he was in Gaul, becoming powerful and influential in the senate (see Cassius Dio, Roman History, 48.4-10, Appian, Civil Wars, 5.3.19). Appian relates that Fulvia was actively involved in the proscriptions of 43 BC (see Appian, Civil Wars 4.4.29) whilst Cassius Dio condemns her as responsible for many deaths to satisfy her greed for wealth and hatred of certain adversaries – in particular, he recounts her brutal treatment of Cicero’s decapitated head (Cassius Dio, Roman History, 47.8). She was also directly involved in, if not being the cause of the uprising by Antony’s brother Lucius, who was consul in 41 BC, which resulted in his defeat by Octavian at Perusia in Etruria in 40 BC. Fulvia then fled to Greece where she died, having been rebuked by Antony for her involvement in the debacle.
The significance of the amount of power Fulvia wielded is also evidenced by the city Eumenea in Phrygia being renamed Fulvia around 41 BC, where it is believed she was also honoured on coinage, again in the guise of Victory. Equally, as the competition for political dominance between Octavian and Antony is apparent in other coinage, the appearance of Fulvia may have been intended as an important advertisement to convey a widespread political message of strength and unity via their marriage and perhaps even suggesting some dynastic ambition.
It is interesting in comparison, that women connected to Augustus rarely featured in his coinage during the principate, and this may be resultant from a desire to disassociate himself from both Antony’s reputation of being ruled by women (see Plutarch, Antony 10) and his apparent penchant for utilising his wives’ images on coinage – Fulvia was followed by Octavia, whose image was not disguised by deific attributes, and then Cleopatra, who he is thought to have married around 37 BC, (although this marriage was not valid in Rome). Additionally, Augustus’ own personal experience of Fulvia, may also have been influential in his later social reforms and moral legislation in attempting to ensure a higher standard of behaviour for women and a return to more traditional domestic roles.
This month's coin was written by Jacqui Butler. Jacqui has just completed the first year of the MA in Ancient Visual and Material Culture (part time), having gained a BA in Classical Studies with the Open University last year. Her main interests lie in the visual depictions of both mythical and real women in Roman material culture, specifically in art, but also their representation in epigraphy on funerary monuments.
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Fraschetti, A. (2001) Roman Women (London, The University of Chicago Press). Kleiner, D.E.E (1992) “Politics and Gender in the Pictorial Propaganda of Antony and Octavian”, Echos du monde classique: Classical views, Volume XXXVI, n.s. 11, Number 3, 1992, pp. 357-367.
MacLachlan, B. (2013) Women in Ancient Rome, A Sourcebook (London, Bloomsbury Academic).
Rowan, C. (forthcoming) ANS/CUP Handbook to the Coinage of the Ancient World 49 BC – AD 14. (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).
Wood, S.E. ( 2001) Imperial Women, A Study in Public Images, 40 BC – AD68 (Mnemosyne, bibliotheca classica Batava, Supplementum 195).