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Research Coins: Printed Auction


Peak of Roman Portraiture

Triton XXII, Lot: 1036. Estimate $30000.
Sold for $25000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Galba. AD 68-69. Æ Sestertius (36mm, 26.89 g, 6h). Rome mint. Struck circa August–October AD 68. IMP · SER · SVLP GALBA · CAES · AVG · TR · P, laureate and draped bust right / LIBERTAS PVBLICA, S C across field, Libertas standing left, holding pileus and vindicta. RIC I 309; ACG dies A116/– (unlisted rev. die): BMCRE 71; BN 147–50. EF, wonderful dark green patina. Bold portrait.

Ex Friend of the Romans Collection (Münzen und Medaillen AG 92, 22 November 2002), lot 46; James Fox Collection (Classical Numismatic Group 40, with Numismatica Ars Classica, 4 December 1996), lot 1408; Beverly Hills Sale (Numismatic Fine Arts XII, 23 March 1983), lot 206; Leu 18 (5 May 1977), lot 304.

Though reigning scarcely seven months, Servius Sulpicius Galba has the honor of inspiring Rome’s portrait artists to reach heights never again equaled or surpassed. Achieving the throne at age 70, Galba was a wizened Roman aristocrat whose sagging, craggy countenance could not have been more different than that of his predecessor, the bloated and dissolute Nero. Indeed, Galba seems to have deliberately promoted himself as a steely martinet who would restore Rome to proper Republican austerity. His coinage pairs his aged, scowling portrait with reverses touting traditional Roman virtues, here depicting Libertas, a concept that embodies both freedom and responsibility. Rome’s mint masters rose brilliantly to the challenge, producing astoundingly lifelike and sculptural portraits such as the present example. But Galba’s austerity program proved to be a major miscalculation, as Rome was not yet ready for such bitter medicine.