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Faustina Friday – Faustina the Elder’s Greatest Hit!


Roman Collector

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Friday felicitations, fellow Faustina fanatics! I hope your weekend is a coin-filled one! Today we're going to talk about Faustina the Elder's most common denarius. It bears the reverse inscription AETERNITAS and features a standing female figure, head left, holding a globe and grasping a veil which billows behind her.

In terms of representation in the Reka Devnia hoard, museum collections, and auction sales, no other denarius even comes close to RIC 351a. You probably have one in your collection, too. The Beatles had "Hey Jude." Faustina the Elder had RIC 351a. This is her greatest hit!!

FaustinaSrAETERNITASAeternitasglobeandbillowingveildenarius.jpg.9cdb6a5ac1a77b4615be2ab8e670f250.jpg

Faustina I, 138-140 CE.
Roman AR denarius, 3.26 g, 18.4 mm, 5 h.
Rome, 150 CE or later.
Obv: DIVA FAV-STINA, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
Rev: AETERNITAS, Providentia standing left, holding globe and grasping veil which billows behind her.
Refs: RIC 351; BMCRE 373-381; Cohen/RSC 32; Strack 447; RCV 4578; CRE 121.


How common is this?

 

Well, the Reka Devnia hoard contained a whopping 498 examples of this coin.[1] There are 90 specimens at OCRE. A search for "Faustina 151* denar*" at acsearchinfo yields 398 examples sold at auction as of the time of this writing. As Alfred Henry Lewis would say, it’s "as common as delirium tremens in New York."

Let's consider the type in greater detail.

Who is depicted on the coin’s reverse?

Cohen identifies the figure as "L'Eternité (ou Uranie?)" – "Aeternitas (or Urania?)".[2] Strack identifies her as Aeternitas.[3] However, Mattingly, writing in both RIC and BMCRE tentatively identifies the figure on the denarius as "Providentia(?)".[4] David Sear and Temeryazev and Makarenko follow Mattingly, and attribute the figure to Providentia.[5, 6] Seaby hedges his bets by citing Mattingly, Cohen and Strack and identifies her as "Aeternitas or Providentia or Urania."[7]

So, there has been considerable uncertainty about the figure's identity. However, in RIC and BMCRE – despite his uncertainty about the identity of the figure on the denarius version of the coin – Mattingly definitively identifies the female figure on the sestertius as Aeternitas! He does the same in his introduction to BMCRE, implying that the figure even on the denarius version should be taken as Aeternitas.[8] So, Mattingly himself appears to have erred when attributing the figure to Providentia, and I suspect had he not done so, Sear and Seaby wouldn't have done so either.

Moreover, it's important to note that the billowing veil on the reverse image (seen best on the larger bronze issues but sometimes on well-struck denarii) is spangled with stars. This starry veil is one of four attributes that are unequivocally associated with Aeternitas on Antonine coinage.[9] There is thus no reason to label the goddess on this coin as Providentia, for surely she is Aeternitas.


FaustinaSrAETERNITASSCAeternitasglobeandbillowingveilsestertius.jpg.4f9f2bbb453c396d9c6bd7ace2557fc8.jpg

The sestertius of the type in my collection, demonstrating the veil is spangled with stars. RIC 1106.


Why is this reverse type so common?

That's a question that cannot be answered with certainty, but it likely relates to the purpose of the issue. Coins of this reverse type were issued in the denarius, sestertius, and medium bronze denominations. Like all of Faustina's coins bearing the AETERNITAS reverse legend in conjunction with the DIVA FAVSTINA obverse inscription, they were part of a massive issue which commenced in 150 CE to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the empress' death.[10]

The starry veil is an important part of this issue's iconography, for it represents "the starry mantle of the sky."[11] The allegory is clear: the deified empress is to be identified with Aeternitas herself and resides for all eternity in the celestial sphere. This is an appropriate image for a denarius commemorating the tenth anniversary of her death, and one worthy of large-scale production at the mint.

Do you have a coin of this reverse type? Let's see it! As always, I welcome your comments or anything you feel is relevant.

~~~

Notes


1. "Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire." Reka Devnia 1929, Oxford University.
https://chre.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/hoard/3406.

2. Cohen, Henry. Description historique des monnaies frappées sous l'Empire Romain, Tome II: de Nerva à Antonin (96 à 161 après J.-C.). Paris, 1882, s.v. no. 30, p. 415.

3. Strack, Paul L., Untersuchungen zur Römischen Reichsprägung des Zweiten Jahrhunderts, vol. 3, Die Reichsprägung zur Zeit des Antoninus Pius. Stuttgart 1937, s.v. no. 447.

4. Mattingly, Harold and Edward A. Sydenham. The Roman Imperial Coinage. III, Spink, 1930, s.v. no. 351, p. 70; Mattingly, Harold, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, vol. IV: Antoninus Pius to Commodus. Introduction, indexes and plates. London, BMP, 1968, s.v. no. 373, p. 56.

5. 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, s.v. no. 4578, p. 268.

6. Temeryazev, S. A., and T. P. Makarenko (CRE). The Coinage of Roman Empresses. San Bernardino, CreateSpace, 2017, s.v. no. 121, p. 50.

7. Seaby, H. A. Roman Silver Coins, vol II: Tiberius - Commodus. London, B. A. Seaby, LTD, 1968, s.v. no. 32, p. 162.

8. See RIC no. 1106 and BMCRE no. 1495; also introduction to BMCRE, p. lxxxiii.

9. Dinsdale, Paul H. Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius Caesar AD 138-161; Second Revised Edition. Leeds, Paul H Dinsdale, 2021, p. 234.

10. Beckmann, Martin. Diva Faustina: Coinage and Cult in Rome and the Provinces. American Numismatic Society, 2012, pp. 63ff.

11. Mattingly, Harold, BMCRE, op. cit., p. lxxxiii.

Edited by Roman Collector
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10 hours ago, Roman Collector said:

 

“You probably have one in your collection, too. The Beatles had "Hey Jude." Faustina the Elder had RIC 351a. This is her greatest hit!!”

 

Great post @Roman Collector ! Your comment is right on — I do have one of those in my collection. 

image.jpeg.84d0e3c6e0127f7234bd6bc4cc6fdd72.jpeg

 

 

Sorry, I couldn't resist!

 

image.jpeg.56d264ee66c98b6c72b4eb74200a60f8.jpeg

 

 

 

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13 hours ago, Marsyas Mike said:

Great post, @Roman Collector.  I find this "most common" topic to be an interesting one, although the unanswered question is always a big "why"?  Why this particular type and not another?  

Anyway, this is kind of embarrassing, for although the OP may be common, my example is horrible!

image.jpeg.247e630a85bd5e6463630b4bda358e5d.jpeg

 

That's what I'm talkin' about!!

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