Trajan, 98 – 117. Divus Traianus. Aureus 138, AV 7.17 g. DIVO TR – A – IANO – AVGVSTI PATRI Bare-headed and draped bust of Trajan r.; behind, star. Rev. DIVAE PLOTINAE – AVGVSTI MATRI Draped bust of Plotina l., wearing double metallic stephane; before, star. C 3 (misdescribed). BMC –, p. 338 ‡. Strack –, cf. 357. RIC –. CBN –. Calicó 1143 (this coin).
Of the highest rarity, only the second specimen known and the only one in private hands.
Two magnificent portraits in the finest style of the period. Perfectly struck and
centred in high relief, minor marks, otherwise extremely fine
Ex Leu 30, 1982, 358 and NAC 54, 2010, 413 sales. From the collection of a Retired Banker.
This remarkable aureus requires careful study to reveal the context in which it was issued. The inscriptions and the presence of stars alongside the portraits confirm that Trajan and his wife Plotina had been consecrated by the time this coin was struck, making the death and deification of Plotina in c. A.D. 122 a tempting possibility. However, the integration of the features of Sabina (consecrated c.136/7) into Plotina's portrait and other aspects of style and context demand a later date – approximately the period of c.136-138. Similar aurei (Hill, Undated, pp. 78-79 and pl. II, no. 8) clearly are from the same issue as the present coin and must be taken into consideration. On the aureus illustrated by Hill the style of the two portraits and the distinctive formation of the stars are identical to those on the present coin, though they are shown confronted on the same reverse die, which bears the inscription DIVVS PARENTIBVS. The obverse of that coin features a portrait of Hadrian, falsely youthful and wearing a partial beard in an effort to liken him to the Trojan War Hero Diomedes (see NAC 42, lot 343 for a discussion). Hill places that issue in the first weeks of the reign of Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius. With this in mind, we should consider the present coin and the group cited by Hill as having been struck about the time Antoninus lobbied the senate to secure the deification of Hadrian – the principal act for which he earned his surname “Pius”. He had come to the throne by adoption through Hadrian, who, in turn, had inherited the throne by adoption from Trajan. In making his case for Hadrian (and by extension, for himself), it would make sense for Pius to trace the chain of imperial adoption at least back to Trajan and Plotina, which he seems to have done with these aurei. Plotina was a woman of great virtue, and was an ideal companion for Trajan. Dio Cassius records (68.5.5) that when she first entered the palace with her husband, newly emperor, she said to the people gathered “I enter here such a woman as I would be when I depart.” She apparently also refused the title of Augusta the first time it was offered, upon her husband's accession, when Trajan refused the title pater patriae. If the ancient sources record anything for which Plotina could be faulted, it would be her extreme attachment to Hadrian. Though the prospect is often rejected by scholars, her loyalty to Hadrian may have caused her to forge the will of her husband soon after he died to assure that Hadrian would be the next emperor. Dio offers his version of those events at the start of his book 69: “Hadrian had not been adopted by Trajan...He became Caesar and emperor owing to the fact that when Trajan died childless, Attianus, a compatriot and former guardian of his, together with Plotina, who was in love with him, secured him the appointment, their efforts being facilitated by his proximity and by his possession of a large military force...the death of Trajan was concealed for several days in order that Hadrian's adoption might be announced first. This was shown also by Trajan's letters to the senate, for they were signed, not by him, but by Plotina, although she had not done this in any previous instance”.