My first ancient gold coin: a solidus of Arcadius

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by DonnaML, Apr 13, 2021.

  1. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Not my usual kind of lengthy write-up like the ones I do for Roman Republican coins. But still just as lengthy, somehow!

    A couple of weeks ago, I wrote the following in a thread about aurei and other ancient gold coins, after explaining that it's very unlikely that I'll ever be able to afford to buy an aureus: "I have been keeping my eye out for some time for a solidus to buy, as the closest thing to an aureus there is. Specifically, I've been hoping, since well before this thread, to buy a solidus that's (1) from a well-known, reputable dealer, for obvious reasons; (2) under $1,000 . . .; (3) in decent condition on both sides, reasonably well-centered, with the legends readable and none of the important elements worn off or off the flan; (4) early enough still to look like (and be considered) a Late Roman coin, with a Latin legend and reasonably realistic faces and figures, rather than looking like a Byzantine coin with very non-realistic figures and ultra-religious themes, since coins like that don't generally appeal to me as a matter of personal taste . . . and, preferably, (5) one that isn't in a slab, since I'd probably break it out anyway and don't want to pay the premium that dealers usually charge for slabbed coins. Maybe all of that is asking a lot, but that's been my ideal."

    When I posted that comment, I had just finally found one that met all or most of those criteria -- and also has a provenance all the way back to 1960! -- but wanted to wait to talk about it specifically. It arrived a couple of days ago, so I can safely post it now.

    It's a solidus of Arcadius -- actually the very first separate Eastern Roman emperor, from 395-408 AD. As summarized at, "Flavius Arcadius was the son of Theodosius I and Aelia Flaccilla. Born in 377 A.D., Arcadius was raised to the rank of Augustus by his father at the age of six [in 383 AD]. Upon the death of Theodosius in 395 A.D., Arcadius was given the Eastern half of the Roman empire while his brother Honorius received the Western half." A notoriously ineffective emperor (just like his brother!), but that didn't seem to affect his gold coins adversely.

    Anyway, here it is:

    Eastern Roman Empire, Arcadius, 383-408 AD, AV Solidus 397-402 AD, Constantinople Mint (9th Officina). Obv. Helmeted and cuirassed bust facing three-quarters right, holding spear over right shoulder and shield on left arm bearing image of horseman right; D N ARCADI-VS P F AVG / Rev. Helmeted Constantinopolis seated facing on throne, head right, with right knee bare and right foot resting on prow, holding long scepter with right hand and, on left hand, Victory with wreath standing on globe; CONCORDI-A AVGG Θ [Theta, for 9th Officina]; in exergue, CONOB [for Constantinople Mint]. RIC X 7 at. p. 240 (1994); Dumberton Oaks Catalogue, Late Roman 207-217 (217 = 9th Officina) and Plate 8 [P. Griessen. & M. Mays, Catalogue of Late Roman Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, etc. (1992)]; Sear RCV V 20706 (ill. p. 431) (1994). 20 mm., 4.44 g. Purchased from Dr. Busso Peus Nachf., Frankfurt, Germany, 1 April 2021. Ex. Auktionen Münzhandlung Sonntag Auktion 33 Lot 36 (23.11. 2020); ex. Auktion 116 München Münzhandlung Karl Kreß [Kress](Otto Helbing Nachfolger), Lot 729 (28.10.1960).

    Arcadius solidus photo Dr. Busso Peuss jpg version from MA-Shops.jpg

    Obviously it's not in perfect condition, but I really love it. I had almost forgotten how much I like gold coins! Of course, I'm more familiar with milled British gold, and hammered gold is much thinner -- the reverse of this one is a little bit concave near the rim, in fact -- but it's just as appealing. To me, it looks even better in hand than in the photo. For example, you can clearly see in hand what appears in the photo to be the very faint upper right edge of Arcadius's helmet. I very much like the way that Constantinopolis's face is engraved on the reverse; it's much more finely and realistically engraved than a number of others I've seen.

    Also, I might have preferred an obverse portrait in profile (as more traditionally Roman), but even though this one is in three-quarters facing view, I think the face is much better preserved than some of the others I looked at. (Such as the ones on which the emperor's nose is basically spread all over his face!) In general, I was very pleased to be able to buy the coin for less than my $1,000 self-imposed price limit. (The 5% discount the dealer gave me helped!)

    Interestingly, David Sear states in RCV V at p. 429 that this 3/4 facing style was something new: "In the gold coinage, a new obverse type was introduced for the eastern solidi showing a helmeted three-quarter face bust of the emperor with spear and shield. Honorius' western mints retained the traditional profile image, but in the East the new obverse was to become the norm down to the early years of the reign of Justinian and in the late 7th century was even briefly revived by Constantine IV." (But: isn't there an earlier solidus of Constantius II [RIC 168] that has almost exactly the same type of three-quarters facing bust? See for an example. So did Arcadius really "introduce" that type? Perhaps Sear didn't mention the earlier one because it didn't establish a trend?)

    Here's a copy of the entry for this type from the Dumbarton Oaks Catalogue, which is available online. As noted above, the 9th Officina is No. 217:

    DOCoins Arcadius 207-217 (solidus officina 9 is 217).jpg

    The dealer, Dr Busso Peus, was kind enough to provide me with documentation (including the relevant plate) of the 1960 provenance, namely, Karl Kress Auction 116 in Munich, 28 Oct. 1960, Lot 729. It's the third-oldest provenance I have (after a Giovanni Dattari Collection coin I own and a coin from the 1887 East Harptree hoard), and the only one with photographic evidence for the provenance:

    Arcadius Solidus 1960 Kress Auction p. 1.jpg

    Arcadius Solidus 1960 Kress Auction p. 2.jpg

    A detail of Lot 729:

    Detail - description Arcadius Solidus 1960 Kress Auction p. 2.jpg

    The handwritten numbers next to each lot are, of course, the actual auction prices. I don't know what currency they're in -- presumably, the Deutschmark (DM), in effect from 1948.

    The relevant plate:

    Arcadius Solidus 1960 Kress Auction p. 3.jpg

    A detail showing Lot 729 -- a bit blurry, but clearly the same coin, I think.

    Detail Arcadius Solidus 1960 Kress Auction p. 3 (photo, lot 729).jpg

    The only thing that made me feel a bit uneasy was the fact that Karl Kreß (Kress) was the coin's dealer in 1960. See this Dec. 2019 post by @Curtisimo (at’s-top-10-of-2019.352186/#post-3955142):

    "Otto Helbing Nachf. was a prominent Jewish family run auction house based in Munich which was founded in 1878. In the mid 1930s the family was forced to flee Germany and the firm was seized by the Nazis and transferred to Karl Kress at some point before 1938 (a process often referred to as aryanizing). Until 1944 Kress continued to use the Otto Helbing name. A look through restitution claim records show that some of these auctions were populated with material seized by the SS and sold through the Kress-run auction house. This coin was part of an auction in November 1942 held under these circumstances. My research leads me to believe that this coin was unsold in that sale and that it and the other unsold lots were retained by Karl Kress for the rest of his life. Kress died in 1969 but his firm continued until 1986. These WWII era unsold lots as well as the rest of the Karl Kress inventory were purchased as a group and sold by Gorney & Mosch at auction in 2016."

    A couple of further notes based on my own brief research: At the time the Otto Helbing firm was "Aryanized" -- which, as I know from my own family's experience, usually meant a forced sale at an extortionately low price that sometimes wasn't even paid -- it was "owned by Heinrich Hirsch, father of Gerhard Hirsch, who founded the still active Münzhandlung Gerhard Hirsch Nachf."
    See The E-Sylum for 9/11/2016 at the Newman Numismatic Portal ( We don't know exactly why Karl Kreß was given the opportunity to acquire the firm and its inventory -- although of necessity he must have been a Nazi party member himself or otherwise a supporter of the regime -- but it seems that he was not even a numismatist by trade before the sale. See leu&contenttype=Periodical for an abstract of the article published after his death in Coin World [02/11/1970] (pg. 65), stating that "Mr Kress had been a printer by trade then had purchased the Munich numismatic firm of Otto Helbing." See alsoüfen-Gewinden-Werkstattbücher-German/dp/3662406136/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&qid=1618339690&refinements=p_27:Karl+Kress&s=books&sr=1-2, a link to a copy on Amazon, with a photo of the cover, of Karl Kress's 1938 book Messen und Prüfen von Gewinden (Werkstattbücher, 65) (in translation, "Measuring and testing threads (workshop books, 65)" -- nothing to do with numismatics, I think).

    What gives me comfort, though, and leads me to feel that there's nothing "tainted" about the coin (at least, not directly), is that I think it's extremely unlikely that any coin that was in the Otto Helbing inventory at the time Kress acquired the firm circa 1938 was still in inventory in 1960. Especially a gold solidus. Of course it's true that Kress benefited financially from the sale of this very coin, but there''s nothing I can do about that. And better that the coin is in my hands now than in his.

    Please post your coins of any kind issued by Arcadius, and/or your gold solidi issued by any emperor. Or your old European provenances for which you have actual photographic evidence from catalogs.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2021
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  3. Romancollector

    Romancollector Well-Known Member

    Congrats on your first gold ancient @DonnaML ! And what an impressive and historically significant pedigree!
    7Calbrey and Roman Collector like this.
  4. svessien

    svessien Senior Member Supporter

    Congratulations, Donna!
    Owning a Roman gold coin is quite special, I think.
    Sears statement regarding the first type under Arcadius is surprising. Licinius issued a full facing aureus in 320/21, and as you say, Constantius issued the first 3/4 facing types with spear and shield around 350 AD:
    Constantius solidus.jpg
    Constantius II, 337-361 Solidus Nicomedia circa 351-355,

    Obverse: FL IVL CONSTANTIVS PERP AVG. Helmeted and cuirassed bust facing three-quarters right, holding spear and shield.

    Reverse: GLORIA REI PVBLICAE. Enthroned figures of Roma (left) and Constantinopolis (right), holding between them shield inscribed VOT XXX/MVLT XXXX. Both holding sceptre in hand, Constantinopolis with right foot on prow

    Reference: C 112. RIC 74. Depeyrot 5/2.

    For the next 40-50 years, the profile portraits continued to rule, but during the 5th century, the 3/4 facing portraits seem to be far more common than profile portraits. On the solidus, that is. The semissis and tremissis usually have the emperor in profile.

    Here’s Arcadius’ brother and co-emperor in gold too:

    Honorius solidus.jpg

    Honorius AV Solidus. Constantinople, circa 395-403 AD

    Obverse: D N HONORIVS P F AVG, pearl-diademed, helmeted and cuirassed bust facing slightly right, holding spear over shoulder and shield decorated with horseman

    Reverse: CONCORDIA AVGG G (3rd officin). Constantinopolis seated facing, head right, placing right foot on prow and holding sceptre and Victory on globe; CONOB in exergue.

    Reference: RIC X 8, Depeyrot 55/2, RCV 20899

    Weight: 4.43g Diameter: 20mm, 6h.
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  5. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    Fantastic addition @DonnaML! A very beautiful example.
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  6. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Congrats Detective Donna , great coin.

    Heres my Arcadius , its more like fool's gold:)

    Arcadius son.JPG
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  7. Matthew Kruse

    Matthew Kruse Young Numismatist

    There is so much detail on that coin it looks like it was just minted yesterday! ;)
  8. ValiantKnight

    ValiantKnight I AM the Senate! Supporter

    My only solidus right now. My photos do not do it justice.

    Marcian, Eastern Roman Empire
    AV solidus
    Obv: D N MARCIA-NVS P F AVG, diademed, helmeted and cuirassed three-quarter facing bust, holding spear over shoulder and shield decorated with horseman
    Rev: VICTORI-A AVGGG, Victory standing left, holding long jeweled cross, star in right field
    Mint: Constantinople
    Mintmark: CONOB
    Date: 450-457 AD
    Ref: RIC 510
    Size: 4.46 gr., 21 mm

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  9. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    What a lovely coin, @DonnaML! The provenance is merely the icing on the cake.
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  10. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    That's a beauty, Donna, congrats! I agree about the sensitive engraving on the reverse, and it's great to have an old provenance.

    Here's my Leo I, which I picked up cheap due to the repaired hole:
    leo i solidus.jpg
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  11. Only a Poor Old Man

    Only a Poor Old Man Well-Known Member

    Congratulations Donna, may this be the first gold of many. How about trying for a semissis or tremissis next?

    It is a very nice coin with great level of detail in both the obverse and reverse. And of course the cherry on the top is the fascinating provenance.

    All of my gold coins are fairly religious and very Byzantine. I am actually looking for an early one that has still some Roman characteristics. Your emperor and his son will probably be the most likely candidates. Here is the coin that was my first gold:


    Attached Files:

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  12. Cicero12

    Cicero12 Supporter! Supporter

    Great coin! That piece caught my eye when it went up!
    DonnaML likes this.
  13. Collecting Nut

    Collecting Nut Borderline Hoarder

    She's a beauty Donna!
    DonnaML likes this.
  14. Egry

    Egry Supporter! Supporter

    Congratulations on your first ancient gold coin Donna! Interesting history as well.
    DonnaML likes this.
  15. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Aegina. c. 380-360 BC. Stater, 12.1 gm., 22mm. Obv: Land tortoise. Rev: Skew pattern incuse with five segments. SNG Munchen 566-7. SNG Copenhagen Suppl. 264. Dewing 1686. SNG Lockett 1995. Oslo Mynthandel AS Auction #7, 1981, Lot #226 (this coin)
    AeginaMynthadelAuction7 copy.jpg
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2021
  16. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Many thanks to you and everyone else. I think my solidus might have been an example of a coin that could easily have sold for more at auction than its retail price, contrary to long-standing stereotype. I imagine that the provenance wouldn't hurt.

    Do semisses and tremisses generally sell for considerably less than solidi?
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2021
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  17. svessien

    svessien Senior Member Supporter

    Nice to see a coin that has travelled from Oslo to the US:) Were you there on the auction, or mail bid?
    I bought all the old NFA cataloges that used to belong to Gunnar Thesen from Oslo Mynthandel («coin shop»). Many of them contained letters from the NFA owner to Gunnar. I think he imported quite a lot of ancient coins for the Norwegian market from NFA and European auction houses. Gunnar Thesen has been considered «the guy» in numismatics here for at least 40 years. He’s still going strong.
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  18. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Given these two coins, I don't understand how Sear could have said that Arcadius "introduced" the type, and that it wasn't used in the West by Honorius's mints. I thought he was usually more precisely accurate than that.
    svessien likes this.
  19. svessien

    svessien Senior Member Supporter

    Yes. I think it’s around 50-70% of solidus price, given that they are common issues.
    I’ve been watching that market closely lately, and it seems to me that 200-250% of bullion value is a good deal for a common type solidus these days. You won’t get a siliqua or a centenionalis that cheap!
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  20. Matthew Kruse

    Matthew Kruse Young Numismatist

    Wow! Great detail on the shell! :wideyed: I love those turtle/tortoise Stater coins.
  21. Parthicus

    Parthicus Well-Known Member

    Great coin @DonnaML , and an informative write-up as usual. I don't have any gold for Arcadius, but do have a decent silver siliqua:
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