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Research Coins: Feature Auction


One of the Finest Known Contorniates

Triton XV, Lot: 1569. Estimate $50000.
Sold for $110000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Contorniates. Late 4th century AD. Æ (38mm, 30.08 g, 12h). Half-length figure of charioteer right, wearing riding gear, holding transverse goad in right hand and horse by the bridle in left; helmet in left field / Charioteer standing facing, head left, in spread quadriga facing with richly caparisoned horses; he holds a laurel wreath and goad in right hand and palm frond in left. Alföldi, Kontorniat 484. EF, exceptional, untouched green patina, traces of earthen deposits. Certainly one of the finest contorniates in existence. Spectacular compositions on both sides.

Ex Numismatica Genevensis SA V (2 December 2008), lot 341; Numismatica Ars Classica 25 (25 June 2003), lot 615.

The most important secular controversy of the late Roman and early Byzantine age involved loyalties to the two racing factions - the 'Blues' (Veneti) and the 'Greens' (Prasini). This rivalry led to shocking bloodshed on many occasions as the patrons of each faction clashed. Most engagements occurred in the major cities, such as Rome, Antioch and Constantinople. Although originating with chariot races, the factions had strong ties to mainstream society, and were active in garnering political favor, securing the best jobs, and monopolizing industries. Thus their rivalries led well beyond the Circus Maximus in Rome and the Hippodrome in Constantinople.

Though chariot racing was not the only subject matter artistically portrayed on contorniates, it was certainly not an unusual subject. The composition of this contorniate, however, is extraordinary in detail, depicting a charioteer in full riding uniform, holding a transverse goad in right hand and horse by the bridle in left; his helmet is in left field. The reverse exhibits this very same charioteer, now victorious, holding a laurel wreath and palm frond, symbols of victory. He stands proudly in his spread quadriga. The victorious horses are adorned with plumes of palm fronds on their heads, also symbolizing victory.