Reverse Iconography Examined – Mercury or Apollo
|Sale: Triton XI, Lot: 642. Estimate $3000.
Closing Date: Monday, 7 January 2008.
Sold For $2200. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.
32-31 or 31-30 BC. AR Denarius (3.54 g, 12h). Italian (Rome?) mint. Bare head right / CAESAR DIVI F across field, Mercury (or Apollo?), naked, seated right on rock upon which is spread his cloak, petasus (or shield?) slung on his back, holding lyre with both hands. RIC I 257; CRI 401; RSC 61; BMCRE 596-8 = BMCRR Rome 4335-6; BN 73-6. EF, toned.
Ex Aufhäuser 12 (1 October 1996), lot 418.
Prideaux takes exception to the usual interpretation of this reverse. First, this male figure cannot be Mercury, as the lyre would have been depicted as the one he invented - with a tortoise shell. In addition, he should be wearing either his winged petasus or his winged sandals, or would have a caduceus nearby. These symbols were canonical and easy to engrave. Second, the object described by many as a petasus is a shield seen at a 3/4 angle (l.c. RIC I 250 where the shield is leaning against a column). On some specimens of this type, it is possible to see that the object is decorated. Warriors used to carry shields slung on their back after the battle, which for this issue would have implied Actium.
The lyre is the key: as it is not one with a tortoise shell, it is therefore a standard variety. This type of lyre is commonly depicted on coins with Apollo, who must be the deity depicted here, with his shield put aside and playing the lyre on Actium’s rock. This type matches perfectly all the other types of its group (RIC I 250-263): Octavian (the winner), Venus (for Caesar), Apollo (for Actium), Neptune (for the naval victory), Victory, Triumph, and Pax. That was a well balanced propaganda program! This theory would probably require a downdating for some of these issues to just after Actium, rather than just before.