Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 111   |   24 September 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 163

Estimate: 50'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 40'000 CHF Price realized: 65'000 CHF
Vitellius, 2nd January – 20th December 69 (recognised Emperor in Rome on 19th April). Aureus April-December 69, AV 7.10 g. A VITELLIVS GERMAN IMP TR P Laureate head r. Rev. LIBERTAS – RESTITVTA  Libertas standing facing, head r., holding pileus in r. hand and long rod in l.  C –, cf. 48 (denarius).  BMC –, cf. 13 (denarius).  RIC 80.  CBN –, cf. 41 (denarius).  Calicó 563.
Extremely rare and possibly the finest specimen known of this intriguing type.
A bold portrait of fine style and a symbolic reverse type. Extremely fine
Ex Hirsch XX, 1907, Hoskier, 540; Schulman 4-8 March 1923, Vierordt, 964 and NFA-Leu 16-18 May 1984, Garrett, 751 sales. From the Collection of a Retired Banker.
Following the outbreak of a major revolt in Gallia Lugdunensis and plotting among the Praetorian Guard, Nero fled Rome and committed suicide on June 9, A.D. 68. His death ushered in the tumultuous Year of the Four Emperors (A.D. 69), which saw the Roman Empire torn by civil war and the ephemeral reigns of three emperors in quick succession, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, before the assumption of power by Vespasian and the restoration of stability under the Flavian dynasty. On January 1, A.D. 69, the Rhine legions refused to renew their vows to Galba and instead chose to proclaim Vitellius, the governor of Germania Inferior, as their emperor. At Rome, these developments threw Galba into a panic. In an attempt to strengthen his position, he named L. Calpurnius Piso Licinianus, a young senator with a spotless reputation, to be his successor. This act came as a complete shock to the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, M. Salvius Otho, who had expected to be adopted as Galba’s successor. The disillusioned Otho then turned on Galba, plotting with the Praetorian Guard to encompass his brutal murder of the emperor and the hapless Licinianus on January 15, A.D. 69. The Senate recognised Otho as the new emperor on the same day. He had managed to succeed to the throne even without the blessing of Galba. Meanwhile, Vitellius was marshalling his forces in Germania to march on Rome, where he thought he would face Galba. By the spring his army was on the move and growing in size as it attracted the support of the legions in Gaul and Raetia. On April 14, A.D. 69, Otho’s forces marched north to meet the Vitellian army between Bedriacum and Cremona. Although the Othonians were successful in several minor early engagements, Vitellius defeated them when they attempted to press their advantage before all of Otho’s legions had arrived. This defeat in the First Battle of Bedriacum caused Otho to give up hope (probably prematurely) and commit suicide, thereby leaving Rome to Vitellius. Vitellius was duly recognised by the Senate, and he appears to have taken his administrative duties seriously. The present aureus advertises his reign as the restoration of liberty to Rome. However, there were at least some who found Vitellius rather more of a libertarian than a restorer of liberty. His detractors claim that he enjoyed banquets four times a day, which put a great financial strain on the Roman elite, since they were required to feed the emperor at their houses. He also had a proclivity for executing his political enemies and a great fear of prophecy and astrology. Vitellius reportedly starved his own mother to death in order to fulfil a prophecy that he would rule longer if his mother died before him. He also expelled the astrologers from Rome out of fear that they might predict an unhappy and early end to his reign. As it turned out, he had good reason to fear. Doom was coming for him. On July 1, A.D. 69, the eastern legions proclaimed Vespasian as rival emperor and were soon joined by the armies of Raetia, Moesia, Illyricum, and Pannonia. The Danubian legions supporting Vespasian began a march on Rome that culminated in a Second Battle of Bedriacum on October 24, A.D. 69. Despite the strength of the opposing Vitellian forces, they lost heart and were defeated after the death of their commander and the mistaken belief that reinforcements from Vespasian were drawing near. When Vitellius learned of this disaster, he offered to abdicate in an attempt to save his life, but it was too late. On December 22, A.D. 69, he was captured and executed. Rome was Vespasian’s.

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