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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Exceptional Zenobia Tetradrachm
Ex Dattari Collection

Triton XXI, Lot: 245. Estimate $10000.
Sold for $24000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

EGYPT, Alexandria. Zenobia. Usurper, AD 268-272. Potin Tetradrachm (20mm, 9.68 g, 12h). Dated RY 5 of Vaballathus (AD 272). CЄΠTIM ZH NOBIA CЄB, draped bust right, wearing stephane / Homonoia standing facing, head left, raising her right hand upward, holding a double cornucopia with her left; L Є (date) to left. Köln –; Dattari (Savio) 5512 (this coin); K&G 108.2; Emmett 3912.5 (R2); Staffieri, Alexandria In Nummis 247 (this coin). EF, dark brown patina with traces of green. Very rare, and exceptional, with superior surfaces to most of the surviving specimens.

From the Giovanni Maria Staffieri Collection, purchased from Renzo Canavesi, Sagno, 1986. Ex Renzo Canavesi Collection (Sagno); Giuseppe Nascia Collection (Milan); Giovanni Dattari Collection, no. 5512.

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 descendant of such illustrious figures as Cleopatra VII of Egypt and the 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.