Don't let an obverse inscription contain your ego ...

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, Nov 9, 2019.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    ... abbreviate your titulature! The coins of Vabalathus demonstrate his unique titulature: V C R IMP D R. Contemporary, non-numismatic, inscriptions show that this abbreviated form of Vabalathus' titles is short for Vir clarissimus, rex, imperator, dux Romanorum -- "Most illustrious man, king, emperor, commander of the Romans."

    Who is this fellow? How did he acquire such impressive titulature? And, with epithets like that, how did things go wrong?! Well, here's the scoop!

    Vabalathus (AD 259-274) was born in Palmyra, the son of Odaenathus (a Roman ally under Gallenius) and Zenobia. In 267 AD, his father and his half-brother Hairan I were murdered by their relative Maeonius, who briefly ruled as a usurper before being overthrown and executed. Vabalathus, as the next in line to the throne, inherited the title of King of Palmyra at the age of eight; his mother served as regent.

    While Claudius and his legions were preoccupied fighting against the Gallic Empire in the west, Zenobia took advantage of the situation and undertook several successful campaigns which resulted in the Palmyrene conquest of Egypt, all of Syria and the Levant, and much of Asia minor. Vabalathus was about 11 years old when Aurelian assumed the throne in October or November, AD 270.

    Aurelian had his hands full in the Balkans, where he had to suppress three revolts (by Septimius, Urbanus, and a Domitianus), as well as organize a retreat from Dacia, and campaign against the Goths. In order to buy time, Aurelian appeased Zenobia, granting the Palmyrene queen and her son the titles they desired. That's how a prepubescent boy became "Most illustrious man, king, emperor, commander of the Romans." Aurelian even struck coinage -- such as this antoninianus -- jointly with Vabalathus at Antioch and Alexandria, placing the boy-king on the obverse and his image on the reverse (the officina mark in the exergue demonstrates this).

    But after one last campaign against the Goths in mid-271, things were settled enough in central Europe that Aurelian decided it was time to recover the territory lost to the Palmyrans in the east.

    In the spring of AD 272, Aurelian counterattacked, crossing the Bosphorus and invading Syria, where he defeated Zenobia's armies and forced Palmyra to surrender. In 274, Aurelian planned to bring Zenobia and Vabalathus to Rome in order to parade them around as part of his triumphal celebrations, but the then-fourteen-year-old, self-styled, vir clarissimus, rex, imperator, dux Romanorum died while en route. Zenobia was treated honorably, though, and allowed to retire to a villa near Tibur. Her descendants were still prominent among the Roman aristocracy a century later.

    Nonetheless, Palmyra remained a hot spot for Aurelian, for not long after, another revolt broke out there under the leadership of Antiochus, who was likely a descendent of Vabalathus' father, Odaenathus. Aurelian and his armies returned to crush the revolt, after which the Romans leveled the city of Palmyra, and ousted their supporter in Alexandria, a fellow named Firmius.

    Post your coins of Zenobia, Vabalathus, Aurelian, or anything you feel is relevant!

    Vabalathus, AD 270-272 and Aurelian, AD 270-275.
    Roman billon antoninianus, 3.58 gm, 20.4 mm, 5 h.
    Antioch, late AD 270-spring 272.
    Obv: VABALATHVS V C R IMP D R, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Vabalathus, right.
    Rev: IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG, radiate and cuirassed bust of Aurelian right; officina mark Є below.
    Refs: RIC 381; CBN 1248; Cohen 1; MIR 353; RCV 11718.


    Sear, David R. Roman Coins and Their Values III: The accession of Maximinus to the death of Carinus AD 235 - 285, London, Spink, 2005, pp. 441-442.

    Vagi, David L. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, c. 82 B.C.- A.D. 480. Volume One: History, Coin World, 1999, pp. 365-66.
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  3. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Great write up, great coin, thanks.

  4. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Vabalathus (270 - 275 A.D.)
    AE Antoninianus
    O: VABALATHVS V CRIMDR, Laureate and draped bust right.
    R: IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG, Radiate and draped bust right.

    Aurelian, With Vaballathus (270 - 275 A.D.)
    Egypt, Alexandria
    Potin Tetradrachm
    O: AYT KΛ ∆ AYPHΛIANOC CEB, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust of Aurelian right, date L - A at sides ( year 1 ).
    R: I I A C OYABAΛΛAΘOC AΘHNOY AYT C ΠΩ, laureate, diademed and draped bust of Vabalathus right, date L - D across fields ( year 4 )
    Köln 3054; Dattari 5422; Milne 4308; Curtis 1738; Emmett 3914
  5. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    I think it's interesting how the Alexandrian coins date the regnal years of each emperor separately -- Aurelian from AD 270 but Vabalathus from AD 267, when he became King of Palmyra. Hence year 1 for the former at year 4 for the latter!
    Andres2, zumbly, TIF and 2 others like this.
  6. Alegandron

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

    Nice coin and thank you for the write-up!

    COMBO-PACK Emperors:

    RI Vabalathus 271-272 CE and Aurelian.jpg
    RI Vabalathus 271-272 CE and Aurelian
  7. gsimonel

    gsimonel Supporter! Supporter

    Here's mine:
    Billon Antoninianus
    Antioch mint
    Obv: VABALATHVS VCRIMDR - Laurate bust of Valabathus, draped
    Rev: IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG - Radiate bust of Aurelian, cuirassed
    A in exergue
    RIC (Aurelian) 381
    20mm, 3.9g.

    You will notice that I, too, list the side with Vabalathus as the obverse, mainly because of the officina mark under Aurelian as Roman Collector pointed out in the OP. Yet this is controversial. I have heard some argue that Aurelian would never had put someone else's image on the obverse of one of his coins, which would suggest that Vabalathus was the superior of the two. I have also heard the claim that there are other ancient coins with the mint and/or officina marks on the obverse. (I have a denarius of Vespasian that has this arrangement.) But I never seen or heard of an antoninianus with an obverse officina mark. So I'm sticking with Vabalathus on the obverse even though others may disagree. Do we want to go there?
  8. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    Interesting writeup

    Vabalathus, Antoninianus - Antioch mint, 8th officina, AD 271-272
    VABALATHVS V C R IM D R, Draped, laureate and diademed bust of Vabalathus right
    IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG, Radiate and cuirassed bust of Aurelianus right. H at exergue
    2.45 gr
    Ref : Cohen #1, RCV # 11718





  9. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I had been looking for a while for a Vabalathus coin with a decent portrait of him, and recently bought this one, which arrived today:

    Vabalathus with Aurelian, billon Antoninianus, 270-272 AD, Antioch Mint. Obv. Radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust of Vabalathus right, VABALATHVS V C R IM D R* / Rev. Radiate and cuirassed bust of Aurelian right, Γ [gamma] (Antioch, Officina 3) below, IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG. RIC V-1 Aurelian 381, Sear RCV III 11718, Cohen 1. 21 mm., 3.43 g.

    * Vir Clarissimus, Rex, Imperator, Dux Romanorum (see Sear RCV III 11718 at p. 442).

    Vabalathus & Aurelian Obv. (Vab.) 2.jpg

    Vabalathus & Aurelian Rev. (Aurelian) 1.jpg

    I decided to go with the majority view and treat the Vabalathus side as the obverse, for the reasons stated by others earlier in this thread. See Sear RCV III, supra, at p. 442: "The placing of the officina mark below the bust of Aurelian is a clear indication that this was to be regarded as the reverse side of the coin."

    On the other hand, the seller of the coin (Ken Dorney) treated Aurelian's side as the obverse, as shown by the seller's image:

    Aurelian with Vabalathus jpg version.jpg
    In any event, regardless of which side is which, I like the portrait of Vabalathus enough (together with the fact that his name is clear in the legend) that Aurelian's tragic loss of his right ear and most of the right side of his face doesn't really bother me too much. In hand, both sides have a very appealing coppery glow that doesn't show up too well in the photos.

    Besides, I already had an Aurelian coin:

    Aurelian, silvered billon Antoninianus, 274-75 AD, Cyzicus Mint. Obv. Radiate cuirassed bust right, IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG/ Rev. woman stdg. right presents wreath to Aurelian standing left, RESTITVTOR ORBIS. In exergue: A C (Officina 1). RIC V-1 368, Cohen 210, Sear RCV III 11592. 24.15 mm., 3.68 g.

    Aurelian antoninianus jpg version.jpg
    And a Severina:

    Severina (wife of Aurelian), billon Antoninianus [no remaining silvering], 270-275 AD, Rome Mint. Obv. Diademed, draped bust right, SEVERINA AVG / Rev. Venus Felix stdg. left holding apple(?) & sceptre, VENVS FELIX. In exergue: Γ [gamma] (Rome, Officina 3). RIC V-1 6, Cohen 14, Sear RCV III 11709. 19 mm., 2.1 g.

    Severina VENVS FELIX jpg version.jpg

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    Last edited: Apr 2, 2020
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