Aurelian, 270 – 275. Aureus, Cyzicus early 272, AV 4.84 g. AVRELIAN – VS AVG Laureate and cuirassed bust r., with slight drapery on l. shoulder. Rev. P M TR P COS P – P Radiate lion leaping l., holding thunderbolt in its jaws. C –. RIC 159 (Siscia). Göbl Aurelianus, 129An2 and pl. 75 (Roma, this reverse die). CBN p. 416 and pl. 85, 259 (this reverse die). Calicó 4022 (this coin).
Estimate: 25'000 CHF
Starting price: 20'000 CHF
Price realized: 67'500 CHF
Extremely rare and possibly the finest specimen known. An important and interesting
issue with a spectacular reverse type. Virtually as struck and almost Fdc
Sold by Anton Tkalec AG, Zürich, auction 19 February 2001, lot 357 (reverse illustrated on the catalogue front cover).
Sold by Numismatica Genevensis SA, Geneva, auction 4, 11 December 2006, lot 219.
This magnificent aureus was struck in AD 271-272 in relation to Aurelian’s war to win back the eastern provinces of the Empire that had fallen under the sway of Palmyra and its queen, Zenobia. The East had long been a source of political and military problems in the third century thanks to the ever present neighboring Sasanian Empire of Persia, but a new and acute crisis began in AD 270, when the Palmyrene queen took control of the eastern Roman provinces and even seized Egypt, the breadbasket of Rome. Zenobia began to cut the grain supply to the imperial capital, leaving Aurelian with little choice but to mount a campaign against Zenobia’s so-called Palmyrene Empire.
Aurelian reconquered most of Asia Minor with ease, but the cities of Byzantium and Tyana still held out for Zenobia. Normally this obstinacy would have guaranteed the destruction of the cities — the Roman emperor was not in the habit of accepting opposition — but during the siege of Tyana, Aurelian had a vision of the first century AD philosopher and miracle-worker, Apollonius of Tyana. In the vision, Apollonius warned him to abstain from the blood of innocents if he wished to rule and further advised that he could better conquer through mercy. The emperor heeded this advice and spared Tyana. When other cities that remained in Palmyrene hands realized that they would not be punished for going over to Zenobia the majority surrendered to Aurelian’s authority. Within six months, the emperor had recovered the East and had Zenobia cornered in Palmyra. She attempted to flee, but was captured and brought back to Rome where she walked in Aurelian’s triumphal procession bound with golden chains.
The composite reverse type depicting a radiate lion carrying the thunderbolt of Jupiter had become an established emblem of grand eastern campaigns by the time of Aurelian. This is a little ironic since it was first used by Caracalla in AD 216 to advertise his campaign against the Parthian Empire, which actually ended with his assassination by one of his own soldiers and a humiliating peace settlement made by his successor, Macrinus. Nevertheless, the peculiar type had an appeal, and was reused by Philip I, Philip II, and Gallienus in the context of their own eastern wars before Aurelian took it up, and even lived on after Aurelian to be employed on coins of Probus as well.