Roma Numismatics Ltd
Auction XVII  28 Mar 2019
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Lot 693

Estimate: 50 000 GBP
Price realized: 140 000 GBP
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M. Arrius Secundus AR Denarius. Rome, 43 BC. Youthful male head (Quintus Arrius, with the features of Octavian) with slight beard to right; M ARRIVS behind / Soldier advancing to right, holding spear in left hand and with sword at belt, reaching back with right hand to take one of two military standards held by another soldier behind him. Crawford 513/3; BMCRR -; RSC Arria 3; Sydenham 1085; CRI 320; Woytek, Arma et Nummi p. 558; RBW -. 3.99g, 19mm, 5h.

Near Extremely Fine; light cabinet tone over lustrous metal, small mineral encrustation on rev. Excessively Rare, the finest of only four known examples, of which just two are in private hands (the other two in Rome: Capitol, Gnecchi). Missing from virtually all major private and public collections including the BM, and one of the most sought after types in the entire Republican series.

From the inventory of Roma Numismatics Ltd., privately purchased from an old private European collection.

The first prominent family member of the Arria gens was Quintus Arrius who was praetor in 72 BC and propraetor the year after and was involved in the Third Servile War, the first slave uprising to pose a threat to the city of Rome. It is also possible that he was the father or at least a relation of the moneyer Marcus Arrius Secundus as it is likely that the military scene on the reverse of this coin commemorates Quintus' victory over the slave leader Crixus, a victory which, according to Livy (see The Periochae 96.1), left 20,000 of Crixus' men dead.

Quintus' decisive victory over Crixus was one of the few successes for the Roman armies during the Third Servile War and was thus worthy of commemoration by his descendant. It has been argued by Sear in The History and Coinage of the Roman Imperators that this coin's reverse displays what could possibly have been an actual episode in the battle, in which Quintus resorts to a desperate attempt to rally his men by throwing a standard into the midst of the enemy ranks in order to incite his troops to recover it. A similar act is also related by Livy as having occurred when Marcus Furius Camillus fought the Antiates who had invaded Roman territory in the 380s BC:

"Then, after sounding the charge, he sprang from his horse and, catching hold of the nearest standard-bearer, he hurried with him against the enemy, exclaiming at the same time: 'On, soldier, with the standard!' When they saw Camillus, weakened as he was by age, charging in person against the enemy, they all raised the battle-cry and rushed forward, shouting in all directions, 'Follow the General!' It is stated that by Camillus' orders the standard was flung into the enemy's lines in order to incite the men of the front rank to recover it. It was in this quarter that the Antiates were first repulsed, and the panic spread through the front ranks as far as the reserves." (Livy, History 6.8)

Coupled with the accompanying denarius and aureus minted under Marcus Arrius, which feature military gifts reflecting honours awarded for bravery and distinction in battle, it seems likely that the moneyer chose to honour his family member's victory with these coins, although the anonymity of the portrait and the total lack of reference to such an episode in the classical literature of the Servile War means we cannot be certain.

A feature highlighted by both Sear and Sydenham of this extremely rare coin is the similarity of the portrait to representations of Octavian. Moreover, two other moneyers for this year, Numonius Vaala and Servius Rufus, also unmistakeably recall political figures in their coins' portraits, with Vaala's denarius (see CRI 322) resembling Julius Caesar and Rufus (see CRI 324) choosing M. Junius Brutus. Pointing out that these similarities can hardly be a coincidence, both Sear and Sydenham explain these similarities as the moneyer's playing it safe during a period of political turmoil by displaying political affiliations but retaining deliberate ambiguity.
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