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Home ▸ Catalog ▸ Themes & Provenance ▸ Types ▸ Love & BeautyView Options:  |  |  | 

Love & Beauty on Ancient Coins

Venus is the Roman goddess principally associated with love and beauty, the rough equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. The son of Venus and Mars, Cupid to the Romans, Eros to the Greeks, is the god of desire, affection and erotic love.


Julius Caesar, Imperator and Dictator, October 49 - 15 March 44 B.C., L. Aemilus Buca

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"The coin that killed Caesar." The obverse legend declares Caesar is "Dictator for Life" and he wears the veil, symbolic of his life-term position as Pontifex Maximus. Caesar would be both the dictator and high priest of Rome for the remainder of his life, but his life would end only a few weeks after this coin was struck. For Caesar to put his image on coins and in effect declare himself king was too much for Brutus and his republican allies. On the Ides of March (15 March) 44 B.C. Caesar was stabbed to death by as many as 60 conspirators, led by Brutus and Cassius. According to Plutarch, a seer had warned that harm would come to Caesar no later than the Ides of March. On his way to the Theater of Pompey, where he would be assassinated, Caesar passed the seer and joked, "The ides of March have come," meaning to say that the prophecy had not been fulfilled, to which the seer replied, "Aye, Caesar, but not gone." This meeting is famously dramatized in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar when Caesar is warned by the soothsayer to "beware the Ides of March."

Minted for Caesar's planned Parthian war, this type was often carelessly struck indicating the mint was working under great pressure.
SH89754. Silver denarius, Crawford 480/7b, Sydenham 1062, Sear CRI 104a, RSC I Julius Caesar 24, Russo RBW 1682, BMCRR I Rome 4155, SRCV I 1410, aEF, toned, light marks, off center, irregular flan with edge splits , weight 3.780 g, maximum diameter 18.9 mm, die axis 0o, struck by L. Aemilus Buca, Rome mint, lifetime issue, Feb - Mar 44 B.C.; obverse CAESAR DICT PERPETVO, wreathed head of Caesar right; reverse Venus seated left, Victory in extended right, long transverse scepter in left hand, L:BVCA downward behind; ex CNG e-auction 353 (17 Jun 2015), lot 409; rare; $1350.00 (1188.00)


Amisos, Pontos, c. 120 - 100 B.C.

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A natural fortress and harbor on the south coast of the Black Sea in the former land of the Chalybes, Pharnakia stood at the end of a route over the Pontic mountains from Armenia Minor. Pharnakes I of Pontus founded it, c. 180 B.C., in newly conquered territory with citizens from Kotyora. The city was annexed to Galatia with the rest of the Pontic Kingdom in 64 or 65 A.D.
GB87633. Bronze AE 16, SNG BM Black Sea 1142, SNG Stancomb 672, SNGvA 71, HGC 7 250 (R1), EF, dark green patina, light marks, weight 4.165 g, maximum diameter 16.3 mm, die axis 0o, Amisos (Samsun, Turkey) mint, time of Mithradates VI Eupator; obverse bust of Eros right; reverse AMI−ΣOY, quiver and unstrung bow; rare; $180.00 (158.40)


Plautilla, Augusta 202 - 22 January 205 A.D., Wife of Caracalla

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Sulla in a dream first saw Venus with the weapons of Mars as Venus Victrix and made her his personal patroness. In the night before the battle of Pharsalus 48 B.C. Pompey dreamed of Venus Victrix - seemingly a lucky sign. Caesar sacrificed to Venus Genetrix, but issued as watchword 'Venus Victrix', and defeated Pompey!
RS89494. Silver denarius, RIC IV 369, RSC III 25, BMCRE V 429, Hunter III 9, SRCV II 7074, Choice VF, well centered, nice portrait, flow lines, some die wear, tiny edge cracks, weight 3.219 g, maximum diameter 19.0 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 202 - 205 A.D.; obverse PLAVTILLA AVGVSTA, draped bust right, hair in horizontal ridges, looped plait at back of neck; reverse VENVS VICTRIX (victorious Venus), Venus standing left, bare to waist, apple in right hand, palm frond in left hand, resting left elbow on shield, Cupid at her feet on left holding crested helmet; ex Numismatik Naumann auction 73, part of lot 970; $125.00 (110.00)


Julia Domna, Augusta 194 - 8 April 217 A.D.

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Venus in her aspect as the divine ancestress of the Roman people was known as Venus Genetrix. According to legend, and as recorded in Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneis was the son of Venus who fled Troy after its destruction and founded the city of Rome. Julius Caesar, being of the Gens Julia, claimed direct descent from Venus Genetrix and Aeneas. Julius Caesar built a Temple of Venus Genetrix in his new forum. Most depictions of Venus Genetrix on Roman coinage are of the statue in the Forum, and do not directly refer to pregnancy or fertility.
RS89475. Silver antoninianus, RIC IV C388a; RSC III 211; BMCRE V p. 434, C22; Hunter III C15; SRCV II 7098, Choice VF, nice older portrait, well centered, light tone, light marks, some die wear, tiny edge cracks, weight 4.881 g, maximum diameter 23.8 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, reign of Caracalla, 216 A.D.; obverse IVLIA PIA FELIX AVG, diademed draped bust right on crescent, wearing stephane; reverse VENVS GENETRIX (Mother Venus), Venus seated left, extending right hand, long scepter vertical behind in left; ex Numismatik Naumann auction 73, part of lot 970; scarce; $110.00 (96.80)


Nagidos, Cilicia, c. 420 - 280 B.C.

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Nagidos, a colony of Samos, was located in Cilicia on a hill at the mouth of the Sini Cay (Bozyazi Dere) near modern Bozyazi in Mersin Province, Turkey. Nagidos minted coins with a grape cluster as a symbol of the city, some with both Greek and Aramaic inscriptions, and one type bearing the name of the Persian satrap Pharnabazus. Aphrodite appears most often on the coins, indicating her sanctuary was the most important in the city. Alexander the Great conquered Cilicia in 133 B.C. After his death, Cilicia briefly came under Seleucid rule. About 270 B.C., the Ptolemaic Empire conquered Cilicia. When the city of Arsinoe was founded on land claimed by Nagidos, the Nagidians refused to recognize the settlers. To resolve the dispute, Nagidos was designated as the mother city and the citizens of both shared a single citizenship. Cilicia came under Seleucid rule in 197 B.C. Nagidos was abandoned in the middle of the second century B.C., possibly due to attacks by the Cilician pirates.
GS88168. Silver obol, SNG BnF 11, Trait II 1507, Gktrk 3 var. (NAGΓ), SNG Levante 3 var. (types right); Lederer Nagidos -, SNG Cop -, BMC Lycaonia -, VF, toned, obverse off center, die wear, light marks, mild porosity, weight 0.716 g, maximum diameter 9.1 mm, die axis 270o, Nagidos (Bozyazi, Turkey) mint, c. 420 - 380 B.C.; obverse head of Aphrodite left, with hair in sphendone; reverse bearded head of Dionysos left, NAΓI upward on left; ex Triskeles auction 26 (VAuction 334), lot 188; $95.00 (83.60)


Severus Alexander, 13 March 222 - March 235 A.D., Parium, Mysia

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Eros was the Greek god of love. His Roman counterpart was Cupid ("desire"). According to Hesiod (c. 700 B.C.), one of the most ancient of all Greek sources, Eros was the fourth god to come into existence, coming after Chaos, Gaia (the Earth), and Tartarus (the Abyss or the Underworld). Parmenides (c. 400 B.C.), one of the pre-Socratic philosophers, makes Eros the first of all the gods to come into existence. In early Greek poetry and art, Eros was depicted as an adult male who embodies sexual power. But in later sources, Eros is represented as the son of Aphrodite, whose mischievous interventions in the affairs of gods and mortals cause bonds of love to form, often illicitly. Ultimately, by the later satirical poets, he is represented as a child, the precursor to the chubby Renaissance Cupid.
RP88071. Bronze AE 21, RPC Online VI temp 3873 (4 spec.), BMC Mysia -, SNG anakkale -, SNG Cop -, SNGvA -, SNG BnF -, SNG Tb -, SNG Hunterian -, SNG Leypold -, aVF/F, pitting/corrosion, reverse slightly off center, weight 6.050 g, maximum diameter 22.6 mm, die axis 225o, Parium (Kemer, Canakkale, Turkey) mint, 13 Mar 222 - Mar 235 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES L SEP SEV ALEXANDER (many letters blundered or retrograde), laureate and cuirassed bust right, from the front; reverse DEO CVPIDI-NI C G I H PAR (D and H blundered, god Cupid, Colonia Gemella Julia Hadriana Pariana), Cupid standing slightly left, head right, nude but for drapery over left arm, herm at feet on left; extremely rare; $80.00 (70.40)


Ptolemaic Kingdom, Ptolemy I Soter, 305 - 282 B.C.

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In Coins of the Ptolemaic Empire, C. Lorber writes, "This series combines a type of local significance -- Aphrodite, patroness of Cyprus -- with Ptolemy's personal badge, the eagle on thunderbolt, and names Ptolemy as issuing authority." Of the likely mint, Lorber writes, "The pattern of finds for this issue is consistent with an origin at Palai Paphos, home to the great sanctuary of Aphrodite Cypria."
GP85879. Bronze hemiobol, Lorber CPE B120; Svoronos 81 (2 spec.); BMC Ptolemies p. 7, 60; SNG Milan 28; SNG Cop 643; Weiser 3; Noeske -; Malter -, F, tight flan, rough corrosion, weight 3.046 g, maximum diameter 17.1 mm, die axis 0o, Cyprus, Palai Paphos(?) mint, 294 - 282 B.C.; obverse head of Aphrodite Paphia right, wearing plain taenia; reverse eagle standing left on thunderbolt, wings open, head left, ΠTOΛE (upward on left); rare; $70.00 (61.60)


Katane, Sicily, c. 212 - 50 B.C.

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In 212 B.C., after a two-year siege, despite defenses designed by the Greek mathematician and scientist Archimedes, the Roman general Marcus Claudius Marcellus forced his way into Syracuse. Although Marcellus wished to spare the Syracusans, he was unable to stop his soldiers from sacking the city. Archimedes was killed. Marcellus carried off the art treasures of Syracuse to Rome, the first recorded instance of a practice which was to become common.
GB82650. Bronze two chalkoi, Calciati III p. 110, 25; SNG ANS 1278; SNG Morcom 563; HGC 2 612 (R1); BMC Sicily p. 51, 65 corr.; SNG Cop -, aVF, green patina, scratches, porous, weight 3.768 g, maximum diameter 16.8 mm, die axis 0o, Katane (Catania, Sicily, Italy) mint, c. 212 - 50 B.C.; obverse laureate head of Apollo right; reverse KATA/NAIΩN, Aphrodite Hyblaia (or Isis?) standing right, wearing kalathos on head, holding dove in extended right, II (2 chalkoi) right; $70.00 (61.60)


Tarsos, Cilicia, c. 380 - 360 B.C.

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In historical times, Tarsos was first ruled by the Hittites, followed by Assyria, and then the Persian Empire. Tarsus, as the principal town of Cilicia, was the seat of a Persian satrapy from 400 B.C. onward. Indeed, Xenophon records that in 401 B.C., when Cyrus the Younger marched against Babylon, the city was governed by King Syennesis in the name of the Persian monarch. Alexander the Great passed through with his armies in 333 B.C. and nearly met his death here after a bath in the Cydnus. By this time Tarsus was already largely influenced by Greek language and culture, and as part of the Seleucid Empire it became more and more Hellenized. Strabo praises the cultural level of Tarsus in this period with its philosophers, poets and linguists. The schools of Tarsus rivaled those of Athens and Alexandria.
GS58069. Silver obol, SNG BnF 310 - 311, SNG Levante 217 - 218, F, weight 0.458 g, maximum diameter 10.0 mm, Tarsos (Tarsus, Mersin, Turkey) mint, obverse uncertain female head facing slightly left; reverse bust of Aphrodite right, wearing tainia; $36.00 (31.68)


Julia Mamaea, Augusta 13 March 222 - February or March 235 A.D., Limes or Ancient Counterfeit

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Victory seems an odd attribute for the goddess of love but both Sulla and Pompey dreamed of Venus Victrix. Julius Caesar, who claimed Venus as his ancestor, sacrificed to her and she ensured he was always victorious. The use of Victrix on the reverse of Mamaea's coinage at this time, not only appealed for her aid against the Persians, but also reminded the Romans that the empress too was in Syria accompanying the legions on campaign.
RL88687. Silver denarius, cf. RIC IV 358, RSC III 76, BMCRE VI 713, Hunter III 5, SRCV II 8216 (official, silver, Rome mint), aF, rough, corrosion, weight 3.094 g, maximum diameter 19.3 mm, die axis 180o, unofficial mint, c. 231 A.D.; obverse IVLIA MAMAEA AVG, draped and diademed bust right; reverse VENVS VICTRIX (victorious Venus), Venus standing half left, helmet(?) in right hand, long scepter vertical behind in left hand; $14.00 (12.32)







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Love & Beauty