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Saturn, the first coins, and the meaning of ab ipso in Tertullian's Apologeticum 10,8

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Tertullian, Apologeticum, Saturn, Ab ipso, first account books, aerarium, Euhemerism, Diodorus, bronze coinage, first coin stamping

Abstract (summary)

Tertullian, in the Apologeticum, seems to credit Saturn with introducing coin stamping and accounting to the Italians: Ab ipso primum tabulae (') et imagine signatus nummus, et inde aerario praesidet ((From him [Saturn] were the first account books and coins stamped with an image, and so he presides over the treasury.). This account would seem to have originated from the fact that the public treasury, or aerarium, was housed in the temple of Saturn. It appears to be consistent with one of the typical features of Euhemerism, particularly as we find it in Diodorus an author definitely known to Tertullian, namely, to assert that the "gods" were men who were deified on account of specific civilizing benefits which they bestowed on mankind, that is, to make them culture heroes. None of our other sources on the introduction of bronze coinage to Italy, however, agree with the simplest understanding of Tertullian's phrase: that Saturn invented it. We should, therefore, consider reading ab ipso as indicating the relative time, rather than the person who introduced the first coin stamping.

Publication Information

Garstad, Benjamin. “Saturn, the first coins, and the meaning of ab ipso in Tertullian’s Apologeticum, 10.8.” Latomus 61.4 (2002) 961-963.



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