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Lot 364: Cyprus, Roman Administration. Pseudo-autonomous issue. Late 1st century B.C. Æ. Ca. A.D. 4.

AUCTION:  Triskeles - Auction 17 (Auction 320)

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Cyprus, Roman Administration. Pseudo-autonomous issue. Late 1st century B.C. Æ (17 mm, 2.87 g, 6 h). Ca. A.D. 4. Capricorn right; above, star / Scorpion; star to below. Parks 7; RPC 3916. Rare. Porous brown patina. Fine / good fine.

From the Scorpion Collection.

Historically there has been some question amongst numismatists as to the mint location of these uninscribed coins depicting the types of a capricorn on the obverse and a scorpion on the reverse, both associated astrologically by the placement of a star in the field. In the past they have been attributed to a mint in Commagene or Galatia, but as find spots are known mainly from Cyprus it has now been shown that the coins originated at a mint on the island. The dating is conjectural, but the combination of the zodiacal devices as coin types suggests that the issue was struck to celebrate Augustus's adoption of Tiberius in A.D. 4.

Augustus was born 23 September 63 B.C. and thus his solar zodiacal sign is Libra, yet he publicly identified as a Capricorn, his lunar zodiacal sign. Why he did so is not known, but must have been for personal reasons. The capricorn figures prominently not only in Augustan coinage (e.g., on certain Imperial denarii, on coins from Cibyra, Dioshieron, Leptis Magna, Parium, Smyrna, Tralles, and on the cistophori of Asia Minor, amongst others) but also in other mediums, such as beads and cameos, and in literature (both Manilius [Astron. 2.507-9] and Suetonius [Aug. 94.12] identify Augustus as a Capricorn). Unlike Augustus, Tiberius's zodiacal sign is from the solar cycle, and as he was born on 16 November 42 B.C. it is Scorpio.

The well-known engraved Arabian onyx cameo known as the Gemma Augustea commemorates Tiberius's successes against the Illyrians. According to Parks, it is ""particularly relevant to the interpretation of this series, since it associates both Augustus and Tiberius with their respective zodiacal signs on the same subject"" (Parks p. 56). The upper register shows a disc containing a capricorn above the head of Augustus, who is shown seated to the left, and in the background is a star. The lower register depicts a scene of soldiers erecting a trophy to commemorate their Illyrian victory. The shield attached to this trophy is adorned with a scorpion, the sign of Tiberius.

Tiberius was out-of-favor with Augustus from 6 B.C. until A.D. 4. Augustus had named as his heirs his grandsons, Gaius and Lucius, the children of his closest friend and confidant, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, and his daughter, Julia. However, both caesars had died by A.D. 4, and with no other suitable candidate for the succession Augustus adopted Tiberius. This coin type was probably struck at that time to advertise Tiberius's adoption by Augustus.

One curious question of this coin type is which direction is the scorpion supposed to face? With devices like shields, stars and scorpions it is often not an easy question to answer. In this case, however, the normal die-axis used in Cyprus at this time was 12 o'clock, which indicates that the correct orientation of the scorpion is to the right with the star below.

Lot Details
  • Offered By: Barry P. Murphy
  • Lot #: 364
  • Listing #: 177214
  • Closed: Friday, September 16, 2016 7:01:00 PM CT
  • Estimate: $100
  • Collection: Scorpion Collection