ACTA ACCLA, December 2016


By Kenneth Friedman


Reverse of a Boeotian stater inscribed KALLI
Figure 1. Boeotian stater inscribed ΚΑΛΛΙ, the name of the issuing magistrate

Different aspects of the various series of ancient numismatic material - say, those of certain city-states of ancient Greece, or of certain Roman or Byzantine Emperors - present interesting challenges and surprise us with insights into a world long disappeared (or at least so evolved into the present day that those predecessor cultures and institutions are scarcely recognizable). One of the pleasures of collecting Roman Republican coins is the frequent presence of magistrates’ names who are identifiable and known to us from the historical, written record. While this is not unique to the Roman Republic, as there are several ancient Greek coins with magistrates names, only a very few of these Greek magistrates are recognizable and known to us (Figure 1). This also differs from the Roman Empire in that fairly early his principate, Augustus phased out the placing of the names of magistrates in charge of the mint on the coins. Even coins with the names of senior officials, like Sejanus under Tiberius, are quite scarce.

Here, I discuss the three coin types issued in a single year by a single magistrate, Lucius Appuleius Saturninus, in about 104 BCE. He is quite memorable, not only because his coinage is interesting in its own right (for reasons I will explain later), but because he was also such a controversial and pivotal figure in the Republic. This also requires us to understand a little about the organization of Rome in the late 2nd Century and early 1st Century BCE, a time of great turmoil, with the events of the day (in which our subject played no little part) and the arrow of time pointing to the failure of those institutions and the destruction of the Republic.

So let’s start with a quick and somewhat superficial review of the constitution of the Roman state and the cursus honorum (the "course of honors").


Although Cicero and others speak of the Roman Constitution, it was never a written document. In fact, only a portion of Roman law was written out. There were the famous original Twelve Tables of course, and copies of various laws that were passed and kept with the official records, but these were not assembled into a codex during the Republic (or for centuries later until the codes of Justinian and Theodosius). Much Roman law was simply the oral history, traditions and customs as commonly understood and remembered (or mis-remembered either with the passage of time or, perhaps, “conveniently” to some end). Moreover, the organization of the state was not hammered out over the course of a year or two or three but evolved over a rather long period. There were no great debates and compromises among an Adams, a Jefferson, a Hamilton and a Madison or between parties or special interest groups that resulted in the simultaneous establishment of a complete set of institutions springing like Minerva from Jupiter’s forehead. Instead, Rome created new institutions on an ad hoc basis and the power and ambit of the institutions thus created waxed and then waned in light of further developments and additional new institutions. Indeed, the entire history of Rome can be viewed as a very long story of more or less continuous struggles with shifting points of contention and centers of power. In a sense, the Roman “state” was a “state” of perpetual conflict.

Note that the timing of these various developments that I will touch upon is by no means certain. The written histories that have come down to us are not contemporaneous and the earliest date only from the middle of the 2nd Century BCE, long after the establishment of various institutions and offices and thus long after the eyewitnesses, and even the people who had spoken to the eyewitnesses, had died. While the timing I will describe is more likely than not incorrect (at least according to much modern scholarship), for the sake of convenience, and because it most nearly approximates what the Romans, themselves, believed, I will follow, more or less, the "traditional" dating.

Finally, in looking at this history and the institutions of the Republic, it is helpful (although by no means perfectly accurate) to think of Roman society as comprised of four elements or orders:

1. The Patricians (the landed gentry who traced their ancestry, large estates and wealth back to the foundation of the City of Rome) who constituted a small minority of the population. If you were not born into a Patrician family, the only way to become a Patrician was to be adopted by one. While generally wealthy, there were Patricians who were destitute descendants of wealthy families, Sulla being a notable example.

2. The Plebeians (everyone who was not of a Patrician family). Generally speaking, they were either impoverished, or owned a small subsistence farm or were a tradesman for hire or, perhaps, owned a small business. They constituted the majority of the population. There were Plebeian families that became quite wealthy in their own right and while being rich meant you could successfully stand for high office, you didn’t become Patrician (again, unless adopted into a Patrician family);

3. The Equites (or “Knights”) who were not Patrician but either through industry or luck became very wealthy. More often than not, they were descendants of ancient wealthy families but whose families were not the original landed aristocracy. By the period we are addressing, some were much richer than many Patricians. (Historically, they were the sub-class of Plebeians wealthy enough to stable and outfit a horse for the military and thus the title “Equites”.) The wealth of the Equites could be, but was not necessarily, founded in agricultural estates; often they were the publicani (tax farmers), the owners of huge insulae, the money-lenders and bankers, the ship owners and speculators. They were always a minority, too, but their numbers and influence began to really grow in the middle and late Republic as Rome’s power expanded into provinces presenting ever greater opportunities to plunder not only military booty, but from corrupt civilian administration of the provinces. As we will see, this order became split between those whose allegiance was to the wealthy oligarchy and those who allied themselves with the poorer majority.

4. The Slaves: While never recognized as a class or order and never having any power or authority, it is a mistake to ignore them completely...their periodic rebellions led to crises that sometimes influenced the changes in the organization of the state and military and the liberti (freedmen) became powerful as bureaucrats under the early Empire.

Denarius with a bust of Lucius Iunius Brutus
Figure 2. Denarius of Q. Caepio Brutus a.k.a. Marcus Iunius Brutus (the Tyrannicide) 54 BCE. Crawford 433/2.

Denarius showing L. Iunius Brutus as 1st Consul w/attendants
Figure 3. Reverse of Denarius of Q. Caepio Brutus a.k.a. Marcus Iunius Brutus (the Tyrannicide) 54 BCE. Crawford 433/1.

When the preeminent men of Rome led by Lucius Iunius Brutus (Figure 2) overthrew the last Roman king, Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, traditionally set in 509 BCE, they replaced the monarchy with two consuls (so that no one person was fully in charge) elected annually (Figure 3). The Senate (a body of respected elders) that had previously existed to advise the king continued to exist and act in that consultative capacity (Figure 4). Although not technically a legislative body (it could pass decrees but they didn’t have the effect of laws), its decrees were generally or at least often adopted by assemblies of the people becoming laws.

The ultimate legislative authority resided in the people (including everyone from the wealthiest Senators to the poorest citizen) participating in various assemblies that could elect officials, adopt laws and conduct trials. Perhaps the earliest was the Curiate Assembly, organized by families. By the turn of the 2nd Century BCE into the 1st, it had lost much of its importance.

Another was the Comitia Centuriata (the Committee or Assembly of the Centuries). As that name suggests, this was organized along parallel lines with the military centuries so that the citizen soldier’s place and prominence in the military was translated into his civilian status in this assembly. This was the body that elected the Consuls and, later, other senior officials (praetors and censors), and gave them their “imperium”. It declared war but didn’t do much legislating. It was “stacked” so that the richest men, although a minority, had the most votes.

Chart showing the checks and balances of the Constitution of the Roman Republic
Figure 4. The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Creative Commons by Anihl.

The third, the Tribal Assembly, was organized by Tribe. The term “Tribe” didn’t refer to an ethnic or family or other “genetic” affiliation but instead to geographic areas. There were four tribes within the City of Rome and over time thirty-one additional tribes were created for the areas outside of Rome in Italy. Since one had to be present, in person, to vote, needless to say the four tribes of the City, coupled with those of the closest surrounding areas, and then the richest men of the farther tribes (who could afford to maintain a home in Rome or travel to Rome for voting) had disproportionate voting power (Figure 5). In a sense, this stacking of the deck, like that of the Comitia Centuriata, were precursors to modern gerrymandering or even our electoral college.

Denarius of P. Licinius Nerva showing citizen voting in the Roman Republic
Figure 5. Citizen voting as another is handed a ballot. Denarius of P. Licinius Nerva. 113-112 BCE. Crawford 292/1.

Each of these bodies had two types of legislative meetings: a Comitiatus (assembly) for voting, and a Consilium (council) usually of a partial group, like a Plebeian council for discussion. There could also be an informal assembly, called a Contio, where public announcements would be made and, sometimes, debates over issues conducted but in which laws were not passed.

Perhaps less than twenty years after the establishment of the Republic, in about 494 BCE, the Plebeians, chafing under constant abuse of power by the Patricians, refused to participate in an ongoing war, abandoning their military obligations. They seceded from the city and made camp on Mons Sacer. They demanded to be able to elect their own magistrates. After negotiation with the Patricians, they were granted the right to elect Tribunes of the Plebs (originally 5, but early on expanded to 10) and assistants to those Tribunes, the Plebeian Aediles. Over time, the Plebeian Tribunes’ powers grew including the right to convene Plebeian Assemblies, adopt some laws and to veto legislation passed by other arms of the government.

In 446 BCE, the office of the Quaestor was created. This was a financial administrator and auditor. Some worked in the treasury and others worked under generals with the legions. In around 420 BCE there were four elected annually. In or after 267 BCE, this was increased to ten per year. Under Sulla, in 81 BCE, this was increased to 20 Questors elected each year and a minimum age of 30 was established.

In 443 BCE, the office of the Censor was created. The Censors counted the public organizing them by the wealth and could remove men from the Senate who failed to meet the wealth criteria or who were guilty of immorality or other misconduct.

Over time, as a result of the continuing struggles between the Plebeians and Patricians (including two further incidents when the Plebeians seceded), membership in the Senate was expanded to include the elected Plebeian Tribunes and, by 367 BCE, one of the two elected Consuls had to be Plebeian. About this time, additional offices were created, open to both Patricians and Plebeians: the Praetorship and the Curule Aedileship. Ultimately, both Consuls could be Plebeians and, as time passed, the distinction between Patrician and Plebeian became more one of social class (and snobbery) than of political entitlement or power.

The office of Praetor was a kind of judgeship. According to Livy, it was created about 366 BCE to relieve the Consuls of some of their duties, especially when the Consuls were out of the City leading armies. This evolved into two Preatorships, the Praetor Urbanus and a Praetor Perigrinus (one for the city and one for outside of the city). Praetors not only acted as judges but could also hold imperium and command armies.

Becoming an elected magistrate gave one membership in the Senate and although Patricians almost always exerted disproportionate influence on, and indeed control of, the Senate, over time Plebeians were able to claw back power.


By the time Rome became a fully monetized economy (where coinage became a part of everyday life), in the late 3rd Century BCE and certainly by the introduction of the denomination of the denarius around 212 or 211 BCE, the various elected offices had become a pyramidal route to power. In theory (if not always in practice [1]), one could only stand for election for certain offices when one reached certain ages and for the higher offices, only if you had held the prior office. This became known as the cursus honorum - the course (or race, if you will) of honors and offices (Figure 6). The usual and most direct route was to be elected a Military Tribune, then standing for election as one of the twenty Quaestors. From there, you could seek election as one of the six (or sometimes eight) Praetors (although usually in between you held the office of Curule Aedile or Tribune of the Plebs) and then seek election as one of the two Consuls. Holding the higher elected offices was a road to admission to the Senate [2]. Obviously only about 1/3 of the Quaestors made it to Praetor and less than 1/3 of them became Consuls. The pyramid narrowed rather steeply!

Chart showing the cursus honorum during the Roman Republic
Figure 6. The Cursus Honorum. Creative Commons by Muriel Gottrop.

Before standing for office, a young man was often was given one or more appointed offices to expose him to the workings of the bureaucracy and his dealings with both his contemporaries and the senior men running the state was important preparation for his political career. For example, he could obtain a position as one of the college (a group of colleagues, not a school) supervising the roads, or the aqueducts or other public works. How did one get such an appointment? Through a relative or close friend of your family who held a senior elected office!

One of the appointments, perhaps the last before running for office, could be appointment as one of the Tresviri Monetales - one of the three moneyers entrusted with the state’s precious metals and responsible for the production of coins by the mint in any year [3]. Not long after the introduction of the denarius, in addition to symbols like wheels or spearheads or staffs, we start to see monograms or abbreviated names of these mint magistrates.

About 137 BCE something quite interesting happened to the denarius. Up to this point in time, the coin ALWAYS had the head of Roma facing right on the obverse and the reverse either depicted the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux) charging on horseback to the right (Figure 7 and Figure 8) or a biga or quadriga with a god or goddess (Figure 9). Initially, it was Diana (or Luna), but then as we get closer to 137 BCE, we find other deities, like Victory, Jupiter and even Juno and Mars. Also, starting fairly early on we find the moneyer’s name, often abbreviated and ligatured, appearing on the denarii, but the images on the coins - Roma’s head facing right on the obverse and either the Dioscuri or the biga/quadriga reverse remain fixed and constant.

Anonymous Denarius of 211 BCE
Figure 7. Anonymous Denarius with Head of Roma Right / Dioscuri. 211 BCE. Crawford 44/5.
Anonymous Denarius after 211 BCE
Figure 8. Anonymous Denarius with Head of Roma Right / Dioscuri. After 211 BCE. Crawford 55/1.
Anonymous Denarius with Head of Roma Right / Diana/Luna in Biga.
Figure 9. Anonymous Denarius with Head of Roma Right / Diana/Luna in a Biga. 179-170 BCE. Crawford 156/1.

In 137 BCE things change dramatically. The first coins with something other than these images appear. One of the 137 BCE moneyers, Tiberius Viturius, issues a coin (Figure 10) with the head of Mars on the obverse and a military oath taking scene on the reverse. Another, Sextus Pompeius (or Pomponius), issues a coin (Figure 11) with the traditional head or Roma facing right on the obverse and the she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus under the Ficus Ruminalis (a fig tree), on the reverse, and the third, Marcus Baebius Tampilius, (Figure 12) uses the head of Roma on the obverse, but facing to the left, with a reverse of Apollo (who had not appeared before) in a quadriga on the reverse.

Denarius of Ti. Veturius showing head of Mars and soldiers swearing an oath.
Figure 10. Denarius of Ti. Veturius with Head of Mars / Soldiers Swearing Oath. 137 BCE. Crawford 234/1.
Denarius of Sextus Pompeius with Head of Roma Right / Faustulus with Wolf and Twins.
Figure 11. Denarius of Sextus Pompeius with Head of Roma Right / Faustulus with Wolf and Twins. 137 BCE. Cr. 235/1.
Denarius of M. Baebius Q.f. Tampilus with Head of Roma Left / Apollo in a Quadriga.
Figure 12. Denarius of M. Baebius Q.f. Tampilus with Head of Roma Left / Apollo in a Quadriga. 137 BCE. Crawford 236/1a.

Not coincidentally, this is only two or three years before Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (the son of a Plebeian who had been Consul and Censor, and of a Patrician woman) opposed the Patricians and became the leader of a Plebeian struggle for land reform (ultimately this became an unsuccessful attempt to totally restructure the organization of the Roman State and the power of the governing bodies), ending with the murder of Gracchus and some 300 of his supporters.

While from this point forward we still see, occasionally, the traditional head or Roma right/Dioscuri or deity in biga or quadriga reverse, more and more we see wildly creative images. These images are almost always trying to tell us (and the Romans who received and spent these coins) something about the moneyer’s family history and/or his political views on issues of the day.

I Like Ike button, 1952
Figure 13. "I LIKE IKE"
1952 Political Button

Coinage becomes something of the I LIKE IKE campaign buttons (Figure 13) of their time. Remember, that often after a posting as a moneyer, the moneyer could stand for election to office and thereby achieve admission to the Senate.

There is one last aspect of the Roman political scene in the post-Gracchian era to keep in mind as we approach our subject moneyer (and the end of the Roman Republic). As the distinction between Patrican and Plebeian as an entitlement to political power eroded, it was replaced, by the end of the 2nd Century BCE, with a distinction based on wealth and one’s source of political support embodied in two informal political divisions known as the Optimates (the "Best Men") and the Populares (the "Popularists"). Generally speaking, the Optimates were the wealthy - most of the Patricians and many of the Equites whose power was grounded in economic wealth and family histories of holding offices with political power who controlled the Senate. In opposition to the Optimates, the Populares were a few the Patricians (often those from branches of the Patrician gens who had become relatively poor both in finances and in opportunities, like Julius Caesar), some of the Equites (especially when the Optimates acted against the interest of the Equites), and almost all of Rome's poor. The Populares sought power through the legislative assemblies, bypassing the influence of the Senate by appealing directly to the vast majority of the Romans - the small business owners, tradesmen, soldiers, freedman and large number of poor people who relied on the grain dole - and through the veto power of the Tribunes of the Plebs.


We do not know the time or circumstances of his birth and Lucius Appuleius Saturninus first appears in history as a Quaestor elected in 104 BCE. He was placed in charge of the imported grain arriving in Ostia, a critical post given the importance of the distribution of that grain to the poor of Rome. This was also more than a little felicitous as his family name, Saturninus, refers to the god Saturn, the deity associated with agriculture and grain. Saturn’s most common attribute is the harpa, a sickle. Moreover, the Roman treasury was located in the Temple of Saturn. So how auspicious that in his capacity as Quaestor in charge grain he was also allowed to issue denarii!

Lucius Appuleius Saturninus chose to do issue denarii in three different but related types (Figure 14). Let’s look at them more closely:

The 3 types of denarius issued by Saturninus
Figure 14. The Three Different Denarii Issued by Lucius Appuleius Saturninus.

Some interesting features:

1. He is the first moneyer to issue separate types beyond just variations in the legend and/or its location legend and control marks. Note that the different pairs of types/dies for the head of Roma, one with L.SAT and one with a control letter; again another pair of quadriga types/dies, one with a ROMA in the exergue and the other with L.SATVRN in the exergue; and the third issue, having the head of Roma without either the name or control letter paired with a quadriga reverse having (again, L.SATVRN), make clear that these coins are not the result of accidentally pairing two obverse or two reverse dies, but are intentionally separate issues.

2. He is the first to issue coins with obverse/obverse, that is head/head types (Figure 15), and the first to issue reverse/reverse designs, that is quadriga/quadriga types (Figure 16), in addition to a traditional obverse/reverse type (Figure 17). Curiously, Crawford believed the minting order was the obverse/obverse type, then the reverse/reverse type and then, the obverse/reverse type.

Denarius of L. Appuleius Saturninus, Head of Roma Left / Head of Roma Left.
Figure 15. Denarius of L. Appuleius Saturninus, Head of Roma Left / Head of Roma Left. 104 BCE. Crawford 317/1.
Denarius of M. Baebius Q.f. Tampilus with Head of Roma Left / Apollo in a Quadriga.
Figure 16. Denarius of L. Appuleius Saturninus with Saturn in Quadriga Right / Saturn in Quadriga Right. 104 BCE. Crawford 317/2.
Denarius of L. Appuleius Saturninus with Head of Roma Left / Apollo in a Quadriga.
Figure 17. Denarius of L. Appuleius Saturninus with Head of Roma Left / Saturn in Quadriga Right. 104 BCE. Crawford 317/3a.

3. As for the deity depicted in the quadriga, the beard coupled with the harpa make it clear that he is Saturn, a canting reference to the moneyer.

4. Notably, the head of Roma faces left, on both sides!

His Quaestorship put him squarely on the path to the Senate and, or so he thought, on the first step of the cursus honorum. Saturninus was not the first Appuleius to be elected to office, but perhaps the first in his branch of the family to rise to the Consulate. Imagine his frustration and anger when - mid year - his authority over the Ostian grain imports was taken away from him. Instead it was given to Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, one of the most prominent members of the Optimates, purportedly because of an increase in grain prices. However, our historical resources suggest rather strongly that this was, in fact, a naked power grab unrelated to any misfeasance or incompetence by Saturninius. The Senate’s usurpation was in favor of one of the most well-connected Patricians, a 59 year old who had already long-since attained the apex of the cursus honorum having been elected Consul in 115 (about 11 years earlier) and then Censor in 109 BCE.

While some argue that this event drove him into the arms of the Populares, I think he was already allied with the Populares and that may well have been the reason for his replacement. Just as Julius Caesar’s coins with his own image may have contributed to his alienation of Cassius, Brutus, et al., and thus his assassination, a good argument may be made that Lucius Appuleius Saturninus coins flaunted his association with the Populares cause and this led to his removal from his duties (Friedman, 2001).

Regardless, this event certainly pushed him to actively confront the Optimates. The next year he was elected as one of the Tribune of the Plebs and he immediately allied himself with Gaius Marius, pushing for the distribution of land in Africa (obtained as the result of the successful Jugurthine War) in small holdings to Marius’ veterans instead of it being leased in vast estates, on favorable terms, to the great landholders (who were, of course, the Optimates). He had actively campaigned for Marius’ election to his fourth Consulship in 103 BCE (indeed, Marius had already been Consul in 107, then for the prior year, 104 (the year of Saturninus’ Quaestorship). Even though holding the Consulship more than once was unusual, it was not unheard of, but the tradition was to have a gap of years between such office. Marius was elected Consul for 103, 102 and 101 as well.

Portrait of Mithradates VI on a Macedonian stater from Odessos
Figure 18. Macedonian Tetradrachm of Odessos with Head of Mithradates VI of Pontus (as Alexander Magnus). 81-73 BCE. Price 1193.

In 101 BCE, Saturninus re-appears. He embarrassed the oligarchs and insulted the ambassadors of Mithridates VI of Pontus (Figure 18) who had arrived in Rome by bringing to light the lavish bribes they were paying to Senators. He was sued for this but escaped any consequences by an ad misericordiam appeal to the people who intervened on his behalf.

Special enmity existed between Saturninus and Quintus Caecilius Mettellus Numidicus (who had been the commander of the Jugurthine War before Marius and who tried to prevent Marius’ first election as Consul and Marius’ succeeding him as commander). Mettellus Numidicus was Censor at about this time and tried to have Saturninus removed from the Senate on grounds of immorality but his co-Censor, Gaius Caecilius Mettellus Caprarius (Mettellus’ cousin), refused to consent to this. Here again we have a coin issued by a known historical figure - Gaius Caecilius Mettelus Caprarius (Figure 19) - although this coin dates from 125 BCE, two dozen years earlier than the time we are addessing.

Denarius of M. Baebius Q.f. Tampilus with Head of Roma Left / Apollo in a Quadriga.
Figure 19. Denarius of C. Caecilius Metellus Caprarius with Head of Roma Right / Biga of Elephants Left. About BCE 125. Crawford 269/1.

Saturninus then ramped things up a notch. In a political stunt, he hired a freedman, Lucius Equitius, to pose as a son of the people’s martyr, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, to gain even more favor of the Plebeians and to tweak the Optimates. (Gracchus’ sister denied that Equitius was her nephew.)

Denarius of Faustus Cornelius Sulla (son of Sulla the Dictator) showing Bocchus of Mauritania and King Jugurta with hands tied both kneeling before Sulla
Figure 20. Denarius of Faustus Cornelius Sulla (son of the Dictator). Sulla seated with the kneeling Bocchus of Mauritania offering an olive branch to his left and the kneeling King Jurgutha with hands tied to his right. About 55 or 56 BCE. Crawford 426/1.

Now Marius had re-organized the Roman military system in several respects. He not only revised the formation and strategy of the legions, he enabled the poorest Romans to enlist providing them with their armor and weapons and training. With them (and with the assistance of Sulla), he had defeated Jugurtha in North Africa (Figure 20), and then traveled to the opposite end of Italy to defeat the hoards of Cimbri and Teutones that were invading seeking land in the Po Valley. On his victorious return from fighting the Cimbri and Teutones in Cisalpine Gaul (wining famous battles in what are today Provence and the Po Valley), just as he had been frustrated in his attempt to provide his veterans with land in North Africa, his efforts to provide them with land in Italy were opposed by the Senate. Marius formed an alliance with Saturninus and Gaius Servilius Glaucia who had been Tribune of the Plebs in 101 BCE.

With the backing of Marius’ impoverished veterans and the other Populares, and with more than a little bribery (and perhaps one or more assassinations), for the year 100 BCE, Marius was elected Consul for the sixth time, Saturninus was elected as one of Tribunes of the Plebs for the second time, and Gluacia was elected as one of the Praetors.

On assuming his second Tribuneship, Saturninus introduced series of reform bills that would have distributed the land to Marius’s veterans and other members of the poorest classes. This was the land that the Cimbri had confiscated from the local Celtic tribes north of the Po and from which the Cimbri had been dispossessed by Marius and his army. (Of course, the original holders of that land wanted it back and some had already gone back into possession.)

Can you hear the arguments echoing through the centuries to our ears today? The Marians argued that this was a way to make the poor less dependent upon the grain dole saving the state money; that this would move hundreds or thousands of the urban poor out of overcrowded Rome into the healthy countryside; it would create a buffer zone of Roman soldiers/veterans across the Po; it would create a new generation of robust young citizens fit to serve in the army. The Optimates argued that it wasn’t Rome’s land to distribute; that this was simply a way of Marius (and Saturninus and Glaucia) getting popular support and power; and that the urban poor had no experience farming and would soon abandon or sell their land allotments.

The bills introduced by Saturninus not only included the allocation of lands, one included a proposal for the distribution of grain to the urban poor at a very nominal price and then he added a poke in the eye to the Optimates. He had included a clause that obliged every Senator to swear allegiance to this agrarian law, under penalty of expulsion from the Senate and a heavy fine. Marius first declared that he would never take such an oath, in which Saturninus’ enemy, Metellus, seconded him, but Marius (who was behind the bill in the first place), putting on an elaborate show of bowing the will of the people, took the oath along with all of the other Senators except only Metellus. Rather than swear to uphold a law he opposed, Metellus resigned his Senate seat and paid the fine and went into exile. The Quaestor Quintus Servilius Caepio declared that the treasury could not stand the strain, and Saturninus' own colleagues in the Plebeian Tribunate interposed their veto. Notwithstanding Servilius Caepio’s veto, Saturninus ordered the voting to continue, and Caepio dispersed the meeting by violence. The Senate declared the proceedings null and void, because thunder had been heard; Saturninus replied that the Senate had better remain quiet; otherwise the thunder might be followed by hail. The bills (the leges Appuleiae) were finally passed.

Denarius of M. Baebius Q.f. Tampilus with Head of Roma Left / Apollo in a Quadriga.
Figure 21. Denarius of L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus and Q. Servilius Caepio with Head of Saturn / 2 Seated Quaestors. 100 BCE. Crawford 330/1a.

Here is a denarius issued by Caepio in his capacity as Quaestor that year, 100 BCE (Figure 21) jointly with his colleague, L. Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus. It is interesting that his mandate was to purchase grain, as recited on the reverse of the coin; the legend expands to Ad Frumentum Emumdum Ex Senatus Consultus -"to purchase grain in obedience to the decree of the Senate" and the coin features Saturn and his harpa on the obverse. Thus, we have a terrific example of the Optimates being able to have their men elected to posts that could veto and thus frustrate certain Populares’ proposals as well as their expropriation of the grain policy and even the coin imagery!

Marius, having accomplished his goal of getting land for his veterans and securing his power base, began to make overtures to the Optimates in the Senate. Perhaps he was embarrassed, or frightened by, Saturninus and Glaucia’s growing power. Saturninus and Glaucia stood for further election for the following year (99 BCE): Saturninus sought reelection as Plebeian Tribune for a third time and Glaucia, although at the time Praetor and therefore not eligible until after the lapse of 2 years, may have stood for, or was a candidate for, the Consulship itself (Appian says he actually ran for the post, other authorities indicate that he did not, and was, perhaps, disqualified by Marius himself). In all events, Marcus Antonius Orator (the grandfather of the most famous Mark Anthony) was elected without opposition; the other Optimate candidate, Gaius Memmius, who seemed to have the better chance of success, was beaten to death by the hired agents of Saturninus (and perhaps agents of Glaucia, the authorities differ), while the voting was actually going on.

This was too much, even for their support base, and the public was outraged. The Senate met on the following day, declared Saturninus and Glaucia public enemies, and called upon Marius, who was still Consul, to defend the State. This is one of the famous decrees of Senatus Consultum Ultimatum. Marius was quick to obey (we won’t know whether this was reluctantly or avidly on his part). At a battle in the Roman Forum, Saturninus was defeated. He took refuge with his followers in the Capitol. The cutting off of the water supply forced them to surrender. Marius, having assured them that their lives would be spared, removed them to the Curia Hostilia, intending to proceed against them according to law. But the more impetuous members of the aristocratic party climbed onto the roof, stripped off the tiles, and stoned Saturninus and many others to death. Glaucia, who had escaped into a house, was dragged out and killed.

This ends the story of our moneyer, Saturninus. However, it is noteworthy that his daughter survived the disgrace, married well, and two of her children became Consuls. One of these was none other than the Triumvir Marcus Aemilius Lepidus!


[1] This was formally institutionalized by Sulla about twenty years later than the period we are discussing but even he, famously, permitted “violations” of this rule, especially for Pompey.

[2] Under Sulla's later reforms, one automatically became a Senator upon becoming a Quaestor.

[3] There were also extraordinary issues by Quaestors and/or the Senate itself and we sometimes see a "Q" or "S.C" on a Republican denarius telling us this).


Appian. The Civil Wars. (Trans. J. Carter), Penguin Books, London. 1966. [The 1913 Loeb Edition translated by Horace White is available on-line in scanned book form (with Greek and English pages) and as html through Penelope (University of Chicago) and Perseus (Tuft's University).

Broughton, T. R. S. 1951. The Magistrates of the Roman Republic, American Philological Association, New York, 2 Vols. (Vol. I reprint available from Scholars Press, Atlanta, Georgia 1986).

Crawford, M. H. 1974. Roman Republican Coinage, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2 Vols. (1995 reprint).

Friedman, K. 2001. The Helmeted Head of Roma Facing Left. The Celator, 15(11): 18-27.

Havell, H. L. 1914. Republican Rome, George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd. London. (Oracle Publishing Ltd. reprint 1996). Internet Archive has a pdf of the original book.

Livy, The History of Rome from its Foundation [esp. Books 2, 3 and 4] (Trans. A. Sélincourt), Penguin Books, London, 1960. [Internet Archive has pdfs of the 1919 Loeb Classical Edition of Books I to II and Loeb Classical Edition of Books III to IV.]

Plutarch. Lives [esp. Life of Gaius Marius] (Trans. Rex Warner) in Fall of the Roman Republic volume, Penguin Books, London, 1972. [Internet Archive has a pdf of the 1914 Loeb Classical Edition of Lives Volume IX.]

Sallust. The Jugurthine War/The Conspiracy of Catiline (Trans. S. A. Handford) Penguin Books, London. 1963. [Perseus (Tuft's University) has John Selby Watson's 1899 translations of The Jugurthine War and The Conspiracy of Catiline available in html.]

Stevenson, S. W. 1889. A Dictionary of Roman Coins. George Bell and Sons. (B. A. Seaby reprint 1964).

Roman Constitution on Wikipedia.

Cursus Honorum on Wikipedia.


ACTA ACCLA edited by Michael J. Connor.