Hadrian, 117-138. Sestertius (Orichalcum, 32 mm, 30.88 g, 6 h), Rome, 134-138. HADRIANVS• AVG COS III P P Laureate and draped bust of Hadrian to left. Rev. DACIA / S - C Dacia, wearing tunic and cloak, seated left on rock, legs crossed and placing her right foot on globe, holding aquila in her right hand and curved sword in her left. BMC 1740. Cohen 530. RIC 849. Very rare. A stunningly beautiful coin, perfectly centered on a broad and heavy flan and with an absolutely delightful untouched green patina. With a superb left-facing portrait of the finest style and undoubtedly among the finest, if the not the finest known. A few very light and deliberately uncleaned deposits, otherwise, good extremely fine.
From a German collection, formed in the 1990s.
This most wonderful sestertius forms part of the famous ‘travel series’ struck late in Hadrian’s reign. Dating to 134-138, the four-part emission shows a) personifications of provinces, b) Hadrian addressing the various provincial armies (adlocutio), c) Hadran arriving in provinces (adventus) and d) Hadrian lifting up provinces (restitutor). The extensive series commemorated Hadrian’s far-reaching travels and measures throughout the empire, representing perhaps - given Hadrian’s deep literary and historical interests - a deliberate numismatic imitatio of Augustus’ famous res gestae, in which the first emperor had given a written account on his life and accomplishments. Much in contrast to his later successor Antoninus Pius, who famously never left Italy during his reign, Hadrian enjoyed travelling and spent considerable parts of his long reign visiting and reorganizing the various provinces of the imperium. While these travels undoubtedly reflected Hadrian’s personal interests, historically they also marked a consolidation stage in the development of the Roman Empire, ending, by and large, its last great expansion phase, which had seen the annexation of Britain, Dacia, Armenia and parts of Arabia and Mesopotamia. After the impetuous offensives of Trajan, Hadrian gave up some of the more remote and endangered acquisitions of his predecessor, most notable the largest part of his conquests in the East, where increasing Parthian resistance and a large-scale revolt by Jewish communities in Kyrenaika, Egypt, Cyprus and Mesopotamia drained Roman power. The Roman army, which had reached the Persian Gulf in 116, withdrew to the Euphrates the next year and Hadrian set the tone for his future reign when he spent the first year after his accession to power reorganizing the East before moving to the Danube provinces. Here Trajan’s legacy would be more long lasting, as the newly conquered transdanubian province of Dacia was rich in natural resources and paid for the considerable number of troops required to protect its exposed strategic location. Furthermore, the utter destruction of the political organization of the native population in the course of Trajan’s Dacian Wars brought about the danger of an intrusion of more remote and even wilder barbaric tribes in the case of a hasty Roman retreat - a hazard the Roman administration had faced before and was thus undoubtedly aware of.
Fortunately, Hadrian knew the region from personal experience, as he had served both as legate of the Legio I Minerva in Trajan’s second Dacian War in 105-106 and as governor of the province of Pannonia Inferioris in 106-108. His thought-out reorganization included the retreat from Roxolanian territory at the lower Danube to free up forces and the expansion and new construction of a network of strongpoints as well as civic settlements throughout the province of Dacia. That these measures were quite successful is proven by a fifty-year period of stability that followed, a remarkable achievement in a region which would later become the single most endangered frontier of the empire. Hadrian visited the Danubian provinces a second time in the early 120s, before he set out to Britain, where his most famous legacy would become the eponymous 117.5 km-stone wall erected to protect the northern border of the province. Dacia, on the other hand, remained a Roman province for well over a century, but was gradually weakened due to its remote strategic position and increased barbaric pressure at the height of the Crisis of the Third Century, and eventually abandoned by Aurelian in the 270s.
The personification of Trajan’s newly acquired province that we find on the reverse of this magnificent coin is, perhaps, the most beautiful and detailed rendering of Dacia on any surviving Roman coin. As with all personifications, her attributes relate to her characteristics: the aquila stands for her recent conquest by the Roman army, while her curved sword or falx was the characteristic weapon of the Dacian tribes – a cutting weapon used to hack over shields and penetrate the armor of opponents, feared to such an extent that it lead to the strengthening of Roman legionary helmets with additional transverse iron straps in the course of Trajan’s Dacian Wars. The rock on which Dacia is seated, on the other hand, is clearly a reference to the Carpathian Mountains and their richness in natural resources such as salt, iron, copper, silver, and most important of all, gold.