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Research Coins: Feature Auction

 
11001120

Rare and Impressive Medallion
Sol Guided by Lucifer

Triton XXII, Lot: 1120. Estimate $30000.
Sold for $20000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Commodus. AD 177-192. Æ Medallion (41mm, 69.60 g, 12h). Rome mint. Struck AD 190-191. M COMMODVS ANTONINVS PIVS FELIX AVG BRIT, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / COS VI P P in exergue, Sol, holding whip in right hand and reins in left, driving quadriga up a bank of clouds; to upper left, trace of Zodiac band; to upper right, half-length figure of Luicfer (the Morning Star) right, holding torch in both hands; to lower right, Tellus (Earth) reclining left, raising right hand and holding cornucopia in left, with fruits(?) at her side. Gnecchi pl. 78, 4; MIR 18, 1149-1/37; cf. Banti 31/32 (for obv./rev.); Froehner p. 137 var. (bust type); Cohen 70 var. (same). Good VF, brown and green patina, minor roughness. A highly interesting type. Very rare.


Ex Triton III (1 December 1999), lot 1106.

The scene on the reverse was previously used as a medallic type under Antoninus Pius (Gnecchi pl. 50, 6). A circa 2nd century AD bronze phalera discovered in 1732 on the Palatine Hill (LIMC [Tellus], no. 39 = Tocci pl. LXVIII, D) also features a near identical scene, but includes the inscription “INVENTORI LVCIS SOLI INVICTO AVGVSTO” in two lines (this is among the earliest known reference to Sol Invictus). The association between the “invincible” sun and the emperor would frequently be stressed throughout the 3rd century AD, but this medallion and the above mentioned pieces demonstrate that such an assimilation was being explored during the 2nd century AD. Here we see the sun god beginning his daily journey, ascending into the heavens with the guidance of Lucifer, son of Eos (dawn). It stresses Sol’s role in the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, and the dependence of earth on the sun’s life-giving powers. Naturally, an emperor would desire to be associated with a deity who was so essential to the functioning of the universe. As medallions such as this were often presented during New Year’s celebrations, it was perhaps intended to underscore the welfare that the emperor would bring to the earth in the coming year (Toynbee p. 93).

Lucifer (“light-bringer”), the equivalent of the Greek Phosphoros, was the personification of the planet Venus as the morning star. In the book of Isaiah (14:12), the prophet refers to the King of Babylon as a “shining one, son of the morning,” who has fallen from heaven (an obvious parallel to Satan’s fall from heaven). The Hebrew word for “shining one” (helel) was translated into Latin as Lucifer, and the name has since become synonymous with the Devil.