Jump to content

Faustina Friday – The Currus Elephantorum, Part 3: A Controversial Medium Bronze


Recommended Posts

Have an Elephantastic Friday | Hello friday, Friday pictures ...

Friday felicitations, fellow Faustina fanatics! Today's installment is the third and final installment of a three-part series on the currus elephantorum issues for Faustina the Elder. In the first installment, we discussed the coins depicting the currus elephantorum that were minted shortly after the empress's death in October, 140 CE. The second installment was devoted to coins of this reverse design that were issued in and after 150 CE to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Faustina's death.[1] These tenth death anniversary coins were issued in the aureus, sestertius, and medium bronze denominations. In the previous parts of this series, I did not discuss the medium bronzes of the currus elephantorum type, but only mentioned their existence in passing. This is because the medium bronze of this type is inaccurately described in many of the major reference works and misinformation about them has been propagated over time. The time has come to correct the numismatic record through a careful examination of the type.

What the Traditional Numismatic References Get Right

The earliest reference to note a medium bronze of the currus elephantorum type is Wiczay, who describes an Æ II with the obverse inscription DIVA FAVSTINA and featuring a bare-headed bust type. He notes the reverse inscription is limited to the S C inscription and describes a coin featuring a "chariot of elephants with riders, leftward" (translation from Latin mine).


FaustinaSrSCcurruselephantorumMBWiczaylisting.JPG.5d71fc876a2cf5f7d189583eb4052c3f.JPG

Wiczay no. 1390 describes a medium bronze with an anepigraphic reverse (apart from “S C”) of the currus elephantorum type.[2]


Cohen cites two medium bronzes (M.B.) of this same type, one with a bare-headed bust (no. 270), for which he cites the French national collection (F), and one with a veiled bust (no. 271), for which he cites no reference collection.

FaustinaSrSCcurruselephantorumMBCohenlisting.JPG.a6c63ba135d4ad7c6a2ff502dc700463.JPG

Cohen’s listing of the anepigraphic medium bronzes of the currus elephantorum type.[3]


These specimens are well-attested. The French national collection (Bibliothèque Nationale De France) has examples of both the bare-headed and the veiled bust types cited by Cohen.

FaustinaSrSCcurruselephantorumMBBnF.JPG.0946377f85d84af476bb89ad5669e691.JPG

Anepigraphic medium bronzes of the currus elephantorum type in the Bibliothèque Nationale De France. Photo by Roxane Gauthier-Dussart.[4]


Mattingly and Sydenham, writing RIC in 1930, cite Cohen.[5] Strack, writing in 1937, notes that the British Museum and the French national collection each had examples of the bare-headed and veiled bust types in their collections, with additional specimens of the bare-headed bust type in Vienna and Bologna.[6] Even I have an example of an as of the anepigraphic currus elephantorum type, illustrated below.

FaustinaSrSCcurruselephantorumMB.jpg.20edb8c792015cddcb90c71ab945a97e.jpg

Faustina I, 138-140 CE.
Roman Æ as, 11.09 g, 27.5 mm, 6 h.
Rome, 150 CE.
Obv: DIVA FAVSTINA, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
Rev: Faustina I, veiled and draped, seated on chair on car drawn left by two elephants with riders; S C in exergue.
Refs:
RIC 1198(a); BMCRE 1603; Cohen 270; Strack 1278; RCV –.


The veiled bust type is well-illustrated by the specimen in the British Museum, below.

FaustinaSrSCcurruselephantorumveiledbustMBBMC.png.e8bea8b277ded717c5e10f220dbb2b3d.png

The anepigraphic medium bronze of the currus elephantorum type with the veiled bust in the British Museum collection, BMCRE 1604.


Though anepigraphic, these coins were almost certainly issued alongside the aurei and sestertii of the currus elephantorum type of 150 CE. They feature the DIVA FAVSTINA obverse legend and the details of the elephant-drawn cart strongly resemble those seen on the aurei and sestertii of the 150 CE issue, but are unlike those on the 140 CE issue. I believe these anepigraphic types were the only medium bronzes to feature the currus elephantorum reverse type, as I discuss below.

What the Traditional Numismatic References Get Wrong

Cohen and subsequent references falsely report medium bronzes of the currus elephantorum type with the reverse legend AETERNITAS.

Because the corresponding sestertii and aurei of the currus elephantorum type of 150 CE read AETERNITAS on their reverses, it would have been quite natural for Cohen to expect the medium bronze of the same type to have the same reverse inscription. Indeed, Cohen reports the existence of such a medium bronze, no. 58, though he does not cite a source.


FaustinaSrAETERNITASSCcurruselephantorumMBCohenlisting.JPG.e6246633cfbaa7332dae10283a9b498e.JPG

Cohen's listing of the bronzes of the currus elephantorum type with the AETERNITAS reverse legend. He notes the existence of a sestertius (G.B.) and medium bronze (M.B.) of the type. Although he cites the French national collection for the sestertius of the type (no. 57), he cites no source for the medium bronze.[7]


This coin is not to be found in the complete inventory of the coins of Antoninus Pius in the Bibliothèque Nationale De France catalogued by Roxane Gauthier-Dussart.[8] Nonetheless, Mattingly and Sydenham uncritically accepted the existence of the coin and cataloged it as no. 1166 in RIC, citing Cohen no. 58.[9] Strack notes the existence of the sestertius of the type with the AETERNITAS legend and cites collections in Berlin, Paris and Vienna. However, Strack notes no medium bronzes of the type with an AETERNITAS reverse legend in any of the thirty European museum collections he consulted.

In 1937, and therefore after the publication of RIC in 1930, the British Museum ostensibly acquired a specimen of the type with an AETERNITAS reverse legend. In an act of fanciful imagination – despite writing "much worn" and "details of her attributes obscure" and placing the AETERNITAS entirely in brackets as a reconstructed legend – Mattingly attributed the coin as a specimen of Cohen 58 when writing BMCRE4.[10]


FaustinaSrAETERNITASSCcurruselephantorumMBBMC.png.33b2146d1f91ab83f41580c348fba8c4.png

Medium bronze in a poor state of preservation thought by Mattingly to bear the AETERNITAS inscription on its reverse and to be a specimen of Cohen 58. BMCRE 1561.


Mattingly did this despite the existence of a specimen in the British Museum of the well-attested anepigraphic type with which to compare.

FaustinaSrSCcurruselephantorumMBBMC.png.6bbfc22136b30dfbf28a45c3651353c0.png

The anepigraphic medium bronze of the currus elephantorum type with the bare-headed bust in the British Museum collection, BMCRE 1603.


The coins are reverse die matches, demonstrating that reconstructing an AETERNITAS inscription on BMCRE 1561 was an act of pareidolia from wishful thinking on Mattingly's part. After an exhaustive internet search, I have not been able to confirm the existence of a medium bronze of the currus elephantorum type bearing the AETERNITAS reverse legend. I do not believe such a coin exists. Cohen erred in his catalog, RIC and BMCRE cited Cohen uncritically, and we have been stuck with three references reporting a coin type that was never struck.

Strack falsely reports sestertii of the currus elephantorum type without the reverse legend AETERNITAS.

Instead of imagining an AETERNITAS legend that isn't there, Strack reports the absence of an AETERNITAS legend that likely had been present at one time on the coins he examined. Alongside the anepigraphic medium bronzes cited in his catalog, Strack notes specimens of anepigraphic sestertii in the museum collections in Vienna, Naples, and possibly Modena (he places a question mark after Modena).[11] Anepigraphic sestertii of the currus elephantorum type are not listed by RIC, BMCRE, Cohen, Banti, or Sear. While I have not examined the specimens in Vienna, Naples or Modena, I have not been able to find a specimen of a sestertius of the currus elephantorum type that is unequivocally anepigraphic. I do not believe such a sestertius was ever struck.

It's not hard to imagine that Strack may have mistaken a well-circulated specimen, from which the AETERNITAS may have worn off, for an anepigraphic coin. My own specimen of the type, for example, appears to be anepigraphic.


FaustinaSrAETERNITASSCcurruselephantorumsestertius.jpg.81e4340d26a6c133e44433d1e3179c4c.jpg

A sestertius in my collection of the currus elephantorum type from which the reverse legend AETERNITAS has been lost to circulation wear.


A die-matched specimen in a better state of preservation, however, demonstrates that the coin was not originally anepigraphic.

FaustinaSrAETERNITASSCcurruselephantorumsestertiusHirsch.jpg.be7af8b87fb6a1684c280e288d59ed7e.jpg

Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger (Auction 279), 8.2.2012, lot 2469. See also Auktionshaus H. D. Rauch GmbH (Summer Auction 2013), 18.9.2013, lot 661 and Roma Numismatics Limited (E-Sale 62), 17.10.2019, lot 901.


Conclusions

It seems clear to me that the medium bronzes with the AETERNITAS legend listed by Cohen, RIC and BMCRE were never struck. Moreover, I do not believe the anepigraphic sestertii listed by Strack were ever struck. Rather, the numismatic evidence suggests a rather simple scenario. There was a single issue in 150 CE to feature Faustina's currus elephantorum, with aurei and sestertii bearing the reverse legend AETERNITAS and the medium bronzes lacking that legend.

~~~

Notes


1. Beckmann, Martin. Diva Faustina: Coinage and Cult in Rome and the Provinces. American Numismatic Society, 2012, p. 64.

2.
Wiczay, Michael A. and Felice Caronni. Musei Hedervarii in Hungaria numos antiquos graecos et latinos descripsit. Vol. 2, Caronni, Vienna 1814, p. 264. Available online here. In the catalog, II refers to the Æ II, or medium bronze denomination. Wiczay’s catalog uses heraldic directions rather than the traditional numismatic ones, so when, for example, he says "portrait left" he really means "portrait right"! This goes for all the reverse descriptions as well. The abbreviation "dm." (dextrorum) here indicates the chariot of elephants is traveling leftward.

3. 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, p. 434.

4. Gauthier-Dussart, Roxane, et al. "Entre Rome et Alexandrie: Le Monnayage d'antonin Le Pieux (138-161), Idéologie Du Règne et Adaptations Locales." l'Université de Montréal, 2017, Pl. 104, 1753-1755.

5. Mattingly, Harold and Edward A. Sydenham (RIC). The Roman Imperial Coinage. III, Spink, 1930, p. 169, nos. 1198(a) and (b).

6. Strack, Paul L., Untersuchungen zur Römischen Reichsprägung des Zweiten Jahrhunderts, vol. 3, Die Reichsprägung zur Zeit des Antoninus Pius. Stuttgart 1937, no. 1278.

7. Cohen, op. cit., p. 417.

8.
Gauthier-Dussart, op. cit.

9. Mattingly and Syndenham, op. cit., p. 167.

10. Mattingly, Harold, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, vol. IV: Antoninus Pius to Commodus. Introduction, indexes and plates. London, BMP, 1968, p. 249, no. 1561 and associated footnote.

11. Strack, op. cit., no. 1278.

Edited by Roman Collector
I have OCD
  • Like 11
  • Clap 3
  • Mind blown 1
  • Heart Eyes 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Actually, if you drink enough beer, smoke a bit of maryjane, and squint your eyes, you can just make out the AETERNITAS on that as. 🤪

Seriously though, I know the frustration of seeing a particular type in a catalog and hunting for it (sometimes for years), only to deduce that the listing is spurious. But that also adds something important to the numismatic body of knowledge.

Your as and sestertius are very nice indeed. Circulated, but evincing lots of detail, no damage, and attractive patinas. A+!

  • Yes 1
  • Laugh 1
  • Clap 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting how errors like these can propagate. To this day I still see Postumus antoninianii listed as being minted in Lugdunum even though that hypothesis was discredited almost a century ago.

Unfortunately, I don't think the Hirsch sestertius is a great example for you point since it has been extensively tooled. The crude form of the letters on "AETERNITAS" in particular is a give away it has been heavily re-engraved.

FaustinaSrAETERNITASSCcurruselephantorumsestertiusHirsch.jpg.be7af8b87fb6a1684c280e288d59ed7e.jpg.735d4957c6527a118359870915ee5c8a.jpg

 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Postvmvs said:

Interesting how errors like these can propagate. To this day I still see Postumus antoninianii listed as being minted in Lugdunum even though that hypothesis was discredited almost a century ago.

Unfortunately, I don't think the Hirsch sestertius is a great example for you point since it has been extensively tooled. The crude form of the letters on "AETERNITAS" in particular is a give away it has been heavily re-engraved.

FaustinaSrAETERNITASSCcurruselephantorumsestertiusHirsch.jpg.be7af8b87fb6a1684c280e288d59ed7e.jpg.735d4957c6527a118359870915ee5c8a.jpg

 

😞 There's this die-match from Rauch:

image.jpeg.19c5f215f4b735c85c7d67735136653d.jpeg



 

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

×
×
  • Create New...