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Differentiating Gordian I from Gordian II


Steppenfool

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Everywhere I look, it seems people differentiate these coins based on the appearance of the two men, with Gordian II being more bald and having softer/younger features. However, I can't find any more information on how this technique was verified as reliable. As a counter hypothetical, what's stopping someone interpreting the situation as these coins only ever depicting Gordian I, but his portrait being "updated" at some point by the engravers.

I'm assuming there's someone out there who has proven through close scrutiny of dies/hoards/legends or whatever that the coins depict two distinct people, and that they can be demarcated on the above characteristics of their appearance. Can anyone point me to a resource?

Of course, we know from Herodian that both men were Augustus, so perhaps its simply a case of fitting two pieces of information together? Two Augusti according to the best primary source, and two portrait types, therefore each type depicts a different person? However, I'm hoping for something more bullet proof. It doesn't help they have exactly the same name and rank.

Edited by Steppenfool
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19 minutes ago, Julius Germanicus said:

The only way to discern them on worn coins (with not much of a hairline left even on portraits of the elder Gordian) is that Gordian I displays a slightly protruding upper lip while Gordian II shows a protruding lower lip.

 

2 hours ago, expat said:

My understanding was that Gordian II coins show no hair in front of his laurel wreath.

 

I understand that these differences in appearance exist. However, many Emperor's appearance changes in the time between their first imperial pronouncement, and them /sending a portrait to the capital.

Wouldn't it be possible to reconstruct events as follows: The principal choice for Emperor (Gordian I) is the only Emperor depicted on the coins, and that the ad hoc Gordian II elected due to Gordian's age at his request doesn't actually appear on them? Once Gordian I has sent letters about his acclamation and the mint workers begin producing his coins, he then commissions a portrait of himself to be sent to Rome, after the arrival of this portrait, the depiction of Gordian changes on the coins?

Or to propose another hypothetical, how do we know for sure that the Elder Gordian didn't have strangely fantastic skin and a bald head, and the younger had strangely bad skin but a full head of hair?

Basically what I am after is some corroborating evidence of the current consensus, which I of course accept is very probably true on balance.

 

The below busts are often attributed as Gordian I. But, I have experienced the shifting sands of bust attribution many times. Unless there is some hugely compelling reason for these busts to be Gordian I, I'm not sure we can count it as absolutely confirmatory evidence.

 

White statue of Gordian I

Thysdrus, Gordian I

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The only thing i can find about the appearance of the men is as follows from the Historia Augusta:

5 But truly I have decided that I must not omit this, which I read in Vulcatius Terentianus,79 who wrote a history of his time, because it seems a marvellous thing. So I write it down. The elder Gordian resembled the face of Augustus perfectly; he seemed, indeed, to have his very voice and mannerisms and stature;

[Gordian II]his son, in turn, seemed like to Pompey, although it is true that Pompey was not obese of person; his grandson [Gordian III], finally, whose portraits we can see today, bore the appearance of Scipio Asiaticus. This, because of its very strangeness, I have decided should not be passed over in silence.

 

I suppose the coins attributed to Gordian II have a bit of a fatter looking neck on some portraits, perhaps the obesity the HA refers to? Pompey was not bald however. (Both coins from British Museum)

 

coin | British Museum

 

 

 

Comapre to his father:

coin | British Museum

Edited by Steppenfool
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i've studied on this too and come to the conclusion that its the hair and maybe reverses...but  i don't have to worry too much about it cause i'll never have enough money to buy either one ^^...here's my mule replica...

IMG_1450.JPG

IMG_1451.JPG

Edited by ominus1
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I’ve wondered about this myself!  Here’s an attempt to marshal my thoughts.  

There are of course the general considerations you point to, which I think may constitute stronger evidence than you allow: there are two distinct portrait types, and this is particularly obvious on high grade examples. You wonder in the OP whether that might be explained by two separate issues, one with a “corrected” portrait… but since they reigned for only 3 weeks, two issues is very unlikely. Could it just be two styles coming from different engravers, though? Doubtful: Given the quality of the Rome mint output at this period, that sort of lack of quality control would be surprising. Plus both men served as consul under Severus Alexander, so their busts would have been readily available in Rome for reference. They were proclaimed Augustus at the same time, so we’d expect coins for both of them.

What about which is which? It’s true that the thinner guy looks older, agreeing with the description in the Historia Augusta (as @Steppenfool shows us). Gordian I was about 80, whereas Gordian II was more like 50. Believe me, 50 is definitely consistent with the degree of baldness shown on the alleged GII portraits. 😁 Here are a couple of the GI type portrait where the age is at least somewhat apparent.

 

image.jpeg.fea7ba8ce123da150db2f581051794a7.jpeg

image.jpeg.50ec3cd6352a30a27fa76c4b5db68a69.jpeg

A contrasting, more youthful GII portrait type:

image.jpeg.a0f7aac2f00183ca13981322740c6617.jpeg

(Not my coins, needless to say!) These two portrait types are easily distinguishable on high grade examples, as I said.

But you’re looking for a clincher. RIC Vol. IV(II), p. 158, appears to provide it.  The reverse legend on the first two coins above, P M TR P COS PP, is only found for the GI portrait type. RIC says this titular coinage was reserved for the senior emperor, and I’m sure they’re right. In particular, there could only be ONE pontifex maximus, P M, a position which would have gone to the senior emperor, Gordian I. So that identifies the thinner, non-balding portrait as GI, assuming we accept the arguments for the depiction of two distinct people… arguments that are further strengthened by the titular reverse legend only occurring with the thinner portrait type.

I think that’s pretty conclusive!

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11 minutes ago, Severus Alexander said:

I’ve wondered about this myself!  Here’s an attempt to marshal my thoughts.  

There are of course the general considerations you point to, which I think may constitute stronger evidence than you allow: there are two distinct portrait types, and this is particularly obvious on high grade examples. You wonder in the OP whether that might be explained by two separate issues, one with a “corrected” portrait… but since they reigned for only 3 weeks, two issues is very unlikely. Could it just be two styles coming from different engravers, though? Doubtful: Given the quality of the Rome mint output at this period, that sort of lack of quality control would be surprising. Plus both men served as consul under Severus Alexander, so their busts would have been readily available in Rome for reference. They were proclaimed Augustus at the same time, so we’d expect coins for both of them.

What about which is which? It’s true that the thinner guy looks older, agreeing with the description in the Historia Augusta (as @Steppenfool shows us). Gordian I was about 80, whereas Gordian II was more like 50. Believe me, 50 is definitely consistent with the degree of baldness shown on the alleged GII portraits. 😁 Here are a couple of the GI type portrait where the age is at least somewhat apparent.

A contrasting, more youthful GII portrait type:

(Not my coins, needless to say!) These two portrait types are easily distinguishable on high grade examples, as I said.

But you’re looking for a clincher. RIC Vol. IV(II), p. 158, appears to provide it.  The reverse legend on the first two coins above, P M TR P COS PP, is only found for the GI portrait type. RIC says this titular coinage was reserved for the senior emperor, and I’m sure they’re right. In particular, there could only be ONE pontifex maximus, P M, a position which would have gone to the senior emperor, Gordian I. So that identifies the thinner, non-balding portrait as GI, assuming we accept the arguments for the depiction of two distinct people… arguments that are further strengthened by the titular reverse legend only occurring with the thinner portrait type.

I think that’s pretty conclusive!

Thank you for your detailed reply! I think the RIC Pontifex Maximus distinction seals the deal, and moves me from almost certain to (as near as can be) absolutely certain. There's a few instances during my historical research where I've found that things fall into the category of "convention" rather than being decisively proved, so I'm always careful to make sure I understand Why certain things are. You've fulfilled that need as regards this question, and you have my gratitude!

I did consider the three weeks being too short for a corrected portrait. But I figured with the urgency of the situation from the Senate's POV, that things might have moved very, very quickly. It wasn't so much that Gordian II's age ruled out his baldness (all the males in my family start balding much earlier than 50, including myself!), it was moreso that baldness is generally hereditary. I suppose Gordian II can blame his mother (or some other genetic tomfoolery, I understand it's complicated).

I didn't consider the possibility of there being two engravers, I figured they would have had the same reference (whether it be a bust or portrait, or agreed an template failing these), and like you say, differences between engravers wasn't something that occurred at the Rome mint in this time period. 

One thing I am wondering regards your reply, did Consuls get busts/statues commissioned as a matter of course?

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Thanks @Severus Alexander that clarifies things a bit. Your point about existing busts and statues is spot on. In the case of some of the barracks emperors it might be months before a real bust and likeness was certified. Hence, we get the Maximinus portraits that look like Severus Alexander since he was an unknown figure in Rome (part of the problem he faced) Quintillus looking like Claudius II, etc. Well known figures of the ruling class, like Valerian who had prominent roles for decades, or very wealthy individuals like the Gordians didn't experience this.

Edited by Ancient Coin Hunter
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54 minutes ago, Ancient Coin Hunter said:

Thanks @Severus Alexander that clarifies things a bit. Your point about existing busts and statues is spot on. In the case of some of the barracks emperors it might be months before a real bust and likeness was certified. Hence, we get the Maximinus portraits that look like Severus Alexander since he was an unknown figure in Rome (part of the problem he faced) Quintillus looking like Claudius II, etc. Well known figures of the ruling class, like Valerian who had prominent roles for decades, or very wealthy individuals like the Gordians didn't experience this.

Good point, but to be fair, Quintillus was a notable figure. He only looked like Claudius because he was his brother!

Edited by Steppenfool
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On 6/23/2023 at 3:57 PM, Ancient Coin Hunter said:

In the case of some of the barracks emperors it might be months before a real bust and likeness was certified. Hence, we get the Maximinus portraits that look like Severus Alexander since he was an unknown figure in Rome (part of the problem he faced) Quintillus looking like Claudius II, etc.

I have a coin of Faustina II that was engraved by someone who had no idea what she looked like. I imagine it happened like this ...

"Hey, Nikolaos, Mithres says to engrave a coin for Emperor Antoninus' daughter Faustina!"

"What's she look like?"

"I dunno. Some Roman imperial lady. Make her look like an emperor's daughter."

"What's an emperor's daughter look like? I only know the local Lydian girls."

"Well ... like Germanicus' daughter Agrippina or Titus' daughter Julia."

"Okay ... I guess ... I'll get on it!"

Nikolaos sets to work on a blank die, modeling it after a coin of Claudius and Agrippina II from nearby Thyatira and a denarius of Julia Titi on hand.

Claudius and Agrippina II Thyateira.jpg

Julia Titi VENVS AVGUST denarius.jpg

And he comes up with this ...

Faustina Jr Dioshieron Asklepios Naumann.jpg
Faustina II, AD 147-175/6.
Roman provincial Æ 17.1 mm, 3.04 g, 7 h.
Lydia, Dioshieron, Magistrate L. Iouli. Mithres (Grammateus), AD 147- c. 149.
Obv: ΦAVCTЄINA CЄBACTH, bare-headed and draped bust right, hair in a top-knot and looped ponytail.
Rev: ЄΠI MIΘPOV ΔIOCIЄPЄITΩN, Asklepios standing left, holding serpent-entwined staff.
Refs: RPC IV.2, 1236 (temp); BMC 22.76, 12; SNG Cop 116; SNG Turkey 240-41; Waddington 4963.
Notes: Double-die match to Paris specimen (BNF) and Ashmolean specimen.

Eventually, coins with imperial portraits of Faustina II enter circulation in the backwater town of Dioshieron as they are spent by pilgrims coming to worship at the temple of Zeus and the mint workers learn what she looks like.

"Hey, Nikolaos, boss wants you to make another coin for the emperor's daughter! And do it RIGHT this time, will you?"

"Okay! I'm on it"

Nikolaos sets to work and this time, the portrait looks more like her ...

[IMG]
 
 
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They are clearly two different people, as can be seen on my Sestertii:

Bildschirmfoto2021-02-03um21_57_27.png.8b4da5fdd4c8639250a5f06d6104b015.png

But many auction houses (including CNG) have attributed their Sestertii to the wrong guy seemingly only considering the (worn away) hairline as a criterium, whereas in my oppinion the mouth is the best indicator.

An hundred years ago people seem to have identified the bald man as the older one, evident in the fact that my Gordian II was sold as Gordian I in 1913.

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