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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ Themes & Provenance ▸ Quality ▸ Masterpiece PortraitsView Options:  |  |  |   

Superb and Masterpiece Portraits

We define a superb portrait as one that appears that it could come to life. Most coin portraits actually lack this trait. A masterpiece portrait not only appears that it could come to life, but also makes an impression of what the subject was like, what they were thinking or how they felt. Of course, an abstract Celticized portrait may also be a masterpiece of a different kind. For the most part, we define a portrait as depicting a real person, not a god, personification or mythical hero, but we will make an exception here when the depiction is especially amazing. In addition to portraits of the finest style, on this page we include rarer bust types and portraits that we just find attractive or interesting.


Parthian Empire, Mithradates II, c. 121 - 91 B.C.

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Mithradates II was the eighth and one of the greatest Parthian kings. He defeated all Seleukid attempts to reclaim territories and made Parthia a formidable, unified empire. He adopted the title Epiphanes, "god manifest" and introduced new designs on his extensive coinage. The ruins of Seleukeia on the Tigris, where this coin was struck, have been identified at Tell Umar, about 30 km south of Baghdad, and 60 north of Babylon. According to Pliny, the city had 600,000 inhabitants and c. 100 A.D. the city still held some Macedonian customs.
SH86429. Silver tetradrachm, Sellwood 24.4, BMC 3, Boston MFA 2216, Sunrise 284, Shore 67 var., EF, fantastic high relief bust, well centered on a tight flan, radiating flow lines, slightest die wear, slightest porosity, weight 15.696 g, maximum diameter 28.2 mm, die axis 0o, Seleukeia on the Tigris mint, c. 119 - 109 B.C.; obverse diademed bust of Mithradates to left, long beard, wearing torc and elaborate robes; reverse BAΣIΛEΩΣ MEΓAΛOY APΣ-AKOY EΠIΦANOYΣ / TY (square clockwise, ending in exergue)), Arsakes I seated right on omphalos, bow in right hand, palm branch right; ex Pars (2008), ex Antiqua Inc. (2000); $2250.00 (1912.50)


Nero, 13 October 54 - 9 June 68 A.D.

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A decursio was a military exercise, by which Roman soldiers were taught to make long marches in a given time, under arms and without quitting their ranks. They sometimes consisted of a mock fight between two divisions. Augustus and subsequently Hadrian ordered that the infantry and cavalry were to march out three times a month ten miles from the camp and ten miles back, fully armed and equipped. The decursio this coin probably refers Nero's participation in mock military maneuvers in the circus.
SH87193. Orichalcum sestertius, RIC I 397 (R2); Cohen I 84; Mac Dowall WCN 413; BnF II 82; BMCRE I -, SRCV I -, VF, excellent portrait, smoothing, weight 26.053 g, maximum diameter 35.8 mm, die axis 180o, Lugdunum (Lyon, France) mint, 65 A.D.; obverse NERO CLAVD CAESAR AVG GER P M TR P IMP P P, laureate head left, globe at point of bust; reverse Nero and officer companion on horseback prancing right, Nero holds a couched lance, his companion holds a vexillum, S - C flanking high across field, DECVRSIO in exergue; ex Gorny & Mosch auction 253, lot 499; rare; $1500.00 (1275.00)


Seleukid Kingdom, Seleukos III Keraunos, 226 - 223 B.C.

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Seleucus III Soter proved not to be the "Savior" that his official royal epithet advertised; nor did live up to his nickname Keraunos - "Thunder." He failed to reclaim western Asia Minor from his cousin, Attalus of Pergamum, and was assassinated after only a brief reign of only a few years.
GS86617. Silver drachm, Houghton-Lorber I 933, Newell WSM 1327, Weber 7867, Hoover Syrian 418 (R3), gVF, superb portrait, light toning, light bumps and marks, reverse double struck with a worn damaged die, weight 4.056 g, maximum diameter 18.9 mm, die axis 0o, Northern Syria or Northern Mesopotamia, uncertain mint, 226 - 223 B.C.; obverse diademed head of Seleukos III with long sideburns; reverse Apollo seated left on omphalos, examining arrow in right hand, resting left hand on grounded bow, BAΣIΛEΩΣ (downward on right) ΣEΛEYKOY (downward on left), AP monogram (control) left, monogram (control) right; very rare; $1080.00 (918.00)


Vespasian, 1 July 69 - 24 June 79 A.D.

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In 77 or 78 A.D., Gnaeus Julius Agricola was made governor of Roman Britain, a post he occupied until 84. In his first year, Agricola subdued the Ordovices in Wales and pursued the remnants of the tribe to Anglesey, the holy island of the Druids. According to Tacitus, he exterminated the whole tribe. The Ordovices do completely disappear from the historical record, but considering the mountainous terrain, it is unlikely killed the entire population. Another tribe, the Silures, was either also militarily defeated or simply agreed to terms. Tacitus wrote of the Silures: non atrocitate, non clementia mutabatur - the tribe "was changed neither by cruelty nor by clemency." A Roman squadron, sent by Agricola, explored the north of Scotland for the first time, discovering the Orkney and Shetland Islands.Pre-Roman Wales
RS86687. Silver denarius, RIC II-1 983, RSC II 214, BMCRE II 214, BnF III 189, Hunter I 71, SRCV I 2292 var. (head right), Choice EF, well centered and struck, excellent portrait, mint luster, radiating flow lines, clashed reverse die, small edge cracks, weight 3.437 g, maximum diameter 18.5 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, Jul 77 - Dec 78 A.D.; obverse CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate head left; reverse sow and three piglets at feet (one before, one below and one behind) walking left, all on ground line, IMP XIX in exergue; from the Jyrki Muona Collection; ex Helios, auction 4 (14 Oct 2009), lot 298; ex A. Lynn Collection; $900.00 (765.00)


Seleukid Kingdom, Antiochus I Soter, 281 - 261 B.C.

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Antiochus faced a formidable task holding the empire together. Revolt broke out in Syria almost immediately after his father's death. He earned the title Soter (savior) for victory over hordes of Gauls that attacked Anatolia. Elsewhere, he had little success. He was forced to abandon Macedonia, Thrace, Bithynia, and Cappadocia and to execute his eldest son for rebellion.
GS82667. Silver tetradrachm, Houghton-Lorber I 379.6c, Newell ESM 177, Meydancikkale 2929, HGC 9 128g, Choice gVF, well centered and struck, dark toning, attractive style, marks, edge bumps, weight 17.101 g, maximum diameter 29.6 mm, die axis 0o, Seleucia on the Tigris (south of Baghdad, Iraq) mint, c. 263 - 261 B.C.; obverse diademed head right, eyes to heaven; reverse Apollo seated left on omphalos, nude but for drapery over right thigh, examining arrow in right hand, resting left hand on grounded bow, BAΣIΛEΩΣ downward on left, ANT−IOXOY complex monograms outer left and outer right; $900.00 (765.00)


Pergamene Kingdom, Attalos I, 241 - 197 B.C.

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Attalus, a capable general, champion of the Greeks, and loyal ally of Rome, made Pergamon a powerful kingdom. He earned the name "Soter" (savior) by defeating the Galatians, who had plundered and exacted tribute for more than a generation. In the Macedonian Wars he allied with Rome against Philip V of Macedon.
GS86503. Silver tetradrachm, BMC Mysia p. 117, 43 (same tiny die break on monogram); SNGvA 1360; SNG BnF -, SNG Cop -, SNG Tb -, SNG Delepierre -, SNG Hunt -, Meydancikkale -, VF/F, superb portrait, light toning, bumps, marks, porosity, small test cut from edge, weight 16.393 g, maximum diameter 29.6 mm, die axis 0o, Mysia, Pergamum (Bergama, Turkey) mint, 215 - 197 B.C.; obverse laureate head of Philetaerus right in taenia; reverse ΦIΛETAIPOY downward on left, Athena enthroned left, crowning dynastic name with wreath in right hand, left arm resting on shield at side ornamented with a gorgoneion, transverse spear on her far side, ME monogram inner right under arm, star over bee outer left, strung bow right; from the David Cannon Collection, ex Beast Coins; very rare variant; $500.00 (425.00)


Byzantine Anonymous Follis of Christ, Class A3, Basil II & Constantine VIII, c. 1023 - 11 November 1028 A.D.

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The emperor's name and portrait are not part of the design on the Byzantine types referred to as anonymous folles. Instead of the earthly king, these coins depict Jesus Christ, King of Kings.
SH82755. Bronze anonymous follis, Anonymous follis of Christ, class A3; SBCV 1818; Grierson-NumisWiki ornaments 24a, EF, some mint luster, areas of porosity, obverse legend weak, weight 11.982 g, maximum diameter 28.1 mm, die axis 180o, Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey) mint, c. 1023 - 11 Nov 1028 A.D.; obverse + EMMANOVHΛ (Latinized Hebrew: Emmanuel - "God with us"), facing bust of Christ, wearing nimbus cruciger with two pellets in each limb of cross, pallium, and colobium, holding gospels with both hands, gospels ornamented with two pellets within a jeweled border, to left IC, to right XC; reverse + IhSuS / XRISTuS / bASILEu / bASILE (Greek: Jesus Christ King of Kings), ornamentation above and below inscription; $450.00 (382.50)


Julia Paula, Augusta July or August 219 - about September 220 A.D., First Wife of Elagabalus

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In 219, Julia Maesa arranged for her grandson Elagabalus to marry Julia Paula. The wedding was a lavish ceremony and Paula was given the honorific title of Augusta. In 220, he divorced her and married Aquilia Severa, a Vestal Virgin.
RS86670. Silver denarius, BMCRE V 172, RSC III 6a, RIC IV 211, Hunter III 1, Eauze Hoard 376 (29 spec.), SRCV II 7655, EF, attractive portrait, choice sharp reverse, light toning edge split, obverse slightly off center, weight 2.892 g, maximum diameter 19.6 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, 220 A.D.; obverse IVLIA PAVLA AVG, bare-headed, draped bust right, hair in horizontal ridges, small looped plait bun at back; reverse CONCORDIA (harmony), Concordia seated left, patera in right hand, left elbow resting on arm of throne, star in left field; from the Jyrki Muona Collection, ex Harlan J. Berk; scarce; $270.00 (229.50)


Caracalla, 28 January 198 - 8 April 217 A.D.

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In addition to rule, the Emperor was the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Rome, the president of the college of pontiffs, and responsible for overseeing the religion and sacred ceremonies of the Romans. On 17 December 384, after the Christian emperor Gratian refused the title, Pope Siricius took the title Pontifex Maximus.
RS85639. Silver denarius, RIC IV 204 (S), RSC III 682, BMCRE V 578, SRCV II 6906, Hunter III -, Choice gVF, unusual older youth portrait, well centered and struck, toned, light porosity, edge cracks, weight 3.493 g, maximum diameter 20.3 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, 208 - 210 A.D.; obverse ANTONINVS PIVS AVG, older youth's unbearded laureate head right; reverse VOTA SOLVT DEC COS III (Additional sacrifices for the tenth anniversary of rule, consul for the 3rd time), Caracalla standing left, veiled and togate, sacrificing out of patera in right hand over flaming tripod altar, roll in left hand, slain sacrificial bull recumbent on the far side of the altar; $200.00 (170.00)


Probus, Summer 276 - September 282 A.D.

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In 278, Probus defeated the Alamanni, expelled the Franks from Gaul, reorganized the defenses on the Rhine, resettled the Germanic tribes in the devastated provinces of the Roman Empire, and adopted the titles of Gothicus Maximus and Germanicus Maximus.
RA76279. Silvered antoninianus, Pink VI-1, p. 63; RIC V-2 376 (S) var. (cuirass); Cohen VI 283 var. (same); Hunter IV 131 var. (same, and obv legend); SRCV III 11984 (same), Choice aEF, some mint luster, most silvering remains, fantastic heroic bust, light corrosion, weight 3.341 g, maximum diameter 22.8 mm, die axis 0o, 5th officina, Ticinum (Pavia, Italy) mint, 4 emission, 278 A.D.; obverse VIRTVS PROBI AVG (the valor of Emperor Probus), radiate bust left from behind, spear left in right hand, back bare but for balteus over right shoulder and rectangular Aegis shield with square corner in on left shoulder; reverse HERCVLI PACIF (to Hercules the pacifier), Hercules standing left, raising branch in extended right, club and Nemean Lion skin in left, VXXT in exergue; very rare; $185.00 (157.25)




  



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Masterpiece Portraits