Now that the northeast is experiencing another snowstorm I have time to write another thread. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I collect imperial sestertius (sestertii?), focusing on the family of Septimius Severus, excluding Severus Alexander, but including Elagabalus - somewhat irrational, but Severus Alexander would be simply too much! I used to have a far broader collecting goal, to collect examples of every person that struck a sestertius, in every style which existed, and in each rank, in other words, Caesar and Augustus. I managed to carry on with this goal for some years until it became clear that enormous amounts would have to be paid for worn examples, even assuming that there were any to be found. The decision would come down to a very (very) worn Pertinax, or a pretty nice someone else. And for many personages, it would never be possible to afford any at all, even assuming that any could be found. For example, Domitia, Tranquillina (anyone ever even seen one? - I would love to know where), Severus Alexander as Caesar, Plotina, Anna Faustina, Tiberius, Augustus, Aquila Severa, Aemilian, Plautilla etc. All out of reach, without paying ungodly amounts for worn examples, even assuming that a worn example of, say, Tiberius ever comes up for sale (query: why is it that there aren't that many worn ancient imperial gold coins?). In short, my interest evolved to rationality. Also, in studying the overall series of imperial sestertii, you cannot miss that the skill level of the imperial celators had a tendency to vary - go up and down, sometimes within reigns. There is a period in latter middle of Commodus' reign when the sestertii and to some extent other imperial coins were underweight, undersized and pretty bad, although underweight and undersized are not the same thing - the early sestertii of Septimius Severus had a tendency to be undersized but not underweight. The work done during this period of Commodus' reign was sloppy, in low relief, in other words the coins are generally unattractive. It is hard not to conclude that the poor workmanship on the coins reflect the overall chaos of Commodus' regime - but that is an article planned for another time. The point is that the artistry and skill of the imperial celators had its ups and downs. I have read that the celators of the mint of Rome did not really know how to do portraiture until the reign of Hadrian - I disagree with that, because some of the early large sestertii of, for example, Titus, are spectacular. On the other hand, the sestertii of Hadrian done by the "Alphaeus master" is utterly spectacular. And for $2 million+ I could have bought the finest example of imperial sestertii out there! I have also read that the imperial Romans, in common with many people nowadays, looked to their past as a better time than the present - the Romans had an inverted notion of progress - things were always going from good to bad. In some instances, the Romans were correct - such as when the historian Cassius Dio wrote these chilling words introducing the reign of Commodus at the end of his Book 72: "...our history now descends from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust, as affairs did for the Romans of that day." Indeed, the coinage, the sestertii, in any event, didn't recover until some years after the reign of Commodus - the early sestertii of Septimius are simply not that great, among other things, the relief is very low and the skill of the celators is middling at best. (the sestertii of Clodius Albinus ARE terrific however - is this a political statement on Septimius?) One has to go to the provinces to find really great workmanship - in fact, I have always wondered whether Septimius brought back a celator or two after his second trip to the east. After all, once sestertii are made in big numbers after the mid 200's hiatus the sestertii are beautiful indeed. So I have made another digression - meaning to write about Trajan Decius, I end up spending lots of time on Septimius Severus. Again, my point is that the workmanship on the sestertii had its ups and downs. Nevertheless, after the reign of, Caracalla, the skill level began a general decline. The mint of Rome made sestertii during the reign of Severus Alexander by the truckload, but the coins just aren't that great, even when the relief is high. Something had happened - consider that the repairs to the Colosseum were done poorly, and this reflects a general loss of artistry in the coins as well. Why? It could be that the society had other priorities... Nevertheless, the old Roman spirit still managed to produce coins of beauty and skill. In my very personal and subjective opinion - and most of what I have written is of course extremely subjective, nowhere is this better reflected than in the sestertii of Trajan Decius. The coins are in many instances beautiful, even if generally smaller -weight and size - than in the past. The eyes and forehead in particular are done with skill - these reflect a fashion I have noticed in the statuary, and date back to the "fierce" expressions on the coins and statues of Caracalla. Recently I had an opportunity to look at a bust of Caracalla at MOMA (?) in NYC and noticed that the brow was very similar to what was expressed on the coins - and this trend was even more pronounced on the sestertii of Philllip and to some extent Trajan Decius. Decius' reign was the beginning of an extremely turbulent period of Roman history - it marked a terrible time for the Romans filled with plagues, civil wars, invasions and a general collapse, followed by a miraculous recovery - and all this is reflected in the coinage. Decius may even have been a reluctant emperor - appointed to command troops on the important Danube frontier by Phillip, he was proclaimed emperor after suppressing another revolt. But his reign, as with so many that followed him, was short. And yet the sestertii of Trajan Decius are magnificent, and a return to the skill level of old. The best place to view the coins of Trajam Decius are on the web-site "Four Bad Years" started by my old friend/acquaintance, Richard B, and continued by Marius (I do not know how to insert links - try googling the title). This site has examples that reveal the continued artistry on the sestertii - how the Romans managed to do it during this awful period is a mystery, and could just have been a happy accident. On the other hand, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and it may be that others believe differently. That is what is wonderful about ancient coins - the field is so enormous that one can find an area that is appealing in thousands of places. My area of interest is a bit pedestrian, I could easily have chosen the coinage of an obscure city and quickly become an exert on that specialty. In other words, the field is wide open, and it is conceivable that a clever collector can add to general historical knowledge - I have heard that there was a time when archaeologists and ancient coin collectors mutually cooperated - kind of hard to believe isn't it? The two coins above in no way are related to my current specialty, but I plan on keeping them. The one of top, of Pax, shows Trajan Decius with a beard, which is either worn off or doesn't exist on the one on the bottom. Both of these coins illustrate the wonderful brow and eye details that was used by the celator so effectively - I wish I had made better photographs, as these do not show the beauty of the patina on each coin. Both coins are undersized and underweight in comparison to the earlier imperial sestertii of, say, the latter part of the reign of Caracalla, or even Severus Alexander, but nevertheless there is adequate room for a beautiful design. I do not have the coins handy or I would include details on the weight and size - I will try to add these in the future.