World Coins

Goldberg sale features bronze sestertius for harbor

A bronze sestertius of emperor Trajan celebrates the completion of his harbor expansion project in A.D. 113.

Coin images courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles; harbor image courtesy of RaBoe/Wikipedia, and //

Water and access to it for trade has played an important role in world exploration and economies. 

A rare bronze sestertius of Trajan celebrating the expansion of a Roman port is offered in Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles’ June 7 and 8 auction.

Roman emperor Trajan commissioned a new harbor at Ostia to accommodate the needs of a huge population (more than 1 million people lived in Rome in the second century A.D.) and to control silting that required periodic dredging. 

The small port at Ostia was located at the mouth of the Tiber River 14 miles from Rome. Goods off-loaded at Ostia were either transferred to barges that then went up the Tiber or were carried overland on carts and pack animals to the capital city. 

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The port was greatly expanded during the reigns of Claudius and Nero. But it was not enough, and Trajan ordered the construction of a new hexagonal harbor further inland behind the original Claudian port. The new port was finished in A.D. 113, an event honored on a rare bronze sestertius from 113. 

The coin, which weighs 25.58 grams, depicts on the obverse a laureate and draped bust of Trajan. The reverse shows an aerial view of Trajan’s hexagonal harbor at Ostia, with entrance at bottom, buildings and colonnades surrounding the harbor, and three ships anchored within, in a compact memory of the grand project. 

The remains of part of the docks as well as the canal that linked Trajan’s port with the Tiber can still be seen today.

The example in the Goldberg auction is graded Very Fine by the firm and has an estimate of $5,000 to $6,000.

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