Julia Domna, Augusta, 193-217. Denarius (Silver, 21 mm, 3.94 g, 12 h), Rome, 196-211. IVLIA AVGVSTA Draped bust of Julia Domna to right. Rev. VESTA MATER Front view of round Temple of Vesta with standing statue atop and seated statue in center; in front, two Vestal Virgins, veiled and draped, standing vis-à-vis to left and right, both dropping incense from boxes over a lighted altar; to left and right, four more veiled and draped Vestal Virgins, the outer ones looking inward, the inner ones with their heads facing. BMC p. 169, 97 note = Münzhandlung Basel 10, 15 March 1938, 681 (same obverse die). Cohen -, cf. 239 (Aureus). RIC -, cf. 856 (Aureus). Of the highest rarity, the second and best known example, and the only one in private hands. An astoningly fresh and lustrous coin with a most impressive reverse composition. Minor flan crack, otherwise, virtually as struck.
The round Temple of Vesta, as we see it on this outstanding denarius, was one of the oldest sanctuaries of Rome. Its foundation was attributed by the Romans to their legendary King Numa Pompilius, but the building itself was destroyed several times throughout its history. Such a disaster happened again in 191 AD, when a giant fire - the constant menace of the megalopolis - burnt down considerable parts of the city, including the section of the Forum Romanum where the Temple of Vesta stood. The sanctuary was reconstructed in the following years under the auspices of Julia Domna, on whose coins it appears as a reverse type with usually one or two sacrificing female figures at the fore. Our example, however, shows the rebuilt temple with six female figures, therefore leaving no doubt that it is a rendering of the actual Vestal Virgins, who formed a canonical sextette since the earliest days of the Republic. This elaborate type has long been known from very rare aurei and bronzes, but our coin is only the second known denarius after the appearance of the first example in the Münzhandlung Basel sale in 1938 (now in the BM), and is as such of the highest interest and importance.