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Research Coins: Feature Auction


The Formidable Pulcheria

CNG 111, Lot: 834. Estimate $5000.
Sold for $13000. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.

Aelia Pulcheria. Augusta, AD 414-453. AV Solidus (21mm, 4.37 g, 12h). Constantinople mint, 10th officina. Struck under Theodosius II, AD 423-429. AEL PVLCH ERIA AVG, pearl-diademed and draped bust right, crowned by manus Dei (the hand of God) above / VOT XX MVLT XXX, Victory standing left, holding long, jeweled cross in right hand; star to upper left; I//CONOB. RIC X 226; Depeyrot 75/3; Biaggi –; DOCLR 438–9 var. (officina); Hunterian –; Jameson –; Mazzini –; PCR –. EF, lustrous, a few faint scratches. Rare.

From the Brexit Collection. Ex Classical Numismatic Group 49 (17 March 1999), lot 1892.

The early to mid fifth century AD witnessed both halves of the Roman Empire under the control of powerful women. In the West this was Gallia Placidia, mother of Valentinian III. Her counterpart in the East was the formidable Aelia Pulcheria, depicted on this gold solidus. Born circa AD 398 to Arcadius and Aelia Eudoxia, she had a far more forceful personality than her timid younger brother, Theodosius II, who was left in nominal charge of the East at age 7 in AD 408. In AD 414, the Senate declared her Augusta, or Empress, whereupon she dismissed the courtiers who had been controlling the government and took over the regency herself. She declared her intent to remain a virgin, possibly to avoid a political marriage, and devoted herself to church and state. Her coinage, extensive for an empress of this era, depicts her being crowned by the hand of God reaching down from above. When Theodosius was killed in a riding accident in AD 450, Pulcheria briefly ruled as sole empress before bowing to demands that she marry and thus select a suitable man to rule as Augustus. She wisely chose the lowborn but capable Marcian. Pulcheria died in AD 453, having kept her vows of virginity and defense of her dynasty for a half-century.