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.
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