Roman Republic C. Norbanus moneyer
Silver Denarius 19mm (3.86 grams) Mint of Rome: 83 B.C.
Reference: Norbana 2; B.M.C. 2770-2826; Syd. 739; Craw. 357/1b
Diademed head of Venus right, C . NORBANVS below, number behind.
Corn, fasces and caduceus.
The reverse type is probably an allusion to the moneyer's
father and the part he played in Sicily during the Social war, when he raised
troops, organized a fleet, and provisioned the town of Rhegium. It must have
been a very large issue as the numbers on type 2 run from I to CCXXVIIII.
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The caduceus from
Greek "herald's staff" is the staff carried by
Greek mythology. The same staff was also borne
by heralds in general, for example by
Iris, the messenger of
Hera. It is a short staff entwined by two
serpents, sometimes surmounted by wings. In
Roman iconography it was often depicted being carried in the left hand of
Mercury, the messenger of the gods, guide of
the dead and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves.
As a symbolic object it represents Hermes (or the Roman Mercury), and by
extension trades, occupations or undertakings associated with the god. In later
Antiquity the caduceus provided the basis for
astrological symbol representing the
planet Mercury. Thus, through its use in
alchemy, it has come to denote the
elemental metal of the same name.
By extension of its association with Mercury/Hermes, the caduceus is also a
recognized symbol of commerce and negotiation, two realms in which balanced
exchange and reciprocity are recognized as ideals.
This association is ancient, and consistent from the Classical period to modern
times. The caduceus is also used as a symbol representing printing, again by
extension of the attributes of Mercury (in this case associated with writing and
The caduceus is sometimes mistakenly used
as a symbol of medicine and/or medical practice,
North America, because of widespread confusion
with the traditional medical symbol, the
rod of Asclepius, which has only a single snake
and no wings.
The term kerukeion denoted any herald's staff, not necessarily
associated with Hermes in particular.
Lewis Richard Farnell (1909) in his study of
the cult of Hermes assumed that the two snakes had simply developed out of
ornaments of the shepherd's crook used by heralds as their staff.
This view has been rejected by later authors pointing to parallel iconography in
the Ancient Near East. It has been argued that the staff or wand entwined by two
snakes was itself representing a god in the pre-anthropomorphic era. Like the
priapus, it would thus be a predecessor of the
anthropomorphic Hermes of the classical era.
Ancient Near East
William Hayes Ward (1910) discovered that
symbols similar to the classical caduceus sometimes appeared on
Mesopotamian cylinder seals. He suggested the
symbol originated some time between 3000 and 4000 BCE, and that it might have
been the source of the Greek caduceus.
A.L. Frothingham incorporated Dr. Ward's research into his own work, published
in 1916, in which he suggested that the prototype of Hermes was an "Oriental
deity of Babylonian extraction" represented in his earliest form as a snake god.
From this perspective, the caduceus was originally representative of Hermes
himself, in his early form as the Underworld god
Ningishzida, "messenger" of the "Earth Mother".
The caduceus is mentioned in passing by
as "really the image of copulating snakes taken over from Ancient Near Eastern
In Egyptian iconography, the
Djed pillar is depicted as containing a snake in a frieze of the
Dendera Temple complex.
The rod of
Moses and the
brazen serpent are frequently compared to the
caduceus, especially as Moses is acting as a messenger of God to the
Pharaoh at the point in the narrative where he
changes his staff into a serpent.
Homeric hymn to Hermes relates how Hermes
offered his lyre fashioned from a tortoise shell as compensation for the
cattle he stole from his half brother
Apollo. Apollo in return gave Hermes the
caduceus as a gesture of friendship.
The association with the serpent thus connects Hermes to
Apollo, as later the serpent was associated
Asclepius, the "son of Apollo".
The association of Apollo with the serpent is a continuation of the older
Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher (1913) pointed out
that the serpent as an attribute of both Hermes and Asclepius is a variant of
the "pre-historic semi-chthonic serpent hero known at Delphi as
Python", who in classical mythology is slain by
myth of origin of the caduceus is part of the
who found two snakes copulating and killed the female with his staff. Tiresias
was immediately turned into a woman, and so remained until he was able to repeat
the act with the male snake seven years later. This staff later came into the
possession of the god Hermes, along with its transformative powers.
Another myth suggests that Hermes (or Mercury) saw two serpents entwined in
mortal combat. Separating them with his wand he brought about peace between
them, and as a result the wand with two serpents came to be seen as a sign of
Livy refers to the caduceator who
negotiated peace arrangements under the diplomatic protection of the caduceus he
In some vase paintings ancient depictions of the Greek kerukeion are
somewhat different from the commonly seen modern representation. These
representations feature the two snakes atop the staff (or rod), crossed to
create a circle with the heads of the snakes resembling horns. This old graphic
form, with an additional crossbar to the staff, seems to have provided the basis
for the graphical
sign of Mercury (☿) used in
Greek astrology from Late Antiquity.
Use in alchemy
As the symbol of both the
planet and the
metal named for Mercury, the caduceus became an
important symbol in
crucified serpent was also revived as an
alchemical symbol for
John Donne (Sermons 10:190) uses
"crucified Serpent" as a title of
Symbol of commerce
A simplified variant of the caduceus is to be found in dictionaries,
indicating a “commercial term” entirely in keeping with the association of
Hermes with commerce. In this form the staff is often depicted with two winglets
attached and the snakes are omitted (or reduced to a small ring in the middle).
The Customs Service of the former
German Democratic Republic employed the
caduceus, bringing its implied associations with thresholds, translators, and
commerce, in the service medals they issued their staff.
Misuse as symbol
It is relatively common, especially in the United States, to find the
caduceus, with its two snakes and wings, used as a symbol of medicine instead of
the correct rod of Asclepius, with only a single snake. This usage is erroneous,
popularised largely as a result of the adoption of the caduceus as its insignia
US Army medical corps in 1902 at the insistence
of a single officer (though there are conflicting claims as to whether this was
Capt. Frederick P. Reynolds or Col. John R. van Hoff).
The rod of Asclepius is the dominant symbol for professional healthcare
associations in the United States. One survey found that 62% of professional
healthcare associations used the rod of Asclepius as their symbol.
The same survey found that 76% of commercial healthcare organizations used the
Caduceus symbol. The author of the study suggests the difference exists because
professional associations are more likely to have a real understanding of the
two symbols, whereas commercial organizations are more likely to be concerned
with the visual impact a symbol will have in selling their products.
The initial errors leading to its adoption and the continuing confusion it
generates are well known to medical historians. The long-standing and abundantly
attested historical associations of the caduceus with commerce, theft,
deception, and death are considered by many to be inappropriate in a symbol used
by those engaged in the healing arts.
This has occasioned significant criticism of the use of the caduceus in a
Fasces are a bundle
of wooden sticks with an axe blade emerging from the center, which is an image
that traditionally symbolizes summary
jurisdiction, and/or "strength through unity".
Fasces frequently occur as a
heraldry, and should not be confused with the
fess, which in
French heraldry is called a fasce.
Roman fasces consisted of a bundle of
birch rods, tied together with a red leather
ribbon into a cylinder, and often including a bronze
(or sometimes two) amongst the rods, with the blade(s) on the side, projecting
from the bundle. They were carried by the
lictors who accompanied the
magistrates. The axe often represents the power
over life or death through the death penalty, although after the
laws of the twelve tables, no Roman magistrate
could summarily execute a Roman citizen. It was used as a symbol of the
Roman Republic in many circumstances, including
being carried in processions, much the way a flag might be carried today.
Venus was a
principally associated with
fertility, who played a key role in many
Roman religious festivals and myths. From the third century BC, the
Hellenization of Roman upper classes identified her as the equivalent of the
Her cult began in
On August 15, 293 BC, her oldest known
was dedicated, and August 18 became a festival called the
Vinalia Rustica. After
defeat at the
Battle of Lake Trasimene in the opening
episodes of the
Second Punic War, the Sibylline oracle
recommended the importation of the Sicillian Venus of Eryx; a temple to her was
dedicated on the
Capitoline Hill in 217 BC: a second temple to
her was dedicated in 181 BC.
Venus seems to have played a part in household or private religion of some
Romans. Julius Caesar claimed her as an ancestor (Venus Genetrix); possibly a
long-standing family tradition, certainly one adopted as such by his heir
Venus statuettes have been found in quite ordinary household shrines (lararia).
Petronius places one among the
Trimalchio's household shrine.
Roman Republic was the phase of the
Roman civilization characterized by a
form of government. It began with the overthrow of the
monarchy, c. 509 BC, and lasted over 450 years until its subversion, through
a series of
civil wars, into the
form of government and the
The Roman Republic was governed by a
complex constitution, which centered on the principles of a
separation of powers and
checks and balances. The
evolution of the constitution was heavily influenced by the struggle between
the aristocracy (the
patricians), and other talented Romans who were not from famous families,
plebeians. Early in its history, the republic was controlled by an
aristocracy of individuals who could trace their ancestry back to the early
history of the kingdom. Over time, the laws that allowed these individuals to
dominate the government were repealed, and the result was the emergence of a new
aristocracy which depended on the structure of society, rather than the law, to
maintain its dominance.
During the first two centuries, the Republic saw its
territory expand from central Italy to the entire
Mediterranean world. In the next century, Rome grew to dominate North
Iberian Peninsula, Greece, and what is now southern France. During the last
two centuries of the Roman Republic, it grew to dominate the rest of modern
France, as well as much of the east. At this point, the
republican political machinery was replaced with
Empire is a matter of interpretation. Towards the end of the period a
selection of Roman leaders came to so dominate the political arena that they
exceeded the limitations of the Republic as a matter of course. Historians have
variously proposed the appointment of
Julius Caesar as perpetual
dictator in 44 BC, the defeat of
Antony at the
Battle of Actium in 31 BC, and the
Senate's grant of extraordinary powers to
(Augustus) under the
first settlement in 27 BC, as candidates for the defining pivotal
event ending the Republic.
Many of Rome's legal and legislative structures can still be
observed throughout Europe and the rest of the world by modern
international organizations. The Romans'
has influenced grammar and vocabulary across parts of Europe and the world.