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Roma Numismatics Ltd
Auction XIII  23 March 2017
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Lot 536

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Estimate: 40 000 GBP
Price realized: 130 000 GBP

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Roman Republic AV Half-Stater. Circa 216 BC. Laureate, Janiform head of the Dioscuri / Oath-taking scene: two warriors, one Roman and the other representing the Italian allies, standing facing each other, holding spears and touching with their swords a sacrificial pig held by a youth kneeling left between them; ROMA in exergue. Crawford 28/2; Sydenham 70; Bahrfeldt 2.2, pl. I, 13 (same dies); Biaggi 2; RBW 62. 3.43g, 15mm, 5h.

Extremely Fine, and among the best preserved specimens known. Very Rare.

From the collection of Gianfranco Galfetti;
Privately purchased from Kunst und Münzen, Lugano in 1956.

The first gold coinage ever issued by the Roman Republic, this half stater represents one of the most desperate moments in all of Roman history. The Second Punic War of 218-203 BC was waged at an unthinkable cost to Rome in terms of men, material and money. For nearly fifteen years the conflict was fought on Italian soil, bringing devastation to the peninsula on a scale it had never before endured. Yet the greatest shocks came in the opening phase of the war – Hannibal's crossing of the Alps into the Po plain, considered one of the greatest achievements in military logistics, and the devastating defeats he inflicted on the Roman legions in a quick sequence of major battles, at the Trebia (December 218 BC), Lake Trasimene (June 217 BC), and Cannae (August 216 BC), brought Rome to her very knees. As a measure of the extent of the disaster, Hannibal had defeated the equivalent of eight consular armies (16 legions plus an equal number of allies), and within the space of just three campaign seasons, Rome had lost one-fifth of the entire population of male citizens over 17 years of age. Furthermore, the ruinous effect these defeats had on morale was such that most of southern Italy defected to Hannibal's cause, thus prolonging the war for a decade.

In addition to the wholesale destruction of Rome's armies, the most crucial damage inflicted by Hannibal's invasion of Italy was the total collapse of Rome's young monetary system. At that time, the Roman currency was based entirely on bronze, for which the demand in wartime was competing with the needs for weaponry. The weights of the bronze currency were radically decreased, and it therefore became necessary to make bronze convertible to silver, which, however, was also in short supply. The strain on the Roman treasury was extreme. The decision was therefore taken in c. 216 BC to issue a gold coinage as an attempt to provide further stability for and increase faith in the bronze coinage by creating the impression that bronze could be freely exchanged for gold, thus making the token bronze coinage acceptable.

The types of this new gold coinage were evidently given some consideration, and in the event were highly appropriate. A Meadows ('The Mars / eagle and thunderbolt gold and Ptolemaic involvement in the Second Punic War' in Essays Hersh, 1998) writes: "the oath scene gold, as befitted its status as a creator of confidence in the new denominational system, was something of a showpiece. Its design reflected the ambience of 'strength through co-operation' that the Roman state sought to emphasise at the time of its production. That the unity of Rome and her allies was a very live issue in 216 BC is clear from the defections that followed the disastrous battle of Cannae in that very year."
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