World Coins

Roman coins that depict buildings that still stand

A silver denarius issued circa 203 to 210 A.D. celebrates the Triumphal Arch of Roman emperor Septimius Severus.

Coin image courtesy of Numismatica Ars Classica.

Coins depicting architecture of ancient Rome have long been among the most sought after, not only because their designs are often attractive, but also because they are usually valuable in reconstructing the appearance of buildings, temples, and monuments that no longer exist.

Even more coveted are coins that depict ancient structures that survive, the population of which is far smaller than the category of vanished structures. 

A highlight from the Ernst Ploil Collection of Roman Coins, Part II, to be sold by Numismatica Ars Classica on Oct. 6, depicts the Triumphal arch of Septimius Severus, which still stands today in Rome.

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The reverse of the circa 203 to 210 silver denarius shows the arch, four columns surmounted by chariot of six horses, with horsemen on either side.

The arch can still be seen at the north entrance of the Roman Forum; it is almost intact, though the statues that once decorated on the roof are gone. 

The statues may have been removed in late antiquity or in the intervening centuries.

During those centuries, the Forum was filled with debris that covered the 68-foot-tall monument, which remained buried until shortly after Carlo Fea began excavations in 1803.

Subsequent efforts by the Napoleonic administration helped reveal the long-hidden arch.

The arch, dedicated in A.D. 203, commemorated the Parthian victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, in two campaigns against the Parthians, in 194 and 195 and from 197 to 199.

Coins showing the arch, or the Acropolis in Athens, the Colosseum in Rome, or the Circus Maximus, also in Rome (though its modern remains largely consist of an open field), are considered among the “great prizes” in terms of rarity and importance, according to the auction catalog. 

In addition to this denarius showing the arch, the arch made its second and final appearance on denarii of 206 issued in the name of Severus in celebration of his 15th anniversary. 

This example in the Ars Classica auction is “Extremely rare,” and is struck on a very large complete planchet, with old cabinet toning and a grade of Good Very Fine, the firm said.

The same coin sold previously in Ars Classica’s auction No. 18, in 2000, realizing a hammer price of 2,400 Swiss francs (then about $1,450 U.S.). More recently, it sold in Fritz Rudolph Künker’s auction No. 124 in 2007, realizing a hammer price of €2,000 (then about $2,659 U.S.).

In this 2016 auction, the coin’s pre-sale estimate is 2,500 Swiss francs, or about $2,562 in U.S. funds. 

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