World Coins

The coin that was a monetary cornerstone in Rome

An orichalcum sestertius of Claudius, issued circa 41 to 42 A.D., realized 497.70 Swiss francs ($492.47 U.S.) during Nomos Ag’s online auction that closed Nov. 20.

Coin images courtesy of Nomos Ag.

The sestertius was worth one-fourth of a denarius in the ancient Roman monetary system.

The coin was a major part of the system during Roman Imperial times, according to Nomos Ag, which featured a circa 41 to 42 sestertius of Claudius during the firm’s online Obolos auction No. 6, which closed Nov. 20.

The coin, which was struck from ori­chalcum, realized 497.70 Swiss francs ($492.47 U.S.), including the 18.5 percent buyer’s fee, against an opening bid of 150 Swiss francs.

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Orichalcum is a yellow metal apparently prized in ancient times, but probably a form of brass or a similar alloy. This example was struck in Rome. 

Claudius reigned from 41 to 54 A.D., instituting major public works projects like aqueducts, canals and roads across the Empire. The slight deafness and limp that caused him to be ostracized earlier in his life may have protected him when purges of officials swept through the reigns of Tiberius and Caligula. 

The sestertii coins of Claudius with the reverse of Spes, a goddess of particular interest to the emperor, were quite large, and usually bear a fine portrait of pure Julio-Claudian style, as we see on the coin in the auction, according to Nomos. 

Spes advances to left, lifting up the hem of her robes with her left hand and holding a flower in her right. 

The sestertii were, in fact, so popular with the troops on the frontier that many local imitations were produced as well, many looking decidely bizarre, according to Nomos.

The coin measures 33 millimeters in diameter and weighs 26.36 grams, slightly wider than a Kennedy half dollar and just over twice as heavy. 

The coin in the auction is “nicely toned,” with the reverse slightly corroded, but otherwise the coin is Very Fine, according to the firm.

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