Featured Octavian and the restoration of commerce and arts... or is it something else?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Limes, Sep 5, 2020.

  1. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter


    I wasn’t really looking for this particular type. But since I got the book by Sear, The history and coinage of the Roman imperators, as well as the Dutch translation of Appianus, I have been diving deeper into the imperatorial era/late republic and this fascinating part of Roman history and the accompanying coinage. When I saw this coin, I immediately fell for the well proportioned portrait of the youthful Octavian, which although worn, still shows a great amount of detail. The depiction of the deity on the reverse is in my opinion artistic, and interesting, like several other issues of this series. And, more importantly, I was missing a coin of Octavian in my collection, as part of the ‘imperatorial series’!

    After some more research, it became clear to me that this new addition covers more then just being a very good looking coin. An extra bonus! Below I will share my findings and hopefully you will find this as interesting as me!

    After the defeat of Sextus Pompeius at the Battle of Naulochus by Octavian’s general, Agrippa, Octavian turned his eye on Marcus Antonius. Antonius operated from Egypt, where he was involved in a Romantic affair with Cleopatra, and Octavian returned to Rome. There, Octavian started a campaign to discredit Antonius as a leader and a Roman. Several events took place that where in Octavian’s advantage. The disastrous campaign of Antonius against the Parthans crumbled his image as a capable general. And his involvement with Cleopatra, his divorce of Octavia - sister of Octavian - and him granting rights and titles to Cleopatra and their son Alexander Helios, added more fuel to the claim of Octavian, that Antonius aimed at diminishing the preeminence of Rome. A clash became inevitable after Octavian seized Antony's secret will, which he promptly publicized. It provided the necessary factual basis of Octavians’ progaganda campaign against Antonius, and the Senate promptly revoked Antony's powers as consul and declared war on Cleopatra's regime in Egypt. In 31 BC the power struggle between Octavian en Antonius reached it’s culmination at the naval battle of Actium, which led to an absolute victory of Octavian. Antony and Cleopatra were able to flee from the scene and reached Egypt, only to be defeated again in Alexandria in 30 BC, after which they committed suicide. Thus ended the Roman civil war, that started with the assassination of Caesar and devastated the Roman empire, but which resulted in the establishment of the Principate.

    My coin was struck around 32/31 BC and was part of a wider series of coins bearing the legend ‘CAESAR DIVI F’, which of course refers to Octavian’s heritage. This coin as well as the other coins send out a clear message that Octavian is not only Caesar’s heir, but also that Octavian is destined to fulfill Caesar’s promise for a stable, strong and unified empire. The various coins depict the bare head of Octavian to either left or right, and the various reverses show an equestrian statue of Octavian (refers to the battle of Philippi), Venus (gens Iulia), Victory, Pax and my coin, Mercury (for the restoration of commerce and the arts). The volume and date of these coins (35 BC - 30 BC) is such, that it coincides with the large volume of legionary coinage minted by Antonius. Although the date of the coinage of Octavian is debated, it however could provide a very interesting insight in the propaganda war between Octavian and Antonius and the money generated by these two triumvirs to pay for the armies that were destined to do battle at Actium.

    A different interpretation of this coin is also present. It revolves around the reverse. The general attribution holds that the figure on the reverse is Mercury. The other view claims that the reverse figure is not Mercury, but Apollo. Mercury was the Roman god of many things, amongst which were financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication. He is often depicted with a winged hat (petasos), the caduceus, and accompanied by a cockerel, ram or goat and a tortoise. The latter animal refers to his legendary invention of the lyre from a tortoise shell. Apollo has been recognized as a god of - amongst other things - music, poetry, healing and diseases, truth and prophecy. He is often shown with a lyre, or a kithara (lyre 2.0), a sword and the sacrificial tripod. The difference of interpretation concerns the question if the object carried on the back of the figure is either a winged hat (petasos) or a shield, and if the lyre is a lyre with a tortoise shell or a ‘standard lyre’. The consequence of this interpretation is that, if the reverse figure is Apollo, the coin probably would have been minted after the battle of Actium, instead of before. There are other Roman republic coins depicting Mercury. See for example the denarius of C. Mamilius Limetanus, 82 BC. This depiction (head of Mercury on the obverse) clearly shows the petasos and the caduceus. The attributes are generally known and clearly, one can imagine that if the engraver would have been ordered to engrave Mercury, he would have added these attributes. Denarii depicting Apollo are of course also known. For example the denarii of C. Piso L.f. Frugi (67 BC) and P. Clodius M.f. Turrinus (42 BC). On these coins, Apollo is shown with either longer hair and wearing a taenia, or accompanied by a ‘standard lyre’. If we were to follow the alternative theory, my coin would be post-Actium. Apollo could then also stand for the fullfilment of the legacy of Caesar and that Octavian was indeed the right person to do it. I’ll leave it up to the real experts to draw a definitive conclusion.

    Van Meter (The Handbook of Roman imperial coins) comes up with another date, and writes that the reverse figure is Mercury and ascribes the reverse to the battle of Naulochus, in which Octavian and Lepidus (mainly, Agrippa) destroyed the fleet of Sextus Pompeius. This took place in 36 BC. The victory re-opened sea trade with Italy, and Mercury is the patron of commerce. It isn’t mentioned in his work when the coin would have been struck, and if his attribution means that the coin would have been struck 4 or 5 years earlier then Sear notes in his book The history and coinage of the Roman imperators 49 - 26 BC, which is around 32/31 BC. Except for an intermediate issue (RIC 543a /b), Sear dates the series in 32/31 BC for the pre Actium issues, and 31/30 BC for the post Actium issues.

    Please show your coins of Octavian, Marcus Antonius, coins relating to Actium, or whatever you feel is relevant. You can also just silently admire this coin of course :)

    I only possess a very, very limited amount of books, and heavily rely on whatever is posted online. If anyone has more info, please let me know :)
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  3. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..dandy coin Limes! that reverse is fantastic!. :) octavian(augustus) denarius 001.JPG octavian(augustus) denarius 003.JPG Octavian imperatorial, 44-27 BC
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  4. Alegandron

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

    Very nice Denarius, and well written post! Thank you! Wow, lotta good info was spewed!

    RImp Octavian 32-31 BCE AR Den Rome mint Bare CAESAR DIVI F Mercury lyre RIC 257 Sear 1550
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  5. Edessa

    Edessa Supporter! Supporter

    The Triumvirs. Octavian. Autumn 31-summer 30 BC. AR Denarius (19.1mm, 3.69g, 9h). Italian (Rome?) mint. Obv: Bare head left. Rev: Victory standing right on globe, holding palm frond and wreath. Ref: CRI 408; RIC I 255; RSC 66. Very Fine, toned, small banker’s mark on obverse. From the D. C. Kopen Collection. Ex CNG.

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  6. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Lovely coins all!
    +VGO.DVCKS, Edessa and Limes like this.
  7. eparch

    eparch Well-Known Member

    @Limes - interesting theories - I am waiting for Sear's book to be published in the UK. Apart from their historic interest, these issues
    are among Augustus's most artistic.
    Here is mine
    Octavian AR Denarius. Italian mint (Rome?), autumn 31 - summer 30 BC.

    Bare head left / Victory standing left on globe, holding wreath and palm; CAESAR DIVI•F across fields.

    RIC 254b
  8. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    Since he was mentioned, A coin of Sextus Pompey seems relevant.
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  9. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter

    Your coin is just... WOW! Amazing portrait and great detail on the reverse.

    I had posted this thread on FORVM as well, and I've been given some very convincing arguments that the figure on the reverse is indeed Mercury. On some well rendered examples, one can actually see wings attached to the boots of the figure on the reverse. Interesting to note as well, is that RIC 264 (Victory obverse, Octavian in triumphal quadriga on reverse, IMP CAESAR) shares the obverse die with RIC 263 (Victory obverse, Octavian in triumphal quadriga on reverse, CAESAR DIVI F) and that RIC 263 is pre-Actium and RIC 264 post-actium. This would mean that other CAESAR DIVI F coins, including mine, are pre-Actium and the figure cannot be Apollo.
  10. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Super coin and writeup! I was sketchy on the dating of this issue, so the background is very helpful. I have the Pax version:

    Screen Shot 2020-09-07 at 12.03.29 PM.jpg
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  11. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter

    That impressive and desirable type should be shared every time and no matter what the thread is about! Great specimen!

    And great coin @Severus Alexander. Glad I could help out with the info :)

    Thanks for sharing!
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  12. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Very nice coin @Limes and thanks for the write-up.
    Limes likes this.
  13. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Limes, a very cool start to the thread. Not really being a student of the period, it's great to watch you folks get so deep into the intricacies of the historical contexts. Meanwhile, Orfew, I just got a first look at your website. Very impressive!
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  14. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    No shortage of coins in this thread to sit and silently admire - a fabulous coin @Limes. Since Anthony has not made an appearance yet as a key figure in the battle at Actium, I will add a coin of Octavian + Mark Antony to the thread - or in this case it seems Mark Anthony and Octavian, or perhaps portrait size is not in any way a slight. This coin about 10 years before the final battle and death of Antony in Egypt.
    Mark Antony and Octavian.jpg
    Marcus Antonius with Octavianus and M. Barbatius, AR denarius, military mint moving with Mark Antony (Ephesus?), 41 BC
    Obv: M ANT IMP AVG III•VIR•R•P•C•M•BARBAT Q P , bare head of Mark Antony to right
    Rev: CAESAR•IMP•PONT•III•VIR•R•P•C•, bare head of Octavian to right
    Ref: Crawford 517/2, RBW 1798, Sydenham 1181
    Note: banker's mark on the reverse
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2020
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  15. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the write up Limes, I think I see winged sandals on the feet, in that case
    it must be Mercury.

    Relevant I think is General and Admiral Agrippa , as mentioned in your write up.

    Agrippa neptune klein.jpg
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  16. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    (Sulla80, your blog is cool, too! Liked your take on Gallienus.)
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  17. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter I dig ancient coins...

    Augustus was also reponsible for the RES GESTAE a series of inscriptions and writings which recounted his deeds on behalf of the Roman people. Among his claims was a restoration of the arts and morals of the Romans.

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  18. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    thank you, I am slowly building it out, as a way to showcase some favorite coins and history.
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