Forces of Vitellius in Gaul and in the Rhine Valley. Anonymous, January/February-mid April 69. Aureus (Gold, 18 mm, 7.51 g, 7 h), Lugdunum. 'Jupiter-Vesta Group'. I•O•M CAPITOLINVS Diademed heroic bust of Jupiter Capitolinus to left, wearing drapery on his left shoulder; before, small palm frond. Rev. VESTA P R QVIRITIVM Vesta seated left, holding patera in her right hand and torch in her left. BMC 72 note = Calicó 510b corr. (not 'the same aureus as No. 463a') = CG 124.2 = Martin 95 and pl. 8, 95 Kö = Nicolas 104 and pl. XVIII, 104 MMB = RIC 124 (same dies). Calicó 463a = CG 124.1 (this coin). Of the highest rarity, one of only two known examples and the only one in private hands. An exceptionally important coin of great beauty with a powerful image of Jupiter Capitolinus. Very minor areas of weakness, otherwise, extremely fine.
From the collection of Dipl.-Ing. Christian Gollnow, ex Leu 52 ('Greek and Roman Coins from a Distinguished American Collection'), 15 May 1991, 173, and from the collection of Nelson Bunker Hunt, Part I, Sotheby's, 19 June 1990, 127 (but with an erroneous further pedigree).
This impressive selection of coins assigned to the forces of Vitellius is headed by what is arguably the most prestigious civil war aureus in private hands. Appearing, for the first time, in the famous Nelson Bunker Hunt sale in 1990, it was originally believed to be identical to the example from the Marchese Bruto Liberti Collection sold by Santamaria in 1924, 160, and by Münzen & Medaillen AG in Auction 43, 13 November 1970, 314. However, as was already noted in the 1991 Leu catalogue, close inspection reveals that there are actually two surviving coins, of which the first, the example from the Marchese Bruto Liberti sale, was acquired by the Römisch-Germanisches Museum in Cologne, Germany, where it still resides today, whereas the second emerged for the first time in the 1990 Nelson Bunker Hunt sale.
Apparently unaware of the reappearance of the latter in Leu 52, Calicó mingled the two coins once again in his monumental treatise on Roman aurei, listing them in two separate entries under 'civil war' and 'Galba' (nos. 463a and 510b), but noting that they were supposedly identical and thus creating even more confusion. Yet there clearly are two surviving examples, of which ours is the only one in private hands. Having resided in the Gollnow Collection for a full three decades, we are proud to being able to offer it to the public again in the present catalogue, thereby providing collectors around the world a unique opportunity of acquiring one of the civil war's most beautiful coins.
The coin has a particularly rich and complex iconography. Most notable, of course, is the appearance of Jupiter Optimus Maximus Capitolinus on the obverse and Vesta Populi Romani Quiritium on the reverse. As the supreme god of the Roman pantheon, Jupiter was uniquely suited for a coinage that firmly avoided any overt references to the various players in the civil war, as was Vesta, the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family. The obverse legend mentions Jupiter's most common epithet, Optimus Maximus ('the Best and Greatest'), and through this refers to the most important temple in Rome, the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus on the Capitoline Hill (see lots 1163-1170 below), which was first dedicated, according to tradition, in the year the Roman Republic was established, 509 BC. Likewise, the reverse legend alludes to Vesta's crucial role in the state cult of Rome, where she was venerated in the form of Vesta publica populi Romani Quiritium ('public Vesta of the people and citizens of Rome') by the sacred Vestal Virgins in her temple on the Forum Romanum.
The 'Jupiter-Vesta Group' is closely linked to the earliest coinage in the name of Vitellius (see lots 1163 and 1172 below). Kraay argued that it was issued by Fabius Valens, Vitellius' commander of the army marching from southern Gaul to Italy in early 69, and suggested that the mint was Nemausus (Nîmes), as the small palm frond in front of Jupiter's bust reminded him of the palm frond on the city's well-known asses showing Augustus and Agrippa (C.M. Kraay: Revolt and Subversion. The so-called Military Coinage of A.D: 69 re-examined, in: NC 1952, pp. 78-86). However, the link between the small palm frond on the obverse of the civil war coins and the crocodile chained to a large palm frond on the Augustan asses seems tenuous at best, all the more so when considering that the palm also occurs on Vitellius' portrait coinage from the mint in Spain.
Furthermore, there is a solid argument to be made for assigning the fine style 'Jupiter-Vesta Group' to the imperial mint in Lugdunum, which was in firm control of Vitellius in early 69 (see lots 1163 and 1167 below). In any case, its connection to the forces of Vitellius is evident, as is the fact that this coinage ranks among the most elaborate in the entire civil war series. Many of the dies are of superior craftmanship, with the present aureus from the Hunt and Gollnow collections outshining its silver companions through its extreme rarity, its exceptionally fine condition, and mankind's millennia-old fascination for gold. It is remarkable that the type was later even adapted in Trajan's gold restitution coinage struck in 112-113 (Woytek 859), attesting the lasting impression its unusual design made on contemporaries.