World Coins

Aureus of Macrinus in La Borde Collection auction

A gold aureus of Macrinus, one of three known for the type, highlights the third auction of the La Borde Collection, by Numismatica Ars Classica May 9 in Zurich.

Images courtesy of Numismatica Ars Classica.

Roman emperor Macrinus reigned for about a year, from 217 to 218, before falling victim to assassination, a fate that befell many of his predecessors. 

One of three known gold aureus coins of the type for Macrinus is a highlight of Numismatica Ars Classica’s May 9 auction of the George W. La Borde Collection, Part III.

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The collection of gold aureii of Rome, sold in conjunction with Stack’s Bowers Galleries, is peppered with rarities and pieces that are among the most beautiful of their type.

The aureus of Macrinus is no exception, featuring “a spectacular portrait in the finest style of the period and a magnificent and finely detailed reverse composition,” according to the auction description. 

A bust of the ruler graces the obverse, and Victory is flying, holding a diadem, on the reverse.

After Caracalla’s murder, Macrinus proclaimed himself emperor, assuming the titles and powers that came with the position of supreme leadership, without awaiting confirmation from the Senate in Rome. This sidestepping, and his handling of finances (reigning in soldiers’ pay because his predecessor’s military campaigns had wreaked havoc on the treasury), made him a target. 

The veteran soldiers, fearing their own eventual reduction in pay and privileges, revolted.

Macrinus erred, too, in releasing the extended family of Caracalla, his predecessor. Caracalla’s scheming aunt, Julia Maesa, used her vast wealth to secure the allegiance of the soldiers of the legio III Gallica, who were stationed nearby. They proclaimed Maesa’s 14-year-old grandson, Elagabal, emperor, and the boy’s tutor led the troops to engage Macrinus, who fled the field of battle and was soon captured and executed.

The coin was struck at the very end of Macrinus’ short year-long reign, probably sometime between April and early June of A.D. 218. 

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The coin has a provenance dating back to 1914, and most recently was sold in a private transaction in 2007 by Harlan J. Berk. 

The coin is “one of the finest aurei of Macrinus in existence” and virtually as struck, according to the firm. The coin has an estimate of 125,000 Swiss francs ($127,451 U.S.).

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