Rhine Legions. In the name of Augustus, 27 BC-AD 14. Denarius (Subaeratus, 17 mm, 2.20 g, 5 h), uncertain mint in Germania Inferior. Group A.X, circa May/June-December 68. Bare head of Octavian-Augustus to left. Rev. LEG•XV[I] Lion (the coat of arms of the Legio XVI) jumping to right. BMC p. 56, *. CG 160.3 (this coin). Cohen 187 ('Augustus'). Martin A 20. Nicolas - RIC 101 corr. (lion below legend, not above). Of the highest rarity, one of just four known examples and the only one in private hands. An exceptionally important coin of great historical interest. Beautifully toned and with a suprisingly fine portrait. Minor breaks in plating, otherwise, good very fine.
From the collection of Dipl.-Ing. Christian Gollnow, ex Numismatic Fine Arts XVI, 2 December 1985, 379 and Leu 20, 25 April 1978, 193.
One of the undisputed highlights in the Gollnow Collection, this coin deserves special attention for being one of just five known civil war denarii to name a legion involved in the bitter fighting of 68 and 69. The five coins are split into two issues, the first of which is recorded in a unique coin from the Evans Collection, now in Oxford, showing Mars on the obverse and Victory erecting a trophy on the reverse. Its legend names the Legio XV Primigenia, stationed in Castra Vetera (Xanten), a particularly unlucky legion that was besieged in its camp by rebellious Batavi in 69-70 after losing an initial battle and eventually massacred after capitulating to the rebel leader, Gaius Julius Civilis, in March 70.¹
The second legion to be named appears on a series of denarii in the name of Augustus, surviving in four examples, two of which are in Berlin, one in the Vatican, and one - our coin - in the Gollnow Collection. It is the Legio XVI Gallica, stationed in Novaesium (Neuss) at the time of the civil war, a mere 54 km distance from the Legio XV Primigenia in Castra Vetera as the crow flies. The 16th was raised by Octavian in circa 40 BC in preparation of his campaign against Sextus Pompey, but it was deployed in Gaul, Raetia, Germania Superior, and, lastly, Germania Inferior in subsequent years. The legion played a crucial role in the events in the civil war of 68-69 and the Revolt of the Batavi in 69-70, with vexillations following Vitellius to Italy in the struggle with Otho. Despite their initial success, however, these units were likely destroyed by the forces of Vespasian in the Second Battle of Bedriacum on 24 October. What remained of the 16th in Germania Inferior capitulated to Batavian rebels in the spring of 70 following an unsuccessful attempt to break the siege of the camp of the Legio XV in Castra Vetera. Luckily for them, the captives were liberated a few months later by Quintus Petelius Cerialis, who was related to Vespasian by marriage and decisively defeated the Batavian insurgency in the summer of 70. The new emperor subsequently dissolved the old Legio XVI Gallica and reformed it into the Legio XVI Flavia Firma, which was now to be stationed in Satala in Cappadocia, far away from its previous rebellious Germanic environment.
We do not know what prompted local authorities to strike coins only in the names of the Legio XV Primigenia and the Legio XVI Gallica, excluding the names of the other two Rhine Legions (at least as far as we know), namely the Legio IV Macedonica and the Legio XXII Primigenia in Mogontiacum. Having said this, we have seen above that the unfortunate histories of the 15th and 16th, the two legions stationed in Germania Inferior, were closely intertwined. If indeed only these two legions were explicitly honored with coins, these must have been conceived and struck in their vicinity. This would most likely have taken place in one of the legionary camps in Castra Vetera and/or in Novaesium, sometime between May and December 68, when the Rhine Legions were still wavering in their loyalty. The types chosen for the coins of the Legio XVI Gallica are particularly noteworthy, showing, on the obverse, the legion's founder Augustus (or more specifically, Octavian), whereas the reverse features the legion's coat of arms, a jumping lion. As such, the issue ostentatiously appeals to the legion's history and pride, clearly in an attempt by local decisionmakers to secure the loyalty of the rank and file.
¹ Sadly, a series of pressed modern copies of the Evans coin have appeared in auctions in 2006 and 2016-2020, although their strike, metal and overall fabric makes them quite easy to spot. To this day, the Evans coin remains the sole genuine example. The series of forgeries also includes a hitherto unique coin in the name of the Legio XVI Gallica with Virtus on the obverse and the lion of the 16th on the reverse, as well as a group of three coins showing Libertas on the obverse, along with seven legionary eagles and the legend CONSENSVS on the reverse. Last but not least, a coin of the Legio I Germanica also emerged, showing Mars with the curious legend LEG I RESTITVTA on the obverse and a seated Concordia on the reverse. None of these coins is authentic.