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A Once in a lifetime Domitian denarius RIC 605

Domitian AR Denarius 88 CE September 14-December 31(Third Issue)


Obv: Head laureate left; IMP CAES DOMITIAN AVG GERM

Rev: COS XIIII across field; Column inscribed LVD SAEC FEC; All within laurel wreath

RIC 605 (R3)

Purchased from Dr. Busso Peus Nach April 16, 2021

I never thought that I would own one of these. All left-facing portraits of Domitian are very rare to extremely rare on his denarii. This is now my fourth left-facing denarius for Domitian and this is the most important one I have acquired. In fact, this may be the the most important coin in my collection.

This coin is desirable because it is a secular games denarius. Though some of these are available to the collector on a fairly consistent basis, some from this series are incredibly rare. However, rarity aside, all of the secular games denarii are very much sought after. When they appear they are usually snapped up very quickly indeed. One reason for this is that the denarii of Domitian are dominated by the 4 Minerva reverses. Though I love those coins too, because of some hidden treasures in the midst of some extremely common issues, many collectors feel differently. In fact I understand while many would call Domitian denarii boring. However, this new acquisition is anything but boring.

First, just look at the portrait. Domitian denarii struck between 84-88 are known for some amazing portraits executed by very talented engravers. In fact, within my collection I have examples from the same engraver on different denarii! The style of this one is so superb and distinctive that I should be able to match this coin to other examples of the engraver's work. Given the rarity of this coin it is no surprise that my coin is a double-die match to the RIC plate coin. The plate coin is held by the ANS in New York City. Just how rare is the coin? RIC lists it as R3 which means that one example was known to the authors of RIC (2007) at the time of publication. That has 2 implications. First, it means that mine is the second one known and secondly, it means that my coin is the only one known in private hands. That means that I have the responsibility of keeping this coin secure until it passes to the next owner. I am just a temporary guardian for this coin struck almost 2000 years ago.

It may be said that perhaps as a coin of Domitian it is not so important. Domitian's coinage is not avidly pursued like the coins of more famous figures such as Nero, Augustus, Julius Caesar, Brutus and others. However, I would argue it is an important coin because it marks the secular games; a known historical event. Of course Domitian is also important as the last member of the Flavian family of emperors. The Flavian era brought stability after the disastrous year of the four emperors. Domitian's father Vespasian would initiate the building of the Flavian Amphitheatre, known today as the colosseum. Domitian's brother Titus finished the construction after the death of Vespasian. I would therefore say that this coin is an artefact of a very interesting historical period and as such is historically interesting.

No-one knows why these left-facing portraits are so rare on Domitian's denarii. Left-facing portraits appear regularly on the bronze issues of Domitian. Also, left-facing portraits of Titus and his father Vespasian do appear on their denarii. While true that some of these are rare to very rare, many are not. In fact some are very common indeed.

I like these unsolved mysteries associated with ancient coins. While it might someday be discovered why Domitian's denarii include so few left-facing portraits, it may also remain unknown for the foreseeable future. In the meantime I find myself thrilled to be the temporary custodian of this piece. I am also going to keep my eyes open for other left-facing denarii of Domitian that become available.


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