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Two recent purchases: Elagabalus with "horn" – but now without horn silver!


Ursus

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I recently bought these two denarii of Elagabalus, which I think deserve a small write-up:

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Elagabalus, Roman Empire, AR denarius, 218–222 AD, Rome mint. Obv: IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG; bust of Elagabalus, horned, draped and laureate, r. Rev: SACERD DEI SOLIS ELAGAB; Elagabalus, in Syrian priestly robes, standing right, sacrificing out of patera in right hand over lighted altar, holding upright club in left hand; star in r. field. 18mm, 2.13g. Ref: RIC IV Elagabalus 131.

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Elagabalus, Roman Empire, AR denarius, 218–222 AD, Rome mint. Obv: IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG; bust of Elagabalus, horned, draped and laureate, r. Rev: INVICTVS SACERDOS AVG; Elagabalus, in Syrian priestly robes, standing left, sacrificing out of patera in r. hand over tripod (?), holding club in l. hand; behind tripod, bull lying down; star in l. field. 18mm, 3.09g. Ref: RIC IV Elagabalus 88b.

 

1. Why they are interesting

There are a couple of coins that show the eastern cult of the sun god Elagabal that Elagabalus, whose actual name as emperor was Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, tried to introduce in Rome whithout much success apart from getting murdered. My denarii are two of them.

The reverse of my first coin shows the emperor in Syrian priestly garments sacrificing over an altar. The star (or sun?) in the field, which appears on many coins of Elagabalus, deserves special mention. The most common theory is that it is a symbol of the new celestial religion and indicates the emperor's divine status. Most important to me is the reverse legend naming the deity that became synonymous with this emperor. SACERD(OS) DEI SOLIS ELAGAB(ALI) translates as "priest of the sun god Elagabal." The legend thus gives a description of the role in which the emperor is shown here.

My second coin also shows Elagabalus in eastern priestly robes and with a star. This time, he is performing an animal sacrifice. In his left hand, Elagabalus holds a club he has apparently used to kill the bull lying below the brazier to his right. With his right hand, he is holding a patera and pours an offering of the bull's blood into the flames. Coins showing Roman animal sacrifice with so much detail are scarce and, in my eyes, particularly fascinating. Here, the legend "INVICTUS SACERDOS AVG(USTUS)" translates as "unconquered and august priest."

The mysterious "horn" on the emperor's forehead that is visible on the obverse of both coins deserves a special mention. This type of headdress is only known from coins of Elagabalus. It probably had religious significance, and there is a scholarly debate about what this object actually is. One particularly colorful suggestion is to read it as the tip of a bull's penis strapped to Elagabalus' head.

2. The provenance

Recently, the collection of Fritz Taeger (1894–1960) has been dispersed and entered the market. Both coins come from this collection. Fritz Taeger was a well-known German classicist. His scholarly work might deserve merit, his deep involvement with the Nazi regime does not.

Taeger's collection of some 1400 Greek and Roman coins was inherited by his daughter and remained untouched until being sold in November 2013. The auction house (Rhenumis) in my opinion didn't do a spectacular job. It grouped many of the coins, including some true rarities, into large lots. As a consequence, different German dealers currently offer coins from the Taeger collection on MA-Shops, ebay, and other platforms.

I bought another and more spectacular coin from the Taeger collection and will write a bit more about this provenance when I post it here somewhen in the near future.

3. What I did to them

The two coins were bargains: I paid 54€ for the pair, which is very good for these. On the one hand, they were offered as "coins of Caracalla" by a seller clearly not familiar with ancient coins. On the other hand, they looked like this when I got them:

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I usually don't clean coins, but here I took the risk. Both coins took a short bath in a solution of thiosulfate, which took care of the horn silver. Thanks to @Roerbakmix for introducing this method to our forum community! I am quite happy with the result and think that both coins were improved by the treatment.

Please post your coins of Elagabalus!

Edited by Ursus
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  • Ursus changed the title to Two recent purchases: Elagabalus with "horn" – but now without horn silver!
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2 hours ago, Ursus said:

Thanks to @Roerbakmix for introducing this method to our forum community! 

 

This method has been around for years. Here is a 2007 post from Bruce; who is a chemist and used to be very active on several forums; though I haven't seen him lately.

https://www.worldofcoins.eu/forum/index.php?topic=654.0

 

here's a book published in 2008 that talks about it (page 49-50)

 

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20 hours ago, Victor_Clark said:

This method has been around for years. Here is a 2007 post from Bruce; who is a chemist and used to be very active on several forums; though I haven't seen him lately.

https://www.worldofcoins.eu/forum/index.php?topic=654.0

 

here's a book published in 2008 that talks about it (page 49-50)

Interesting information – and thanks for the book recommendation!

As already said in the OP, I don't usually clean coins. My short fling with uncleaned ancients back when I started to collect was less than satisfying. Some later attempts at restoring better coins sometimes worked well and sometimes failed. After these experiences, I consider cleaning coins a different hobby than collecting, and I'm just more drawn to the historical and artistic side of numismatics than to the artisanal process of cleaning and restoring. Furthermore, I have a healthy respect of messing with potentially harmful chemicals...

That said, I read about removing horn silver with sodium thiosulphate here, found out that this substance isn't poisonous, and decided to give it a try. The procedure was simple and the results convincing. I might occasionally do this again in the future but doubt that restoration will become a real hobby for me.

EDIT: In case someone with chemical knowledge reads this: Would sodium thiosulphate also work against bronze disease? If I understand correctly, horn silver is silver chloride (AgCl), and bronze disease is cuprous chloride (CuCl). If sodium thiosulphate dissolves and binds silver chlorides, would it do the same with copper chlorides? I'm asking out of ignorance and because I still have 70g of sodium thiosulphate lying around without much other use for it...

Edited by Ursus
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I have bought far too many of these Elagabalus variants over the years, these include the types illustrated above. I hope that you don't mind me adding them here along with another couple of coins that might be relevant. I will not share all of them because there are simply too many.

RIC 88 without and with horn.

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RIC 131

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Here is a RIC 87 which I think is a nice example of the type.

Obv:– IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG, laureate, horned, draped and cuirassed bust right
Rev:– INVICTVS SACERDOS AVG, Elagabalus standing holding patera over an altar and branch. Star in right field. Horn on ground to his left
Minted in Rome. A.D. 222
Reference– BMC 209 note. RIC 87 (where it is rated Common citing Cohen). RSC III 58. Cohen 58 (illustrated with star in right field) valued at 50 Fr. No examples in RD.
ex Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG Sale 42, Lot 379, 20th November 2007, ex Barry Feirstein Collection, previously privately purchased from Harlan J. Berk.
Described as Lightly toned and good extremely fine by NAC.
21 mm. 3.11 gms. 0 degrees.

The coin would certainly seem to be scarcer than the "Common" rating given in RIC would imply. No examples in RD, only one example on acsearch (this coin). No examples on Wildwinds (the RIC 87 there would appear to be in error).

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Regards,

Martin

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On 1/26/2024 at 1:27 PM, maridvnvm said:

I have bought far too many of these Elagabalus variants over the years, these include the types illustrated above. I hope that you don't mind me adding them here along with another couple of coins that might be relevant.

I don't mind at all!

Your example of RIC 87 is fantastic, and the amount of detail on your second example of RIC 88 is stunning. Just look at how finely executed the little bull is.

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