Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 106 Part I   |   9 - 10 May 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 519

Estimate: 350'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 280'000 CHF Price realized: 450'000 CHF
Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus. Aureus, mint moving with Ahenobarbus in 41 BC, AV 8.00 g. AHENOBAR Bare male head (Ahenobarbus ?) r. Rev. CN·DOMITIVS·L·F IMP Tetrastyle temple; in upper field, NE – PT. Babelon Domitia 1. Bahrfeldt 68 (this obverse die). Sydenham 1176. Kent-Hirmer pl. 27-28, 100 (this obverse die). Sear Imperators 338. Calicó 69 (these dies). RBW –. Crawford 519/1.
Exceedingly rare, only twelve specimens known and only the fifth in private hands.
One of the rarest and most difficult issues of the entire Roman gold series. A realistic
portrait struck on a very broad flan. About extremely fine / extremely fine

From a Swiss private collection formed between 1950 and 1980.

This aureus ranks high amongst the prizes of Roman numismatics. Its remarkable portrait has been the subject of much debate, especially since it is different from the one on denarii issued at the same time by Ahenobarbus, the man who unwittingly was the great-grandfather of the emperor Nero. Here we have a fleshy, indulgent, almost Vitellian portrait that is filled with character and individuality. On the denarii we have a portrait of a thin man that is stiff and noticeably stylised. The difference in the engraving quality may be due to the fact that a better artist worked on the aureus dies, but it is more likely that the denarius portrait was meant to represent an ancestor and that the aureus portrait is of the imperator himself. On both issues the name AHENOBAR appears alone on the obverse, and his title is relegated to the reverse. To many scholars this suggests that both portraits are of Ahenobarbus' ancestors, but that argument is not conclusive. Had Ahenobarbus placed his portrait on one of the issues, the aureus would have been a good choice since it circulated amongst the most influential members of his retinue. The temple of Neptune on the reverse may help narrow the portrait down to two men in the family who either built or restored such a temple. Most agree it is the Aedes Neptuni, the temple of Neptune on the Campus Martius, but some consider it to be one attributed to Domitius Ahenobarbus, who was consul in 192 B.C., and others favor the temple that the coin-issuing Ahenobarbus vowed between 42 and 38 B.C. (and seems to have realised in 32, when he was consul). Philip Hill considers the temple to have "...every appearance of being a 'blueprint' rather than representing a building which had been in existence for more than a century and a half." He notes that the actual temple was hexastyle – having six columns on its façade – rather than tetrastyle, as it is shown on the coin. If the temple is the one attributable to the coin- issuing Ahenobarbus, then we might rightly describe the portrait as that of the imperator himself.

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