World Coins

Elephant coin celebrating Colosseum in Baldwin’s May 29 auction

A Roman denarius of Titus, issued to mark the A.D. 80 completion of the Colosseum, is a highlight from Baldwin’s May 29 auction in London.

Images courtesy of Baldwin’s.

Roman emperor Titus reigned for just two years, but managed to issue special coins.

One of those coins, minted in A.D. 80 to commemorate the opening of the Colosseum, comes to auction on London on May 29.

Titus’ reign saw two hugely significant events in the Roman world.

The first was the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, which simultaneously destroyed and preserved the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

These two locations have since become arguably the most important archaeological sites from the whole of the Roman world, yielding artistic masterpieces and everyday items and providing a window into Roman life at the time.

For Titus, who’d only been emperor for a few months, the eruption was seen as the worst possible omen — a terrible sign from the gods. Sacrifices and atonements took place across the city of Rome the following years.

Construction project

Fortunately for Titus, a great celebration was due the following year. After nearly a decade under construction, the colossal Flavian Amphitheatre was nearing completion.

The enormous structure that we now know as the Colosseum was funded from the spoils of Titus and his father Vespasian’s wars against the Jewish Revolt, which resulted in the sacking and destruction of Jerusalem.

Now one of the most iconic buildings of the ancient world, the Colosseum opened to great fanfare in A.D. 80, with 100 days of gladiatorial games and celebrations. Included in these events were huge parades of exotic animals, including enormous elephants.

Coins were minted that year to commemorate the events, one being a silver denarius (worth around a day’s pay for a Roman soldier at the time) depicting an elephant. 

The example in the Baldwin’s auction is a very rare variety of the issue, with the Emperor’s head facing left rather than right.

The coin “has developed an attractive, dark, cabinet tone,” the firm said, and has a pre-sale estimate of £2,000 to £2,500 ($2,512 to $3,140 U.S.).

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