Numismatica Ars Classica > Auction 131Auction date: 30 May 2022
Lot number: 15

Price realized: 20,000 CHF   (Approx. 20,903 USD / 19,515 EUR)   Note: Prices do not include buyer's fees.
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Lot description:


Vitellius, April –December 69
Sestertius late April-December 69, Æ 28.01 g. A VITELLIVS GERM IMP AVG P M TR P Laureate head r. Rev. PAX AVGVSTI / S – C Pax standing l., holding branch in r. hand and cornucopia in l. C 62 var. (GERMA). BMC 57 var. (GERMA). RIC 157 var. (GERMA). CBN 115 var. (GERMA).
Very rare and in unusually fine condition for this difficult issue. A bold portrait
of fine style struck in high relief and a lovely green patina. Extremely fine

Ex NGSA sale 12, 2019, 128.
Offended by accusations that they had not adequately supported Galba during the revolt of Vindex, on 1 January AD 69, the German legions refused to swear the oath of loyalty and instead proclaimed their commander, Aulus Vitellius, as rival emperor on the next day, thereby igniting the nightmare Year of the Four Emperors. As it turned out, Vitellius was only an enemy of Galba for a few days as the latter's unwise policies in Rome resulted in his murder on 15 January. Galba was replaced by his killer, M. Salvius Otho, who used the Praetorian Guard to provide his military power. Realizing that his forces were unlikely to do well against the hardened German legions, Otho attempted to negotiate a marriage alliance with Vitellius, but to no avail. Vitellius had already sent half of his legions south to take possession of Rome. Otho initially won several small victories against the Vitellian forces, but suffered a terrible defeat at Bedriacum (14 April AD 69), after which he gave up hope and committed suicide. Rome now belonged to Vitellius. Unfortunately, the new Emperor is said to have abused his new power, draining the imperial coffers with constant banqueting and triumphal processions. Then, when the money was gone, he reportedly took to improving the imperial finances by arranging the untimely deaths of rich flatterers who had named him as their heirs. Vitellius' financial mismanagement took on an extremely dangerous dimension only a few months into his reign. On 1 July, Vespasian, the commander responsible for prosecuting the Jewish War (AD 66-73), was proclaimed a rival emperor in Alexandria. This was bad enough, but the situation became far worse when it was discovered that M. Antonius Primus, the commander of the Danubian legions, had also declared for Vespasian and was marching on Rome. Although he had little money to raise additional forces or buy off those of his enemies, Vitellius sent his army to face Primus. In an ironic twist of fate, they met near Bedricaum on 24 October AD 69, but this time, the Vitellians were defeated. Vitellius was doomed. He knew it even before the battle thanks to the numerous astrologers who predicted his overthrow, but instead of listening to their warnings he had ordered their expulsion from Rome and in a few cases even executions. Now it was too late. Vitellius offered to abdicate in return for his life and Primus reportedly accepted, but he was prevented from making good on his promise to lay down his insignia of power by the Praetorian Guard. Primus and the forces loyal to Vespasian breached the walls of Rome in December AD 69 and although Vitellius attempted to hide, he was captured and executed at the Gemonian Steps. His body was cast into the Tiber and his head paraded through the city. This extremely rare and exceptionally preserved sestertius was probably struck early in Vitellius' reign in Rome as the reverse type advertises the "Peace of the Emperor." The only thing close to real peace under Vitellius occurred between the death of Otho in April and the proclamation of Vespasian as a new rival at the beginning of July. The coin type advertises the end of the civil wars of AD 69 and the return of peace at the hand of Vitellius. In truth the end had not yet come, but only a brief respite from the fighting. The obverse features a spectacular portrait of Vitellius surrounded by a Latin legend that is notable for its use of the name Germanicus in the same way that the Julio-Claudians had used Caesar. Germanicus had been a cognomen used by the Claudian gens, most recently by the emperors Claudius and Nero and its resurrection as a title on the coinage of Vitellius served to connect him to the memory of Nero-who was still popular among the lower classes-and perhaps also referred to the military power at his disposal in the form of the German legions.

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Estimate: 25000 CHF