Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 95   |   6 October 2016
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Lot 242





Estimate: 35'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 28'000 CHF Price realized: 77'500 CHF
The Roman Empire
Hadrian, 117 – 134
Aureus 119-122, AV 7.25 g. IMP CAESAR TRAIAN – HADRIANVS AVG Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust r. Rev. P M T – R P C – OS III Hercules standing facing, holding club in r. hand and apple in l., between two women within distyle temple; below, ladder-like flight of stairs between a fish on l. and head of Jupiter r. on r. C 1085 var. (head laureate). BMC 99 note. RIC – (cf. 60 var., laureate head on obverse and prow below the temple on reverse). Biaggi 639 (this coin). Calicó 1324 (this coin).
Extremely rare, a very interesting and fascinating issue. Struck in high relief and
with a finely detailed reverse composition. Good extremely fine
Ex NAC 16 November 1994, Gilbert Steinberg, 392 and Rauch 82, 2008, 314 sales. From the Biaggi collection and privately purchased from Ratto in 1954.

Both Trajan and Hadrian hailed from Spain although their family’s paternal ancestry was of distant Umbrian origin. Hadrian’s mother was from Gades (modern Cádiz) – the oldest continuously inhabited town in Spain and one of the oldest in all of Europe – which was originally a Phoenician (Tyrian) settlement located on the southwestern coast of Spain on a narrow spit of land bounded by the sea on three sides. At the very tip of Gades was located the important temple honoring the Phoenician god Melqart, who in Roman times was conflated with Hercules and worshipped as Hercules Gaditanus. It was thought that Hercules himself was buried beneath the temple’s foundations. Although no remains of this temple to Melqart exist today, scholars of the subject have conjectured that its design might have served as a model for other Phoenician temples in the far western Mediterranean world.

The temple featured on the reverse of this splendid aureus is unusual in form, and is clearly not of the standard Greek or Roman variety. Most apparent is the flat roof lacking any sort of pediment and supported by four columns, but also unusual is that the sanctuary is approached by a narrow staircase. These features are clearly Levantine in origin. The significance of the prow and the head of Jupiter either side of the steps is uncertain, but on related issues appear equally ambiguous figures: a river-god, a fish, and another head, possibly that of Cronus-Saturnus. Within the temple the figure of Hercules stands facing the viewer, holding the apple of the Hesperides and resting on his club, a nymph(?) wearing an unusual headdress standing to either side of him. The significance of the nymphs is uncertain, but it has been suggested that they represent Virtus and Voluptas, thus symbolizing the choice between virtue and pleasure. There are two additional types of Hadrian which seem to be related: Hercules standing in a similar pose, although alone, in a flat-roofed temple which is depicted either tetrastyle or distyle; and another showing Hercules standing beside the river-god Tibur and a ship’s prow. This last has the additional inscription HERC GADIT, which leaves no doubt as to the identity of the hero as Hercules Gaditanus. These related issues seem to mark the dedication of a temple to Hercules Gaditanus along the banks of the Tiber, but if so no archaeological evidence of the structure survives today.

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