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Triton XXIII – Session Three – Roman Imperial Coinage Part II through World Coinage Part I

Lot nuber 840

Aurelian, with Vabalathus. AD 270-275. AV Light Aureus (17mm, 2.09 g, 6h). Antioch mint. Struck November AD 270-March AD 272.


Triton XXIII – Session Three – Roman Imperial Coinage Part II through World Coinage Part I
Lot: 840.
 Estimated: $ 200 000

360 Photo, Roman Imperial, Gold

Sold For $ 250 000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

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Aurelian, with Vabalathus. AD 270-275. AV Light Aureus (17mm, 2.09 g, 6h). Antioch mint. Struck November AD 270-March AD 272. IMP C AVRELIANVS AVG, laureate and cuirassed bust right / VABALATHVS V C R IM D R, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right. Unpublished. Fully lustrous, scratches beneath Aurelian’s bust, small metal flaw on Vabalathus’ face. Superb EF. Unique. A monumental discovery piece.

Vabalathus was the son of Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, and her husband, Odenathus. He came to the throne in 267 at the tender age of eight, following a period of intense unrest, which claimed the lives of his father and older brother. Upon his accession, the emperor Aurelian was chiefly concerned with the breakaway Gallic Empire and incursions by the Vandals, thus he initially tolerated this new young ruler, which seems to have encouraged Zenobia to have coins produced that declared the authority of both Aurelian and her son. Although Mattingly and Sydenham are of the opinion that the issue was struck as an “admission of vassalage,” the ambiguity created by the double obverse could only have worked in the young king’s favor. His father had not minted coins in his own name at all. A Greek papyrus in the Berlin Museum (see Ulrich Wilcken, “Die Titulatur des Vaballathus,” ZfN 15 [1887], p. 331) helpfully clarifies the meaning of the unusual letters in the legend: Vir Clarissimus Rex Imperator Dux Romanorum (“Most renowned man, King, of Imperatorial rank, Commander of the Romans”). Vabalathus here allows Aurelian to be designated as Augustus rather than claiming the title for himself, although he does subtly describe himself as Imperator.

This coin must have been issued by the mint in Antioch in the small window between Aurelian’s accession in 270 and when he set out to subdue the renegade Palmyrenes in late 271 or early 272; there would have been little point in continuing to claim mutual recognition between Aurelian and Vabalathus when one was marching to depose the other. We know that as of September AD 268, Zenobia and Vabalathus continued to strike coins at Antioch in the name of Claudius. It only follows that the present coin represents a continuation of previous practice at the Antiochene mint, including the issuance of gold coinage. Unlike the joint-issue antoniniani, this gold coin does not have an officina letter, which may indicate that it is the introductory issue for the new type that was presumably issued to announce the policy – no doubt devised by Zenobia – of acknowledging Aurelian as the emperor while proposing an official position for Vabalathus.

It is unclear what happened to Vabalathus once he was deposed by Aurelian in AD 272. He and his mother were captured and taken back to Rome to be paraded in the emperor’s triumph, but Vabalathus, now fifteen-years-old, never arrived, having died on the journey by means natural or unnatural. Zenobia, by contrast, settled in Rome, married a senator, and had more children.

The final winners of all Triton XXIII lots will be determined at the live public sale that will be held on 14-15 January 2020. Triton XXIII – Session Three – Roman Imperial Coinage Part II through World Coinage Part II will be held Wednesday morning, 15 January 2020 beginning at 9:00 AM ET.

Winning bids are subject to a 20% buyer's fee for bids placed on this website and in person at the public auction, 22.50% for all others.