Elagabalus Antoninian - a very special portrait

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Tejas, Jun 15, 2021.

  1. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    I just bought the Elagabalus Antoninian below in a Cgf live auction. (I hope I haven't outbid anyone here). I bought the coin for the very unusual portrait, which is more lively and dynamic than usual:

    This is how Cgf described the coin: "Extraordinary specimen with a wonderful bust and a beautiful reverse! A coin of incredible quality, perfectly centered on a wide and thick flan. Superb patina"

    I paid much more than intended, but from the picture I'll probably not regret it.


    Date: 218
    Weight: 5.28g

    Screenshot 2021-06-15 at 16.21.55.png

    This is my only other Antoninian of Elagabalus. It shows the usual portrait.


    Screenshot 2021-06-15 at 16.34.12.png

    I wonder, why the portraits on the Antoniniani did not followed the same development as the portraits on the denari? Has the production of Antoniniani seized during the reign of Elagabalus, while only Denari continued to 222?

    Interestingly, I just read that the ancient name of the Antoninian was probably "Bicharactus".
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2021
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  3. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Interesting post and gorgeous coins, @Tejas!

    This is the only antoninianus I have of the boy.

    Elagabalus, AD 218-222.
    Roman AR Antoninianus, 5.17 g, 21.3 mm, 11 h.
    Rome, AD 219.
    Obv: IMP ANTONINVS AVG, radiate and draped bust, right.
    Rev: P M TR PII COSII P P, Fortuna enthroned left, holding rudder on globe and cornucopiae; wheel below seat.
    Refs: RIC 18; BMCRE 94; Cohen 148; RCV 7495.
    Spaniard, furryfrog02, Limes and 10 others like this.
  4. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    It's a great coin, congrats.

    Elagabalus, (218 - 222 A.D.)
    AR Antonianus
    O: IMP CAES M AVR ANTONINVS AVG, Radiate and draped bust right.
    R: VICTOR ANTONINI AVG, Victory running right, holding wreath and palm.
    Rome Mint
    RIC 155

    Ex Vauctions 368 (Beast Coins), Lot # 158
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  5. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    That would seem the reasonable guess since there are none of the denomination for Severus Alexander. I suspect there was resistance to the idea at that time. Caracalla did not care what the spending public thought of him. Maesa was trying to make the current reign work and might have curried favor rather than fear. I appreciate the style of your coin. Was it the last one made or the first? My three are rather ordinary renditions of the uninspiring face but each is a bit different. My favorite is the second because it is the most 'different' in style.
    rn0030bb0365.jpg rn0050bb1071.jpg rn0060bb1812.jpg
  6. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    It is possible that minting of Antoniniani (Bicharacti) was suspended because they were unpopular. After all, from the start, Antoniniani were below par value at about 1.5 to the denarius.
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  7. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Cfg dated the coin to 218, indicating that it was among the first Antoniniani of Elagabalus. From the bust styles, I think that minting of Antoniniani was suspended in 219. If true, the date for my coin should be given as 218-219.

    I think this coin is from the same dies as mine, but the condition is not quite as good
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2021
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  8. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    I believe the Fortuna type, like mine, was the last of his antoniniani.
  9. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    I agree - a lovely and very lifelike portrait!

    My example -
    Elagabalus antoninianus SALVS ANTONINI AVG.jpg

    I believe the assessment that production of the antoninianus ceased around 219/220 is correct - I was able to find this example which is more fitting with his later reign, but still has a youthful portrait

    It's also important to note that this denarius has his "child" portrait yet is dated TR P IIII, his last year of rule Elagabalus denarius sol advancing.jpg

    Only months later he must have grown his gross teenager beard and, er, "horn"
    Elagabalus denarius invictvs sacerdos avg.jpg

    Just for fun, here's an antoninianus of Julia Maesa, also presumably minted 218-219, and I believe the only type of hers which can certainly be dated to the reign of Elagabalus. The damage to the die makes her eyes look like they close vertically (Reptilians confirmed??? :greyalien:)
    Julia Maesa antoninianus pietas.jpg
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  10. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    CGB, I believe. Not to be confused with CNG!

    Could you please elaborate on the "Bicharactus" theory? A quick Google search yields results primarily in German, plus this one reference from 1974 that really doesn't sound like the antoninianus -- which obviously existed well before 294 AD:



    In the year 1970, during excavations at Aphrodisias in Caria, fragments of an inscription were discovered, beginning with the words: BICHARACTA Mİ [—, The editors suggest this should be read: BICHARACTA MONETA. The inscription may be dated to the year 301, and is part of an edict of the Emperor Diocletian dealing with his monetary reforms. The editors further suggest that ‘Bicharacta moneta’ perhaps refers to ‘the new coinage of A.D. 294, created by a grand recoinage (i.e. second striking) of old pieces’

    Research Article
    The Classical Quarterly , Volume 24 , Issue 1 , May 1974 , pp. 134 - 136
    DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0009838800030317[Opens in a new window]
    Copyright © The Classical Association 1974


    I have no Elagabalus antoniniani, only these two denarii (one early and one late). I chose them specifically because I wanted one portrait that looked as youthful as possible, and one that looked as mature as possible, with beard and "horn."

    Elagabalus AR Denarius, 218-219 AD, Antioch Mint. Obv. Laureate draped bust right, no beard, ANTONINVS PIVS FEL AVG/Rev. Two standards between two legionary eagles, CONCORDIA MILIT. RIC IV-2 187, RSC III 15, Sear RCV II 7505 (ill.). 18 mm., 2.8 g.

    youthful Elagabalus jpg version.jpg

    Elagabalus AR Denarius, 221-222 AD, Rome Mint. Obv. Laureate, horned & draped bust right, bearded, IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG/ Rev. Elagabalus standing left, sacrificing from patera over lit tripod altar, holding branch, star in field left, SVMMVS SACERDOS AVG. RIC IV-2 146, RSC III 276 (bearded), Sear RCV II 7549. 17.71 mm., 3.97 g.

    Elagabalus - bearded with horn - jpg version.jpg

    Plus this Alexandrian tetradrachm from Year 3:

    Elagabalus - Alexandria tetradrachm - Nike on reverse - jpg version.jpg
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2021
  11. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Yes, sorry, what was I thinking? CGB.fr is a French auction house and certainly not to be confused with CNG.
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  12. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    You have already dug out more on this than I have. I got this from the German Wikipedia entry on the Antoninian. It does not provide any detail, only that a new theory suggests that Bicharactus may have been the actual name of the coin that was much later to be known as Antoninian.
  13. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Given the "new" reference, I wonder if there's actually been anything written about it since 1974 -- which I suppose could still be seen as "recent" in the grand scheme of things!
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  14. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I suggest letting the people who propose Bicharactus and a coin name rather than 'recoinage' and the people who insist on using Aurelianus for the XXI/KA coinage duke it out so I can ignore the winner. Making up 'perhaps, maybe' interpretations of a fragmentary text is not science. No one is claiming that the coin ever was called Antoninianus in its day but that is the name applied for years and there is something to be said for precedent unless there is more than a 'perhaps, maybe' dream that the accurate answer is now known. Books by experts are full of things they made up to avoid saying there is something that is not known. It is fine to do studies to advance knowledge but it is not good to decide it is your place make up answers in case you do not find anything in your studies.
  15. seth77

    seth77 Well-Known Member

    Regarding the ceasing of antoniniani mintage sometime during the reign of Elagabal, here is a fouree antoninian for Severus Alexander offered by Gorny & Mosch auction 228, 2015. The coin stands at 21mm and 4.35g according to the auction house.


    It's a very interesting and I think unlikely coin. Possibly (or likely) "limes falsum" and if so, the trend of making these limes falsa after rare and very rare types has to be (again) put into discussion. I will also re-post in this regard this small 15mm 1.53g "quinarius" that is also an obvious "limes" (I for one would prefer the term notgeld for these monies, but "limes falsa" seems like the most ubiquitous designation) although, as far as I know, there were no official silver quinarii issued for Severus Alexander as Caesar:


    As far apart as 100 years, in the 320s a new explosion of "irregular" coinages starts, roughly in the same area -- northern Gallia and the Rhineland -- but radiating as far south as Hispania and possibly Africa, and again copying rare issues from the western mints, namely Lugdunum, Treverorum and Londinium, and even *inventing* types that we do not know from official coinages. Here are two examples - a pseudo-Londinium for Constantine II with the special half-length bust type holding globe and spear but unknown from the official mint proper (many thanks to mr. Lee Toone for his thoughts on it):


    and a highly unlikely Licinius II from pseudo-Lugdunum with a possible consular obverse legend (can't be certain, the lettering is rather obscure on that part, but the official mint did not strike anything for Licinius II at this stage):

    lic 2 lug.JPG

    My prima facie impression is that whatever authority had these coinages minted, both from the 3rd century and the 4th century, had to be under the rule of Rome and used these distinct designs and types possibly some time after the reigns of the emperors on the effigy (or using effigies that did not wield any power in the area where the coinage was minted) to by-pass the existing laws against counterfeiting the legal tender in use.
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2021
  16. maridvnvm

    maridvnvm Well-Known Member

    I am sticking to the term Antoninianus until there is some definitive acceptance of anything else. Like Doug I don't use the term Aurelianus either.

    I don't have much to offer to this thread other than to congratulate @Tejas on a fantastic specimen. It is only when you see well executed examples in good condition that you realise how poor your own example is in comparison.

    These were amongst the earliest ancients that I bought.

    An Antoninianus
    A denarius
  17. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    The coin above is really remarkable. Why would somebody imitate an Alexander Severus Antoninian, if such a denomination did not exist? The dies look very official and somebody made the effort to produce an Alexander Severus bust with the crown of Sol. Very interesting.
  18. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    Same here. I never liked the term Aurelianus. The article of 1974 by Daniel Sperber discusses an inscription that refers to the time of Diocletian. The term Bicharactus (double stamped) is mentioned in the context of Diocletian's reforms. It is entirely unclear, if the term refers to a name for coins, let alone is it clear that the term was used nearly a hundred years earlier at the time of Elagabalus.

    What is of course true is the following. The Antoniniani were below par to the Denari. So one Antoninian was never equal to two Denari and the exchange value deteriorated further since the introduction of the Antoninian by Caracalla.

    That means that according to Gresham's law, which states that bad money drives out good money, the people hoarded Denari and tried to pass on Antoniniani. For coin collectors that means that well preserved Antoniniani, i.e. Antoniniani in mint state or uncirculated condition should be particularly rare.
  19. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Here's an Antioch tet. I don't have an antoninianus of Heliogabalus.

    Elagabalus, 218-222 A.D., Antioch, Seleucis and Pieria
    AR Tetradrachm, struck 218-220 A.D., 25mm 12.02 grams

    Obverse: Laureate head of Elagabalus right

    Reverse: Eagle standing left, wreath in beak, star between legs, delta epsilon in field

    Reference: Prieur 249A; McAlee 760


    And a denarius...

  20. Tejas

    Tejas Well-Known Member

    I think the name form “Heliogabalus” is the least preferable for Marcus Aurelius Antoninus called Elagabalus. He identified as the god Elagabalus and was only later, i.e. postumously named Elagabalus. However, the form “Heliogabalus” is, as far as I know, a wrong etymological reconstruction of Elagabalus, based on the wrong interpretation of “Elaga-“ as “Helio-“.
  21. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    True enough. Ela- Gabal means "god's mountain"
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