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Numismatica Ars Classica
Auction 100  29-30 May 2017
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Lot 627

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Estimate: 250000 CHF
Price realized: 280000 CHF

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The Roman Empire

Maxentius, 307 – 312. Quaternio circa 308, AV 21.41 g. IMP C M VAL MAXENTIVS P F AVG Bare head l. Rev. Roma, holding Victory on globe and sceptre, seated on shield decorated with she-wolf and twins; in exergue, P R. C –. Gnecchi –. RIC –, cf. 166 (this reverse type). Carson, A Treasure of Aurei and Multiples from the Mediterranean –, cf. 106-108 (this obverse die, different reverse types). Carson, The Greatest Discovery of Roman Gold Pieces Since the Great Find of Arras, London Illustrated News, 14 November 1959, p. 650, fig. 1. Cf. Bastien Donativa, p. 71 note 6. Depeyrot p. 153. Drost 37 (this coin).
Of the highest rarity, only two specimens known. An impressive medallion with a
magnificent portrait of Maxentius and a stunning reverse with the goddess
Roma. An almost invisible scratch on reverse field,
otherwise extremely fine

Ex Vinchon 24 November 1994, 324 and NAC 24, 2002, European Nobleman, 264 sales. From the D. Féret collection.

Over and above its numismatic value, this impressive medallion is of high artist and historical significance. Its reverse side is the most accurate miniature-image of the most sacred symbol of the roman pantheon: the statue of goddess Roma revered in Hadrian's Urbis Veneris temple. The spectacular image, undoubtedly the work of a renowned artist, evidences the capacity to "think small", prima skillof a great coin engraver. In all her majesty, helmeted Roma holds a sceptre and a Victory upon a globe, and sits next to an oval shield emblazoned with the she-wolf suckling the twins Romulus and Remus in the grotto of the Lupercal. The heroic semi bar-breasted posture of the goddess and the lower part of her garment marked with ripples are in perfect archaic style. The statue, of imposing size, was, in the critical opinion of Apollodorus, much too tall for the hosting cubiform cella: "In fact," he said, "if the goddesses (Roma and Venus) decided to get up and leave their cellae, they could not". (Dio Cassius, Roman History LXIX.4).
The temple, whose majestic ruins are still visible, was Rome's largest and occupied the area of the Velia hill between the Maxentius basilica and the Colosseum over the former atrium of the Domus Aurea where Nero's colossal statue was once located. Designed by emperor Hadrian himself to celebrate the deification of Rome and its noble origins, the temple was inaugurated in AD 135: an innovative construction with two opposite facades, one overlooking the Forum the other the Colosseum, while the two cellae, adjoined one another in opposite directions, hosted respectively the statue of Roma and of Venus. This unusual structure was harshly criticized by Apollodorus the great architect of Damascus, and Hadrian, deeply offended, put him to death. In the mind of Hadrian, the two goddesses next to each other symbolized the twin celestial origin of the city and the empire – Romulus descended from Mars while Venus was mother of Aeneas and founder of the Julio-Claudian dynasty – legitimizing the divine power of Rome and its emperors. The temple hosted the festive celebrations in honor of Venus on April 1st and of Rome 21st, was one of the most important shrines of antiquity, sttod intact for one hundred and seventyone years, and was damaged by fire in Maxentius' first year of reign. Restoration works were initiated in AD 307 and ended in 309 with a grandiose ceremony and the issuance of commemorative coins such as this one. The reverse inscription CONSERVATOR VRBIS SVAE – restorer of his city – dates the coin and was traditionally used by emperors who undertook major restoration works in Rome. (See Septimius Severus dupondius C 610; RIC 757; Nelson Bunker Hunt collection n. 763, issued on occasion of the Pantheon's restoration). The statue of goddedd Roma went through the fire miraculously unscathed, while Maxentius, probably aware of Apollodorus' criticism, rebuilt the two opposite cellae in apsidal form with vaulted ceilings, the classical architectural style of his age. The remaining part of the Venus cella is still visible from the Colosseum, while that of Roma, the best preserved, is incorporated in the former convent of Santa Francesca Romana, now the Roman Forum Antiquarium. The brick basement of Roma, striped of its porphyry marbles, can also be admired in the same location.

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