A Couple of Fine Style Sestertii

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Curtisimo, Jan 15, 2021.

  1. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    This thread is going to be a double header... literally! I have quietly and somewhat unintentionally (until recently) been building up a respectable collection of Sestertii of the Nerva-Antonine dynasty. My two newest are among my favorites and are both of great style. I hope you will all enjoy reading about a couple of Sestertii of this ancient couple (see what I did there :D).

    The first marvelous coin came to me via a Saturnalia exchange with @Theodosius . It was a fast favorite in my Nerva Antonine collection! The second coin’s purchase was partially inspired by some of the very realistic portraits posted by @Severus Alexander and others of figures of this period. Just goes to show how CoinTalk is an influence for my collecting in the best kind of way. ;)

    Marcus Aurelius Celebrates a Decade of Favor with the gods
    Marcus Aurelius, AD 161-180
    Æ Sestertius, Rome mint, struck AD 170-171.
    Dia.: 32 mm
    Wt.: 25.1 g
    Obv.: IMP M ANTONINVS AVG TR P XXV; Laureate head right.
    Rev.: PRIMI/DECEN/NALES/COS III/SC within wreath.
    Reference: RIC III 1006. Scarce.
    Ex Theodosius Collection, Ex Sallent Collection, ex-JAZ Numismatics.

    Every emperor wanted a long reign full of prosperity and good fortune. However, when you already hold the most powerful position in the world who is there left to ask for such things? The Roman gods of course!

    When an emperor came to power one of the things they did was offer a Votum (or plural Vota) to the gods asking for good fortune in those things to which they themselves had little to no control. It was common to ask for certain favors in increments of 10 years (Vota X). If all went well the emperor would then make additional offerings at the end of this 10 year period and renew his Vota for the next 10. This was sort of like an “I’ll pay you half now and half on delivery” type of arrangement between the gods and the emperor.

    I took this photo at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. The scene shows Marcus Aurelius making a sacrifice on the Capitoline Hill in front of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus. In my research I was not able to find the specific context for this sacrifice scene but it would not be out of place as a Vota scene. (Author’s photo)

    In addition to the vows and offerings the emperor made to the gods there was an expectation that the Roman people were to perform offerings and vows on behalf of the emperor at the same time. Many of the members of the Roman bureaucracy were expected to do this in an official and public capacity. And what better way is there to motivate your people to make vows on your behalf than to entertain them with public games?

    That is where this very interesting reverse type comes in. It announces / commemorates the decannalian games put on by the emperor in connection to the fulfilling and renewing of his 10 year Vota (vows) to the gods. In the case of Marcus Aurelius this happened in the year AD 171. This coin announces the “PRIMI DECANNALES” which translates as the “first decannalian games.” Thus these were the first such games held under Marcus Aurelius and also had the added benefit of marking his 10 year anniversary as emperor.

    This is possibly the most famous building in the world so it needs no introduction. Undoubtedly, many of the events of the Decennalian Games of AD 171 took place within the Colosseum. I took this photo from the top tier of the structure which had only just recently opened to the public by appointment when I took this photo. It offers some of the best views of the building and its surroundings but ironically would have been the least desirable place from which to watch the games. (Author’s photo)

    More views of the Colosseum from my visit. Left: view from the level where the gladiators fought. Right: view from the underground section below the arena where the wild animals were sometimes kept. (Author’s photos)

    This is the ruins of the Circus Maximus as viewed from the Palatine Hill. This is another location which certainly would have hosted events associated with the AD 171 games. (Author’s photo)

    Photos from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence showing a bust of Marcus Aurelius. (Author’s photos)

    Faustina II: A Family Resemblance?
    Roman Empire
    Faustina II, daughter of Antoninus Pius and wife of Marcus Aurelius
    AE Sestertius, Rome mint, struck ca. AD 147-156
    Dia.: 33mm
    Wt.: 26.11g
    Obv.: FAVSTINA AVGVSTA AVG PII F; Draped bust right
    Rev.: S-C; Diana standing left, holding bow and arrow
    Ref.: C 206; RIC A. Pius 1383; BMCRE 2194
    From a European Collection formed in the 1980s with tag

    The collector tag that came with this coin. If anyone can help me identify the collection or collector more specifically I will either host a coin giveaway in your honor or donate to your favorite charity!

    This coin was struck on behalf of Faustina II (the wife of Marcus Aurelius) during the reign of her father, the emperor Antoninus Pius. There is not a very clear picture of specifically when the coins of Faustina II were struck during the reign of her father but AD 152-156 has been proposed [2].

    One of the aspects I find appealing on this coin is one of the things that make it hard to date. The reverse is very simple and shows the goddess Diana (Greek Artemis) holding a bow and arrow with S-C written in the fields with no other markings or design elements.

    The die engraving for this portrait is one of the most realistic I have seen for this period. However, who is actually shown in this nicely rendered portrait?

    The coin itself is obviously struck for Faustina II. The titulature makes that clear. However, the style of the portrait seems to be very much of her mother Faustina I, the defied wife of Antoninus Pius. While there is, of course, the possibility of a striking family resemblance, the portrait shows an older woman and even the latest dates associated with these coins would put Faustina II in her mid-20s maximum when they were struck. The later issues of Faustina II show a distinct difference from this portrait style and her extant statues show much the same. See below for comparison.

    Faustina I: I took these photos of this wonderful statue at the Getty Villa in Malibu, California. To me the statues and portraits of Faustina I seem remarkably consistent. (Author’s photo)

    Faustina II: The photo on the left is a full size statue of Faustina II that I took at the National Museum in the Palazzo Massimo alle Termini in Rome. (Author’s photo) The photo on the right is a bust of Faustina II in the Louvre. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia)

    I’m not sure what relevance this has other than it is kind of neat. Perhaps the die engravers were getting so practiced at rendering nice portraits of the deified Faustina I that they continued to draw inspiration for the portraits of Faustina II. This is sort of unexpected because from Faustina I on most of the portraits of imperial ladies are much more individualized than they had been under the previous emperors. (For instance, poor Sabina is shown looking like Hadrian in a wig!)

    I can’t help but wonder whether portrait style has any bearing on the chronology of the coins of Faustina II but I am not familiar enough with the subject to even venture an intelligent guess. Either way I think this is a wonderful coin and I like it very much.

    References and Further Reading



    Please post your:
    • Newest Sestertii
    • Coins of an ancient couple
    • Coins of Marcus Aurelius or Faustina II
    • Vota or Decennales types
    • Realistic portraits
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  3. ambr0zie

    ambr0zie Dacian Taraboste

    Congratulations. Nice coins!
    As for the requirements, I can only post these ones
    Marcus Aurelius (161-180)

    A.D. 170- 171
    AR Denarius
    IMP M ANTONINVS AVG TR P XXV; Laureate head right.
    VOTA SVSCEP DECENN II COS III; M. Aurelius veiled, standing l., sacrificing at a tripod.
    RIC III Rome 25

    And an older and bigger relative

    RIC III Antoninus Pius 1020
    From Date: AD 158 To Date: AD 159
    Type: Head of Antoninus Pius, radiate, right
    Type: Antoninus Pius, standing left, sacrificing with patera over tripod, left arm at side
  4. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

  5. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Two great coins! As you probably suspected, I'm especially fond of that Faustina II - such a wonderful obverse die. (I like the clothing details too.)

    I see what you're saying about the resemblance to portraits of Faustina I, but I think there's a development of FII's portrait style as A. Pi's reign progresses from a young woman with delicate features to more of a matronly style, which was continued under her husband. (Of course @Roman Collector is the real expert here.) Your coin looks to me to be a stellar example of the matronly style.

    I picked up the following Faustina II up in December. Terrible photo from the seller, but I have hopes that it will turn out to be a nice version of the more delicate style (haven't received it yet):
    (These are otherwise hard to find at a reasonable cost, so I took a chance.)

    Yup. Just received this coin today:
    Screen Shot 2020-12-05 at 1.43.09 PM.jpg
    I believe you may have had something to do with that. :D (Not nearly as nice as yours but I found it pleasing nonetheless.)
  6. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter

    Great sestertii @Curtisimo, I really like the portrait of Marcus Aurelius. About your photo from the circus, viewed from the Palantine hill; I remember how impressed I was when looking up the hill from down in the circus field. The remains of the ancient palaces towered above the circus, like mountains from the seen from the valley below. It must have been an unimaginable impressive sight back in those times, when the palaces were in their fullest of glory.

    Anyway, I'll throw in this sestertius of MA. I really like the portrait of him on this sestertius.
  7. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    Another great post from our own Great(ish) @Curtisimo, but you've had it made easy by two wonderful coins :)

    This is my newest sestertius, funny enough, it reminds me of your OP MA one, even though the reverse message is completely different

    Marcus Aurelius, Sestertius - Rome mint, AD 173
    M ANTONINVS AVG TRP XXVII, Laureate bust of Mercus Aurelius right
    VICT / GERM / IMP VI / COS III / SC in five lines within a laurel wreath
    20,50 gr, 30 mm
    Ref : RCV # 5015, C # 995 (15), RIC #1090
    Ex Besançon Numismatique

    An ancient couple, Caracalla and Plautilla of course :



    Faustina II :

    Faustina junior, Denarius - Rome mint, AD 161/175
    FAVSTINA AVGVSTA, draped bust right
    DIANA LVCIF, Diana Lucifera standing left
    Ref : RCV #5250

    Vota :

    Constantius II, Siliqua - Sirmium mint
    D N CONSTANTIVS P F AVG, Diademed bust of Constantius right
    VOTIS / XXX / MVLTIS / XXXX, in a wreath. SIRM at exergue.
    2.07 gr
    Ref : Cohen #342, RC #3997

    Realistic portrait :

    Pupienus, Denarius - Rome mint, AD 238
    IMP C M CLOD PVPIENVS AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right
    PM TRP COS II PP, Felicitas standing left, holding caduceus and sceptre
    3.08 gr
    Ref : RCV # 8527, Cohen # 26

  8. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Enrich the soldiers...ignore all others

    Vota XX, Constantine I (the Great) as evidenced by the MAX AVG on the reverse...


  9. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Curtiss, you always blow me away with your great posts! Super coins, great write-up, and fantastic pictures as your personal perspective. Very cool!

    How about something a little different and much more intimate to the ancient Roman family - an Ancient Couple: the Lares:

    Roman Republic
    Lucius Caesius
    112-111 BCE
    AR Denarius
    dog, Lares Praestites, bust Vulcan, tongs above LA RE
    Sear 175 Craw 298-1
  10. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    @Curtisimo .......Great looking coins!..And thoroughly enjoyed the write up thanks!
    Zeus and Hera...
    Z AND  H.jpg
  11. Tony1982

    Tony1982 Well-Known Member

    Not a sestertius but the same type Rev


    Marcus Aurelius

    December 170 - December 171 (Rome).RIC 245

    Obv: IMP M ANTONINVS AVG TRPXXV - Laureate head right.

    Rev: No legend - Wreath, PRIMI/DECEN/NALES/COS/III within.

    "The first ten years of consul reign for the third time with the consent of the Senate".
    The coin commemorates his Decennales festival:-
    struck on the 10th anniversary of his reign with vows to celebrate
    its completion and in anticipation of another 10 years.
    IMP Shogun, Orielensis, Ryro and 20 others like this.
  12. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    My favorite portrait of Faustina II is this Alexandria tetradrachm in her role as first daughter under Pius (his year 12).

    While we have seen the great sestertii, I will go to the other extreme and offer a barbarous, worn and flat struck copy of a sestertius (AK collection). Barbarous bronzes of this period are not common.

    I would think that the date of the scene might be approximated using the ages of the children but I am unclear who they are. Rather few of Aurelius' children lived to be as old as shown here. Lucilla was a dozen years older than Commodus so it can't be them. Who knows the family and can identify them? To me, the interesting part of the scene is the bull who seems quite calm and unaware of why the guy with no shirt has an ax. Who is left of Aurelius? Verus would seem a good answer but I would expect him to have his head covered if he were a principal in the sacrifice. Did the museum have a good label on this scene? Your photos are quite excellent.
    IMP Shogun, Orielensis, Ryro and 21 others like this.
  13. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    Curtis, Both of your sestertii are fine looking coins, especially the one of Faustina II; she looks so "grandmotherly" :D! Pictured below are realistic portraits of Philip I & his wife Otacilia :happy:.

    McAlee 901f, obv..JPG Prieur 383 obv. (3).JPG
  14. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Well-Known Member

    I should have added this coin on my original post but it slipped my mind :confused:. Below is their son Philip II :happy:.
    IMG_8889 (3).JPG
  15. akeady

    akeady Well-Known Member

    Snap! to your first coin and it's the last sestertius I've added. I don't have any record of when or where I got it, but I'm glad I did.

    This is my smallest sestertius at 0.95g.

    Moneyer T. Carisius
    Silver Sestertius
    Obv. Diademed bust of Diana right, bow and quiver over shoulder
    Rev. T. CAR - Hound running right
    Mint: Rome (46 BC)
    Wt./Size/Axis: 0.95g / 10mm / 10h
    • RSC 7 (Carisia)
    • Sydenham 989
    • Crawford 464/8a
    • HCRI 76
    • RBW 1621
    • Ex. Gemini Sale X, 2013, lot 227
    • Ex. Randy Haviland Collection
    Acquisition: NAC Online auction Spring Sale 2020 #660 25-May-2020

  16. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Those are some great-looking sestertii, Curtisimo.

    I have an inferior version of your Marcus Aurelius:

    Marcus Aurelius - Sestertius DECI Wreath Dec 2019 (0aa5).jpg

    Marcus Aurelius Æ Sestertius
    (170-171 A.D.)
    Rome Mint

    [IMP] M ANTONINVS AVG TR P X[XV], laureate head right / PRIMI-DECEN-NALES-
    COS III-S C in five lines within laurel wreath.
    RIC 1006 (possibly RIC 1256)
    (23.58 grams / 28 x 25 mm)

    Attribution Notes:
    OCRE lists (5) PRIMI types, two have draped busts. Others:

    RIC 1006 has an undraped bust with TRP XXV. Most common.
    RIC 1256: TRP XXVIII.
    RIC 1003: Obv. legend is M only, no IMP. Legend is unbroken over head.
  17. Curtisimo

    Curtisimo the Great(ish) Supporter

    Nice coins @ambr0zie . Thanks for sharing!

    Nice coins @Andres2 .

    Wonderful coin SA! This type of portrait is closer to what I had in mind when thinking about what a more realistic portrait of Faustina II would look like on a coin. I wish I would have taken a photo of her statue in the National Museum of Rome from the side like I usually do because she seems to have had very delicate features just as you say.

    If the purpose of the die engraver was to make a young woman look matronly they certainly succeeded. :smuggrin: Its interesting that you say the progression was from delicate toward the matron style. Before you told me that I would have guess the other way around where the mint workers individualized her from the features of her mother over time.

    You can see how one might get the impression that these portraits are one and the same though!
    Left: Faustina II. Middle and Right: Faustina I

    Love this Punic War Denarius! One of the cool things about these is they are a bit bigger than what is usually expected of a denarius. Mine is almost 4.5 g. In hand its like a mix between a didrachm and a denarius. Plus you cant beat the history! Nice.

    I'll spare the forum another post of mine... I post it embarrassingly often upon reflection :spam::eek::D

    That is a VERY nice portrait @Limes !
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2021
  18. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Absolutely gorgeous example of that anepigraphic bronze of Faustina II, @Curtisimo! Lovely portrait!

    Here's my more humble example:

    [​IMG] Faustina II, AD 147-175.
    Roman orichalcum sestertius, 25.20 g, 31.1 mm, 6 h.
    Rome, AD 152-156.
    Obv: FAVSTINA AVGVSTA AVG PII F, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
    Rev: S C, Diana, draped, standing front, head left, holding out arrow in right hand and resting left on bow, set on ground.
    Refs: RIC 1383(2); BMCRE 2194; Cohen 210 (erroneous obv insc.); Strack 1326.
    Notes: Obverse die match to the British Museum specimen.

    And here's a sestertius of her hubby!

    Marcus Aurelius, AD 161-180.
    Roman orichalcum sestertius, 21.36 g, 29.5 mm, 12 h.
    Rome, AD 173.
    Obv: M ANTONINVS AVG TR P XXVII, head of Marcus Aurelius, laureate, right.
    Rev: RESTITVTORI ITALIAE IMP VI COS III, Marcus Aurelius, in military dress, standing left, holding vertical spear in left hand and clasping right hands with Italia kneeling right before him, holding globe in left hand; SC in exergue.
    Refs: RIC 1077; BMCRE 1449-1450; Cohen 538; RCV 4997; MIR 259.
  19. octavius

    octavius Well-Known Member

    Very nice coins, and beautiful photos of Rome. I lived there for five years many years ago and I miss her terribly.
    My newest sestertius (first) is of Aurelius... from CNG auction...

    667_1.jpg 3490428.jpg 4780865l.jpg Kk4A87GpfCc6PB8ei3Ft2A9tTz5k9s.jpg CJz6w4fNpnJ2W5sxtQo8KZ3xc9fL7T.jpg marcus-aurelius-161-180-ae-sestertius-5974981-O.jpg
  20. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Supporter! Supporter

    Great coins!!!

    In honor of your new acquisitions I will throw in my Marcus Aurelius sestertius:

    and a Commodus decennales sestertius:

    COMMODUS AUGUSTUS AE sestertius. 184–185 AD. M COMMODVS ANTO—N AVG PIVS BRIT, laureate head of Commodus right. Reverse - VOTA SVSCEP DECEN P M TR P X IMP VII COS IIII P P, emperor, veiled and togate, sacrificing left from patera over tripod, S—C across field. RIC 454a. Cohen 990. BMCRE 564 variant (ANTONINVS in obverse legend). 33mm, 24.4g
  21. Shea19

    Shea19 Supporter! Supporter

    Great post @Curtisimo! Some beautiful examples so far. This Julia Mamaea is my most recent sestertius purchase.

    Julia Mamaea, AE Sestertius (30mm., 20.27g.), Draped bust r., wearing stephane. Rev. Felicitas standing l., holding caduceus and leaning on column. RIC 676.
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