Gallienus. A.D. 253-268. AV medallion of 8 aurei (29.67 g). Rome, ca. A.D. 265-266. IMP GALLIENVS PIVS FEL AVG GERM, head left, wearing wreath of reeds / CONCORD· P· R· ET· MILIT, two clasped hands; all within laurel wreath closed by round shield. RIC -; cf. Göbl, MIR 36, 700 (medallion of 10 aurei); Gnecchi - ; Toynbee -; Cohen -. Apparently unique and unpublished. An extremely important medallion, one of the largest of Gallienus in existence, bearing a very appealing portrait. A few minor marks and an insignificant edge nick at six o'clock on obverse, otherwise about extremely fine
Ex NAC 24 (5 December 2002), 196. Realized CHF 420,000 on an estimate of CHF 300,000.
Without question this is one of the most impressive and important Roman gold medallions to have survived antiquity. Not only is it apparently unique and of extraordinary size, but its portrait is of remarkable style, representing the apex of Gallienus' "classical renaissance". It belongs to a single emission late in his reign that seems to have followed his initiation into the most important of all Greek occult rituals, the Eleusinian Mysteries. This portrait style occurs only on ceremonial gold pieces and large bronze medallions. The most striking aspect of the portrait is its style, which arguably is the best achieved in Gallienus' 15-year reign. The 'binio' that proceedes, lot 196, is of the same issue. There can be little doubt that the dies of this series either were cut by the same master, or at the very least were derived from his prototype. Indeed, it is surprising that this die cutter has not been singled out and named (perhaps the "Eleusinian Master"), as his work is virtually beyond comparison in this troubled era. In addition to style points, this bust type captures interest because it is left-facing and is wreathed with grain ears. Determining the date of this issue is no easy task, as Gallienus' reign is one of the most difficult to comprehend. Even his coinage, when inscribed with tribunician dates, is often contradictory, and thus the internal chronology of his reign is not well understood. This issue must fall near the end of his reign, c. 265-268. If it is associated with the enigmatic INT VRB bronzes with the GENIVS P.R. obverse bearing a portrait of Gallienus in the guise of the Genius of the Roman People, then it probably belongs in 266 or 268. Kent, in Roman Coins, prefers a date of c. 267. Göbl, in his posthumously published corpus on this period, argues for a date of c. 265 on the strength of the Eleusinian Mysteries connection. He cites an inscription in which Gallienus reformed rules for the marketplace that served Eleusinian initiates. It is dated to his 14th tribunician, which perhaps began in August, 265 or simply ran the length of 266 (theories vary). The nature of the inscription presumes the emperor's presence in Athens at that time, which is not opposed by any other evidence. In about 265 Gallienus delegated the war against Postumus to his subordinate, the future rebel Aureolus, which allows a window for his visit to Athens between his departure from Gaul and the Gothic invasion of late 267 or early 268. The reverse of this medallion, inscribed CONCORD. P. R. ET. MILIT, is most unusual, as it calls for harmony between the Roman people (Populus Romanus) and the army (Militarium). Often inscriptions on Roman coins and medallions will honour, or call for the harmony of the senate and the people or the emperor and the army, but this combination is quite irregular. Roman interest in the secretive Eleusinian Mysteries had a long history: Cicero, Augustus and Marcus Aurelius had been initiated, and Claudius attempted to move the rituals from Eleusis to Rome. The most famous Roman benefactor to the Mysteries, Hadrian, was initiated to the lower grade of mystes in 125, and achieved the higher grade of epoptes ('one who has seen') on his visit to Athens in 128. With this in mind it should not escape our attention that the composition of Gallienus' portrait on this medallion is almost Hadrianic, which may have been purposeful due to their Eleusinian connection. The Great Mysteries of Eleusis drew participants and onlookers from throughout the western world. The final rituals required utmost secrecy, which is remarkable considering up to three thousand could be seated in the hall of initiation (the Telesterion), and the event occurred every year. Yet few who attended even spoke of it, out of respect, and out of fear of the penalties for doing so. Central to the Mysteries was Demeter's search for her daughter Persephone, who had been taken by Pluto to his personal domain, Hades. Upon discovering her daughter's absence, Demeter, goddess of the earth, abandoned the pleasures of Mt. Olympus and descended to earth to commence the search (while there she was aided by the king of Eleusis). Demeter's absence brought what threatened to be an eternal winter on earth, and this required divine intervention. Persephone was allowed to return, but only on the condition that she return to Hades every winter to serve as the grim spouse of Pluto. The core of the Demeter-Persephone myth, and the initiation ritual of the Mysteries, was first the value of devotion, and second, the hope one gains in the confirmation of an afterlife. No doubt in these troubled times such messages interested Gallienus and his wife, Salonina (who, along with the philosopher Plotinus, was his companion in the arts and related pursuits). Considering Gallienus had lost his father and both sons in recent years, the rituals may have been especially meaningful to his personal life experience. (continues)
The Mysteries comprised two annual events devoted to Demeter and Persephone, but also involved Iachus-Dionysus. The major ritual of the Eleusinia, for Persephone's descent into Hades, was celebrated at Eleusis in September; the minor ritual, for Persephone's emergence from Hades, was celebrated in the Athenian suburb of Agrae in or about February. All initiates on procession to Eleusis wore crowns of myrtle, and had Demeter foremost in their minds. On this medallion Gallienus wears an elaborate crown of grain, which, if the Eleusinian connection is factual, must be meant to represent Demeter and Persephone, goddesses inextricably tied to the harvests and the seasons. On other medallions and coins Gallienus had assimilated himself with Hercules, Mercury and the Genius of the Roman People, and to this list we may add Demeter. Since certain gold pieces from this emission bear the unusual obverse inscription GALLIENAE AVGVSTAE, many consider it a defining feature of the coinage. Some have speculated that it was a mint master's insult to Gallienus for his effeminacy, and that it was changed to the usual nominative case when the emperor took offence. If effeminacy was intended, it certainly would have been on the instructions of Gallienus, who might have believed it appropriate for an association with Demeter, who, after all, was a goddess.
Others suggest GALLIENAE AVGVSTAE represents a seldom-used form of the vocative case, which would qualify it as an acclamation of the emperor. This is possible, as Gallienus seems to have introduced the concept of inscriptions in cases other than the nominative or dative, including a series of small bronze medallions on which his name is rendered GALLIENVM.