Cr. 13/1 Mars/Horsehead ROMANO didrachm, 326-300 B.C., Neapolis
Roman Republic AR Didrachm(7.27g, 6h), anonymous, circa 326-300 BC, Neapolis mint. Helmeted head of bearded Mars left; behind, oak-spray / Horse's head right on base; behind, corn-ear; on base, ROMANO. Crawford 13/1; Burnett 5(Ob/R2); BMCRR Romano-Campanian 1; Sydenham 1; HN Italy 266
Privately purchased from M.V. Collection on 15 September 2022, ex Count Luigi Brunacci Collection, P & P Santamaria 24-28 February 1958, lot 1
This type was the first Roman silver coin. As is the case with many early Roman coins, the date and mint at which this coin was struck, along with the context surrounding its striking, have long been the subject of debate. Various authors have placed it as early as 340 B.C. and as late as the 260s B.C., with Metapontum, Neapolis and Rome, along with the general area of Campania commonly proposed as mint locations. Dating of course drives any context discussion, but some commonly proposed contexts have been the start of the Second Samnite War, the Foedus Neapolitanum, the building of the Via Appia, the funding of the Pyrrhic War and virtually every other important late fourth/early third century BC event in Roman history.
The dating I’ve cited above is roughly based on what most recent scholarship seems to be pointing to, with this issue being minted somewhere in the latter quarter or so of the fourth century, and to me the mint location at Neapolis seems most likely since these coins were minted at the Neapolitan weight standard and, at least I am told by collectors of Greek coinage, that the fabric matches contemporary Neapolitan issues. On top of that, these coins are never found in hoards around Rome, so while there is the possibility that they were minted in Rome by some sort of Greek “contractors”, it seems most likely they were minted in Neapolis, which makes sense since, at this time that roughly coincides with the Second Samnite War, Rome would have had plenty of dealings in Campania. Even Crawford, who originally cited "?Metapontum 280-276 BC" in RRC, later changed his mind and came around to the late 4th century Campanian origin(cf Coinage and Money Under the Roman Republic p. 29).
As far as the devices themselves, it’s easy to look at Mars and the bridled horse head on the obverse and think these are generic martial imagery and leave it at that, but as Crawford, Burnett and others have pointed out the choice of a wheat-ear behind the horse head perhaps offers a hint that there’s more going on here. Specifically, these devices when taken together seemingly refer to the Equus October(the October Horse). Each year, at the beginning and end of the combined campaigning season and agricultural cycle, festivals to Mars(who was not just the god of war, but also a guardian of agriculture) would be held, culminating in a series of chariot races at the end of season festival. The outside horse of the winning chariot would be ritually slain and sacrificed to Mars, as thanks for the recently completed harvest and as an offering asking Mars to protect the next one. This is notably the only horse sacrifice known in Roman religion.
Moving past the overall type itself, this particular coin has a wonderful old provenance to the Count Luigi Brunacci Collection sold by P & P Santamaria in Rome, 24-28 February 1958, where, fitting its position as the first Roman silver coin, it was lot 1. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find any biographical information about Brunacci at all. If anyone has anything to share, please comment or email me, I’d be most interested in it.