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