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Mysterious AE from 1st Century BCE


My coin of interest today is a mysterious AE from the late first century with no shortage of competing views on whose portrait appears on the obverse:

  • Freilander (1865) and several others attributed the portrait to Brutus

  • Affoldi and others identified the portrait as Augustus

  • M. Grant "From imperium to auctoritas" & M. Price, "Coins of the Macedonians" identified the portrait as Caesar

  • RPC concludes Octavian/Augustus - "Princeps Felix" coins from Cilicia (RPC 4082-4083) identified as Augustus have similar portrait style, possibly even same engraver

  • CNG auctions and wikipedia propose Gaius Sosius (I lack a more formally published reference for this)

Asia Minor, Uncertain, Octavian/Augustus(?), circa 30 BCE(?), Æ, (25mm, 21.31g, 12h)

Obv: Bare head right

Rev: Fiscus (the emperor's chest), sella quaestoria (magistrate's chair), and hasta (spear) on left side of coin; Q below.

Ref: RPC I 5409

Note: some smoothing and cleaning marks


My example is unusually heavy with the average reported by RPC of 19.02g (RPC I 5409). In addition to being a nice heavy coin in hand, one of the attractions to the coin for me is the visual link to the tetradrachm of Roman Macedon. Here's my coin of this type for comparison:

Macedon (Roman Province), Aesillas, Quaestor, circa 95-70 BCE, AR Tetradrachm, Uncertain mint

Obv: Head of the deified Alexander the Great right; Θ to left / Money chest, club, and chair; all within wreath

Ref: Bauslaugh Group VI, Plate 8, dies 47-207

I am most convinced by RPC arguments for "Octavian/Augustus", and the RPC notes we can read some of the challenges to the visual link with Aesillas:

  • None of the OP coin have been found in Macedonia

  • Two of these coins were purchased in Beirut, Lebanon, suggesting Syrian origin

  • The symbols on the reverse are all associated with the rank of quaestor propraetore (Grant, M (1946) "From imperium to auctoritas", p.13) and are not only found in Macedonia

An additional observation in RPC that 5409 is brass while 5410 is bronze which raises a question - was there some parallel to the As, Dupondius denominations of Rome?

Advocating for Gaius Sosius as the portrait on this coin, CNG auction listings, share this note:


"In our opinion, both sets of Cilician or Syrian issues portray Sosius, a leading general of Marc Antony. Sosius was quaestor (symbolized on this coinage with a Q and the symbols of the office) in 39 BC. The island of Zacynthus, a fleet station of Antony's, issued coins in the name of C SOSIVS Q (RPC 1290), C SOSIVS IMP (RPC 1291), C SOSIVS COS DESIG (RPC 1292), and C SOSIVS COS (RPC 1293). The first of these issues coincides with the dating of this coin. Note that both include the title "Q". Sosius was governor of Syria in 38 BC. Antony supported Herod the Great against his rival Antigonus, and Josephus describes how Sosius commanded the Roman forces in support of Herod's claim."

It is also interesting to see that the Wikipedia takes the side of "Gaius Sosius", without a published source as well. In addition to the Wikipedia, this 1930 article by F. Shipley is interesting for more information on Gaius Sosius and his coins from this : “C. Sosius, His Coins, His Triumph and His Temple of Apollo”, Washington University studies, N.S., 3, 73-87.

Here's another provincial coin that also has some mystery about who and where it was minted, and reminded me of the coin above. The portrait of Augustus on this coin is not the same as the one on he coin above, but they do have similarities that reinforce for me the identification of Octavian/Augustus as the likely obverse portrait.

Macedon, Thessalonica or Unknown Asia Minor mint, Augustus, with Divus Julius Caesar, 27 BCE-14 CE, Æ (21mm, 8.66g, 6h)

Obv: ΘEOC, bare head of Divus Julius Caesar right

Rev: CEBACTOY ΘE, bare head of Augustus right

Ref: BMC 61; Varbanov 4154; RPC I 5421 (uncertain mint)


While I find intriguing the idea that the first coin in this note is from Gaius Sosius, the similarity of the portrait to Augustus seems hard to ignore (and Gaius Sosius would have been on the Mark Antony side of that fight). No shortage of questions remain:

  • Is there an example of a Quaestor putting his own portrait on a coin?

  • Who @ CNG wrote the auction listing and how the coincidence of dating is supported?

  • Is the mystery coin a "Dupondius" (which would have been introduced ~23 BCE by Augustus)?


Note: opening image source: Following Hadrian, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons a statue of Augustus addressing his troop, from the early 1st century CE found in the ruins of the Villa of Livia (wife of Augustus) at Prima Porta on the via Flaminia that is in the Vatican Museum

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