Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Blake Davis, Mar 7, 2018.

  1. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Active Member

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    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.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2018
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  3. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    Coins of Decius vary a lot in terms of weight and workmanship. They similarly vary a lot in market price.

    My worst is a double sestertius. Nice ones are not cheap. 32.5g is not large for these.

    This Victory sestertius weighs about half the weight of the two that follow it but it is not an as.

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  4. Alegandron

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

    Wow the DETAIL and clarity of their faces! Nice captures @Blake Davis ! Great write up also. Thanks.

    I heartedly agree...

    I focus on coins representing critical junctures in Human History. I am in no way a numismatist, but love the Hobby of Ancients. My general focus is on The Roman Republic and those entities that interacted with them. IE: Pre-Roman Italia, Carthage, Makedon, and The Diadochi.

    However, I dabble elsewhere... I do have a very pedestrian Trajan Decius to toss in:

    RI Trajan Decius 249-251 CE AR Ant Dacia draco standard.jpg
    RI Trajan Decius 249-251 CE AR Ant Dacia draco standard
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  5. Sallent

    Sallent Supporter! Supporter

    Great write-up and coins

    decius_6 (1).jpg
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  6. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    As are some of his denarii.

    AR Denarius, 2.87g
    Rome mint, 80 AD
    RIC 112 (C2). BMC 72. RSC 309.
    Obv: IMP TITVS CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M; Head of Titus, laureate, bearded, r.
    Rev: TR P IX IMP XV COS VIII P P; Dolphin coiled around anchor
    Ex Berk 143, 18 May 2005, lot 177.
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  7. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    kool!...i'm waiting for a 5+gram antoninianus of him now...
  8. TJC

    TJC Well-Known Member

    Great write up and coins!! Great artistry!!

    Here is a favorite Decius portrait on an Ant from my collection.
    TrajanDeciusVic449O3.jpg TrajanDeciusVic449O3.jpg TrajanDeciusVic449R2.jpg
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  9. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Active Member

    Beautiful portrait!
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  10. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter in hoc signo vinces

    Here's my Decius antoninianus:


    Attached Files:

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  11. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Active Member

    This coin also has the detail hat you would not expect at this late date - nice coin!
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  12. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

  13. Trebellianus

    Trebellianus Active Member

    A very thoughtful, considered post -- much obliged to you for writing it. A few comments:

    I await being corrected but my understanding was that the gold pieces, owing to their value, simply didn't circulate so much, hence why the average state of preservation of the surviving specimens exceeds that of the silver.

    A rather curious judgement, I think -- de gustibus non est disputandum, naturally, but I would take almost the exact inverse view. To me, the portraiture on the emissions of Hadrian was the last to be consistently good, considered purely aesthetically -- I feel from Antoninus Pius onwards one can detect traces of the stylisation and schematisation which were to become so prevalent later. The technical finesse held up for a while, but for me the artistry begins (in general, with many exceptions) to decline. I agree Decius stands out among the Crisis-era emperors in this regard.

    Agreed entirely -- by the Severan era I feel like much of the better work was coming out of the provincial mints: lots of striking, artistic portraits and reverses.
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  14. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    I am impressed by the variety of portrait styles for Decius. I really like TJC's coin but it looks a generation younger than ancient coin hunter's. My favorite antoninianus style for Decius is not 'typical' but I am not sure exactly which one I would call that.

    Of course, everyone knows I have strange tastes. I even like my fourree.
  15. TJC

    TJC Well-Known Member

    Great Trajan Decius's everyone!!

    BTW, sorry for the double post. Just noticed and it seems I am too late to edit.:(
  16. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Excellent write up and coins!
  17. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    An enjoyable read @Blake Davis ! I don't have any relevant counselor to share...I do have some nice large provincials..

    How about a coin from a later period since we're considering the artistry of the celator?

    Postumus, AD 260-269
    AE “Double" Sestertius, 33mm, 24.9g, 12h; Colonia Agrippinensis or Treveri mint.
    Obv.: IMP C M CASS LAT POSTVMVS P F AVG; Radiate, draped and cuirassed bust right.
    Rev.: LAETITIA AVG (AVG in exergue); Galley left, four rowers and steersman

    I LOVE this portrait!
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  18. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Active Member

  19. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Active Member

    I have been looking to buy a nice sestertius of Postumus for quite some time - like Alexandria drachms there seems to be many struck but almost all are quite worn - the obverse of this coin is an exception - what a beauty!!!!
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  20. arashpour

    arashpour Member

    Hi Guys

    I also have a trajan decius but its 4.4 gram is it normal? and metal looks dimmed color not that clear silver color. Do you think its authentic? 20180310_085315.jpg 20180310_085322.jpg
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  21. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    I don't see any problem.
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