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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Choice Zenobia Antoninianus

CNG 103, Lot: 878. Estimate $10000.
Sold for $13000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Zenobia. Usurper, AD 268-272. Antoninianus (20mm, 3.17 g, 6h). Antioch mint, 8th officina. 2nd emission, March-May AD 272. S ZЄNOBIA AVG, draped bust right, wearing stephane, set on crescent / IVNO REGINA, Juno standing left, holding patera and scepter; at feet, peacock standing left, head right; star in left field. RIC V 2 corr. (star not noted); Bland, Coinage 29, e–k, dies 45/Jun ii; Carson, Zenobia 3 (same dies); MIR 47, 360b/0; BN 1267a. Choice EF, black-brown surfaces. Rare and exceptional for issue.

While a nominal ally of Rome, Odenathus, ruler of the wealthy eastern trade center of Palmyra and husband of Septimia Zenobia, took advantage of Rome’s internal and external conflicts to expand his territories. The circumstances surrounding the assassination of Odenathus around 267 are uncertain, but we do know that Zenobia soon after took the title of Augusta and bestowed on her infant son Vaballathus the title of Augustus. Zenobia continued to expand the Palmyrene kingdom, seizing control of Egypt in 269 and, with it, the Roman grain supply. To further bolster her position, Zenobia claimed to be the descendent of such illustrious figures as Cleopatra VII of Egypt and legendary Queen Dido of Carthage.

When Aurelian rose to the purple in 270, he pragmatically acquiesced to Zenobia and Vaballathus’ rule in the east while he concerned himself with stabilizing the situation in the west. By 272, he was prepared to campaign against the usurpers. Palmyra was sacked, and both Zenobia and Vabalathus were captured as they tried to make their way to Persia. Zenobia was brought to Rome and paraded in Aurelian’s triumph in 274. According to a later tradition, Aurelian, impressed by her beauty and dignity, later freed her and granted her a villa in Tibur, where she spent the rest of her life.