A most enigmatic sestertius

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by red_spork, Dec 6, 2019.

  1. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis Supporter

    If you're someone who always needs all the answers, you might find this post rather disappointing. If you enjoy a good mystery, however, you might enjoy reading this. Either way, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this coin. I found this coin in the stock of an international seller who didn't seem to know a lot about RR coinage and was selling this as a Roman Republic sestertius with little other explanation. At first glance, that seems correct. It's about 12mm, it's got the Roma/Dioscuri types of the early denarius system issues and the IIS legend of the early sestertii, but the weight is extremely low at 0.53g, about half that of a common 44/7 early sestertius I own and the style is quite strange...

    Crawford's catalogue in RRC includes 6 major types, 4 fully anonymous(i.e. no mintmark or name), along with L and ROMA monogram mintmarks. A 7th, with mintmark "H" has been published since then. All except for the common "44/7" are very rare to extremely rare but I've got examples of all of these types in my photofile along with all known styles of the common 44/7 and this sestertius matches none of them. Even so, it looked genuinely ancient to me, for whatever that's worth, so l went ahead and purchased it.

    While it was in transit I reached out to several RR collectors who have been studying these coins much longer than myself and received a variety of responses. All at least agreed it was ancient, but there were several ideas on what it could be:

    • An imitation struck in good silver but on a very thin flan
    • An imitation struck on a flan of debased silver
    • A plated (fourree) imitation
    • An unpublished official type from a branch mint
    The only real point of agreement was the likely source: Spain. A lot of strangely styled Roman Republic coins from Second Punic War era mints, as well as some coins that are almost certainly imitations, are believed to have been minted in Spain. I think the collectors were probably spot on with the Spain hypothesis but unfortunately the seller refused to provide any more information about the origin of the coin so I had to wait until it was in-hand to investigate further.

    Once the coin arrived I immediately noticed not only how light it was but how thin it was. I've attached a picture of it side by side with an official 44/7 sestertius. This coin is on the right. It is not only much shallower in relief but much thinner in depth. I also examined the dark, chipped spot on the edge. Under low magnification it does not appear to be bronze, but instead I think it is simply some remaining "find patina" which, due to its positioning within the crack, has not been cleaned off.


    As shown above, the coin is noticeably thinner than a normal, definitely official sestertius. This at least allows the possibility that the coin is not plated or debased and that the weight is simply due to the much smaller flan. The granularity of the surfaces, especially near the edge chip where you can see individual grains of silver is something I've only ever really seen on high purity silver coins, so I can't help but think it might still be of relatively good silver. Unfortunately I have no way to measure the specific gravity of a coin as small as this one, so additional information on the material makeup of the coin will probably have to wait until I find either a lab that can reliably determine it's specific gravity or perhaps even schedule a neutron activation analysis at a local lab which would reveal the silver purity to a very high confidence level.

    My personal opinion, for whatever it's worth, is that it is some sort of imitation, probably produced in Spain in solid, but perhaps debased, silver. I think the chance that any official Roman mint made this coin is very low, but I do think there is a small possibility given how strange some of the denarius styles were that came out of Spain during the war with the Carthaginians.


    As always, feel free to post anything relevant. And as mentioned above, I'd love to hear what you think this coin is.
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  3. Scipio

    Scipio New Member

    Just my 2 cents (or quartunciae):
    IMO the weight is the last issue, as the 44/7 sestertius has a minimum weight around 0,7 grams, and consumption and crystallization can considerably affect it.
    The style looks very poor to me, and I have never seen the ROMA legend in exergue written in such font. The legend furthermore should be in a frame.
    Last: missing spears.
  4. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis Supporter

    It absolutely should on the 44/7 sestertii but this is certainly not a 44/7. One of the Spanish series that another collector pointed out is the Knife series. The denarius of that series, like my coin, has Roma in exergue. There are actually a few other contemporary series of denarii and quinarii with an exergual Roma legend like this as opposed frame, though no sestertii that I'm aware of.

    That said, as mentioned above I do strongly suspect it is a contemporary imitation as opposed to anything official.
    Roman Collector likes this.
  5. Scipio

    Scipio New Member

    If you clean the edge chip you can get an answer at least about the coin’s age; the most of silver sestertii are affected by silver crystallization, due to the thin flan, and the inner part should look like the broken one in the picture.
    In case, it means it is ancient, as silver takes thousands of years to crystallize

    Attached Files:

  6. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

  7. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    I think it is a modern cast with a filed edge, not an ancient imitation. The surface is "soapy" like a cast. The forgers didn't control the thickness well, so it came out far too light. The photo of the edge is not fully focused, but seems to show diagonal filing to conceal the casting seam.
    Scipio and Volodya like this.
  8. red_spork

    red_spork Triumvir monetalis Supporter

    That's certainly a possibility, maybe even the easiest explanation and was my initial thought when I saw the coin but the edge does not look filed in-hand. Additionally, there is a small crack on the edge that, while not terribly deep does go through the entire coin. If it is cast it would have to be a cast of some sort of unpublished type or imitation, or a cast of some sort of modern creation.
  9. Sallent

    Sallent Live long and prosper

    Yeah, the cracked edge looks legit. If it wasn't for that I would have suspected a modern forgery. Not sure what to think now. I'm puzzled.
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