Estimate: 75 000 CHF
Price realized: 95 000 CHF
The Roman Empire
Titus, 79 – 81. Divu Titus. Sestertius 81-82, Æ 25.92 g. Aerial view of the Flavian amphitheatre (the Colosseum); on l., Meta Sudans and on r., porticoed building. Rev. DIVO AVG T DIVI VESP F VESPASIAN Titus seated l. on curule chair, holding branch and roll; around, arms; below, S – C. C 399. BMC 191 note. RIC Domitian 131. CBN Domitian 543. Elkin, NC 2006, p. 217, 9.
Extremely rare, only the eleventh specimen known of this prestigious and important issue,
which is much more rare with Titus as Divo rather than Emperor. A very detailed and
clear obverse composition and a pleasant brown-green patina. As usual
weakly struck on reverse, otherwise about extremely fine / very fine
From the Aba Neeman collection.
The most famous monument of Italy – if not of all Europe – is the Amphitheatrum Flavium, the Colosseum in Rome. Named after the emperor Vespasian (A.D. 69-79), who began its construction in 71, it was Rome's first permanent structure of the type, as all such events in Rome had previously been held in wooden structures.
Vespasian was still alive when the first three levels of his colosseum were completed and dedicated in 75. However, the final product – including the fourth and fifth levels, which are clearly represented on this sestertius – was not finished for another five years, at which point it was formally dedicated by his eldest son Titus in June, 80.
The engraver went to great effort to represent the Colosseum in detail. Not only are the statues and other ornaments on the exterior shown with considerable clarity, but the interior is well represented down to the smallest features, such as spectators, staircases and what we must presume is the viewing box reserved for the emperor. Flanking the amphitheatre on the right is the Meta Sudans fountain and an uncertain structure that has been identified as the Baths of Titus, the porch of Nero's Golden House (Domus Aurea), or perhaps a temple.
Various improvements were made to the Colosseum by later emperors, such as Trajan and Antoninus Pius, but little else is recorded until it was struck by lightning in 217. A conflagration resulted, and Dio reports that the damage was severe. Elagabalus began repairs in 218, and by 223 limited use of the amphitheatre was possible; it was at this point that the new emperor Severus Alexander celebrated its reopening.
Restoration was completed by 244, at the end of the reign of Gordian III, after which the amphitheatre was used well into the Christian era. We have reports of it being damaged by earthquakes in 442 and 470, and of further restorations in 508 and 523 by the Germanic occupants who had overthrown the Romans. However, no effort was made to restore it after an earthquake in 847.
From the numismatic perspective, the colosseum is among the least collectible of Roman monuments, for it only occurs on coinage three times – and in each instance the coins are famous rarities. It first appears on sestertii of Titus, the emperor under whom it was completed, and later on coins of Severus Alexander and medallions of Gordian III. The latter pieces are of unusual interest as the artist, in showing the monument from above, depicts a battle between wild beasts occurring within.