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Rare Vitellius Denarius

By Chris Chatigny, Numismatist & Cataloger

Author: Chris Chatigny / Wednesday, October 01, 2014 / Categories: World Coin of the Week

The first dynasty of the Roman Empire, the Julio-Claudians, came to a dramatic end with the suicide of Nero in A.D. 68. Galba, governor of the majority of Spain, proclaimed himself emperor and marched on Rome. He proved a heavy-handed and incompetent political player, quickly alienating the Emperor’s honor guard, the Praetorians, as well as the Senate. With no political power base a rival claimant to the throne, Otho bribed the Praetorian Guard who quickly secured Otho’s coup d’état by murdering Galba in the streets. Otho had the potential to lead Rome into peace and prosperity, but the anarchy instilled with the rapid succession led to other claimants to the position of Emperor, including Vitellius, commander of the important Germanic legions. Vitellius dispatched two veteran legions to march on Rome, and their decisive victories forced Otho into permanent retirement by suicide. Having secured the throne, Vitellius proceeded to indulge his excesses, feasting three times a day, and hosting lavish parades, quickly draining the treasury. Vitellius would rule as emperor for eight months, and in that time he produced coinage commemorating his two young children — his son Vitellius Germanicus and his daughter Vitellia.

Vitellius’ children appear on coinage produced in Rome after their father secured the city in July of A.D. 69. From our upcoming October-November Baltimore auction we feature a rare Vitellius denarius with the obverse design of a laureate head of Vitellius facing right, surrounded by his titles and accolades. While Vitellius declared himself emperor in January, he did not assume the title of Augustus until he reached Rome in July, when it first appears on his coinage (produced in Rome). The reverse design features the facing heads of Vitellius’ children, Vitellius Germanicus on the left facing right and Vitellia on the right facing left. The downfall of their father had drastically different effects on the future of these two. As Vespasian entered Rome to claim the throne and eventually establish the Flavian Dynasty, Vitellius and his male relations were brutally murdered to avoid any potential uprisings. Vitellia however was spared and Vespasian granted her a dowry and a favorable marriage. This rare issue has proven to be a highly sought after type, partly due to the very short reign of Vitellius. The example we will offer in Baltimore is lovely with some appealing gray toning. Be sure to view this scarce piece once lot viewing begins.

Look for this and other ancient and world numismatic rarities in our upcoming October/November Official Auction of the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Expo. Preview this impressive coin along with the rest of our auction this October at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine, California. For details please refer to the Events Calendar link at www.StacksBowers.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646. While our Stack’s Bowers Galleries October/November Baltimore Whitman Coins and Collectibles Winter Expo Auction is no longer open for consignments, we are currently taking consignments of ancient and world coins for our January 2015 New York International Auction and our April 2015 Hong Kong Showcase Auction of Asian Coins and Currency. Time is running short, so if you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors.