Gallienus, 253-268. Heavy Aureus (Gold, 19 mm, 5.78 g, 12 h), Rome, 265 or 266. GALLIENVS P F AVG Head of Gallienus to left, wearing wreath of grain leaves. Rev. VICTORIA AVG Gallienus standing front, head to left, holding globe in his right hand and transverse scepter with his left, being crowned with wreath by Victory standing behind him, holding palm. Calicó 3614. Cohen 1112. MIR 692b. RIC 81. Rare and undoubtedly among the finest known examples. Sharply struck and fully lustrous, a wonderful piece with a splendid portrait. Very faint marks, otherwise, virtually as struck.
The famous aurei of Gallienus showing him with a wreath of grain leaves or reed have aroused heated discussions for decades. While some interpret the unusual headgear as a wreath of reed and see it as a reference to an otherwise unattested naval victory, most scholars see a wreath of grain leaves and connect it to Gallienus' visit to Athens in 264 or 265 and his initiation into the Eleusinian Mysteries of Demeter. We are fortunate in that a shortened version of an eyewitness account of Gallienus' visit to Athens by the local historian Dexippos has survived, though negatively distorted, in the Historia Augusta, reporting that the Philhellenic emperor not only participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries but also took over the office of an archon in Athens (HA Gall. 11.3-7). The initial issue of gold coins referring to these events bears the very unusual obverse legend GALLIENAE AVGVSTAE and likely intends an assimilation of the emperor to Demeter, but it was quickly replaced by the more traditional GALLIENVS P F AVG, as seen on our coin. It is not difficult to see that the reason behind this adaptation was a misinterpretation of the initial obverse legend by the contemporaries and that it lead to the mockery of a supposedly 'feminine' emperor, much like we know it from modern scholars such as Theodor Mommsen, who called Gallienus 'womanish' and his appearance in a 'female attire as Galliena Augusta' as 'the ultimate ignominy' (Mommsen, Römische Kaisergeschichte, p. 469). What becomes clear from the coinage is, in any case, that a lot of effort was put into this remarkable issue, which not only follows an unusually heavy weight standard but also presents by far the most elaborate and artistic portraits of Gallienus' sole reign.