Featured A Beautifully Toned Liberalitas... but What is she Holding?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Curtisimo, Oct 20, 2021.

  1. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish)

    Roman Empire
    Severus Alexander
    AR Denarius, Antioch mint, struck AD 223
    Dia.: 18.38 mm
    Wt.: 3.20 g
    Obv.: IMP C M AVR SEV ALEXAND AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right
    Rev.: LIBERALITAS AVG, Liberalitas standing left, holding counting board and cornucopia
    Ref.: RIC IV 281 Antioch
    Ex Phil Peck (aka Morris Collection) with collectors envelope, ex private purchase from Herb Kreindler (Jan. 2005)

    When I first saw the Liberalitas type I really wanted an example because I thought that the object that Liberalitas was holding in her right hand was an abacus. In fact, this is what the authors of RIC (1938) noted it to be as well. As an engineer and a math enthusiasts, having an abacus on one of my coins appealed to me. My assumption was that an abacus might have been used in some way in the calculations that went into the emperor distributing money to the people (a congiarium). This would have made it a great attribute for Liberalitas (the spirit of generosity).

    However, during my research on the type, I read a great thread started by @Roman Collector that led me to doubt the abacus attribution. I encourage everyone to read that thread for background on the Liberalitas type and how it relates to the congiarium.

    After reading up on the topic more I am now convinced that the object that Liberalitas is holding is a coin counting and distribution device whose Latin name we do not know.

    The Imperial Congiarium
    The actual act of distributing money to the people is shown on the reverse of coins starting with Nero [1]. During the reign of Hadrian the Liberalitas type was introduced in addition, presumably as artistic shorthand for the same scene. Outside of coins there is only one other ancient work of art that shows the congiarium: the Arch of Constantine. The arch was dedicated in AD 315 and a relief above one of the arches is the clearest evidence available for what the object held by Liberalitas is and how it was used.

    Arch of Constantine as seen from the Colosseum, looking back towards the forum. The relief in question is located above the small arch on the right of the photo. (Author’s photo)

    Top left: Congiarium scene showing Constantine distributing coins to the people of Rome. The emperor sits in the center of the scene. On the top of the relief on either side of the emperor we see part of a scene where officials document the gifts at what is probably meant to represent multiple stations for the distribution. Top right: Here we can clearly see Constantine holding the counting board over the outstretched toga of a citizen. Small circular objects are falling from the board. These are clearly meant to represent coins. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia) Bottom: close up view of the counting board being held by Liberalitas (Author’s photo)

    As is clearly demonstrated above the device was used to count out the correct number of coins and possibly to verify to all present that none were being discreetly pocketed by the distributor. The citizen received the coins by approaching the distributor and extending the sinus of his toga so that the distributor could dump the coins straight from the counting board into his toga. In the central scene we see the emperor doing this himself but it was overwhelmingly likely that this function was carried out by multiple people at multiple stations as suggested by the relief.

    Parts of the Roman Toga as seen on this statue of Augustus in National Roman Museum in Rome, Italy. This Sinus portion of the toga was used by the citizen to receive coins during the congiarium (Author's photo)

    I highly recommend everyone to read the article by Beckmann that I link to below for a fuller discussion of the subject. Beckmann postulates, that the denarius was the primary coin gifted during the congiarium and that most of the distributions throughout the imperial period were 100 denarii per person or less. This could have been achieved with a counting board with dimensions of 12” x 12” square.

    Notes on the Coin
    This coin came with the below envelope. On the back is written “Harl 1/05” (At least I think it says Harl, it could be Herb or Herl?). I assume this gives a date if January 2005. This looks like it might be a dealer envelope. Does anyone recognize it?

    This coin was struck in the east (Antioch) and has a pleasant style to my mind. This is my second Severus Alexander denarius struck in Antioch. My other is shown below for comparison of style.
    Roman Empire
    Severus Alexander
    AR Denarius, Antioch mint, struck ca. AD 222-235
    Dia.: 18 mm
    Wt.: 3.35 g
    Obv.: IMP C AVR ALEXAND AVG; Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right
    Rev.: PROVID DEORVM; Providentia standing left, holding wand over globe and sceptre
    Ref.: RIC 294
    Ex arnoldoe Collection, Ex Otto Helbing Nachfolger 86, Lot 1585 (Nov. 25, 1942)

    Bust of Severus Alexander in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy (Author's photo)

    As stated above this coin is noted as being struck at Antioch. I find it interesting that a coin type commemorating a gift of money would be struck outside of Rome. Does this imply that money was distributed in Antioch and other large imperial cities? Could this be a case of the eastern mint simply copying the Roman mint types or was this perhaps part of a gift of money to the legions stationed in the east by the emperor? Anyone have any thoughts on this?

    [1] Beckmann, Martin. “The Function of the Attribute of Liberalitas and Its Use in the Congiarium.” American Journal of Numismatics (1989-), vol. 27, American Numismatic Society, 2015, pp. 189–98, https://www.jstor.org/stable/90017068.



    Please post your
    • Liberalitas types
    • Coins of Severus Alexander
    • Eastern mint denarii
    • Colorfully toned denarii
    • Anything else you feel is relevant
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2021
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  3. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    very enlightening write up and very nice coin @Curtisimo !..it inspired me to take this photo of me own counting board piece & recall how i found out about it...:) IMG_0744.JPG IMG_0745.JPG Clodius Gothicus(268-270 AD) Ae antoninianus with Libertas reverse holding counting board and cornucopia 18+mm, 3.13gms
  4. John Anthony

    John Anthony Ultracrepidarian Supporter

    She's taking a selfie.
  5. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Well-Known Member

    Great thread! And thanks for the kind words.

    Here's Liberalitas on an eastern mint Domna denarius. It's new since my 2018 post.

    Julia Domna, AD 193-217.
    Roman AR denarius, 2.94 g, 19 mm, 12 h.
    Uncertain eastern mint, AD 193-196.
    Obv: IVLIA DOMNA AVG, bare-headed and draped bust of Julia Domna, right.
    Rev: LIBERAL AVG, Liberalitas, draped, standing left, holding tessera in right hand and cornucopiae in left.
    Refs: RIC 627; BMCRE 418-419; Cohen/RSC 103; RCV 6591; CRE 366.
  6. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status

    I'll go with the coin counter idea. Not so much due to any convincing argument. I just like coins:happy:
    And what a beauty you've got right there my friend:cigar::woot: LOVE that toning:kiss:
    Sadly, even the goddess of freedom couldn't save this emperor...
    (193 AD). AR Denarius. Obv. Head right, laureate. Rev. Liberalitas standing left, holding abacus and cornucopiae. RIC IV 5. AR. 2.43 g. 17.00 mm. RR. A rare type. Toned. A minor flan crack. Very slight test cut on the reverse. F. Purchased Artemide March 2021
  7. LaCointessa

    LaCointessa Supporter! Supporter

    Beautiful coin, @Curtisimo and a wonderful write up. I learned many interesting things.
    Deacon Ray, DonnaML and Curtisimo like this.
  8. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    As you suggested, a coin of Severus Alexander:

    Orichalcum sestertius, VICTORIA AVGVSTI type:


  9. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    Curtis, Of course she is holding an abacus :D. My sestertius of Gordian III has the same reverse design ;).

    Gordian III, RIC IV.III 269a.jpg
    Gordian III, AD 238-244 (struck AD 239). Rome Mint. AE Sestertius: 31 mm, 20.63 gm, 11 h. RIC IV.III 269a.
  10. Shea19

    Shea19 Well-Known Member

    Great coin and very interesting write-up as usual…and I love that toning!

    I can share a new Sev Alexander denarius that just arrived a few weeks ago:

    Severus Alexander. A.D. 222-235. AR denarius (20.6 mm, 3.18 g). Rome mint, struck A.D. 232. IMP ALEXANDER PIVS AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Severus Alexander right / IOVI PROPVGNATORI, Jupiter standing right, hurling thunderbolt and holding eagle. RIC 238

    And believe it or not, I recognized that envelope because I also actually have a mystery envelope which I think must have come from the same dealer…it was included with a coin I bought from a different seller. I was never was able to figure out who it came from. Hopefully we’ll both get an answer :)

    Last edited: Oct 20, 2021
  11. curtislclay

    curtislclay Well-Known Member

    The envelopes are from the collector Phil Peck, an old friend of mine whose large and important collection of Roman Imperial and other coins was dispersed by Heritage several years ago in a couple of their sales, using the pseudonym "Morris Collection". "Herb" is the source of Curtisimo's coin: Herb Kreindler, a dealer who used to serve as auctioneer at CNG's Triton sales. The Eastern Liberalitas type was just copied from Rome; that is where the numbered series of distributions of cash to the Roman populace took place.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2021
  12. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    when i see that word i hear.... abacab.jpg
  13. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    My offering is just a bit different. The reverse figure is Liberalitas with the coin counter but the legend is LIBERTAS AVG. The die cutter was not primarily a Latin speaker. The obverse reads IMP C M AVR SEV ALEXAND. At the point of the bust there might be an A merging with the drape or that fold might just be a fold. If there ever was an AVG on the coin, it is now lost. The style strikes me as Eastern in spirit but does not match up with the standard Eastern coins of Severus Alexander so the coin seems more likely unofficial. Has anyone seen one like this (other than on my website where it made the list of my top 99 1/2 as of that date)? I got it from Jonathan Kern in 1993. Back then he often had large bags of denarii that were only sorted by price. I really miss that way of buying coins. I prefer to ID and decipher coins myself.
  14. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    Very cool! I thought he was holding a standard of some sort, like this one:
    Trajan Decius AE27 Moushmov Dacia 10 (2020_11_18 03_38_31 UTC).JPG
  15. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    Great article! I learned many new things :)

    I don’t have any Liberalitas types, or coins of Severus Alexander, or Eastern Mint denarii (Would a Byzantine solidus from the time of Justinian the Great and minted in Constantinople count?), but I do have what I think is a beautifully toned Hadrian denarius. I like that it’s bright around his bust like it’s framing and highlighting his image and then the coin is toned other colors on the edges like a colorful background behind him.


    It was also my very first denarius purchase so it will always be special to me. I specifically picked Hadrian first because the first Roman monument I ever saw with my own eyes that really impressed me was Hadrian’s Wall.

    Seeing it with my own eyes and physically being there gave me a sort of visual/historical connection with Hadrian on a personal level.

    This is just a small (and ruined) part of it. I imagined being a Roman legionary under his rule stationed there. Looking into the vast expanse of the unknown. Not knowing what lie beyond the wall. It actually inspired George Martin and he based “The Wall” in Game of Thrones on it. All a Roman legionary knew was that there were “savage people” there. Basically the Roman map might as well have put “thar’ be dragons”. Seeing it with my own eyes gave me a visual connection with Hadrian and really inspired me to learn more about Ancient Rome.

    I still like Marcus Aurelius better though. He’s my boy! xD.

    I’ll just always have a connection with Hadrian by seeing his wall and that is why I picked him for my first Emperor in my 1st-3rd century Emperor’s denarius collection.

    Note: The pictures were taken by HA but it is my coin. I am using their picture instead of one of my own because I have difficulty showing the toning on it when I take pictures of it with my phone. It just comes out looking super dark. I like HAs photos better because they show in the picture how it looks under bright light and I think it looks beautiful.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2021
    Marsden, Orielensis, Limes and 13 others like this.
  16. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    No Liberalitas as of yet, and only two Severus Alexanders -- one FIDES MILITVM and one MARS VLTOR:

    Severus Alexander jpg version.jpg

    Severus alexander Mars Ultor denarius.jpg
  17. Ryro

    Ryro Trying to remove supporter status

    Might as well share my other Liberalitas while we are looking at these as in conjunction with @Roman Collector 's wonderful image of her, she unequivocally shows the item in question to be...
    Philip I
    A.D. 244-249. AR antoninianus Rome, A.D. 245. IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust of Philip I right / LIBERALITAS AVG II, Liberalitas standing facing, head left, holding abacus (Connect Four;)) and cornucopiae. RIC 38b; RSC 87.


  18. Gam3rBlake

    Gam3rBlake Well-Known Member

    I really like the reverse of the bottom one! Mars looks awesome! It’s like he’s trying to emphasize his military strength and leadership.
    LaCointessa, Curtisimo and DonnaML like this.
  19. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Very nice coin, and informative, enjoyable write-up, @Curtisimo. I don't have any Liberalitas silver for Severus Alexander, but I do have two bronzes (one of them with a shaky attribution; the reverse on the as is very worn):

    Severus Alex. - As Liberalitas RIC 569 Feb 2020 (0).jpg
    Severus Alexander Æ As
    (c. 222-231 A.D.)
    Rome Mint

    IMP CAES M AVR SEV ALEX[ANDER AVG] laureate, draped, bust right / LIBERALITAS AVGVST SC, Liberalitas standing left, holding coin counter and cornucopiae.
    RIC 569.
    (14.70 grams / 27 x 25 mm)
    eBay Feb. 2020

    Severus Alexander Sest Liberalitas May 2019 (0).jpg
    Severus Alexander Æ Sestertius
    (229 A.D.)
    Rome Mint

    IMP SEV ALEXANDER AVG, laureate head right, draped left shoulder / LIBERALITAS
    AVGVSTI IIII, S-C, Liberalitas standing left, holding counter and cornucopiae.
    RIC 575; Cohen 136; BMC 561.
    (14.33 grams / 28 mm)
    eBay May 2019

    I should take photos of these side-by-side - they are almost exactly the same size:

    As: (14.70 grams / 27 x 25 mm)
    Sestertius: (14.33 grams / 28 mm)

    The only reason I am calling the top one an as is because the die appears to be considerably smaller, if on a large flan. There are threads out there about the "big as" Severus Alexander bronzes.
  20. ambr0zie

    ambr0zie Dacian Taraboste

    How about a Liberalitas with a cornucopiae full of coins?

    Antoninus Pius AD 138-161. Rome Denarius AR 19 mm., 2,64 g
    RIC III Antoninus Pius 234
    Date Range: AD 153 - AD 154
    Type: Head of Antoninus Pius, laureate, right
    Type: Liberalitas, draped, standing left, emptying coins out of cornucopiae, held in both hands
  21. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Well-Known Member

    Another great thread illustrated with a great coin.

    No Liberalitas here, but a few SevAl





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