1st century BCE coin: Q. Caecilius Metellus Pius (obverse), Palladium (reverse)

Lucius Caecilius Metellus, consul twice, victor at Panormus in 250 BCE during the 1st Punic war, and Pontifex Maximus from 243 until his death in 221 BCE, was blinded while saving the Palladium from the fire in the Temple of Vesta in 241 BCE (see the story in Ovid, Fasti 6.437-454). The coin above memorializes his heroic act by connecting a later member of the Metelli with the image of Minerva.

The Palladium was an ancient wooden image of Pallas Athena, preserved in the sanctuary of the Temple of Vesta at Rome. It was said to have been given by Zeus to Dardanus, the founder of Troy, as a safeguard for the city and that its theft by the Greeks brought about the destruction of Troy (Vergil, Aeneid 2.162-79). Roman tradition preferred the legend that the Palladium was rescued from burning Troy by Aeneas (see below), who brought it to Italy (Ovid narrates both versions of the legend in Fasti 6.419-436). The Palladium was considered to have saved Rome from the Gauls in 390 B.C.

Aeneas carrying the Palladium from Burning Troy (photo courtesy of VRoma)