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Research Coins: Feature Auction


The Reaper

Sale: CNG 76, Lot: 1147. Estimate $1000. 
Closing Date: Wednesday, 12 September 2007. 
Sold For $2500. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

EGYPT, Alexandria. Antoninus Pius. AD 138-161. Æ Drachm (23.67 g, 12h). Dated RY 5 (AD 141/2). Laureate head right / Reaper standing right, harvesting three grain ears with sickle; date to left. Köln 1417; Emmett 1643. Fine, brown patina. Extremely rare.

This rare Egyptian drachm commemorates the importance of Egypt as the breadbasket of the empire.

Since the beginning of ancient history, Egypt was a major agricultural power. The combination of climate and the regular gentle flooding of the Nile produced a fertile land that allowed for two crops of grain annually. As a result, the Nile Valley became strategically important and immensely wealthy. While it remained independent for many centuries, the allure of its wealth and ability to supply large quantities of grain made it a prime target for empire-builders. With the collapse of the Ptolemaic kingdom after Actium in 31 BC, Egypt became an imperial province. Governed by the equestrian praefectus Aegypti, a personal appointee of the emperor, who had between two and three legions at his disposal, he insured that the huge grain freighters regularly departed the seaport of Alexandria for the imperial port of Ostia. Rome, no longer able to feed itself from the surrounding countryside, relied heavily on the constant importation of grain for its survival, and any shortfall could have serious social and political implications. When Antoninus Pius became emperor, he set about completing several of Hadrian’s unfinished projects, as well as beginning several of his own, which focused on maintaining the flow of grain to the capital. He ordered a renovation of the port of Alexandria, and when the grain supply was interrupted, he made up for the shortfall by purchasing grain elsewhere with funds from his own personal fortune.