Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 105   |   9 May 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 83





Estimate: 30'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 24'000 CHF Price realized: 45'000 CHF
Aurelian, 270 – 275. Aureus, Antioch early 273, AV 5.29 g. AVRELIA – NVS AVG Laureate and cuirassed bust r.; with lion’s skin (?) over l. shoulder. Rev. RESTITV – TOR ORIENTIS Aurelianus on prancing horse r., attacking with spear two fallen enemies, of which the one on the l. is already run through by a spear while the one on the r. covers his head in protection. C –. RIC –. Göbl pl. 138, 365 (pierced, these dies) = Estiot pl. 85, 260 (pierced, these dies, Cyzicus). Calicó 4031 (this coin). Biaggi 1563 (this coin)
Of the highest rarity, only the second and by far the finest specimen known.
A lovely portrait and a very interesting reverse type. Almost invisible
scuff on reverse, otherwise extremely fine

This coin published:

Sylviane Estiot, "L'or romain entre crise et restitution", in Journal des Savants, 1999, pp. 51-148, no. 159b.

Provenance

Leo Biaggi de Blasys (1906-1979) Collection, acquired privately in 1978 by Bank Leu and Marco Ratto.

Sold by Numismatica Ars Classica, Zürich, auction 33, 6 April 2006, lot 572.

Sold by Numismatica Genevensis SA, Geneva, auction 4, 11 December 2006, lot 238.

Aurelian, arguably the greatest of Rome’s so-called military emperors of the third century, hailed from Sirmium in Pannonia Inferior, and was either of very humble origins or possibly of equestrian stock. He joined the legions when he was around twenty years of age, ca. A.D. 235, rising rapidly through the ranks to become, first, a cavalry commander during Gallienus’ reign, and subsequently to the position of Magister equitum – cavalry commander and, effectively, the overall commander of the Roman army after the emperor – under Claudius II as well as a member of that emperor’s inner circle of advisors. While still a cavalry commander under Gallienus, Aurelian led a contingent in the Battle of Naissus (A.D. 268), which saw the Goths defeated, and participated in the siege of Mediolanum against the usurper Aureolus, during which Gallienus was assassinated and Claudius II was proclaimed the new emperor. Under Claudius II, Aurelian successfully led the cavalry in many engagements against various invading tribes along Rome’s borders in Rhaetia and in the Balkans – principle among them the Alemanni and, again, the Goths – and when Claudius succumbed to the plaque in A.D. 270 while himself campaigning against these Germanic tribes the soldiers elevated Aurelian to the purple.

Aurelian’s first task as emperor was to secure his power by defeating Quintillus, the brother of Claudius II who had been elevated to the throne by the Roman Senate. He made short shrift of the Senate’s choice, and the august body had no choice but to immediately confirm his position. With this accomplished, Aurelian set about the task of restoring the res publica, as the previous two decades had seen Rome suffer greatly from incursions of barbarian tribes, widespread instability, devastating plaques, a number of usurpers, and ultimate financial collapse, all of which eventually led to the splintering of the Empire itself. In the west the general Postumus and his successors had created a breakaway Gallic Empire consisting of the Roman provinces of Britannia, Gaul and Spain, while in the east the city of Palmyra under Queen Zenobia and her son took control of much of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt. By the time Aurelian had secured his position as emperor, the Gallic Empire was on its last legs, and Aurelian decided to wait to deal with it. Thus, in A.D. 272 he focused his attention on the Palmyrene Empire, which had recently cut off shipments of Egyptian grain to Rome, the Eternal City’s principal source of food.

Marching through Asia Minor, all but two cities – Byzantium and Tyana – opened their gates to Aurelian’s troops. At Tyana, the city authorities had refused to submit, but after capturing the city the emperor magnanimously spared its inhabitants. When other cities in the east heard of the emperor’s benevolence towards Tyana, they readily opened their gates to the emperor. Thus within six months Aurelian was before the gates of Palmyra itself, which quickly surrendered after its queen fled the city. Aurelian’s conquest over the Palmyrene Empire permitted the reinstitution of the Egyptian grain supply to the Empire’s capital, thus freeing the city of Rome from imminent starvation. The emperor was hailed Parthicus Maximus and Restitutor Orientis (”restorer of the East”).

The reverse of this exceptionally rare aureus – one of only two known – celebrates Aurelian’s victory over the East. Here Aurelian is depicted as the cavalry commander, riding astride his horse and bearing down on two enemy combatants, which he spears with his lance. The ethnicity of the enemy is made clear by the Phrygian helmets they wear – they are easterners. The legend, RESTITVTOR ORIENTIS, proclaims Aurelian as the restorer of the East, and indicates that the coin was struck shortly after the conquest of Palmyra and commemorates Rome’s victory.

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