Featured Coin

A Silvered Antoninianus of Numerian

Some coins are special for some reason. Ocassionally a coin comes along that is special in more than one way. This coin illustrates enough different points of interest that it qualified as this week's 'Featured Coin'.

Numerian, the younger son of the emperor Carus, was named Caesar at the beginning of his father's reign. He was promoted to Augustus while accompanying Carus in the Persian wars. A short while before this, Carus had elevated his elder son Carinus to Augustus entrusting him with the care of the West while Carus was occupied in the East. Therefore, for a short time before the death of Carus, there were three Augusti. The reverse of this coin bears the inscription VIRTVS AVGGG acknowledging the triple Augusti with three G's in the abbreviation. The situation of having three Augusti arose several times during the late Roman period. The first time was in 209 AD when Geta joined his father and brother in the 'Purple' but no coins of that period add a third G. GGG was used again in the late 4th - early 5th centuries when the family of Theodosius included three Augusti but I am not aware of its use by the three sons of Constantine who served together in the middle 4th century.

Numerian Caesar Antoninianus, 283 AD - Reverse: Jupiter (?) & Emperor - Cohen 115

Not that GGG is not enough to make a coin special: Remember that I stated above that the three Augusti included Numerian. The obverse legend on this coin clearly styles Numerian as NOBle Caesar, not AVGustus. It would seem that this coin combines the last obverse of Numerian as Caesar and the first reverse produced for his rank of Augustus. Actually this is not all that hard to believe since obverse dies outlasted reverses and were valuable enough that the mint might be forgiven continuing its use until it failed. The reverse dies inscribed AVGG, however, would have been easily corrected by the addition of the third G. Checking the catalogs produces even more confusing evidence. The GGG types are all used with NOB C obverses but not with AVG. It seems that if Numerian were made Augustus before the death of Carus that the GGG coins would also be shown with AVG obverses. I would like to hear from someone with access to recent studies on this subject.

Update (1997): Since this was originally posted I have become aware that coins of Carinus, the elder son of Carus, bearing GGG also are found with the Caesar obverse. This suggests that the GGG coins were issued when both sons were Caesars at the beginning of the reign and the mint considered the three honored persons deserving of the plural reverse even though only one was actually Augustus. This would be completely unprecedented but certainly possible. More study is definitely needed!

Stamp collectors place special value on specimens well centered with extra wide margins. Were this coin a stamp, it would be credited as having "boardwalk margins." There is a price paid for all that metal outside the beaded borders. The flan, weighing an appropriate 4.1g, is much thinner than usual. This thinness made it impossible for the striking process to fill the die detail on both sides of the coin. The reverse shows a flat spot in the center where the metal was needed to fill the portrait on the obverse. It appears that Jupiter is handing something to Numerian. There is a wreath floating above their hands but missing is the statue of Victory holding the wreath. Jupiter seems to be the correct interpretation since the same scene was used by Diocletian with legend IOVI CONSERVATORI AVGG. What attributes of Jupiter are shown? The thin flan and uneven strike also make the legends weak at obverse left and reverse right. At least there was enough power in the strike that the GGG survived.

This uneven strike leads us to the next 'special' feature. The flan of this coin was wider than the reverse die. Note at 10-11 o'clock on the reverse that the obliquely struck metal of the flan wrapped around the edge of the die. The reverse die continued about 2 mm outside the beaded circle. Note that the obverse is flat showing that the anvil die was wider. Also interesting is that the dotted border of the reverse makes a circle of 20 mm while the obverse is significantly smaller at 18mm.

This coin is rather hard to grade properly. The selling dealer fairly (IMHO) called it 'Techincally EF but soft on high points, hence VF detail'. Note, however, that the radiate crown of the portrait is not distinct from the hair. This is usually the situation on a coin graded 'Fine'. This coin shows very little wear. From a standpoint of wear alone it is nearly mint state and retains most of the original silvering with underlying copper showing only on the highest points. Can a coin be simultaneously Fine and Mint State? Sure can!

I thought this coin had a lot to offer and I hope you agree.

Another update, February 1998:
The AVGGG issues with this reverse type were struck at Antioch in the names of Carus Augustus and both Carinus and Numerian Caesars. The same mint also produced coins for all three with reverse AVGG. When I discovered the Carinus coin shown here I felt that the likely explanation was that the AVGG reverses date to the time that Carinus was Caesar before Numerian was elevated and the AVGGG coins were from the period of one Augustus (Carus) and two Caesars. Unfortunately my theory was shot down by the fact that there are also coins of Numerian as Caesar with AVGG. AVGG coins of both sons as Augusti would seem to date after the death of Carus but I have no good explanation for Caesar coins of Numerian not recognising all three. Another possibility would seem that the mint started using the AVGGG form for the three rulers and later discovered that other mints did not make this distinction so they backed off to AVGG. The same, but opposite, theory would allow the mint to have added the third G to correct the ommission of the third party after initially using AVGG.

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1997 Doug Smith