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Research Coins: Feature Auction


The Parthian Arch

Sale: Triton XI, Lot: 782. Estimate $750. 
Closing Date: Monday, 7 January 2008. 
Sold For $1600. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Augustus. 27 BC-AD 14. AR Denarius (3.80 g, 10h). Rome mint. L. Vinicius, moneyer. Struck 16 BC. Bare head right / [L •] VINICIVS in exergue, triumphal arch, surmounted by facing quadriga, in which Augustus stands, holding laurel branch in right hand and scepter in left; smaller arch on either side, surmounted by archer on left and by slinger on right; S • P • Q • R/IMP CAE in two lines on entablature of arch. RIC I 359; RSC 544; BMCRE 77-8 = BMCRR Rome 4477-8; BN 348-51. Good VF, toned, banker’s mark on obverse and shallow scratch in right field under tone. Rare.

The reverse depicts the Parthian Arch. This coin solves an archaeological problem of the Arches in the Forum, where only one base has been found for the two arches built (the Actian and the Parthian). This denarius resolves the problem. The Parthian Arch was the Actian Arch. Builders added one smaller arcade on each side of the existing Actian Arch which is quite recognizable as the central arcade of the new arch, with the quadriga on its top. The two side arcades support Parthian archers.

The transformation of the former Actian Arch may be explained by three factors. There was significant economy in just adding to the existing arch. Space in the Forum was limited. The Actian Arch hadn’t been welcomed or appreciated by the people of Rome. The “official” version behind Actium had been the declaration of war on Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. this had not fooled the well-informed citizens and inhabitants of Rome, who knew that Mark Antony had been the actual enemy defeated. A triumphal arch celebrating a victory over other Roman citizens must have seemed inappropriate. Augustus seized the opportunity of making the controversial celebration of Actium disappear inside a consensual Parthian victory triple Arch.