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An ostroghotic 40 nummi coin by king Theodahat returns to auction

Vel Saties

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A wonderful example of a 40 Ostrogothic nummi bronze minted in Rome by King Theodatus reappears on the market thanks to the auction involving Numismatica Genevensis SA, Numismatica Ars Classica and Classical Numismatic Group (Auction 144 lot 1163).
This coin comes from The Geoffrey Cope Collection of Ancient Greek & Roman Bronzes
This coin combines an apparently Ostrogothic portrait (with the effigy of the king on the right with a germanic crown-helmet and coronation clothes on which a conspicuous pectoral cross stands out) with a reverse from the Flavian period.

Grierson, p. 11, says that “these follies are the most impressive coins issued by any Germanic ruler of the 5th or 6th century.”
Certainly, together with the follis of Justinian beaten in Rome, one of the most impressive naturalistic portraits of the period in the Italian area.



This is the description from the auction house:

The Geoffrey Cope Collection of Ancient Greek and Roman Bronzes. The Roman Empire. The Ostrogoths. Theodahad, 534-536.

Pseudo-Imperial Coinage. In the name of Justinian I, 527-565. Follis (40 nummi), Rome 534-536, Æ 29 mm, 10.85 g. D N THEO – DAHATVS REX Bust r., wearing closed crown, ornamented with jewels and two stars, and robe decorated with jewels and pectoral cross on breast. Rev. VICTORIA – PRINCIPVM Victory standing r. on prow, holding wreath and palm branch; in field, S – C .
MIB 81
MEC 1, 141
Metlich 89a
Rare and in unusually fine condition for the issue. Lovely
light green patina and about extremely fine
NGSA salt 5, 2008, 348

The most important of Theodahad's innovations was the introduction of the king's portrait on coins. Excluding the gold medallion of Theoderic, this is the first representation of an Ostrogothic ruler: on the obverse, Theodahad on the r., wearing royal garments, and on the reverse, a Victory on prow, a typical old Roman type.

Edited by Vel Saties
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Recently another bronze example of 40 Ostrogoth nummi by Theodatus was sold by Roma Numismatics (Auction XXX lot 582). The coin in question also had a great pedigree as, before being auctioned by Artemide in 2022, it was part of the Apostolo Zeno collection, court poet of Emperor Charles VI, who lived between 1668 and 1750, and sold auctioned, together with the entire collection, by Dorotheum in Vienna in 1955.


★ Ex Apostolo Zeno Collection ★

No Reserve

Ostrogoths, Theodahad Æ 40 Nummi. Rome, circa AD 535. D N THEODΛHΛTVS REX, helmeted bust to right, wearing imperial mantle / VICTORIA PRINCIPVM, Victory standing to right on prow, holding wreath and palm; S-C across fields. A. Arslan and M. Metlich, ‘A die study of the Theodahad Folles’, in The Coinage of Ostrogothic Italy, p. 130, 1c, B1-L5 (this coin); Metlich 89b; MEC 141; MIB 81; BMC Vandals 19-24; Ladich 16-25. 9.44g. 25mm 6h.

Near Extremely Fine; superb green patina. An outstanding example of this very rare and fascinating issue.

This coin published in A. Arslan and M. Metlich, ‘A die study of the Theodahad Folles’, in The Coinage of Ostrogothic Italy (London, 2004);
Ex Artemide Aste s.r.l. (San Marino), Auction LVIII, 5-6 November 2022, lot 568;
Ex Apostolo Zeno (1668-1750) Collection = Dorotheum-Kunstabtailung, Sonder-Münzauktion, Sammlung Apostolo Zeno, 6 June 1956, lot 2591.

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Il Prof. Ermanno Arslan writes about this coin (Dalla Classicità al medioevo. La moneta degli ostrogoti in: Quaderni Ticinesi XXXIII 2004 pp. 429-462)
With Theodahat, in the mint of Rome, there was perhaps the last non-Byzantine Follis produced in the West with coordinated obverse and reverse types of particular significance for understanding the political situation of those years.
The portrait of the king was proposed on the obverse. It was a Germanic nationalistic affirmation, confirmed by the qualification of rex and by the cap helmet, of Germanic tradition, a pregnant symbol of royal power (the Spangenhelm) (SIC!), which was associated with a type, with the victoria navalis, which had already been used in the coinage in the name of Zeno, more than fifty years earlier, always in reference to the imperial traditions of the West. In short, Theodahat, who was not an Amal and who was not descended from Theodoric, thus stated, towards the Byzantines, that he placed himself in their tradition, exactly as it had been defined in the years of the conflict with Odoacer: he wanted to govern the West as king of the Ostrogoths, but delegated by the Empire. Delegation that was initially denied to him.
Stylistically the portrait appeared very "classical": the "Germanic" contents corresponded to a still "naturalistic" language, with an insistent and almost excessive respect for the proportional relationships between the various parts of the face, which still allowed us to perceive a correct bony framework, with a volumetrically modeled surface.
Are we faced with the work of the same engravers who had created the "classical" image of Atalaric in the previous Decanoummia? It is probable. However, with Theodahat there was the last "classical" portrait on the currency of the Western world.

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  • Vel Saties changed the title to An ostroghotic 40 nummi coin by king Theodahat returns to auction

Arslan in "La moneta in bronzo degli ostrogoti" in ACTA NUMISMATICA, 2022, pp. 249-284 writes about this coin:

The Follis with the naturalistic representation (more proper definition of the term "portrait", meaning differently for us) of the face of Theodahat (534-53h) represents the most visible outcome of the deterioration of relations between the Ostrogothic Kingdom and Byzantium.
The AE 20 expresses, in the choice of the metal, the nominal, the types, how the Ostrogothic kingdom considered the balance of the three powers to have been overcome in fact, with the delegating emperor, the Ostrogoths delegated to the management of military power and politics above all foreign, and the Romance component, to which the administrative, perhaps even basic monetary, management remained. The type, which certainly arose from Germanic nationalistic demands, was proposed as a product demonstrating a new culture of synthesis, Germanic-Romance, with characteristics in which it was no longer wanted that Byzantium, which issued bronze coins, the most symbolically significant for its ubiquitous separation, now distant from "classical" traditions, with the renunciation of communication in legends and types, to which the Roman-Germanic kingdom of Ravenna instead appealed, certainly without having any awareness of the impending catastrophe.
We could perhaps identify in the beautiful coin of Theodahat an important stage in the direction that was rediscovered, after centuries, by the Carolingian and Ottonian Renaissance, in an exquisitely Western line of development, in which the "imperial Roman" world and the "Gennanic worlds" converged. ", set on building our modern, if not contemporary, world, with very little contact with the Byzantine world.
On the obverse the head of Theodahat dominates, with the fundamental symbol of Gennanic power, the Spangenhelm (sic!), and the coronation clothing. He was rex, dominator principum, as Theodoric in the Three Solids Medallion was gentium, not being able to be principum, as he himself was princeps, with dependence on the emperor of Byzantium, now out of question, in a relationship between powers that was wanted forever changed.
On the reverse, however, the figure of Victory dominates, in continuity with the identical Victory of Follis for Zeno, thus recovering all the fundamental Constantinian and Flavian references of the "emissions of Victory". The acronym S C = senatus consultum stands out clearly, indicating the fundamental function still attributed to the Senate in the management of the State.

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Posted · Supporter

Theodat's follises are indeed very nice and hard to get. @Tejas may well have the largest privately own set of them.

I was a bit surprised to find that Arslan & Metlich managed to find 187 of them in their die study 20 years ago. With 20 obverse dies and 64 reverse dies known at the time, it must have been a considerable issue. I wish there was a more recent analysis.

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@Rand: You are right. They are beautiful coins and I certainly can't afford them, certainly not in that conditions. Justinian's folles for Rome are also very beautiful, less rare and very different in style, too. But I'm quite little interested in the possession of the object itself. As I said, I'm not a real collector. Which reflects the great variability of the engraver workforce in the Italian mints. Obviously engravers could work for both Byzantines and Ostrogoths and Gepids in that period. Skilled craftsmen always found work.
But I happened to find two when I was digging (obviously I didn't keep anything, having delivered them together with all the excavation material).
There is a lot of information in the Italian scientific literature but there are no general studies, except those by Arslan who edited multiple catalogs and sought a systematization (even if with some inaccuracies) on bronze coinage). Much excavation information comes out as excavations are published. You can well imagine that with the enormous amount of information coming from scientific research in Italy it is really difficult to keep up with all the publications.
If I find a few things I can pass them on to you, if you want.
Another interesting thing is that these follies were then retaliated with their types by the Byzantines when they managed to gain possession of them.

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I think the Theodahat-Follis is the most desirable an intriguing coin of the entire Ostrogothic series. The original issue was apparently quite substantial, however, the coins are rarely offered today and command fairly high prices. The significance of the type lies in the fact that it departed from Roman imagery. It reflected the break between the East Roman empire and the Gothic kingdom The Theodahat follis was a statement for an independent Germanic-Gothic kingdom that no longer referenced Rome and the Roman emperor. I wished this type would have been continued under Theodahats successors. 

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Posted · Supporter

This coin is high on my wish list. Several times, I thought it was close, and it slipped away. I would also like other Ostrogothic kings to follow the example. Theodahat was hardly a king to be awarded a distinction. It would be great to own a portrait coin of Theodoric or Baduila. Given the existence of the Senigallia Medallion, other donative Theodoric’s coins may surface.

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