Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 111   |   24 September 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 245

Estimate: 20'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 16'000 CHF Price realized: 20'000 CHF
Decentius caesar, 351 – 353. Solidus, Treveri 353, AV 3.96 g. D N DECENTI – VS FORT CAES Bare-headed, draped and cuirassed bust r. Rev. VICT AVG LIB ROM ORB Victory standing r. and Libertas standing l., supporting a trophy between them; the latter holds a sceptre in l. hand. In exergue, T R. C –. RIC –, 295 var. (DECENTIVS NOB CAES). Bastien, Magnence –. Depeyrot –.
An apparently unrecorded variety of an exceedingly rare type. A lovely
portrait of fine style, unobtrusive graze at two o’clock on obverse edge,
otherwise extremely fine / good extremely fine
On 18 January A.D. 350, Magnentius, the commander of the elite Herculian and Jovian guard units in Gaul, was acclaimed emperor by his troops in opposition to the increasingly unpopular Constans. After the assassination of Constans and the defeat of Nepotian, another scion of the house of Constantine at Rome, Magnentius ruled the Western Empire knowing that eventually he would be challenged by Constans’ brother, Constantius II, the emperor in the East. In preparation for the inevitable conflict, in the winter of A.D. 350-351 Magnentius appointed his brother, Magnus Decentius, as Caesar charged with overseeing the general defense of Gaul and holding the Rhine frontier against the Germanic tribes. Decentius fulfilled his duties from his capital at Treveri (Trier), but Magnentius’ cause was doomed. Constantius II pulled himself away from a difficult war against the Sasanian Persians, in A.D. 351, and marched west to defeat Magnentius at the Battle of Mursa Major (25 September) in Pannonia. Magnentius and the remnants of his army escaped back to northern Italy and then to Gaul to regroup. Constantius II, however, was in no hurry to pursue Magnentius, instead preferring to weaken his power in Gaul by instigating an invasion by Chnodomar, the chieftain of the Germanic Alemanni, in 352 B.C. Decentius fared poorly against this incursion and suffered several reverses before Constantius II again faced Magnentius at the Battle of Seleucus Mons (3 July, A.D. 353). The eastern emperor inflicted a crushing defeat on Magnentius who, despairing of all hope, committed suicide. Decentius only learned of these disastrous events at Senones (modern Sens) on 18 August, while marching too late to his brother’s aid. Filled with despair, Decentius hanged himself, thereby ending the revolt of Magnentius and leaving Constantius II to reunite the western and eastern provinces under a single emperor. This impressive and apparently unrecorded solidus was struck at Treveri in A.D. 353, probably as part of a donative intended to shore up the flagging loyalty of the army on the eve of Magnentius’ final showdown with Constantius II. Like that of Magnentius on his coins, the obverse portrait of Decentius wears no imperial diadem because he was never recognised as a co-ruler by Constantius II, unlike the contemporary Pannonian usurper, Vetranio. It is unclear whether the use of bare-headed portraits by Magnentius and Decentius was also a conscious means of distinguishing these pagan rulers from the Christian Constantius II. The reverse type advertises the hoped-for victory over Constantius II that never came. The Victory of the Augustus (Magnentius) stands on the left while the Libertas (Liberty) of the Roman People stands on the right, together holding a trophy of arms. The message here is very clear: the victory of Magnentius over Constantius II would preserve the freedom of the Roman Empire from the real and perceived political and religious abuses of the house of Constantine—a beautiful, golden, pipe-dream.

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