World Coins

Ancient silver denarius of Rome’s Octavian offered at auction

A circa 19 to 18 B.C. silver denarius of Octavian as Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, celebrates efforts to secure Armenia for the empire.

Images courtesy of Numismatica Ars Classica.

A silver denarius of Rome’s first emperor is offered in Numismatica Ars Classica’s Oct. 6 and 7 auction.

The coin was issued circa 19 to 18 B.C., during the reign of Octavian (Augustus), at Pergamum, the Greek city in Mysia in what is modern day Turkey.

The obverse depicts Augustus and the reverse shows a tiara and bow cases with quiver, and the legends ARMENIA / CAPTA, a reference to the successful effort to claim Armenia for the Romans.

According to the auction house, “Ever since 53 B.C., when the Parthians massacred the legions of Crassus near Carrhae, Romans had a keen awareness of their ancient enemy in the East, and of the territories that separated their two worlds.

“Armenia was the most important of these buffer states, and throughout the confrontational history of Rome with the Parthians or Sasanians, it was an important land to control,” the firm said. “Typically, this did not mean large garrisons and full occupation, but control through a sympathetic ruler.”

Octavian gained control of the Roman East after defeating Mark Antony and Cleopatra in 31 B.C., and then began preparing to secure Armenia, and to recover from Parthia the military standards that had been lost by Crassus in 53, Decidus Saxa in 40 and Antony in 36.

His chance arrived in 20, amid civil unrest in Armenia when an embassy beseeched Augustus to replace their current king, Artaxias, with his brother Tigranes.

Augustus entrusted his eldest stepson, Tiberius, to raise an army and lead it and Tigranes to Armenia, and to install him as the new king.

“Tiberius achieved this without much difficulty — a remarkable task for a 21-year-old; but then, we must remember what his step-father had achieved while he was younger still,” the firm remarks.

The Parthian king Phraates, awed by the convincing actions of Augustus, accepted the appointment of the new Armenian king and handed over all of the captured Roman standards in a bloodless victory and a diplomatic coup.

The coin is in Extremely Fine condition, according to the firm, and has a pre-sale estimate of 8,000 Swiss francs ($8,792 U.S.).

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