This paper presents the results of my analysis of the chronological and geographic distribution of the five largest issues of victoriati, a silver coinage without a mark of value minted alongside the denarius for a period of forty years at the end of the third and beginning of the second century B.C.E. I argue that the victoriatus’ appearance in the Po River Valley in the early second century B.C.E and its metrological similarities to local coinages (Crawford 1985) represent a conscious economic decision related to the contemporaneous Roman colonization initiative in the region. Further, the connection between the distribution of victoriati and colonization in the second century B.C.E. Po River Valley aligns well with new models of Roman colonization (Stek and Pelgrom 2014) and forces us to reconsider the mechanisms by which Roman hegemony operated in the Middle Republic.
My analysis of victoriati by issue not only confirms earlier studies about the distribution of victoriati over time and place (Thomsen 1957; Crawford 1974), but also reveals new insights about the history of the coinage in the Po River Valley. The circulation pattern of the victoriatus in the Po River Valley differs markedly from the coinage’s distribution in Italy, Magna Graecia and Sicily. While the victoriatus reached its peak in these areas during the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.E.), it did not appear in the Po River Valley in significant numbers until the 170s BCE (Marra 2001). In fact, I argue that the Romans seem to have specifically resumed the production of victoriati at this time for distribution in the Po River Valley, as RRC 166/1, the largest of the four issues minted from 179-170 B.C.E., circulated nearly exclusively in the area.
The distribution of victoriati to the Po River Valley during the 170s B.C.E. was a carefully thought-out economic decision. Scholars have long noted that the victoriatus shows metrological similarities to the coinages of the region such as the Padane and Massiliote drachms. Further, the fact that the victoriatus lacked a mark of value allowed for the coin to be assessed on its precious metal content in areas that had yet to be monetized. The strongest testament to Roman economic foresight, however, is the epigraphic, literary and numismatic evidence that shows that the victoriatus remained important in the Po River Valley until the very end of the second century B.C.E.
The historical context of the Po River Valley in the second century B.C.E. helps us to understand why the Romans minted a coinage that suited the economy of the Po River Valley. Not only had the area been recently conquered, but it simultaneously experienced a large influx of Roman colonists at places like Placentia, Cremona and Mutina. The usage of the victoriatus in this context provides insight into how Rome interacted with its empire in the Middle Republic. While the setting up of colonies in the Po River Valley seems to signify a stronger Roman presence in a recently conquered area, no attempt was made to enforce Roman economic norms on the region. Rather, the Roman colonists used a coinage which was falling out of favor in the rest of Italy because it fit well within the pre-existing economic contexts of the Po River Valley. This picture accords well with new models of Roman colonization during the Republic, which emphasize the importance of continuity rather than change in the immediate aftermath of colonial foundation. The victoriatus ultimately proves a suitable analogy for Roman economic hegemony in the Middle Republic – both were adaptable and could be used in a variety of places without the disruption of pre-existing monetary systems.
Minting an Empire: Negotiating Roman Hegemony through Coinage