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Research Coins: Feature Auction


Debts Cancelled - Amnesty for Tax Arrears

Triton XXI, Lot: 754. Estimate $7500.
Sold for $6000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Hadrian. AD 117-138. Æ Sestertius (32mm, 23.74 g, 6h). Rome mint. Struck circa AD 120-122. IMP CAESAR TRAIANVS HADRIANVS AVG P M TR P COS III, laureate bust right, showing bare shoulder and chest, slight drapery on left shoulder / RELIQVA VETERA HS NOVIES MILL ABOLITA, S C in exergue, lictor standing right, holding fasces in left hand over left shoulder and with right, lighting pile of records with torch; on left, three citizens standing right, raising right hands in approbation. RIC II 592; Strack 557ε; Banti 624; BMCRE 1208. Good VF, green-brown patina, some red. Lovely surfaces. Attractive and historically important type.

Hadrian canceled debts and burned promissory notes in a general amnesty for tax arrears, the event this sestertius commemorates. The reverse depicts either Hadrian himself or a lictor applying a torch to a heap of documents (stipulationes) symbolizing the debts being canceled. The burning occurred in Trajan’s Forum, where Hadrian erected a monument inscribed “the first of all principes and the only one who, by remitting nine hundred million sestertii owed to the fiscus, provided security not merely for his present citizens but also for their descendants by this generosity.”

The legend RELIQVA VETERA HS NOVIES MILL ABOLITA literally translates to “old receipts in the amount of nine times a hundred thousand sestertii canceled." The HS is a standard abbreviation for sestertii and, depending upon its context, it can mean a single sestertius, a unit of one thousand sestertii, or a unit of one hundred thousand sestertii. Novies means "nine times" and applies to the sestertius as a unit of one thousand sestertii. Considering the monumental inscription, the HS in the legend of this sestertius should be interpreted with the thousand, or mille, understood. Thus, the figure should be increased to 900 million sestertii, equaling the sum named on Hadrian’s monumental inscription.