Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 111   |   24 September 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 161

Estimate: 40'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 32'000 CHF Price realized: 35'000 CHF
Nero augustus, 54 – 68. Aureus October-December 54, AV 7.62 g. AGRIPP AVG DIVI CLAVD NERONIS [CAES MATER] Confronted busts of Nero, bare-headed r., and Agrippina Minor, draped l.; in l. field, corn grain. Rev. NERONI CLAVD DIVI F CAES AVG GERM IMP TR P around oak wreath, enclosing EX S C. C 6 var. (no corn grain). BMC 2 (these dies). RIC 3. CBN 4 var. (no corn grain). Calicó 400 (this obverse die).
Very rare and in exceptional condition for the issue, among the finest specimens known.
Two marvellous portraits of fine style perfectly struck in high relief. An unobtrusive
edge nick at nine o’clock on reverse and almost invisible marks on reverse field,
otherwise good extremely fine
Ex NAC 46, 2008, 510 and NAC 64, 2012, 1115 sales. From the Collection of a Retired Banker.
Nero’s most interesting precious metal coinages are his first three. The first two, struck from October 12 to December 3 54, depict either the head of deified Claudius or the confronted busts of Nero and his mother Agrippina. These are replaced with his third issue, which shows the jugate busts of Nero and his mother. All of the precious metal issues Nero struck thereafter (December 4, 55 onward) bear only his portrait. This particular aureus is an important rarity because of the small object – either a grain kernel or a laurel leaf – behind Nero’s bust. Thus far, only three or four dies with this feature, all used for aurei, have been noted: one for the confronted bust, one or two for the Divus Claudius, and one for the jugate bust. All of the ‘marked’ aurei are significant rarities: perhaps six of the confronted bust aurei, including this piece, are known, and the variant is noted in RIC; perhaps three of the Divus Claudius issues are known (though they were essentially unrecognised until von Kaenel’s 1986 corpus), and only two of the jugate bust issues are known (similarly unrecognised until published by Curtis L. Clay in the 1982 Numismatische Zeitschrift). Considering these ‘marked’ coins are unusual in character and represent only a tiny percentage of the output, we can say they have no parallel on contemporary coinages. Furthermore, since the feature occurs on all three issues, it justifies a second look at the proposed chronologies: perhaps all of the marked pieces belong to late 54? Both the identification and the significance of the object are unknown. If a laurel leaf, it would probably note the bestowal of honours on Nero or would signify the funerary games Nero held for Claudius. More likely, however, the object is a kernel of grain, in which case it likely refers to a grain donative. Ancient sources reveal that Nero not only matched Claudius by paying each rank-and-file praetorian guard an accession bonus of 150 aurei (Suet. Claud. 10.2; Tacitus, Annals, XII, 69, 1-3), but that he added to this “…a free monthly issue of grain” (Suet. Nero 10). Perhaps the bonuses due to the praetorian guardsmen were paid with these aurei marked with the grain kernel to signify their additional bonus of grain. If we consider the comparative rarity of these coins, the fact that ‘marking’ dies in this manner was unprecedented, and that the marking occurs only on aurei, the scenario described above seems at least plausible.

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