Featured Valerian Sestertius - the Celators of Rome Still Had it

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Blake Davis, May 6, 2021.

  1. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member

    Valerian I Sestertius
    14.01 grams
    RIC 184 - noted as common, but a check of databases indicates that rare or scarce would be more accurate.

    DSCN8796 (2).JPG DSCN8799 (2).JPG

    You have to have to hand it to the ancient celators - it takes an enormous amount of skill to engrave the wonderful portraits of much of the imperial period. Compare the engravings from that time to, for example, the crude portraits of later periods. It is not surprising that that ancient art, including coins, inspired the Renaissance.

    I have always been fascinated by the sestertii of the emperors who directly preceded or lived during the early part of the time of troubles ca. 250 - 260 - Trajan Decius, Trebonianus Gallus, Volusian, Valerian, Gallienus, plus empresses, princes usurpers et als. The web-site "Four Bad Years:"


    shows that the Rome mint was still capable of engraving gorgeous, if not stunning portraits - I go back to the web-site again and again a beautiful example in ancient coin presentation. One of my regrets is letting go of two beautiful sestertii of Trajan Decius and one of Trebonianus Gallus in order to afford coins more in my collecting interest. After all you can't collect them all....right? but boy would I love to have these back.

    All of this is a long winded way of getting to the sestertius I have posted, of the emperor Valerian I, which was just purchased on ebay. It is not the first sestertii of Valerian I that I have owned - the other was ironically enough purchased from the former owner of the "Four Bad Years" web-site because I thought the reverse was too crude. Another sale I regret. You can't collect them all....right?

    We know Valerian I as the luckless emperor who was captured by Persians in 260AD, while attempting to negotiate a truce - and ended up as a horse step ladder for the Persian king, and was later executed, stuffed and exhibited.

    Valerian was Roman emperor from 253 to spring 260 AD. He was taken captive by the Persian emperor Shapur I after the Battle of Edessa, becoming the first Roman emperor to be captured as a prisoner of war. Unlike the later military emperors, Valerian was of a noble senatorial family. He married Egnatia Mariniana, with whom he had two sons: later emperor Gallienus, and Licinius Valerianus. He was consul for the first time either or just before 238 AD. In 238 Valerian negotiated for senatorial acknowledgement of Gordian I's claim as emperor. In 251 AD, when Decius revived the censorship with legislative and executive powers that practically embraced the civil authority of the emperor, Valerian was chosen censor by the Senate, which was declined.

    Valerian was in charge of affairs in Rome when Decius left for his ill-fated last campaign in Illyricum. Under Trebonianus Gallus Valerian was appointed dux of an army drawn from the garrisons of the German provinces which were ultimately used in a war against the Persians. When Trebonianus Gallus had to deal with the rebellion of Aemilianus in 253 AD it was Valerian that he turned for assistance in crushing the attempted usurpation. Valerian headed south but was too late: Gallus was killed by his own troops, who joined Aemilianus before Valerian arrived. The soldiers then proclaimed Valerian emperor, and march on Rome. Upon his arrival in late September, 253, Aemilianus's legions defected, killing Aemilianus and proclaiming Valerian emperor. In Rome, the Senate happily acknowledged Valerian as emperor, as one of their own.

    Valerian's first act as emperor on October 22, 253, was to appoint his son Gallienus caesar. Early in his reign, affairs in Europe went from bad to worse, and the whole West fell into disorder. In the East, Antioch had fallen into the hands of a Sassanid vassal and Armenia was occupied by Shapur I. Valerian and Gallienus split the problems of the empire between them, with the son taking the West, and the father heading East to face the Persian threat.

    By 257, Valerian had recovered Antioch and returned the province of Syria to Roman control. The following year, the Goths ravaged Asia Minor. In 259, Valerian moved on to Edessa, but an outbreak of plague weakened the Roman position, and the town was besieged by the Persians. At the beginning of 260, Valerian was decisively defeated in the Battle of Edessa and held then prisoner for the remainder of his life.
    I really like this coin - it is better in person, since using a volume of RIC is not the best background. Still I thought it illustrates a beautiful example of a coin from this well meaning emperor. I doubt many people collect his coins, but I find his sestertii to be fascinating, if only because it shows that the celators of Rome still maintained a high standard for some of their types.
    Last edited: May 6, 2021
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  3. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    That's a very nice looking coin!.....Great portrait!
    I do have an Antoninianus of his which still shows good engraving skills even though the reverse is a bit animalistic! Obviously the celator was an ex farmer....

    Valerian I AR Antoninianus.Rome AD 255-256 ...2.93g
    Obverse..IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS PF AVG, radiate, draped bust right
    Reverse..FELICITAS AVGG, Felicitas standing left holding caduceus and cornucopiae.
    RIC 87, Cohen 55; Sear 9936.
  4. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Blake, Nice score :D! The coin has a lovely patina too ;). I don't have any sestertii of Valerian, but I did score a handsome provincial bronze of Valerian a couple of years ago that I've posted before, pictured below. The reverse on this coin is a jaw dropper :jawdrop:.

    IMG_8205 (2).JPG
  5. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    That is indeed a wonderful portrait! Great reverse type too. :)

    My favourite Valerian portrait is a 1st issue Viminacium:
    valerian portrait.JPG
  6. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    The bad four years, and a couple of sestertii from the time:

    Volusian (251-253 A.D.)

    AE Sestertius, 29 mm 16 grams, Rome mint

    Obverse: IMP CAE C VIB VOLVSIANO AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right

    Reverse: FELICITAS PVBLICA S-C, Felicitas standing left, leaning on column, holding caduceus and sceptre.


    RIC 251a, Cohen 35, Sear 9786.

    Gallienus (253-268) AE Sestertius 28 mm 14.8 grams, squared flan, struck between 253 and 260.

    Obverse: Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right, with the legend IMP C P LIC GALLIENVS P F AVG

    Reverse: Fides standing left, holding two standards, with the legend FIDES MILITVM, S C in field

    Reference: RIC 214, Cohen 240, Göbl 74s


  7. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member

    Jeez! You are right about the reverse - stunning - some of the celators in the boondocks obviously had great skill - a lovely coin! Too bad Aurelian ended the types of the provinces. In fact, I used to have a provincial coin of Aurelian I called “the last provincial Roman coin.”
    +VGO.DVCKS likes this.
  8. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Great sestertius @Blake Davis - wonderful patina.
  9. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

    The celators of Rome still made beautifull dies, sadly the Antonniniani silver contence dropped to 20%.

    Here's a (silver) billon Antoninianus of Valerianus , looks more like a copper coin in hand:(

    P1160793 (2).JPG
  10. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    This is my one antoninianus of Valerian I, for which I've never been able to find an exact match in any reference work. There's certainly nothing special about the engraving of Valerian's bust, but it's better than a lot of the ones I have of his son! Plus, it actually still looks a little bit silvery.

    Valerian I, Silvered Billon Antoninianus, 257 AD, Mediolanum [Milan] or Viminacium Mint. Obv. Radiate, draped bust right, IMP VALERIANVS P AVG/ Rev. Virtus standing left, chiton off right shoulder (leaving right breast bare), holding Victory with right hand and resting left hand on shield, with reversed spear propped against left arm, VIRTVS AVGG. RIC V-1 267 (Milan) (p. 58) obv. leg. var.* [RIC identifies reverse figure as a soldier; Wildwinds identifies reverse figure on RIC 267 as Virtus (see http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/ric/valerian_I/i.html)]; Cohen 258 obv. leg. var. [Cohen identifies figure as Virtus or Roma], RSC IV 258 (Milan) obv. leg. var. [identifying reverse figure as soldier]; Sear RCV III 9992 obv. leg.var. [identifying reverse figure as Virtus, but characterizing Virtus as male; ascribed to Viminacium Mint for unstated reasons] (ill.); Göbl 811d (same obv. leg.) [identifying reverse figure as Virtus; Viminacium mint] [R. Göbl et al., Moneta Imperii Romani, Band 35: Die Münzprägung des Kaiser Valerianus I / Gallienus / Saloninus / (253/268), Regalianus (260) und Macrianus / Quietus (260/262) (Vienna, 2000)]; Cunetio 770 (same obv. leg.) [identifying reverse figure as Virtus] [Besly, E. & R. Bland, The Cunetio Treasure: Roman Coinage of the Third Century AD (London, 1983)]; Adeilson Nogueira, Valeriano, Na Numismatica Romana (Brazil, 2018) at p. 11 (see https://tinyurl.com/qpb659c) [identifying reverse figure as Virtus]. 22.5 mm., 3.4 g.

    Detail of reverse - Valerian I - Virtus AVGG - jpg version (2).jpg

    * RIC, RSC, Cohen, and Sear all identify the obverse legend on this coin type as IMP P LIC VALERIANO AVG rather than IMP VALERIANVS P AVG; the coins appear to be otherwise identical to this one. None of them lists a Valerian antoninianus with the IMP VALERIANVS P AVG obverse legend and a reverse with the VIRTVS AVG [RIC V-1 266] or VIRTVS AVGG [RIC V-1 267] legend, as well as the reverse figure -- however identified -- with spear and shield and holding Victory.
  11. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    No sestertii of Valerian, but this is my best portrait of his; shame about the reverse - I have been hunting a better one, but fine style + crisp portrait is where $20 coins quickly jump to $250 ones.
    Valerian Fides Militvm.jpg

    I do have one of Gallienus, I agree that the engravers did put some care into these
    Gallienus sestertius Mars.jpg

    Although you can on occasion find a nice one from after 260...
    Gallienus Pietas excellent bust_compress23.jpg
    Gallienus pax avg.jpg

    IMO the real talent shifted to Milan after Felicissimus took the reigns over the Rome mint
    Claudius ii victory milan.jpg
    Quintillus AE Antoninianus Providentia.jpg
    Aurelian Concordia.jpg

    Under Probus, Rome was back to #1 in terms of artistry
    Probus military bust ADVENTVS PROBI.jpg
    Probus antoninianus adventvs avg.jpg
  12. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I have quite a few coins of Gallienus, mostly the zoo series, and I think this one (with the tigress reverse) has probably the most well-done portrait of a generally mediocre-to-poor lot. But I think the one I posted of his father is better. I buy these for the animals, not for Gallienus himself!

    Gallienus - Tigress - jpg version.jpg
  13. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Supporter! Supporter

    I have a very rough sestertius of Valerian.. most are pretty bad - mine is even worse.. but I am glad to have it. His story is certainly one of the more interesting in all of Roman history...

    Valerianus I. (253-260 AD). AE Sestertius (27 mm, 15.93 g), Rome, 253-254 AD.
    Obv. IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS AVG, Laureate and cuirassed bust right.
    Rev. VICTORIA AVGG / S - C, Victory standing left, holding wreath and palm

    Billon Silver Antoninianus 20mm (4.06 grams) struck circa 256-260 A.D.
    IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS P F AVG, radiate, draped and cuirassed bust of Valerian I right.
    RESTITVT ORIE-NTIS, the Orient, turreted, standing right, presenting wreath to the emperor, standing facing, head left, holding scepter.

    Rock-face relief at Naqsh-e Rustam of Shapur (on horseback) with Philip the Arab and Emperor Valerian
    Last edited: May 7, 2021
  14. Alegandron

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

    Congrats on the great Sestertius, @Blake Davis !

    Provincial Valerian I

    RI Valerian I 253-260 CE AE 20mm Alexandria Troas mint Horse Grazing


    RI Valerian I 253-260 CE AR Ant Felicitas stndg Caduceus and Cornucopia

    His nemesis


    Sasanian Shapur I 240-272 CE AE Tetradrachm 10.78g 27mm Ctesiphon mint phase 1a mural crown korymbos - fire altar type 2 SNS IIa1-1a
  15. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    That is an attractive sestertius!

    I agree that the coins of Valerian I show a wide range of engraving and production quality. This one from Rome is exceptionally nice:
    Rom – Valerian I, Antoninian, Apollo.png
    Valerian I, Roman Empire, AR antoninianus, 253 AD, Rome mint. Obv: IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS AVG; bust of Valerian, radiate, draped, cuirassed, r. Rev: APOLINI PROPVG; Apollo, nude except for cloak flying behind, standing r., drawing bow. 22mm, 3,58. Ref: RIC V Valerian 74.

    This coin from Cologne, on the other hand, looks more like the work of an intern and furthermore suffers from worn dies:
    Rom – Valerian I, Antoninian, Oriens.png
    Valerian I, Roman Empire, AR antoninianus, 258–259 AD, Cologne mint (RIC: Lugdunum mint), Obv: VALERIANVS P F AVG; draped, cuirassed, radiate bust of Valerian I r. Rev: ORIENS AVGG; Sol standing l., raising r. hand and holding globe in l. hand. 21mm, 2.86g. Ref: RIC V Valerian 13.

    The Lugdunum mint wasn't much better:
    Rom – Valerian I, Antoninian, Vulcan, DEO VOLKANO.png
    Valerian I, Roman Empire, AR antoninianus, 258 AD, Lugdunum mint. Obv: Obv: VALERIANVS P F AVG; bust of Valerian I, radiate, draped, l. Rev: DEO VOLKANO; Vulcan, draped, wearing pilos, standing l. in temple, holding hammer in r. hand and pincers in l. hand; at his feet l., anvil. 22mm, 3.16g. Ref: RIC V Valerian 5.
  16. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    Great engravor on the OP, and you're right @Blake Davis, there are some fabulous portraits to be found on those big chuncks of the period








  17. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    @Orielensis's reference to the qualities of Valerian's coins from different mints, and to the fact that there's apparently a difference of opinion as to whether one of his coins comes from Lugdunum or Cologne, reminds me to ask the following question. The authorities also differ as to whether the Valerian antoninianus I posted above (among others of his coins) was minted in Mediolanum [Milan] or Viminacium (in today's Serbia), with the more recent authorities tending to favor the latter. Does anyone know anything about the reasons for this difference of opinion, and why the consensus -- if there is one -- has changed over the years? I'd also be interested in the reasons for the Lugdunum/Cologne difference of opinion. The older books don't even mention a mint at Cologne at the time, I believe.
    galba68, Spaniard, +VGO.DVCKS and 2 others like this.
  18. Orielensis

    Orielensis Supporter! Supporter

    You're putting your finger on the right question.

    The scholarly debate about the western mint(s) in the mid-3rd century appears to be ongoing, and there will be people on this forum who know more about this than me. As far as I understand, it is by now generally accepted that Valerian I transferred the Viminacium mint to the west in 256 or 257 AD. The location of the resulting new western mint is hotly debated. Cologne, Trier, and Lyon (Lugdunum) have been proposed. Judging by what I have read about this topic, Trier or Cologne at this point appears most likely.

    That means that my mint attributions above, which I copied from my digital collection catalogue and had entered into it at different times using different reference works, probably need to be corrected to a single "western mint."
  19. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Fascinating; thank you. Which means that if my coin was really minted in 257, and its original attribution in RIC to Mediolanum was shifted to Viminacium (for reasons I don't know), perhaps it was actually minted not in Viminacium but in Cologne! The Case of the Shifting Mints.
    galba68, Orielensis and +VGO.DVCKS like this.
  20. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Well-Known Member

    Terrific writeup and sestertius, @Blake Davis. It's interesting how the worst phases of the 3rd-century debasement go hand in hand with the decline in style, just starting with the precipitate drop in the relief. --Which @Finn235 demonstrates with admirable cogency.
  21. Alwin

    Alwin Supporter! Supporter

    Very nice green patina!

    VALERIAN I, Sestertius
    Rome, 253-255
    S 10012 v. - C 69 - RIC Va 161
    IMP C P LIC VALERIANVS P F AVG, Laureate bust right
    FIDES MILITVM - S C - Fides standing facing, holding two standards
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