World Coins

Gold, bronze coins honor Roman military victories

Two coins issued a century apart under ancient Roman rule offer propagandistic messages of varying military successes.

Images courtesy of Leu Numismatik.

Coins served as messenger and message, canvas and paint, during ancient times.

These little pieces of metal allowed rulers to craft a narrative for their citizen subjects, proclaiming victories, announcing public works, and more.

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Two highlights issued about a century apart in ancient Rome, sold during Leu Numismatik’s May 25 auction in Zurich, offer insights on their tumultuous times. 

The more recent of the pieces is the orichalcum (brass) sestertius issued under the ruler Macrinus, which realized a hammer price of 20,000 Swiss francs ($19,946 U.S.) against an estimate of 5,000 francs.

The coin was issued in Rome, sometime from summer 217 to early 218. It features a bust of Macrinus on the obverse, and the reverse shows Victory seated.

The reverse proclaims a victory over the Parthians, which is somewhat ironic, since Macrinus — a civilian North African lawyer of humble origin and without any military experience — had to agree to a humiliating peace agreement with Artabanos IV following a defeat against the Parthians in the Battle of Nisibis in 217. 

In classic Roman propagandistic tradition, Macrinus’ coinage celebrated the peace treaty as a victory over the archenemy, but the opposition among Severan loyalists and the Roman military soon sparked the rebellion of Julia Maesa 

and Elagabal in Emesa, which eventually led to the downfall and execution of Macrinus and Diadumenian in the summer of 218.

Another coin of note is the Armenia Capta gold aureus of Lucius Verus, issued in A.D. 163 in Rome. 

It realized a hammer price of 14,000 Swiss francs ($13,963 U.S.) against an estimate of 7,500 francs. 

The ruler is on the obverse, with Armenia seated “in attitude of mourning,” on the reverse, the firm said. 

The reverse refers to the Parthian campaigns of Lucius Verus, whose generals repelled a series of Parthian attacks before taking the offensive. 

In 163, the Roman general Marcus Statius Priscus invaded Armenia and captured the capital Artaxata, an event that prompted Lucius Verus to assume the title Armeniacus and to issue coins showing the defeated Armenia in an attitude of mourning. 

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