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Research Coins: Feature Auction

CNG 111, Lot: 713. Estimate $500.
Sold for $415. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Marcus Aurelius. As Caesar, AD 139-161. AR Denarius (19mm, 3.03 g, 12h). Rome mint. Struck under Antoninus Pius, AD 140-144. Bare head right / Emblems of the augurate and pontificate: secespita, aspergillum, guttus, lituus, and simpulum. RIC III 424a (Pius); RSC 451. Near EF, a few light marks.

Struck between 140-144 AD, while Marcus Aurelius was Caesar, the reverse of this coin dwells on the responsibilities of the Pontifex Maximus, leader of the four great Roman priesthoods and the most prominent and influential of priests within the Roman Empire. Originally a position chosen by popular vote, it wasn’t until the reign of Augustus that the role of Pontifex Maximus was merged with the other priesthoods to become a position held by the reigning emperor. The two main priestly colleges were those of the Augurs and Pontificate, whose emblems are displayed on the reverse we see here. The sacrificial knife or secespita, used for opening the body of the sacrificial victim, the aspergillum, used for sprinkling either blood or water. The guttus, a sacrificial jug with a narrow neck from which liquid could be poured in drops, the lituus, a distinctively crooked staff used by augurs for the divination of the heavens and finally, the simpulum, a small vessel, or ladle with a long handle used at sacrifices to make libations or for pouring onto the head of the sacrificial victims. All of these emblems would have been highly symbolic, signifying the immense power the Pontifex Maximus held, as such they formed part of a commonly used motif, frequently employed by emperors during the early imperial period.