The Roman Empire
Estimate: 3'500 CHF
Starting price: 2'800 CHF
Price realized: 5'500 CHF
Trajan, 98 – 117
Sestertius circa 103-104, Æ 21.52 g. IMP CAES NERVAE TRAIANO AVG GER DAC P M TR P COS V P P Laureate head r. Rev. S P Q R OPTIMO – PRINCIPI Trajan, holding branch in r. hand and sceptre in l., standing l. on throne placed on a daïs, adorned with festoons and four eagles; captives on r.; in field, Victory flying l., crowning Trajan. In exergue, S C. C 519. BMC 826 var. (drapery on l. shoulder). RIC 551.
CBN 213. Woytek 184a2 (this coin illustrated).
Extremely rare and a very interesting reverse type. Brown tone with some
minor areas of porosity, otherwise very fine
Ex Münzhandlung Basel 1, 1934, 620; Glendining’s 16 November, 1950, Platt Hall part II, 1322; Leu-M&M 2 November, Niggeler part III, 1207 and Künker 124, 2007, 9022 sales.
This impressive reverse type commemorates Trajan’s recent victory over the Dacians. The emperor is shown standing upon a platform decorated with a garland, with a kneeling figure on either side of him pulling at the folds in his toga in the act of supplication. Along the front of the platform stand four eagles, representing Rome’s legions, the source of its military might. Trajan holds a branch in his right hand and a sceptre in his left. The branch, which is ambiguous, could be either an olive branch, which signifies peace, or more likely a branch of laurel, signifying martial prowess; both were awarded to successful generals and both look similar with thin, elongated leaves (the olive branch when shown on coins usually also has the fruits, but not always). The sceptre as an adjunct is a symbol of authority indicating the right to govern. Finally, Victory flies in from the right, crowning the emperor with a laurel wreath.
Troubles with Dacia began more than a decade before Trajan became emperor. In A.D. 85 under the emperor Domitian, the warlike king of the Dacians, Diurpaneus, began raiding into the Roman province of Moesia, to which Rome responded by reorganising the region under direct imperial control and sending in several legions under the praetorian prefect, Cornelius Fuscus. In 87, however, Fuscus, who had four or five legions under his control, suffered a sound defeat at the small mountain pass of Tapae where he was ambushed by forces led by Diurpaneus. Two legions were annihilated and Fuscus himself was killed. After this battle, King Diurpaneus took the name Decebalus, which roughly translates to ‘strong as ten’ or ‘the brave one’. The situation worsened the following year after Domitian sent in more legions under Tettius Iulianus, who was likewise soundly defeated at the Second Battle of Tapae. The removal of troops to augment the Roman buildup along the Danube had the effect of weakening other areas of Rome's extensive borders, and thus it comes as no surprise that the Germanic tribes along the Rhine frontier launched a series of raids into Roman territory. To meet this more ominous threat, Domitian settled his dispute with Decebalus by agreeing to pay tribute to the Dacians for maintaining peace in the region.
On Trajan's accession, the new emperor immediately set about reversing this controversial tribute policy. He engaged the Dacians and defeated Decebalus at Tapae in 102, annexing some territory and establishing Dacia as a client kingdom under Roman protection with a small local garrison. However, in 105 Decebalus massacred the Roman garrison, which precipitated another war with Rome. This time Trajan was unforgiving, and after a long siege of the Dacian capital of Sarmizegetusa the Romans decisively defeated their enemy. Decebalus fled with his family but was subsequently cornered and, loathing the prospect of being paraded in Rome in chains, he committed suicide by slashing his own throat.
Interestingly, a funerary stele discovered at Gramini in Greece indicates that before he died, Decebalus was captured by one Tiberius Claudius Maximus, a Roman cavalry scout from the Legio VII Claudia. The stele mentions that Claudius was personally decorated by the emperor for delivering to him a gruesome trophy - Decebalus' head and right hand - which was subsequently taken to Rome and thrown down the Gemonian stairs.