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CANI4Schools 2019: Dalriada School Ballymoney

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On 21 February 2019, CANI4Schools returned to Dalriada School, Ballymoney for their third annual Classics Conference for AS and A2 Classical Civilisation students.


Before a packed room of over 50 Dalriada students, together with Mr Stewart Bredin and Mr Vincent Doherty, Drs John Curran and Peter Crawford (QUB) presented four lectures on various aspects of the downfall of the Roman Republic and the establishment of Augustan Rome and its accompanying literature.


Dr Crawford, a former pupil at Dalriada, kicked things off with the talk ‘From Rubicon to Actium: The End of the Roman Republic’ for both Upper and Lower Sixth, providing an overview and context for many of the events and themes the students were being met with in class.

Dr Curran then looked at ‘The Rome of Augustus and Virgil’, again for both Upper and Lower Sixth, investigating the first emperor’s use of architecture, traditionalism, morality and propaganda in building and securing his position, while drawing on similarities to modern politics.

After a break, Dr Curran expanded upon some of the themes raised in the previous talk by asking the Upper Sixth the question of ‘What was the Aeneid for?’ The answer involved looks at intertextual, teleological, historical and propagandist views of Virgil’s work and its use.

The lecture series was completed by Dr Crawford presenting ‘The Trial of Gaius Julius Caesar’ on the charge of destroying the Roman Republic. Using the outline of a mock trial, ancient witnesses were called – Sulla, Cato, Cicero, Brutus, Augustus – taking into account their bias for or against Caesar. Modern expert testimony was also introduced, demonstrating to the students how politics can affect not only ancient but also modern sources.

For those of you interested, the student jury decided that while there was a good chance that Caesar was establishing his own autocracy, the waters had been suitably muddied with regard to his motives and the state of the Republic by 44BC that there was enough reasonable doubt to prevent a conviction.

Other interesting discussions included contrasting opinions on Cicero – ‘constitutional champion’ or ‘two-faced’ – and a ‘fierce’ debate over ‘Virgil vs Homer.’ The fact that such discussions pre-existed CANI’s visit demonstrates how involved the students are with their teachers and the classical material within the classrooms of Dalriada.

Mr Bredin, Mr Doherty and the students commented on how useful the talks had been not only in presenting aspects of the end of the Republic, the establishing of the principate and the source material involved, but also as revision exercises for the new lay-out of the A Level courses.

“It was great again to capitalise on the expertise of our two speakers who gave so generously of their time… Our students gained so much as always, from the lectures today… Our sincerest thanks and appreciation again.”

We at CANI would like to reciprocate those thanks to Mr Bredin, Mr Doherty and the students of Dalriada for letting Drs Curran and Crawford partake in that enthusiasm once more.

Hopefully, we will see you again next year!

If you are interested in a similar event for your school, association or group, do not hesitate to get in touch. CANI can call upon a wide array of specialists when it comes to various aspects of Ancient History, Classics and Classical Languages, so any event can be tailored to fit your needs and wants.

You can also follow CANI’s Facebook and Twitter feeds or head over to our website to keep up to date with our upcoming events.

Stewart Bredin and Peter Crawford

Silbannacus: An Unknown Emperor

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We have been here before: the cusp of the rabbit hole… While none too keen for such a return, this author’s attempt to collect a coin of every emperor (cataloguing has been a little slow though) and some academic teaching on the third century crisis, such flirting with the numismatic nightmare of Wonderland is inevitable.

Starting not quite from scratch but aiming to have a coin of every Roman emperor…

Posted by The Classical Association in Northern Ireland on Sunday, July 26, 2015

Thankfully, this time there was no bleary-eyed searching for Unicodes of particular types of ‘U’ and trying to understand Cyrillic; this time there was only the interesting case of the emperor we never knew existed but yet there were coins with his face and name on them…


Say hello to Imperator Mar. Silbannacus Augustus. No, I had not heard of him either, which is hardly surprising as there is no record of him in the written sources, no inscriptions, no statues.

Indeed, there was no inkling that such an emperor existed until 1937 when the British Museum acquired this coin, a silver antoninianus, from a Swiss coin dealer and reputedly found in Lorraine.

Its obverse has a radiate portrait of IMP MAR SILBANNACVS AVG, while its reverse presents the god Mercury holding Victory and his caduceus staff, surrounded by the legend VICTORIA AVG. [Complete with a capital ‘B’ for some flashbacks to a previous rabbit hole journey…]

At the time, this was the only coin known to depict Silbannacus. You might think that such uniqueness is a huge plus, but in the case of coins, it can be a major negative. The Romans minted coins in such large numbers that for there to be only a single issue known to exist raises questions over its authenticity, and as it was the only record of Silbannacus, it raised questions over his existence.

Even though the British Museum did not doubt the genuineness of this coin, doubts over the existence of Mar. Silbannacus remained throughout much of the 20th century. That was until Sylviane Estiot published a second antoninianus in 1996, which had reputedly been found some years earlier near Paris, before entering a private collection. This second coin had the same obverse legend as the first and MARTI PROPVGT (To Mars the defender) on the reverse.


Better still, the obverses (the side bearing the head or principal design) of the two coins were struck from the same die, which suggests that there were few coins minted but decreases the likelihood of them being fakes due to the two difference reverses.

Suddenly, there was proof that this man! Mar. Silbannacus, actually existed and seemingly wore or at least claimed the imperial crown at some stage during Roman history.

But really, the discovery of a second coin is only the beginning of the journey of trying to unravel the identity and history of Imperator Mar. Silbannacus Augustus; a journey that may never have a satisfactory conclusion.

What Kind of a Name is that?

Even before looking at the potential timing and circumstances of his reign, we should look at the name ‘Silbannacus’ itself. Not only is there no emperor or usurper recorded with that name, the name itself is unusual, raising the possibility that ‘Silbannacus’ was a corruption or misspelling of a more recognisable name or word.

Such mistakes on coins are recorded – the emperor Licinius I (308-324) appeared on coins as both LICINVS and LICINNIVS (RIC VI Antioch 162 corr. (no eagle); 162a), while Vetranio, a usurper in the Balkans in 350, had coins minted misspelling his name VERTANIO, perhaps a reflection of how hastily his usurpation had been organised, something which could be applicable to Silbannacus’ attempt on the throne.


 If this usurper’s name was not Silbannacus, perhaps the most obvious corruption/misspelling would be with regards to the ‘b’ in Silbannacus, which can often be a ‘v’ in disguise. ‘Silvannacus’ would have a far more recognisable look to it.


It could see his name reflect a connection with Silvanus, Roman god of the fields and forests, who may be cognate with and perhaps even derived from the Etruscan god of the woodlands, Selvans. [Dorcey (1992) 10-12 on efforts to press an Etruscan etymology on Silvanus]

It would be a stretch to assign northern Italian roots to Silbannacus on the strength of an etymological connection through Silvanus to the Etruscans, but this may be bolstered by the presence of what appears to be the ‘Celtic’ suffix “-acus.” Northern Italy would be a region where Roman/Etruscan/Celto-Gallic would overlap.

It is not just the cognomen ‘Silbannacus’ which is unclear. The meaning of the abbreviation MAR on the coins of Silbannacus also raise questions. The assumption is that it represents Silbannacus’ nomen, the name of his family. That would narrow it down to ‘Marinus’, ‘Marius’ or ‘Marcius’ (Estiot (1996), 108; Körner (2002), 386). The only other potential name represented by MAR would be ‘Marcus’, although that is a praenomen, rather than a nomen, and it is less likely that Silbannacus would have that listed on his coinage.

What are you made of? Where do you come from?

So it seems that the name Mar. Silbannacus does little to provide us with anything beyond flimsy inferences about his potential origins. And unfortunately, neither Silbannacus coin has a mintmark to identify where it was issued from. That leaves us having to rely on the physical make-up and stylistic content of the coins in comparison to others to present some chronological and geographic delineators.


The Silbannacus coins are antoniniani, a favoured silver denomination worth two denarii of the mid-third century, which just so happens to be a period of significant military turmoil in the Roman Empire – it is referred to frequently as the Third Century Crisis. This period also comes with a considerable dearth of surviving historical material – chaos and poor sources are the perfect combination for a short-lived emperor/usurper to fall through the historical net.


The purity of silver within the coins can be used to suggest a general period, especially as the gradual debasing of the silver coinage during the third century is well mapped. There is enough silver in the Silbannacus issues to still make them somewhat valuable, having not yet reduced in purity to the silver-washed coins of the 270s; however, debasement is still clear, suggesting the middle decades of the third century.

That he was able to mint coins which looked like official issues at all might suggest that Silbannacus was active in a region where there was an official mint, but this is not necessarily the case. Barbarian forgeries of imperial coins demonstrate that official looking issues could be produced of sufficient quality to pass as official without the control of a mint.

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While we may not immediately recognise the emperor or pretender depicted on the coin, there are certain features which may hint at a general time period. In the case of the Silbannacus issues, the radiate crown he wears and the facial features he sports are reminiscent of the coins of the mid-third century, perhaps even the reign of Philip the Arab (244-249) or thereabouts (Robertson (1977), xcv; Hartmann (1982), 63, 94, 161f; Kienast (1996), 202). This would also see the ‘reign’ of Silbannacus posited right in the heart of the Third Century Crisis.

Unfortunately, that is still a significant period of time for Silbannacus to have claimed the imperial throne, encapsulating the reigns of six men – Philip the Arab, Trajan Decius, Trebonianus Gallus, Aemilian, Valerian and his son Gallienus.

Changing Stories

Unsurprisingly with so little to go on, there are numerous proposed backstories for the ‘reign’ of Silbannacus. The prevailing, although never fully accepted, wisdom regarding Silbannacus has changed significantly in the 80 years since the first coin found its way into the hands of the British Museum.


The reported discovery of that first coin in Lorraine gave rise to the idea that Silbannacus was operating in that area, perhaps a military commander in Germania Superior along the Rhine. Eutropius IX.4 records a bellum civile in Gaul being suppressed during the reign of Decius (249-251), which could be tied to Silbannacus and perhaps encompassed the end of the rule of Philip the Arab (244-249) too (Hartmann (1982), 63, 82, 94 n. 1). Reports of the second coin being found near Paris could bolster at least the geographic location proposed by this theory.


This explanation has been questioned through a potential error in the text of Eutropius. For location of the bellum civile, considered Gallia, some have read Galatia, which would fit in with Aurelius Victor’s account of the subjugation of the revolt of Iotapianus in that area of what is now central Turkey in that period (Aurelius Victor, Caes 29.2; Callu (1989), 363; Potter (1990), 248). However, depending on a potential spelling error is about as speculative as (if not more so than) placing Silbannacus at the head of troops in Germania due to the presence of one of his coins near the Rhine and some vague Gallic connection to his name.

The appearance of Mercury, a rarely used god before the late third century, on the first coin of Silbannacus could also provide a link to Gaul as Mercury seems to have been popular in that region, with the Gallic emperor Postumus (260-269) also portraying Mercury on his coins (cf. Caesar, BG VI.17.1; RIC Vb.337 n.13; 357 n.255). However, this might only mean that Silbannacus had some Gallic connections, not that that was his place of origin or operation.

The focus on Mars and Mercury on Silbannacus’ coins could be another signifier of their origin in the mid-third century as emperors such as Decius and Valerian (253-260) had attempted to bolster the unity of the empire through the promotion of pagan religious practice (which ultimately saw both remembered at persecutors of Christianity).

From Germania to Italia… and Rome

The discovery of the second Silbannacus coin brought another avenue of speculation. While it was seemingly found near Paris, aspects of the coin seem to link it and therefore Silbannacus to the short-lived reign of Aemilian in 253.


The shortened reverse legend of MARTI PROPVGT is of a similar sort used by Aemilian, while the style of bust and radiant appears similar to the Aemilian’s issues from the mint at Rome. As the two Silbannacus coins share the same obverse die, the likelihood would be that they were produced in the same mint.

Therefore, despite the coins being found in Germania and Gaul, it seems that Silbannacus’ brief reign/usurpation included control of the mint in the imperial capital. As he is not recorded in the sources and there are not more coins, it might be suggested that he was recognised in Rome but nowhere else and not for any kind of significant period of time.


This could suggest that Silbannacus was a garrison commander who succeeded in having himself proclaimed emperor at Rome in 253 after Aemilian left the city to face the approaching Rhine army of Valerian. This could either have been in opposition to Aemilian or in the aftermath of Aemilian’s assassination by his own men in around September 253 but before Valerian arrived at Rome, perhaps in an attempt to shore up resistance within the city (RIC IV.3 66 and 105).

The presence of his issues so far from Rome is no obstacle to such a positioning of Silbannacus’ reign in the city; indeed, there is something of a traceable line of contemporary movement for such coins to follow from the imperial capital to the Rhine frontier.


Upon being called to Italy to aid Trebonianus Gallus against the usurping Aemilian (Zosimus, I.28.3), Valerian had been serving as an army commander, possibly dux, along the Rhine (Christol (1980) suggests that Valerian had been posted to the Rhine to gather men for Gallus’ proposed Persian expedition).

Those Rhine-based soldiers who followed Valerian into Italy were too late (purposely?) to save Gallus, but were supremely placed to deal with Aemilian in support of their own commander as Augustus.

Seeing to the defeat of Aemilian and then marching on Rome, these men may also have found and dealt with Silbannacus Augustus. Part of their spoils were likely to have been any silver coins minted by the fledging regime in Rome. And while Valerian would eventually head east to fight the Persians, some of the Rhine men who had joined him on his march to Italy are likely to have returned to their Rhine homes. Or perhaps these coins came to Gaul and Germania through soldiers formerly loyal to Aemilian or Silbannacus being transferred there after they were pacified.

Valerian being a senator (doubted by Christol (1997)) may have undermined any resistance Silbannacus could bring together in Rome, which (along with Silbannacus’ lack of soldiers and legitimacy) possibly explains why there is not recorded battle for the city between the Augusti. Strangely though, even if his reign lasted a very short time, any senatorial support for Silbannacus may see him treated as an ‘official’ Augustus rather than a failed usurper.

Regardless of which story – German or Roman revolt – is closer to the truth (or another as yet revealed background), Silbannacus is likely to have met a grisly end. It is not unheard of for Roman emperors to surrender and be allowed to live (Constantius II would allow Vetranio to live in peaceful retirement in 351); however, this was not the trend of the mid-third century. Men who had played the game of thrones, either had to win or die. There was no middle ground. Therefore, Silbannacus was almost certainly (natural causes cannot be ruled out) murdered by forces of Philip the Arab, Decius, Valerian, or his own.

His ‘reign’ had been short; to be measured in weeks, perhaps even days rather than months. He may not have made much impact on the Roman world, but his existence presents us with an interesting insight into our sources, both literary and physical, and into the third century, which was so chaotic that it managed to see an emperor possibly ruling in the imperial capital forgotten to the written sources.


Callu, J.P. ‘L’empire gaulois selon J. F. Drinkwater,’ JRA 2 (1989) 362-373

Christol, M. ‘A propos de la politique exterieure de Trebonien Galle,’ Revue Numismatique 6 (1980) 63-74

Christol, M. L’Empire romain du IIIe siècle. Histoire politique, 192-325 après J.-C., Paris (1997)

Dorcey, P.F. The Cult of Silvanus: A Study in Roman Folk Religion. Leiden (1992)

Estiot, S. ‘L’empereur Silbannacus. Un second antoninien,’ Revue numismatique 151 (1996) 105-117

Hartmann, F. Herrscherwechsel und Reichskrise. Untersuchungen zu den Ursachen und Konsequenzen der Herrscherwechsel im Imperium Romanum der Soldatenkaiserzeit (3. Jahrhundert n. Chr.). Frankfurt (1982)

Kienast, D. Römische Kaisertabelle. Grundzüge einer römischen Kaiserchronologie. Darmstadt (1996)

Körner, C. Philippus Arabs, ein Soldatenkaiser in der Tradition des antoninisch-severischen Prinzipats. Berlin/New York (2002)

Potter, D.S. Prophecy and History in the Crisis of the Roman Empire. A Historical Commentary on the Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle. Oxford (1990)

Robertson, A.S. Roman Imperial Coins in the Hunter Coin Cabinet. University of Glasgow, Vol. 3: Pertinax to Aemilian, Oxford/London/Glasgow/New York (1977)

Southern, P.  The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine. London (2001)


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Six months on from the third Belfast Summer School in Latin and Classical Greek, a group of hardy students and tutors met at Queen’s University for a day of even more Latin and Greek. Feedback from Summer School participants had suggested that students were interested in studying these ancient languages more frequently.  So, in contrast to the annual summer meeting, in rather chillier temperatures, 14 students and six tutors met on Saturday 2nd February 2019 to spend the day consolidating, revising, learning new Latin and Greek grammar, and reading texts in the original language.

Beginners Latin students revised grammar which had been covered in the 2018 summer school, with tutor Amber Taylor using Ecce Romani, a textbook which some readers might remember from school!  The Intermediate Latin class began with some grammar revision with tutor Stephen McCarthy.  The aim of Stephen’s class was to read Catullus 51, the poet’s version of Sappho 31, a poem to his beloved, Lesbia.  Dr Laura Pfuntner’s Advanced Latin students read the story of Daedalus and Icarus from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and concluded the day with scansion.

The Beginners Greek tutor was Dr Kerry Phelan and her class reached the conclusion of chapter 1 of the Athenaze textbook.  Intermediate Greek students spent the morning revising grammar with tutor Helen McVeigh.  After lunch, the group translated a short passage from Xenophon’s Hellenica.  Lynn Gordon’s Advanced Greek class began reading from the speeches of Lysias and, after lunch, translated a section from Aristophanes’ Peace.

As co-ordinator, the most important result for me is that students enjoyed the day, which I’ve been assured they did.  Thank you to all the tutors for their hard work preparing for the classes, and for giving up their Saturday to teach.  On behalf of the Summer School staff, thank you to the students for their energy and enthusiasm for Greek and Latin, and we hope to see you again in July!

Helen McVeigh

For information about the 2019 Summer School, its brochure and how to apply, click HERE

To see what goes on at the Belfast Summer School, have a look at the review of its 2018 edition HERE

Posted by The Classical Association in Northern Ireland on Sunday, February 10, 2019

My Favourite Picture of Ancient History III

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5d81a7e9e789bbe7594760be1286becaRecently I saw this famous photograph of Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong serenading his wife described as one of the most romantic photographs ever taken. But there was more to this stop at the Egyptian pyramids than meets the eye, a story little told these days.

In the late 1950s the US State Department sponsored tours by notable jazz musicians to parts of the world where political relations were frosty and suspicions about American foreign policy were hot; the trips were also intended to combat widespread criticism of racism in the US by presenting alternative images of an egalitarian, modern America. ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie and his integrated band of musicians visited the Middle East in 1956; Benny Goodman and his mixed orchestra went to southeast Asia in 1957; and in 1958 the Dave Brubeck Quartet played the circle of nations around Russia, as well as Iran and Iraq – all Cold War hotspots.

At first Armstrong refused to take part, furiously denouncing President Eisenhower for his reluctance to enforce desegregation at an Arkansas school in 1957. It was three years before he agreed to an official role as an American cultural ambassador and a 27-city goodwill tour of Africa, part-sponsored by Pepsi-Cola. He was accompanied by a band of six (including singer Velma Middleton, who suffered a stroke and died during the trip), as well as his wife Lucille.

While he was greeted as royalty elsewhere, it was by no means certain that Armstrong would be welcome in Egypt, where newspapers had spread rumours that he was an Israeli spy and President Nasser had suggested that ‘scat-singing’ was Satchmo’s way of transmitting secrets. The visit was a triumph, however. Side-stepping questions about politics (‘Zionism? What’s that, Daddy?’), Armstrong posed for joyous photographs that were circulated worldwide, surrounded by cheering children at a medical centre, playing his trumpet while riding on a camel – and entertaining Lucille against the backdrop of the Sphinx and pyramids.

Satchmo was by no means the first or last ambassador to make use of the spectacle offered by Giza’s ancient monuments to promote a cultural message, though perhaps he was the most successful. When US First Lady Melania Trump went on safari and posed in front of the pyramids last October, her choice of attire – a pith helmet and Out of Africa-style outfit evoking the colonial past – garnered more attention than her stated aim of highlighting the role of women in society. We are fortunate, then, that our enduring image of Louis Armstrong’s sojourn in Egypt is one of romance and delight, which can be enjoyed no matter the politics that brought it about.

Selga Medenieks (TCD)

 Further reading:

Penny M. von Eschen, 2004. Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War. Harvard Uni Press: Cambridge, MA.

Crist, S.A. ‘Jazz as Democracy? Dave Brubeck and Cold War Politics,’  Journal of Musicology 26 (2009), pp. 133-174