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Faustina Friday – Trust but Verify

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Friday felicitations, fellow Faustina fanatics! I hope you have a great weekend. Remember when President Reagan used to say "Trust, but verify"? That’s originally a rhyming Russian proverb, Доверяй, но проверяй, transliterated as Doveryay, no proveryay. He learned that Russian proverb from American scholar Suzanne Massie, and he used it in the context of nuclear disarmament treaties. I think it's good advice when it comes to reference materials, even the most venerated ones. Cohen, Mattingly, Sydenham, Seaby, and Sear were only human, after all, and subject to error. And boy, did they make errors in their description of the coins featured in today’s installment of Faustina Friday!

I'm specifically referring to a posthumous issue for Faustina the Younger with the reverse legend CONSECRATIO and featuring a standing female figure sacrificing from a patera held over an altar. This type comes with two obverse designs – a veiled bust right paired with the
DIVAE FAVSTIN AVG MATR CASTROR legend and a bare-headed bust right paired with the DIVA FAVSTINA PIA legend. The error seems to have begun with Henry Cohen, back in 1883. Cohen lists the coins in his catalog of Roman imperial coinage as numbers 65 and 66, respectively.[1]


Cohen's French language description of the two coins with this reverse type.

Cohen's description of the reverse is translated as "Pietas standing right, sacrificing over an altar and holding a scepter." But let’s look at these coins with our own eyes, shall we?

Cohen 65:


Faustina Junior, 147-175 CE.
Roman AR denarius, 2.75 gm 19.1 mm, 11 h.
Rome, 176-180 CE.
Obv: DIVA FAVSTINA PIA, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
Rev: CONSECRATIO, Ceres-Pietas, veiled, draped, standing left, sacrificing out of patera in right hand over altar left and holding long lighted torch, vertical, in left.
Refs: RIC 741; BMCRE 711; RSC 66c; RCV 5214; CRE 204.

Cohen 66:


Denarius of Faustina I, Emporium Hamburg, Auction 100, lot 435, 15 November 2022.

What we see is a standing female figure facing left, not right, sacrificing out of a patera over an altar and holding not a scepter, but a long torch. A comprehensive internet search of all the usual databases[2] reveals not a single specimen of either coin with a right-facing female figure or holding an object that is unequivocally a scepter. Cohen simply was in error in his description of the coins. This is understandable; the Bibliothèque nationale de France lacked specimens of these coins and Cohen had to cite the specimens in the Staatliches Münzkabinett in Vienna. As he did not have direct access to the coins, he was unable to verify the descriptions by examining them in hand.

Mattingly and Sydenham had a habit of citing Cohen uncritically when they co-wrote the third volume of The Roman Imperial Coinage (RIC) in 1930. They often trusted, but didn't verify. They do so too in this case, assigning the coins numbers 741 and 742 in their catalog.[3]


Mattingly and Sydenham's English language description of the two coins with this reverse type.

You'll notice they propagate Cohen's errors, describing the reverse figure as standing right, not left, and holding a scepter, not a long torch.

Many years later, when obligated to examine all the coins in the British Museum in hand to prepare the catalog of the museum's holdings, Mattingly assigned the coins numbers 711 and 700, respectively.[4]


Mattingly's description of the specimen with the DIVA FAVSTINA PIA obverse legend and the bare headed bust.


Mattingly's description of the specimen with the DIVAE FAVSTIN AVG MATR CASTROR obverse legend and the veiled bust.

This time, Mattingly correctly describes the reverse figure as "standing front, head l." He also correctly describes the item in her left hand as a long torch in the description of BMCRE 711. But in his description of BMCRE 700, he continues to propagate Cohen's error, describing the object as a "vertical sceptre." This is the specimen he had to work with.


The British Museum’s specimen with the DIVAE FAVSTIN AVG MATR CASTROR obverse legend and the veiled bust, BMCRE 700.

The object in the reverse figure's hand is admittedly unclear, but Mattingly seems unwilling to consider that Cohen may have erred and the coin might be analogous to BMCRE 711, which clearly depicts a long torch. Though Mattingly attempts to accurately describe the coins in the British Museum, he trusted but didn't verify the specimens in Cohen, noting them as reverse varieties in his footnotes, making no mention of the fact that Cohen erred in their descriptions. This implied the existence of four different types, two in the British Museum and two in the Staatliches Münzkabinett in Vienna as cited by Cohen.


Mattingly's footnotes propagate the notion that Cohen accurately described reverse varieties featuring a reverse figure facing right and holding a scepter.

Seaby, writing shortly after the publication of BMCRE in 1968, took Mattingly's implication of four separate types, combined it with an accurate description of the DIVAE FAVSTIN AVG MATR CASTROR type, and ran with it, assigning them numbers 65, 66, 66a, 66b, and 66c.[5] Yes, five separate listings for two coins.


Seaby's five catalog numbers multiply the errors of Cohen and Mattingly before him.

Seaby doesn't even seem to consider the possibility that one or more of his sources may be in error. He trusted his predecessors but didn't verify that the coins they cited were described correctly.

This brings us to a 21st century catalog listing, that of David Sear.[6]


Sear's description of the specimen with the DIVA FAVSTINA PIA obverse legend and the bare headed bust. His catalog does not list the veiled bust variety with the longer obverse inscription.

David Sear appears to have independently interpreted this coin. He correctly notes the reverse figure faces left and holds a long torch. He uses the Latin abbreviation cf. when cross-referencing the coin to earlier works. Cf. is an abbreviation for the Latin word confer, meaning "compare." Cf. is a signal indicating that the cited source supports a different claim than the one just made, that it is worthwhile to compare the two claims and assess the difference.[7] Sear acknowledges with this brief abbreviation that his description differs from the descriptions in the sources he references. Note also that he has identified this reverse figure as Vesta, in contrast to Cohen, Mattingly & Sydenham, Mattingly, Seaby, and most recently, Temeryazev & Makarenko,[8] who all identify the reverse figure as Pietas.

One might think that Pietas is the scholarly consensus apart from Sear. However, note that this reverse type is identical to one used for Diva Faustina the Elder a quarter-century previously, which I have
previously discussed. Astonishingly, on the coins of Faustina the Elder with the identical reverse type, Cohen, Mattingly and Sydenham (RIC), and Mattingly writing alone (BMCRE) each identify the figure as Vesta. These numismatists aren't even internally consistent in their interpretation of the reverse figure. So, who is she? Pietas? Vesta? Or is there another possibility?

As I discussed in my
3 June 2022 installment of Faustina Friday, there is very little basis on which to base an identification of Vesta. Paul Dinsdale has performed a study of the attributes of the various named deities on the coinage of Faustina the Elder and has been able to identify which attributes are primary and which are secondary to the various deities. This has allowed him to identify deities depicted on the non-descriptive reverse types which bear the legends AVGVSTA, CONSECRATIO, and AETERNITAS, and those with anepigraphic reverses. This systemic and scholarly approach has called into question the opinions of previous numismatists as to the identity of the figure on these coins.

Dinsdale identifies the deity on the reverse as Ceres-Pietas, for the depiction of sacrificing over an altar is characteristic of Pietas, and the torch is characteristic of Ceres (
Ceres taedifera). Dinsdale acknowledges that "the torch is also borne by other personifications, such as Vesta and Diana, but unless other attributes indicate a different interpretation it may accepted that the torch is also determinative of Ceres."[9] I find Dinsdale's study convincing and have identified the reverse figure as Ceres-Pietas as well.

In conclusion, the references we use every day are generally trustworthy, but in the case of these two coins, each erred in some way. Study your coins. Look at them closely. Ultimately, the coins themselves have the last word. They may say something unexpected.

Kermit Drinking Tea meme



1. Cohen, Henry, Description historique des monnaies frappées sous l'Empire Romain, Tome III: de Marc Aurèle à Albin (161 à 197 après J.-C.). Paris, 1883, p. 141.

2. Databases include the British Museum collection, acsearchinfo, CoinArchives, CNG's archives, Wildwinds, OCRE, Coryssa, The Coin Project, and Tantalus.

3. Mattingly, Harold and Edward A. Sydenham. The Roman Imperial Coinage, III, Spink, 1930, p. 273.

4. Mattingly, Harold, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, vol. IV: Antoninus Pius to Commodus. Introduction, indexes and plates. London, BMP, 1968, pp. 488-89.

5. Seaby, H. A. Roman Silver Coins, vol II: Tiberius - Commodus. London, B. A. Seaby, LTD, 1968, p. 189.

6. Sear, David R., Roman Coins and their Values, vol. 2, The Accession of Nerva to the Overthrow of the Severan Dynasty, A.D. 96 -A.D. 235. London, 2002, p. 338.

7. “Cf.” Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School,

8. Temeryazev, S. A., and T. P. Makarenko, The Coinage of Roman Empresses. San Bernardino, CreateSpace, 2017, p. 69.

9. Dinsdale, Paul H. Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius Caesar AD 138-161; Second Revised Edition. Leeds, Paul H Dinsdale, 2021, p. 235.

Edited by Roman Collector
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In times not too far past, describing an image was not done as you view it, but from the objects perspective. eg, Pietas standing right. From her perspective her body and head are turned to her right. Overall though, I agree, there is a plethora of attributions which sometimes leave me scratching my head.

Great and informative post, thanks for sharing.

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Diva Faustina I Senior (the Elder) under Antoninus Pius
Sestertius of the Roman Imperial period 141/146 AD; Material: AE; Diameter: 32mm; Weight: 25.29g; Mint: Rome; Reference: RIC III Antoninus Pius 1146a; Provenance: Ex Peter Corcoran Collection, Ex CNG E245 (1 December 2010) 337; Obverse: Bust of Faustina I Senior, draped, right, hair elaborately waved and coiled in bands across head and drawn up at back and piled in a round coil on top. The Inscription reads: DIVA AVGVSTA FAVSTINA for Diva Augusta Faustina; Reverse: Pietas, veiled, draped, standing, left, dropping incense out of right hand over lighted candelabrum-altar, left and holding box in left hand. The Inscription reads: PIETAS AVG S C for Pietas Augusta, Senatus consultum.
This was my only Faustina I ever ever ever had 😂
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