Holy Grail Coin - Portrait coin of P. Quinctilius Varus

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Finn235, Oct 20, 2020.

  1. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    I tried to wait until I had this one in hand - hopefully I won't jinx it.

    This is a coin I never in a million years thought I would be able to find at auction, let alone win for under $1,000! I spotted this in the last Themis auction, poorly highlighted, and won it with only one other bidder competing for it!

    P Quinctilius Varus Byzachium Achulla.jpg

    Publius Quinctilius Varus, as Proconsul of Africa, 8-7 BC
    AE30 "Dupondius" of Byzacium, Achulla (Modern day northern Tunisia)
    Obv: AVG PONT MAX, Bare head of Augustus left, flanked by smaller heads of Gaius and Lucius Caesares
    Rev: P QVINCTILI VARI ACHVLLA, Bare head of Quinctilius Varus right
    RPC 798
    Extremely rare (22 cited in RPC, 6 in ACSearch)

    For a reference as to how incredibly coveted this coin is:

    CNG 106/632 (2017) Realized $8500

    CNG e416/394 (2018) Realized $6500

    Born in about 46 BC to a distinguished but poor family in Rome, Quinctilius Varus' early life and rise to power are somewhat unclear. His father, Sextus Varus, was on the losing side of Caesar's civil war, may have been one of the senators involved in his assassination, and ultimately took his own life after his defeat at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC. Little detail survives of Quinctilius Varus, but he seems to have found favor with Augustus, as he received Agrippa's daughter Vipsania Marcella Aggripina's hand in marriage in 13 BC and delivered his stepfather's eulogy the following year.

    Varus served as governor of Africa from 8-7 BC, and thereafter was granted the governorship of Syria from 6-4 BC. During this time, he achieved notoriety for his harsh treatment of his subjects, particularly in crucifying 2,000 Jews as punishment for riots after the death of Herod the Great. After this, he returned to Rome to live the good life for the next decade.

    Following the successful campaigns in Germania by Tiberius, Drusus, Ahenobarbus, and Germanicus, Augustus created the new province of Germania and sent Varus to be its governor in 7 AD. The facade of a pacified Germany began to crumble, as a Germanic prince and supposed ally, Arminus, delivered news of a growing rebellion over the Rhine. In September 9 AD, Varus along with the XVII, XVIII and XIX legions crossed over the Rhine to make a show of force and scare the barbarians back into compliance. Expecting no resistance, Varus did not keep his troops ready for battle, and chose the quicker route rather than the more defensible one. While marching his legions in a thin line several miles long through swampy terrain in the Teutoburg Forest, the Romans were ambushed in a surprise attack. Despite capable leadership, the troops were largely inexperienced fighting Germans, and after three days of fighting, the Romans were almost totally annihilated - the vast majority killed, some captured, and only a handful escaped back to Roman territory. In the final stages of the battle, Quinctilius Varus fell on his own sword. The victorious Germans cut off his head and sent it back to Rome with news of his defeat. The three Aquiliae of the lost legions were kept by the Germans along with the other booty from the defeated Romans. The majority of the survivors were enslaved, but the survivng officers were tortured to death or sacrificed to the Germanic gods.

    This defeat was the greatest catastrophe of the early Empire, and it is said that Augustus utterly lost composure when he received the news, tearing at his hair and clothes and screamed "Quintili Vare, legiones redde!" - "Quinctillus Varus, Give me back my Legions!" This set the stage for Germanicus' famous German campaign a decade later, in which two of the three lost Aquiliae were recovered; the third not being found until the reign of Claudius. All three standards were kept in the temple of Mars Ultor, possibly until the fall of Rome at the hands of the Goths over 400 years later. The legion numbers XVII XVIII and XIX were retired permanently.

    This coin is one of only three types that feature the portrait of Quinctilius Varus, as only a handful of non-Imperial Romans were given the honor of appearing on coinage during this time. The coins are the only known portraits of Varus, all struck from 8-7 BC during his tenure as the governor of Africa. Achulla also issued for an equally rare Proconsul the following year (Volusius Saturnius, a cousin of emperor Tiberius); they can be distinguished primarily by the placement of the legend on the reverse.
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  3. Broucheion

    Broucheion Supporter! Supporter

    Wonderful coin!

    Did the seller identify it correctly?
    Finn235 likes this.
  4. Herodotus

    Herodotus Well-Known Member


    One of my favorite coins in my modest collection is this one; minted during Varus' governorship in Syria.

    SELEUCIS and PIERIA, Antioch. Pseudo-autonomous issue. Æ Trichalkon, Struck under P. Quinctillius Varus, Governor of Syria. Dated year 27 of the Actian Era (5/4 BC).
    O: Laureate head of Zeus right.
    R: ΑΝΤΙΟΧΕΩΝ ΕΠΙ ΟΥΑΡΟΥ; Tyche seated right on rocky outcropping, holding palm branch; at feet, river-god Orontes swimming right; ZK (date) in right field.
    RPC I 4252
    PeteB, FitzNigel, Edessa and 12 others like this.
  5. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..a dand "D" for sure Finn..so sumbody lost 2 grand on it in a year eh?...eww...glad ya (almost, when it arrives)) got it...:)
    +VGO.DVCKS and Finn235 like this.
  6. David@PCC

    David@PCC allcoinage.com

    Congratulations. That auction had a few rarities, I was able to snag one and will post after I get it. However mine had a lot of competition.
    +VGO.DVCKS and Finn235 like this.
  7. Iepto

    Iepto New Member

    A search for varus in the auction results brings up the coin in question :)
    +VGO.DVCKS and Finn235 like this.
  8. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    Thanks all!

    Yes, they did mention that it was Varus in the description, but scrolling past it, the coin was just described as being "Augustus, with Gaius and Lucius". Had they highlighted it as "Rare portrait coin of Quinctilius Varus, with Augustus, Gaius, and Lucius" or "Varus, general in the Battle of Teutoburg Forest" it certainly would have realized 4+ figures.
  9. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Wow, very interesting coin. Varus really got around as far as holding different offices under Augustus. Too bad he had to go to the Teutoburg forest.

  10. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths Supporter

    Hopefully they have already posted it....if not?

    Someone's for big ass-kicking!
  11. Herodotus

    Herodotus Well-Known Member

    Here's another of the type that went for € 4,400($5200 before fees) in 2017 @Gorny & Mosch.

    Your coin is in much better shape.
    Augustus, 30 BC - AD 14 AE (14.00g). 8 - 7 BC BC, under the proconsul P. Quinctilius Varus. Mzst. Achulla. Obv .: [AVG PONT MAX, head of Augustus left between the heads of Gaius and Lucius Caesares]. Rev .: P QVINCTILI VARI - ACHVLLA, head of the varus nr RPC I 798; SNG Cop. 50.


    It deserves to be reiterated. What a SCORE!!!

    It's very pleasing to learn about members getting rare & desirable types that have seemingly travelled well under the radar. Someone over there at Themis really dropped the ball. Their loss. Your gain:woot:
  12. Alegandron

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

    Awesome find, and fantastic rarity, @Finn235 ! A big WOW!


    RPC 4252, SNG Cop. 92, 20.4mm, 8.03 grams, Dated year 27 = 5/4 B.C.E.

    Obverse: Laureate head of Zeus to right

    Reverse: Tyche of Antioch seated to right, holding palm branch; below, river-god Orontes swimming right, in right field, date ZK (year 27 = 5/4 B.C.E.)

    This rare coin was struck during Varus' assignment as Governor of Syria from 7 - 4 B.C.E. Varus guarded the borders from Parthia and violently quelled unrest in Judaea and Samaria. Josephus records an incident wherein after the death of Herod., Varus occupied Jerusalem and crucified 2,000 Jews.

    Later Varus was transfered to the Northern front, where he met disaster fighting the Germanic tribes in the Teutoburg forest. Three legions under his command, legions XVII, XVIII and XIX were completely annihilated. This caused emperor Augustus great grief and he was said to have cried out on occasion "Quintili Vare, legiones redde!" or "Quinctilius Varus, give me back my legions!"
    Hamilcar Barca, PeteB, Edessa and 5 others like this.
  13. Cicero12

    Cicero12 Supporter! Supporter

    Amazing find! Congratulations!
    Finn235 likes this.
  14. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    @Finn235......Congrats!..That's a 'big' coin!...Will nicely fit into your impressive collection... Well done and good eyes!
  15. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter

    Thats an amazing catch! Great condition as well, great portrait of Varus. Congratulations.
    ancient coin hunter and Finn235 like this.
  16. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic Supporter

    Fantastic coin and bargain! Wow.
    ancient coin hunter and Finn235 like this.
  17. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic Supporter

  18. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Wow, congrats! Truly an incredible score.
    Finn235 likes this.
  19. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    It took unusually long for a FedEx delivery (and almost gave me a heart attack when it came up as "delivered" when it was returned to Themis for some reason) but it arrived!

    The legend is a bit more legible in hand - never a bad thing!

    P Quinctilius Varus AE30 Achulla Augustus Gaius Lucius.jpg
  20. ambr0zie

    ambr0zie Well-Known Member

    I'm always happy when a passionate collector grabs a rare coin for a small price.
    Of course I'm very happy when the collector is me but that is a different story.
    +VGO.DVCKS, Broucheion and Finn235 like this.
  21. Nicholas Molinari

    Nicholas Molinari Well-Known Member

    Yours seems the nicest of all the examples posted. I’d be tempted to flip it for a huge profit!
    +VGO.DVCKS and Finn235 like this.
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