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Research Coins: Feature Auction

Sale: Triton VII, Lot: 931. Estimate $2500. 
Closing Date: Monday, 12 January 2004. 
Sold For $4750. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

HADRIAN. 117-138 AD. Æ Sestertius (26.50 gm). Struck circa 120-122 AD. IMP CAESAR TRAIANVS HADRIANVS AVG P M TR P COS III, laureate bust right, slight drapery on left shoulder / RELIQVA VETERA HS NOVIES MILL ABOLITA, S C in exergue, lictor standing right, holding fasces and lighting pile of records with torch; three citizens standing left, raising hands in approbation. RIC II 593 corr. = Strack 558e corr. = Banti 623 corr. = Cohen 1213 corr. = BMCRE 1210 corr. (same reverse die; but noting only two citizens on reverse). Good VF, green patina, small hairline flan crack. Bold portrait. Extremely rare; the BM specimen is the only published example. ($1500)

To promote his popularity, Hadrian cancelled 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 lector applying a torch to a heap of documents (sungrafoi) symbolizing the debts being cancelled. 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 sesterces 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 cancelled." 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.

The the British Museum specimen, struck from the same reverse die, is poorly preserved; thus the existence of the third citizen in the scene was unknown.