Antoninus Pius. A.D. 138-161 . Æ medallion in an ancient ring frame (47 mm, 68.76 g). Rome, ca. A.D. 147-148. ANTONINVS AVG PIVS P P TR P XI COS IIII, laureate bust ring with aegis / Apollo, naked to waist, seated left on tripod or banch, in pensive attitude, feet not touching ground, holding branch and resting left elbow on back (?) or leaning on lyre; behind, small column on which statuette (Venus ?) holding cornucopiae or mirror; in foreground, tripod (?). Apparently unique and previously unrecorded.
Ex NAC 27 (12 May 2004), 402. Realized CHF 37,500 on an estimate of CHF 35,000.
NAC: This remarkable medallion was struck during Antoninus Pius’ 11th tribunician, and though there are several mysterious aspects that prevent its easy classification, we may be sure it relates to his celebration of the 900th anniversary of Rome’s founding. Pius issued many coins and medallions for this occasion, most of which referenced the cult of Roma or depicted episodes from the formative years of the Republic. Pius must have been pleased that so important an anniversary occurred during his reign, for he was as pro-Roman as any man who ever donned the purple. Unlike his Greekling predecessor Hadrian, who spent most of his tenure in the provinces, Pius spent every day of his long reign in Italy. Since Pius used the anniversary to demonstrate his retrospective approach to religion on numismatic items, this Apollo reverse might relate to an early episode in Roman history. Based on his coinage we know Pius assumed the guise of Rome’s eponymous founder, Romulus (ROMVLO AVGVSTO; RIC 624) and identified himself with Augustus’ Palatine Apollo (APOLLINI AVGVSTO; RIC 63). Here Apollo is depicted principally in his guise as healer, Medicus, (or, as the vestals called him, Apollo Medice or Apollo Paean) for he holds a laurel branch. One of the earliest Roman associations with Apollo occurred in 433 B.C. when, based upon a recommendation of the Sibylline Books, he arrived to deliver the Romans from a plague (Livy 4.25.3). The grateful Romans built a temple to him just outside the city limit. About four centuries later Augustus adopted Apollo as his patron and built a second temple to him not far from his own house on the Palatine. Various details need clarification: is there a tripod in the foreground of the bench upon which Apollo sits, or is it the end of the bench? (The lion-paw feet are of the type typically found on tripods, but less so on furniture.) Why is the bench elevated such that Apollo’s feet dangle above the floor? Does he lean against a small lyre, or is it drapery over the back of the chair. Finally, the subject of the statuette is not clear (is it Venus gazing into a mirror?). If, in addition to holding a laurel branch, Apollo rests against a lyre and has a tripod in the foreground, we would have all three of his main functions represented: healer, patron of the arts, and instrument of prophecy. It is worth noting that the general form of this seated Apollo, holding a laurel branch and leaning against a lyre, is found on coins numerous emperors, including Caracalla (RIC 238a), Gordian III (RIC 87), Philip I (RIC 91), Herennius Etruscus (RIC 144), Hostilian (RIC 180) and Trebonianus Gallus (RIC 118). The physical properties of the medallion are also worth investigating. At present we have a medallion contained within an ancient "ring-frame" that was added after striking. The ring-frame was bonded to the edge of the medallion to create an additional surface area encompassing the medallion. This was meant to enlarge the medallion so it could be set into a larger, decorative frame that would have had any number of functions, perhaps even for attachment to a legionary standard. With the medallion’s extended border the decorative frame’s overlapping lip would cover only the ring-frame, allowing the entire surface of the original medallion to be displayed. The decorative frame no doubt had a metal-plate backing since the relief of the medallion’s reverse was mechanically reduced in ancient times to allow it to sit flush against the back of the frame. This flattening occurred after striking, indeed after the ring-frame was added, because in some of the flattening extends from the medallion to the ring-frame.