Roma Numismatics Ltd > Auction XXVIIIAuction date: 5 July 2023
Lot number: 494

Price realized: 12,000 GBP   (Approx. 15,259 USD / 14,033 EUR)   Note: Prices do not include buyer's fees.
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Lot description:

C. Licinius L. f. Macer AR Sestertius. Rome, 84 BC. Bearded Gallic male head to right, with dishevelled hair and prominent moustache, pierced through by or superimposed over a dart (or ritually bent spear?) / Legionary boar-tipped standard; IIS with bar (mark of value) to right, C• LICINI•L F MACER in two lines in exergue. Crawford -; Sydenham -; BMCRR -; RBW -; unpublished in the standard references on the Roman Republic; for the only other known silver denomination issued C. Licinius L.f. Macer cf. Crawford 354/1 and RSC Licinia 16. 0.87g, 12mm, 11h.

Extremely Fine. Unique and of considerable numismatic importance.

Ex Long Valley River Collection, Roma Numismatics Ltd., Auction XX, 29 October 2020, lot 416;
Acquired from Artemide Aste s.r.l. (San Marino), with detailed XRF analysis report of both metal and corrosion products demonstrating perfect consistency with coins of the period.

The C. Licinius Macer responsible for this striking of this remarkable silver sestertius is to be identified with the historian and annalist frequently mentioned by Livy: one of the tresviri monetales with C. Cassius and L. Salinator in 84 BC; tribune in 73; praetor in 68; impeached for extortion by Cicero in 66, he took his own life to avoid the public disgrace. Macer is known to have written a history of Rome in 16 books, now lost, which Livy consulted but casts doubt on its reliability, suggesting that he misrepresented events in order to glorify the Licinii (Livy, 7.9.5).

This unique coin is unparalleled or noteworthy in several respects, not least on account of the supposed minting date for the denomination, the denominational notation itself, and the iconography employed.

The denominational structure of the Republican coinage was prescribed by the well attested Lex Clodia, believed to have been passed in circa 101 BC, and the Lex Papiria in circa 91 BC, though as is often the case, the dates for these laws are inferred but by no means certain (cf. Crawford p.77, 610-11). The Lex Clodia legalised the existing issues of Victoriati, and Crawford notes that "although there were considerable periods in the first century BC when the new quinarius was not issued, Pliny implies that the Lex Clodia continued to be regarded as the source of authority for the issue of the quinarius to the end of the Republic and beyond." In contrast to the Lex Clodia, the motive for the Lex Papiria was to authorise the issue of bronze denominations on a greatly reduced standard. Fully half the weight of the existing bronzes, the coins of semuncial weight standard consequently bore the legend L.P.D.A.P. (lege Papiria de assis/aeris pondere), clearly identifying them as correct and legal tender under the authority of the Lex Papiria. The revival of the sestertius, which had not been struck for over a century, was accomplished at the same time; given the length of time during which this denomination had been allowed to lapse Crawford argues that a law may have been considered necessary to ensure its reimplementation and acceptance. Hence it is no surprise that the Lex Papiria sestertii issued under D. Silanus and L. Piso Frugi also bear the formula E.L.P. (e lege Papiria). He furthermore reasonably argues that "the Lex Papiria may have been taken to have provided authority for the issue of the silver sestertius to the end of the Republic." Certainly the plethora of silver sestertii struck in the 40s BC make no mention of the law, as is the case with the present coin; but then after the first year of issue, there would be no reason to do so – hence the absence of the L.P.D.A.P. formula on bronze after the very first issues of the reintroduced semuncial standard.

The denominational notation of the sestertius on the early Roman silver coinage was commonly rendered as IIS (= two asses and a semis = two and a half asses = ¼ of a denarius). Thus when the denarius was retariffed to 16 asses so then was the sestertius revalued at 4 asses. It is easy to see that having dropped the by now unnecessary formula of E.L.P., the denomination of this issue needed to be rendered in a clear form: hence it is obvious that the usage of IIS (struck through with horizontal bar) is to clearly denote the value as being 4 asses, not what would be explicitly 2.5 asses if the mark of value were the old IIS. This logically follows on from the 'XVI' monogram for the retariffed denarius' mark of value, which is in fact also an X struck through with a horizontal bar. Doubts about the authenticity of this coin have centred on this struck-through IIS notation, which is often erroneously believed to be a modern shorthand, but which is well attested as being in common (and numismatic) usage during Roman times, at least as early as 38-37 BC if not in fact much sooner. The fleet coinage of Mark Antony (see RPC I 1468; CRI 291) for a sestertius employing the same IIS struck through with horizontal bar. For another particularly interesting example of quotidian character, preserved by chance as an inscription scratched on a wall in Pompei, a reward is offered for a lost article see August Mau, Pompeii, Its Life and Art, 1902, p. 490: Insula VIII. v.-vi.: "A copper pot has been taken from this shop. Whoever brings it back will receive 65 sesterces. If anyone shall hand over the thief..." (the rest of the inscription is illegible) - the notation of sestertius with horizontal bar is clear.

The iconography of the coin is furthermore worthy of mention. That the obverse is anepigraphic is not at all unusual – so too were the sestertii of L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi in 90 BC (Crawford 340/3b). That the type appears to be the head of a Gaul pierced by a spear or dart-weapon is more astonishing; only the denarii of M. Sergius Silus (286/1) and L. Titurius Sabinus (344/2) bear similarly gruesome imagery – the former depicting a Roman cavalryman bearing aloft a decapitated head, and the latter illustrating the ill-fated Tarpeia being crushed to death by Sabine soldiers. Appearances may be deceiving however; perhaps the intent was to depict the object as being behind the head, rather than through it. In this case there is the possibility that the image here is connected to Celtic practices of ritually bending weapons before depositing them in burials or as votive offerings at religious sanctuaries. This much is uncertain, but what is clear is that the types here: the head of the Gaul, together with the Legionary boar-standard on the reverse, appear deeply personal; doubtless it is one of the many references, veiled or explicit, to the deeds of a moneyer's ancestors of which either no record survives or to which we may not attribute the identity of their author.

That a hitherto unknown sestertius type should be discovered is hardly surprising. Crawford acknowledged in concept the possible existence of unknown fractions; the known denarii of Silanus and Piso Frugi exist in no great numbers, and they being the first year of issue when we must assume a significant number were produced given their explicit authorisation under the Lex Papiria. It is furthermore worth considering that from 88 to 63 BC the Roman treasury was so chronically and desperately short of money that it could not afford to finance the armies of Sulla in 88 or of L. Valerius Flaccus in 85. Instead, temple treasures were sold or melted down at home, and the wealth of both Greece and Asia was expropriated by Roman generals in the absence of money from Rome. It may well be in this context of both cash shortage and high state expenditure as the First Mithradatic War drew to a close and the impending civil war with Sulla loomed that the production of silver sestertii was not accorded anything but low priority.

Estimate: 20000 GBP