McCabe Labienus, Scipio Sekhmet, Pompey Pietas, Dolabella, close 14th Nov

Discussion in 'For Sale' started by Andrew McCabe, Nov 4, 2018.

  1. Andrew McCabe

    Andrew McCabe Well-Known Member

    I am selling many of the rarest Roman Republican denarius coin types at auction ending 14th November here:

    I illustrate and comment on five coins below, but just as a sample in a sale stuffed with rarities, and then at the end I comment on some technical rarities, all overstrikes. Almost forty of the eighty coins have original commentaries written by me, so if the commentaries interest you, please browse the listings just for reading pleasure.

    1. Labienus and his Parthian horse

    The historical background to the coinage of Labienus is well known among numismatists. Thus, I thought it better to focus on technical aspects in this note. Charles Hersh, “The Coinage of Quintus Labienus Parthicus”, in SNR 59 (1980) is the standard reference work for this coinage and is openly available (on This coin combines obverse die A with reverse die 3. This is a known combination with accessible examples in Berlin (search on and Haeberlin 2900. The obverse die match can most easily be seen on the letters IMP, which are very close to the hairline at the back of the head, this being the only die where this occurs. One then easily sees that all other details match. On the reverse, the unusual narrow, pointed horse’s head and its angle to horizontal, the various angles in the horse’s tail, and the left extension of the exergual line about one millimeter from the rearmost hooves are starting points for the match; the specific matching pattern of large and small dots, for example, between 9 and 10pm on the reverse are also confirming. The restoration follows the principles of archaeological reconstruction in that the breaks are left clearly visible. A slight misalignment occurred in resetting the piece with [Q.L... / righthand exergual line], which is offset a fraction of a millimeter due to the thickness of cement used. Of unquestionable authenticity. Despite the breaks, this coin is not very worn and the details of the portrait, and of the Parthian light cavalry horse with bridle and saddle to which is attached a bow-case and quiver, rival some of the best known examples.

    2. Scipio's Sekhmet

    The goddess Sekhmet on the obverse of this rare type is the only instance I can recall of an alien – non-Roman and non-Greek – god on a coin of the Roman Republic, and the only appearance of Sekhet or Sekhmet on an ancient coin. This is also the rarest of the Metellus Scipio and Crassus Junior RRC 460 types. In Egyptian religion, Sekhmet was a goddess of war and the destroyer of the enemies of the sun god Ra. Sekhmet was associated both with disease and with healing and medicine. She was the companion of the god Ptah and was worshipped principally at Memphis, and is depicted as a lioness or as a woman with the head of a lioness, on which was placed the solar disk and the uraeus serpent (Britannica). The significance of placing a wholly African god on a Roman coin may have been an appeal to local mercenaries or influential supporters of the Pompeian regime. Sekhmet is a cult figure in a number of gaming and graphic storyline arenas. For example, as a psychopomp goddess (guiding dead souls) worshipped in Wakanda in the Marvel comic series. Her appeal transcends generations and media types in a way few Roman Republican coins can. The figure of Sekhmet is artistically engraved with details well-preserved on this old-toned coin. Of course, the coin also has a backside and the reverse with Victory lands us back in the conventional Roman civil war arena, with a brave son of Crassus and an arrogant and unliked descendant of Scipio sharing moneyer roles.

    3. Enigmatic and exceedingly Caesar with chariot under trophy

    Considered by Crawford as the last denarius minted by Julius Caesar, the Gallic chariot under the trophy is the key to identifying this as RRC 482. An enigmatic type with no find evidence, it has never been clear whether this was an issue of Julius Caesar or the first issue of Octavian, but Michael Crawford considers it a very late issue of the Dictator, RRC p. 94: “No. 482. The titulature on this extremely rare issue resembles that on no. 480/-5 [Julius Caesar, the first issues with Mettius, Buca and Macer]; there is no evidence for where it was struck”; RRC p. 736: “for the chariot, which forms part of the trophy on no. 482, compare the chariot on no. 448/2” [the Vercingetorix issue being explicitly linked to Caesar' victories]. David Sear considers it a first issue of Octavian, but with no positive evidence – he acknowledges that CAESAR IMP matches the RRC 480 types, but finds difficulty in understanding why a Caesar type minted in early 44 BC would allude to his victories in Gaul. That one anomalous die is titled C.CAESAR IMP (see coin illustrated in Arma et Nummi) rather than CAESAR IMP, does not help Crawford linking the coin to the RRC 480 series. Bahrfeldt and Woytek go with this being Caesarian due the types. Bahrfeldt suggests a date just after the Gallic wars, and a mint location in Sicily, as with the Allienus denarius; Alföldi in 1971 SMB also discusses this. In my view, Crawford's dating to 44 BC breaks down once the titles don't exactly match the RRC 480 series. Absent that, given the obverse and trophy type are close to those on RRC 452 and RRC 468, and especially considering the chariot, I would have to agree with Bahrfeldt and place this type in 49 or 48 BC as a campaign issue. Exceedingly rare, with no examples seen at major auctions between the Ryan sale in 1952 and the Lanz example in 2007.

    4. Rarest Pompey Pietas Variant with B Mintmark

    With the mintmark B, this is the rarest variety of the classic Pompey Pietas rarity, always engraved in poor style and often offstruck. Professor T.V. Buttrey in his 1960 Numismatic Chronicle article identified and analyzed the five main types of this issue. Michael Crawford uses a similar arrangement, but could not resist noting that Buttrey's acceptance of an ancient forgery “vitiates” his arrangement (in fact, Buttrey did not accept it, but just noted its existence for completeness sake). Of the five types, the head left with SAL is anecdotally considered to be the rarest (however, this is incorrect, see below, actually this coin with the B mintmark is the rarest type). The other two head right types with SAL are the most usually encountered (including almost all the auction database examples); that with no mintmark is also rare. One of the SAL mintmark types is actually a re-engraving of a prior SAL type with amended titles. Crawford considers the later SAL mintmark types to depict Cnaeus Pompey Junior, while the first SAL type depicts Pompey the Great (despite the same actual die and portrait being used, recut). RRC sends us to page 737 to discuss the mintmark SAL; the reference should be corrected to page 94 where Crawford agrees with Buttrey's proposal of Salpensa as the mint location (with reasons but with much uncertainty). This coin, however, bears the much rarer mintmark B. The auction databases only have two coins with mintmark B, compared with over 20 head right having mintmark SAL and four of the head left type. This type is placed first in the series, RRC 477/1a, because this actual die was reused from RRC 470/1. Crawford proposes that the legend CN. MAGNVS IMP B was actually an error on a Crawford 470 type intended to read CN. MAGNVS IMP F, but given the great care with which the RRC 470 dies were prepared, and the clear letter B, which is placed separately under the bust far from IMP at 9pm behind the head, this seems most unlikely. In any event, the trailing F(iulus) actually meaning Junior in this context made no sense for Sextus – only Cnaeus could use The Great's full imperatorial name followed by F. So the trailing letter would have been removed in the reengraving for Sextus in such a case. But it stayed because it is a mintmark. Buttrey discusses possible mint locations as B, consistent with also being the mint for RRC 470. He concludes it cannot stand for “Baetica”, but must be a mint town, possibly “Baelo”, later Baelo Claudia. Woytek in Arma and Nummi proposes an entirely different solution to the issue, agreeing with Bahrfeldt (Nachtraege volume 3) that neither B nor SAL are mintmarks, B being an error and SAL being SALVTATIS (saluted Imperator). Logically, one either goes with both B and SAL being mintmarks – consistent with naming conventions on Spanish local issues, including the Roman OSCA denarius – or neither, hence vitiating the Crawford view of it being a bit of both. In my view, B was a deliberate mintmark, because the ‘error’ story requires three separate inconsistencies (F shown as B, then not removed for Sextus, then inconsistent with SAL). The coin is best read as is, per Buttrey. This denarius is an important academic rarity, and I would hope its new owner does a thorough investigation of the Buttrey, Crawford, Bahrfeldt, Woytek and other viewpoints and perhaps advances the story.

    5. Dolabella semis - the discovery coin for the series

    This is the discovery coin of the Dolabella series fractions, and the plate illustration in Roberto Russo's essay on unpublished bronzes in Essays Charles Hersh (plate 18, no. 39), at which time it was the only known example. Russo in Essays Hersh, p.142: “These four unpublished coins are the fractions of the [CN. CO dolabella RRC 81] as, which was otherwise the only denomination known. The shape of the prow and the symbol are so similar to those of the as to leave no room for doubt.” These coins are now recognized by their occasional rare appearances in commerce and in museum collections to be certainly from Spain – contra RRC, which placed the as in Sicily(?). It is, to say the least, highly unusual for RRC to have completely omitted an entire series of fractions, but there are other series where only a single fraction was listed such as RRC 151 S. FV, which only had a triens (as, triens, quadrans, and sextans now known). Access to the museum collections in Spain in the 1960s and early 1970s was difficult – the author of RRC was shown what they wanted to show him, and if one didn't know of the existence of a series such as dolabella, then one could hardly ask for it. One Cnaeus Cornelius Dolabella was made Rex Sacrorum in Rome in 208 BC, a role which was not consistent with military leadership, but perhaps in the years just prior to 208 BC he authorized the issuance of this small coinage in Spain. Very rare, and important for the history of Republican numismatics.

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    Overstrikes don't grab everyone, it's a specialist field, so I thought to separately highlight my writeups on these, as new research, in the auction of my coins closing 14th November here:

    Pictures below

    1. Important and exceedingly rare dolphin triens overstrike
    Exceedingly rare as a type and also unpublished as an overstrike. This is an important discovery, the dolphin triens not being listed by either Crawford table 18 or the later Hersh ANSMN 1985 overstrike inventories. There is clearly a Hieron II Poseidon/Trident undertype with the trident visible through the reverse prow. For clarity: the dolphin before prow is certainly part of the triens type and not of the undertype, which has dolphins of different style aligned with the tripod but in the opposite direction; the prow style also exactly matches that of RRC 80/1 as. The overtype is also exceedingly rare in its own right. There are no dolphin trientes in the Paris collection, none in RBW, none in Vecchi 3 (Fallani), and just one – CNG 45, lot 1228 – in the vast Goodman collection sold in CNG auctions 43-47. Quite apart from the rarity of the coin, the strike over a Sicilian undertype raises questions and provides new evidence for the dolphin series. Michael Crawford was uncertain about its mint location, noting Sicily(?) and “I am less happy with placing the issue with .. dolphin [in Sicily], but their stylistic affinities seem to be here rather than elsewhere”. In my own studies on anonymous bronzes in Essays Russo – see previous lot, a dolphin anonymous as – I placed the dolphin and related anonymous bronze types in the southern end of Apulia, the Messapian peninsula, probably actually in Brundisium. I did so because of the undisputed style links between club and dolphin bronze series, and their crossover anonymous types, and the undoubted placement of the heavy club asses on conical section flans in Apulia. This coin provides one piece of contrary evidence. It's possble the overstrike was Apulian as was done for many Luceria and related types, but it's also possibly Sicilian and may be evidence of a transition of engravers and workshop from Sicily to Apulia or vice versa for the club and dolphin bronze manufacture. With the very large heavy asses, the main denomination of these series does not seem aligned with Sicilian norms. This rarity is, of course, small and light as it must be because the undertype drives the size. A highly important coin for multiple reasons.

    2. A set of corn-ear KA overstrike bronzes from east Sicily and their minting circumstances

    This and the related anonymous lot include a denomination trio (triens, quadrans, and sextans) of Second Punic War overstrikes; these with corn-ear and KA and the next lot without. The corn-ear and KA series coins are related – the sextans evidently has the same style prow as the triens. Yet size didn't matter. The triens is 11.34g and 22.5mm, the quadrans is 5.05g and 18.5mm, and the sextans is 5.15g and 21.5mm. The largest module coin is the smallest denomination – sextans. The quadrans is both smaller in module and lighter than the sextans. The triens is heaviest but mid-sized. It's topsy turvy and this is typical. The denominations were probably needed in certain volumes for market place change, and coins were made to order with little regard to size. Over many coins and several denominations, these overstrikes tend to average an as weight of 20 grams or so, but with very large variability (see McCabe in Essays Russo for discussion). All are overstrikes. Most likely the undertypes were accumulated as booty by the bucket load. Perhaps buckets of visually larger looking flans were struck as trientes and those with visually smaller flans would be struck as quadrantes or sextantes, but of course, the booty coins would be all mixed up and with no attempt to decide on a coin by coin basis, larger denominations could end up on smaller flans and vica versa. It didn't matter because Romans didn't regard weight as of much importance for bronze coins after they stopped making the much heavier aes grave types: essentially all struck bronze was fiduciary. They looked only to the types (Minerva, Hercules, and Mercury obverses being very clear) and that new coins be approximately the same modules as those already in circulation. As for the undertypes: above the bull's hindquarters on the quadrans, the letters EPO match this with the Hieron II Poseidon/Tripod issue, RRC table 18/64; some of the straight lines and ornaments of the trident are visible on the obverse. The triens by weight probably has the undertype Syracuse Democracy Apollo/Dioscuri, RRC table 18/61; Minerva's crest shows remains of the exergue legend ΣYPAKOΣIΩN. The sextans shares the same undertype as the quadrans with elements of the dolphins and trident lines visible on the obverse. With KA mintmark on the triens and sextans – and assumed same mint for the quadrans of similar manufacture style – these are likely from a mint at or near Catania. A highly interesting trio.

    3. A set of anonymous overstrike bronzes from (west? not east anyways) Sicily and their minting circumstances

    This and the related lot include a denomination trio (triens, quadrans, and sextans) of Second Punic War overstrikes; these are anonymous and the previous lot with corn-ear and KA. The general discussion in the previous lot on the financial motives and selection methods for overstrikes applies equally to these three anonymous types. Whether these coins are Sicilian or Sardinian is not initially clear (see McCabe in Essays Russo, these being group H1 types). Data: triens weighs 6.41g and is 19mm; the quadrans is 3.54g and 21mm – the largest module coin in the group this time; and the sextans is 2.78g and 17mm. The triens is overstruck on the same Syracuse Hieron Poseidon/Trident type as were the sextans and quadrans of the last group. Two lines of the trident run clearly through the obverse with a control letter A under the end of the legend ...ΩΝΟΣ visible at 2pm reverse, cf. RRC table 18/38. The quadrans has a smooth shaven head left undertype obverse under the chin at 5pm and some wavy lines 10pm reverse. With no sign of a trident, and Poseidon being bearded, it cannot be the same undertype. The head must be Tanit and the wavy lines are the horse's tail on the Sicilo-Punic Tanit/Horse type (with or without palm tree). The obverse of the sextans shows a bent horse’s leg and is likely a bronze assigned to the mint of Carthage of similar Tanit/Horse type, but with a bent foreleg; not a Sardinian type in any event. It is striking, but not surprising, that all three anonymous bronzes are likely Sicilian made; they might equally well have been Sardinian, but in that case we would expect to see a bull with star Sardo-Punic undertype. But given that two of three are struck over Punic and not Syracusan types, these anonymous types probably represent a different mint location in Sicily than the corn-ear and KA types.

    4. An uncertain (whether it is an) overstrike corn-ear sextans

    It is not clear if this sextans is an overstrike (but as of 4th November I am tending to think it is). Obverse issues suggest it might be, but the reverse is an absolutely clear strike in close to as-made condition. This coin may reflect obverse strike problems or die damage. The prow is exceptionally clear and in a very typical style for this issue. In general, the thin flan types appear not to be overstrikes, yet often have dies and flans as large as much heavier coins. One might have thought the new-made flan types would precede overstrikes, yet due to weight, RRC often flips the order. A study of these types is ongoing under the auspices of the Austrian Academy of Science in Vienna, which will hopefully clarify the series based on actual die links.

    5. A double struck H triens

    An unusally clear example of a double struck bronze. The H series of bronzes and other bronzes from Apulia are discussed, with many new conclusions, in the write-up to my 2015 Taormina International Numismatic Convention talk, here:

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    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018

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