Featured SATURNINUS the Usurper

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Ocatarinetabellatchitchix, Aug 8, 2020.

  1. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    Saturninus; a name that makes all collectors of Roman Coins salivate. This usurper has been known for centuries by the stories of Zosimus and also of Historiae Augusta. Here is how its story is described:

    Saturninus was a Gaul by birth, one of a nation that is ever most restless and always desirous of creating either an emperor or an empire. To this man, above all the other generals, because it seemed certain that he was truly the greatest, Aurelian had p399 given the command of the Eastern frontier, wisey charging him never to visit Egypt (Hist.Aug. Vol.3, 17,1)

    Zosimus 1,66,1 : While Probus was thus employed, Saturninus, a Moor, the most familiar friend of the emperor, and for that reason entrusted with the government of Syria, threw off his allegiance, and rebelled against the emperor. When Probus learned this, he resolved to frustrate his designs, but was anticipated by the soldiers in the east, who destroyed Saturninus and all his associates.

    Gaius Julius Saturninus was a commander under Probus in Syria. Saturninus led a short-lived rebellion, which began with his proclamation as Augustus by his army under his command in Alexandria Egypt. At first, it seems that, as a close friend of Probus, he declined the honor. However, later in about 280 AD, Saturninus appears to have proclaimed himself Augustus in Syria after a change of mind . The revolt that was started by this ex senior officer soon failed. Saturninus was probably killed by a faction of his guard who either remained loyal to Probus or those fearful of defeat due to the lack of support from other regions in the Roman Empire. It seems that his disappearance brought a great calm to all the Roman territory for a while: For Saturninus, who had seized the rule of the East, he overcame only by battles of various kinds and by his well-known valour. But when Saturninus was crushed, such quiet prevailed in the East that, as the common saying is, not even a rebel mouse was heard. (Vopiscus, Probus xviii)

    For at least the 16th century, forgers have taken advantage of stories about this character to produce counterfeits in his name. Coins of three different usurper in the name of Saturninus from different times have been minted with varying degrees of success; often those forgeries were not very convincing. The falsity of these coins has been recognized and demonstrated by Eckhel in the years 1780. A hundred years later, Henri Cohen, for his part, admitted that no authentic pieces still existed when he wrote his catalogue of Roman coins. We have to wait until 1895 to find an amazing discovery related to this usurper...

    Eckhel Vol.VII
    Cohen Vol.IV
    The first coin.
    On October 29, 1895 in Paris, Raymond Serrure, an expert numismatist, put up for sale a collection of gold coins discovered in the East. Among it was a particularly interesting specimen. An aureus in the name of Saturninus was part, with twenty aurei of Probus, of a small hoard discovered in the city of Ben-Ha in Egypt. The gold coin (5.27g) was auctioned for 6200 francs and won by J.H.Durkee, an American working at the embassy in Paris, much to the dismay of the Cabinet des Medailles de France, which did not have the budget to acquire it.
    Picture # 9

    Sadly, Mr.Dorkee died 3 years later with 590 other people during the sinking of the French ship "La Bourgogne". His collection of several thousand coins therefore entered the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It was managed by the ANS for decades until it was sold in 1972; he realized at this time the incredible sale price of 210,000 FS. Twenty years later, the famous aureus went on sale again and reached the sum of $ 180,000 in Los Angeles. To my knowledge, no one knows the identity of the lucky buyer.


    What a fantastic aureus

    The second coin
    As we said earlier, the Cabinet des Medailles was very disappointed not to have been able to add to its collection the only specimen of Saturninus. But a new opportunity presented itself in 1898; a second aurei (5.25g) made its appearance on the market. This time, they didn't miss their chance; the new specimen was acquired for the sum of 5250 Francs.

    Revue Numismatique 1898 (#19)

    It was not strucked with the same pair of dies, so we might conclude that a certain number of these aurei have been minted during the short revolt. At the beginning, it was believed the origin of the 2 examples were Alexandria in Egypt, but further analysis showed that the mint was certainly Antioch. The second Saturninus'coin is still in the Paris Collection, but sadly no recent pictures are available. A responsable of the Numismatic department explained to me :"Due to the enormous work currently underway on the historic site of rue Richelieu, most of our collections (including the Saturninus) are stored in the vaults of the Banque de France and we will only recover them in the course of 2021. In addition, our Image Bank (which was recently restructured and which is accessible online) does not keep any old silver prints that may have existed of this coin".

    The RIC plate picture

    The third coins
    What third coins ? A certain aureus of Probus which bears the reverse legend VICTORIAE AVGG is believed to have been struck by Saturninus himself in Antioch during his rebellion. In what purpose ? Probably the usurper wanted to reconcile with his old friend. There was no second Augustus recognized by Probus during his reign; so Saturninus hoped to be recognized as a co-regent by the emperor in place. Seven of these coins are known today and two of them have been offered in auctions lately.

    The first one (holed) sold for 15,000€ and the second one for 26,000€. Interesting information: if you carefully look at the 1895 auction's picture above, you will notice one of these Probus was for sale (#7) the same day, proving at least one of those aurei was from the same hoard and same provenance. Maybe in the future more specimen will be discovered and who knows, maybe someone from Cointalk will be the happy owner. Please post your comments and coins (aureus, Probus, usurpers...) related to Mr. Saturninus !
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  3. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Fascinating story! Unfortunately, I don't have a Saturninus to add. ;) But, since Alexandria and Probus play a role in this tale, I'll post this one.

    Probus AD 276-282.
    Roman billon tetradrachm, 7.62 g, 20.2 mm, 11 h.
    Egypt, Alexandria, AD 276/7.
    Obv: A K M AVΡ ΠΡOBOC CEB, laureate and cuirassed bust, right.
    Rev: LB, Dikaiosyne standing left, holding scales and cornucopiae.
    Refs: BMC 2412; Geissen (Köln) 3127; Dattari (Savio) 5527; Milne 4521; Kampmann & Gunschow 112.7; SNG Cop 913; Emmett 3979.
    TIF, randygeki, DonnaML and 5 others like this.
  4. Alegandron

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

    Nice write up, @Ocatarinetabellatchitchix ! Really cool stuff.


    RI Probus Æ Ant 22mm 3.75g 280CE CLEMENTIA TEMP XXI Emperor receiving Victory from Jupiter UNKNOWN EASTERN MINT
    TIF, randygeki, DonnaML and 5 others like this.
  5. serafino

    serafino Well-Known Member

    Fascinating history on these Roman coins. You did an outstanding job.
  6. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks. I'm always trying to write in a way that even a beginner collector will not get lost in too many technical details. About Saturninus, an excellent paper was published by S.Estiot in 2002. She goes much deeper in her analysis of this usurper, but an apprentice numismatist might get bored after a few pages. What I like to do is tell an interesting story about coinage and then embellishing it with old documents that are rarely consulted. Finding the right pages of the Revue numismatique 1898 was a real challenge, the discovery of the add in The numismatist was a coincidence and I had a lot of luck with the Catalogue de la vente de Raymond Serrure 1895; it's impossible to find it anywhere online, it had not been digitalized in any librairie in the world...but there was a copy for sale on a specialized site. The seller was showing a picture of the cover of the book, and one of a page containing exactly the pictures of the plates I was looking for ! Finally just had to translate from French to English "et le tour est joué".
  7. Barry Murphy

    Barry Murphy Well-Known Member

    Many people know who the buyer was. I know who the buyer was.

    Barry Murphy
  8. jamesicus

    jamesicus Well-Known Member

    Well done @Ocatarinetabellatchitchix.
  9. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

  10. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    Rumor has it that the owner was M.A.Armstrong...but I couldn't find any confirmation. If it was the case, maybe the aureus had been sold by a thrift shop in New Jersey a few years ago....
  11. Barry Murphy

    Barry Murphy Well-Known Member

    He is the owner and the Saturninus was not part of the group sold by a thrift shop. Those coins will be in the 2021 NY international sale by Heritage. It’s about 40 ancients and some English including the gold Henry III penny.

    I saw the Saturninus in the mid-90s in Marty’s office on one of my visits. Where the coin is today I’m not certain, but I would guess Marty knows.

    if you need confirmation that Marty bought the coin he confirms it on his website.


  12. Roerbakmix

    Roerbakmix Well-Known Member

    ...this sounds like an interesting story?
    serafino likes this.
  13. Barry Murphy

    Barry Murphy Well-Known Member

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