World Coins

Roman gold coins top Numismatica Ars Classica's May 20 auction

Two ancient Roman gold coins issued a few hundred years apart soared and starred in Numismatica Ars Classica’s May 20 auction in Zurich.

A gold aureus of Domitius Ahenobarbus and a gold aureus of short-lived ruler Pescennius Niger each realized hammer prices of 650,000 Swiss francs ($697,882 U.S.). The buyer’s fee ranges from 19 to 20.5 percent, depending on bidding method, and a Value-Added Tax applies to certain bidders.

The Ahenobarbus coin was a highlight from the firm’s third sale of the Collection of Roman Republican Coins of a Student and His Mentor. It is one of 11 known pieces, and the finest of only four available in private hands, according to the auction firm.

The coin was struck circa 41 B.C. at a mint that was traveling with Ahenobarbus. 

The auction house calls it “One of the rarest, most difficult and desirable issues of the entire Roman gold series.”

Its portrait has been the subject of much debate, as it differs from the one on denarii issued at the same time by Ahenobarbus, the man who unwittingly became great-grandfather to the emperor Nero.

The “fleshy, indulgent” portrait on the aureus contrasts with the portrait of a thin man that is “stiff and noticeably stylized” on the denarii, according to the auction firm. While different artists likely created each design, it is also possible that the denarius portrait was meant to represent an ancestor and that the aureus portrait is of the imperator himself (though researchers aren’t in agreement on this theory). 

The reverse shows a temple of Neptune, but as there were various such temples dedicated to Neptune, the exact location of this temple cannot be determined, according to the auction firm. 

The coin was graded Extremely Fine by the auction house and had an estimate of 350,000 Swiss francs (about $371,235). 

Emperor rare in gold

The gold aureus of Pescennius Niger was issued during his short reign, from June 193 to the end of 194. 

The coin sold by NAC is an apparently unrecorded variety of a type known previously by a single example, and is only the third aureus known for this ruler from the mint of Caesarea in Cappadocia. 

Pescennius Niger briefly claimed the title of Augustus against Septimius Severus, yet managed to issue a surprising variety of coins despite such a brief reign.

Though earlier scholars thought his mintage was limited to coins struck at Antioch, more recent research and hoard evidence prove that Niger struck his imperial coinages at Antioch, Alexandria and at Caesarea in Cappadocia.

At Caesarea, just as at most Roman mints, the best engravers executed the portrait dies used for aurei. 

The “portrait of excellent style” was the work of a “very skilled master-engraver perfectly struck in high relief on a very broad flan,” according to the auction firm.

Niger’s silver denarii featured an array of 31 different reverse inscriptions, but most featured the IVSTITIA (or “the Just”) inscription that appears on this gold coin. The gold aureus sold by NAC is only the second to feature the IVSTITIA inscription, and both examples were struck at the mint in Caesarea.

“The message of ‘justice’ was of prime importance to Niger, who, arguably, was intent on avenging the murder of Pertinax and redressing Severus’ unlawful grasp at power in Rome. In doing so, he proposed to usher in a new golden age,” according to the auction catalog.

Virtually As Struck and almost Fleur-de-Coin, the example in the NAC auction also had an estimate of 350,000 Swiss francs ($371,235).

The auction was full of rarities and affordable coins alike.

For full details, visit the NAC website

More from

Counterfeit American Eagle gold bullion coins improving in design quality

American Buffalo bullion coin sales lagging behind previous years

Making money with Jefferson nickels

Q. David Bowers: ‘Gold’ a longtime synonym for ‘value’

1909-S Lincoln, V.D.B. cent in upcoming government auction

Keep up with all of's news and insights by signing up for our free eNewslettersliking us on Facebook, and following us on Twitter. We're also on Instagram!

Community Comments