Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 95   |   6 October 2016
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Lot 246





Estimate: 17'500 CHF   |   Starting price: 14'000 CHF Price realized: 32'000 CHF
The Roman Empire
Hadrian, 117 – 134
Aureus 121, AV 7.24 g. IMP CAES HADRIA – NVS AVG COS III Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust r. Rev. ANN ÐCCCLXXIIII NAT VRB P CIR CO – N The Genius of the Circus reclining l., head r., balancing wheel on knee with r. hand and placing l. arm around one of the turning posts of the Circus (three obelisks on a base). C 162. BMC 333 and pl. 53, 5 (these dies). RIC 144. Calicó 1200 (these dies).
Extremely rare and in unusually fine condition for this historically
important issue. Well-centred on a full flan and good very fine
Ex Hirsch XVIII, 1907, Imhoof-Blumer, 803; Glendining & Co., 20 February 1951, Ryan, 1757; Hess-Leu 15, 7 April 1960, 326 (there given an incorrect pedigree) and LHS 100, 2002, 326 sales.

This aureus commemorates games held on April 21, A.D. 121, to mark the 874th birthday of the city of Rome (natali urbis or natalis Romae dies). The games associated with the celebration took the name Parilia in honour of the deity Pales, though at some point in the 2nd Century they apparently took on the alternative title Romaia. The origins of the festival were quite rustic, with participants jumping through bonfires and purifying animals from their flocks and herds with ashes and blood dispensed by the Vestals. By Hadrian’s time it no doubt had acquired a more cosmopolitan flavour. What makes this type so unusual is the reverse inscription, for it records the year of the games with the anno urbis conditae formula. ANN ÐCCCLXXIIII NAT VRB tells us this coin was issued to celebrate what Romans considered to be the 874th birthday of their capital. The design itself refers to the games, showing a genius seated at the base of an obelisk, or meta (three metae are shown on sestertii of this type), around which he places his left arm as he steadies a wheel on his knee. The meaning of the rest of the inscription, P CIR CON, a series of three abbreviations, is not certainly known, and has been read differently by authorities. Two options include: populo circenses concessit (‘the spectacle of games in the circus at Rome given to the people’) and primum circenses constituti (‘the games of the circus were for the first time instituted to be given’). The latter reading would suggest that Hadrian took credit for some kind of renewed or revitalized version of these games; considering that in 121 he left Rome on a four-year trip to the provinces, he no doubt considered it wise to provide a spectacle in Rome before his departure.

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