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Of the highest rarity, apparently only three specimens known and one of the finest
aurei of Macrinus in existence. A spectacular portrait in the finest style of the
period and a magnificent and finely-detailed reverse composition.
Virtually as struck and Fdc
E. Collection, sold by J. Hirsch, Munich, auction XXXIV, 5 May 1914, lot 1310, to Virgil Michael Brand (1861/62-1926).
Hall Park McCullough (1872-1966) Collection, sold by Stack’s, New York, 20-22 November 1967, lot 917, to Bank Leu.
Sold by Bank Leu, Zürich, auction 50, 25 April 1990, lot 340.
John Whitney Walter (1934-2018) Collection, sold by Stack’s & H.J. Berk, New York, 29 November 1990, lot 73.
Privately sold by Harlan J. Berk in January 2007.
Macrinus, who was of Berber origin, was Rome’s first emperor of equestrian background and was Rome’s only emperor to hail from Mauretania. He was a prominent jurist and bureaucrat, such that when Caracalla ascended the throne upon the death of Septimius Severus he made Macrinus his praetorian prefect. As commander of the imperial bodyguard, Macrinus was with the emperor in the East during Caracalla’s preparations for his planned invasion of Parthia, and it was at Macrinus’ instigation that Caracalla was assassinated by one of his own soldiers, Justin Martialis.
After Caracalla’s murder, Macrinus proclaimed himself emperor, assuming the titles and powers that came with the position of supreme leadership without awaiting confirmation from the Senate in Rome. This along with his less than noble origins (all previous emperors had hailed from the senatorial class) did not especially endear him to the Roman Senate. Furthermore, unlike his predecessor, Macrinus was more circumspect with the imperial finances. Where Caracalla had increased the soldiers’ yearly pay from 2000 to 3000 sestertii, Macrinus decreed that any newly recruited soldiers would receive the salary that had existed before the increase. This is understandable given the dire situation of the State’s finances, and was an absolute necessity given that Caracalla’s expensive military campaigns had all but depleted the state’s coffers. The veteran soldiers, however, saw this as the precursor to their own eventual reduction in pay and privileges, and when the opportunity presented they revolted.
That opportunity came because Macrinus had made the mistake of freeing the extended family of Caracalla, allowing them to return to their hometown of Emesa. Still based at Antioch – Macrinus never had the opportunity to visit Rome after becoming emperor – his safety became jeopardized when the scheming aunt of Caracalla, Julia Maesa, used her vast wealth to secure the allegiance of the soldiers or the legio III Gallica, who were stationed at nearby Raphanea. They proclaimed Maesa’s 14 year-old grandson, Elagabal, emperor, and the boy’s tutor led the troops to engage Macrinus who fled the field of battle and was soon captured and executed.
This splendid aureus of Macrinus, which once belonged to the famous historian of early Christian art, Raffaele Garrucci, sports a handsome portrait of the emperor and a finely detailed figure of Victory. It was struck at the very end of Macrinus’ short year-long reign, probably sometime between April and early June of A.D. 218. The representation of Victory holding an open diadem as opposed to a tied wreath had a long history in Roman numismatics, and can even be found on earlier Greek issues such as the tetradrachms of Syracuse where she is sometimes depicted holding an open diadem above either the horses of the quadriga or the charioteer. Although the legend declares a victory over the Parthians, it was only a victory of diplomacy as Macrinus had concluded Caracalla’s war with Parthia by the expedient means of buying peace through a large indemnity paid to the Parthian king, Artabanos V.