The Roman Empire
Estimate: 12'500 CHF
Starting price: 10'000 CHF
Price realized: 23'000 CHF
Hadrian, 117 – 134
Aureus 132-134, AV 7.15 g. HADRIANVS – AVGVSTVS Bare youthful head r., drapery on l. shoulder. Rev. COS – III P P Hadrian standing l., raising r. hand and holding spear; two standards on l. and one on r. C 485. BMC 530 (this obverse die). RIC 204b (this obverse die). Mazzini 485v (this coin). Jameson 103 (this coin). Calicó 1239 (these dies).
Very rare and in exceptional condition for the issue. An unusual and interesting
portrait, a trace of edge filing, otherwise about extremely fine
Ex Rollin & Feuardent 26-27 May 1909, Sir Arthur Evans, 105; NAC I, 1999, 1925 and Triton VII, 2004, 971 sales. From the Mazzini and Jameson collections.
When Hadrian became emperor he exhibited a shocking new feature for an emperor: a beard. This was a novelty among the noblemen of Rome, who had been clean-shaven for centuries; beards were for Romans of low status, or for Greeks – especially philosophers and poets. Despite having to overcome centuries of tradition, Hadrian's Greek bearing took hold immediately, and beards remained the fashion for emperors through the fall of the Tetrarchy. Virtually all of Hadrian's portraits show a middle-aged man with a full, closely cropped beard. However, on this aureus we observe a separate category of portrait: a youthful Hadrian with a partial beard that culminates into two tufts of hair at his jaw line which was described by Mattingly and Sydenham as a portrait of "exceptional beauty and distinction". This type has long puzzled scholars, and there has been no general acknowledgment of when or why it was employed. This may be explained by the methods used to date and arrange the coins of Hadrian: there are very few chronological guideposts in his coin inscriptions, so scholars have had to rely on the evolution of inscription formats and the styles of the portraits. This approach has yielded useful conclusions, though seemingly at the expense of a clear understanding of this portrait style. In recent decades this type has been recognized as a distinct category of Hadrianic portraiture. Comparison with sculptures in the round has identified it as Hadrian in the guise of Diomedes, the Trojan War hero who stole the Palladium from Troy, and thus assured a Greek victory in the epic siege. The Palladium reportedly was taken to Italy, either by the Trojan prince Aeneas or by Diomedes, who by one tradition returned it to Aeneas in Italy. The episode had numerous versions by Hadrian’s time, but it was a core of the Roman foundation myth and thus was a perfect marriage of this emperor's infatuation with Greece and his dedication to Rome. Hill was probably correct when he described this aureus as having been struck by Antoninus Pius in 138, shortly after Hadrian's death. Most scholars, however, have seen it as a lifetime issue struck c. 132-135. The main problem is that this portrait type is utilized principally (or exclusively) with three different obverse inscriptions and four reverse types (and some of these reverse types are also paired with normal busts). Thus, conventional wisdom would disperse these few coins with the Diomedes portrait into different phases of Hadrian's coinage. But their great rarity and unique character argues for a separate treatment. We must also take into account that the other three reverse types used with this bust comprise a retrospective coinage that focuses on the divine parentage of Hadrian and of Rome. They are: ROMVLO CONDITORI ('Romulus the founder), Romulus striding r.; VENERI GENETRICI ('Venus who brings forth') Venus standing; and DIVIS PARENTIBVS ('to his parent deities), busts of Trajan and Plotina. All considered, it seems that the Diomedes-portrait aurei probably were all struck contemporarily, perhaps soon after Hadrian's death as a special issue that, for reasons that remain a mystery, employed different inscriptions and reverse types. The other option is to categorize the Diomedes-portrait aurei by other dating criteria, which would seemingly eliminate any special occasion for the use of this distinctive portrait type.