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October 16, 2013

The Metelli, Macedonian Shields and the Appropriation of Images

Coin with Macedonian shield and prow

Carr's study of the German occupation of the Channel Islands during WWII has demonstrated that numismatic iconography became the focus of differing claims and associations. Local islanders used the imagery of their coinage (the king's portrait and local crests) as symbols of resistance against the Germans, and as symbols of local identity. Simultaneously, Germans increasingly saw the imagery as rightfully 'theirs', since, having conquered the region, they had, in a sense, also conquered and won its iconography. Local coins were sent back to Germany as souvenirs, or fashioned into trench art.

The study forces us to think about the possible, mutually incompatable, associations particular imagery may have had. When the Romans conquered a particular region, did they also 'conquer' its iconography? One example demonstrates that this may also have been the case in antiquity. One of the key icons of Hellenistic Macedonia was the Macedonian shield, which featured on the coinage of the region (see the Figure above, a silver coin showing the Macedonian shield on the obverse and the prow of a ship on the reverse, struck in the period 187-168 BC, just before the Roman conquest).

Coin of M. Caecilius Q.f. Q.n. Metellus

After the Roman conquest of Macedonia, these shields appear in various Roman monuments and contexts (e.g. the monument erected for Aemilius Paullus in Delphi), and Livy records that Macedonian shields were actually brought back to Rome and paraded in triumph (45.35.3). This suggests that the 'icon' of this region had been conquered by Rome. The coinage of the Metelli family also suggests that the Macedonian shield was appropriated by the gens after the victory of Q. Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus in Macedonia in 148 BC. The shield appears on coins struck by the descendants of Q. Caecilius Metellus, suggesting that the imagery had been appropriated by the family as the spoils of victory. This is underlined by the fact that the Macedonian shield now appears with the head of an elephant in the centre: this was a sign associated with the Metelli family, and its addition to the shield here can be read as a further act of appropriation. (The example shown shows Roma on the obverse and was struck in 127 BC).

Thus both Macedonians and Romans (especially the Metelli) may have seen the iconography of the Macedonian shield as rightfully 'theirs'. The image of the shield therefore sat somewhere in between the two cultures, and might be read as a reference to Macedonia, the Metelli family, or both. 'Macedonian' imagery may not always have remained 'Macedonian'.

For those interested, Carr's article is: G. Carr, (2012). Coins, crests and kings: symbols of identity and resistance in the Occupied Channel Islands. Journal of Material Culture, 17, 327-44.

The coin images are reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc., (Electronic Auction 261, lot 50 and Electronic Auction 157 lot 132) (

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