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AU Capital acquires Roman Colosseum Sestertius

We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to acquire one of only six collectible examples of this extremely important Roman Imperial coin on behalf of one of our most consummate clients for a price that was way below what he was prepared to spend. Heritage offered this coin in October of 2012 in their Long Beach Signature Sale. We attended and our persistence allowed us to acquire it against several enthusiastic bidders. Heritage later wrote of the opportunity “…A Titus ‘Colosseum’ sestertius (struck under the Roman emperor Titus (AD 79-81) to commemorate the opening of the Colosseum) more than doubled its high estimate to sell for $146,875. The rare coin, which depicts the Colosseum on the obverse, was the first example of the type ever sold by Heritage and became the third-most expensive such coin to sell at public auction.”

This impressive coin was minted to commemorate the inauguration of the Colosseum and was personally distributed by the Imperials to key spectators. It depicts the most famous landmark of Ancient Rome: the Colosseum. The name “Colosseum” originates from a massive statue of Nero (a “Colossus”) which stood nearby; its true name is the Amphitheatrum Flavium, named after the emperor Vespasian who began construction in 71 AD.

Shown on the left of the coin stands a huge, conical fountain called the Meta Sudans and on the right, the famous Baths of Titus. One can see tiers of spectators within and a central arch which represents the Imperial Box, all carefully engraved from a bird’s-eye view.

The Colosseum stands on top of the prior location of Nero’s Golden Palace. In building the Colosseum, Vespasian was working to distance his reign from Nero’s self-indulgence and instead create a building for the enjoyment of the population of Rome. With 80 entrances and the capacity to seat more than 50,000 people, it was the first of its kind architecturally and instantly became one of the best known buildings in antiquity.

Its core was constructed of concrete, with marble floors around the nicest seats and tile in the less expensive sections. It had a retractable canvas roof on the fourth story, and its floor was made of heavy timber, covering an elaborate series of underground cells for Gladiators, prisoners, and animals. Amazingly, the floor could be removed and the lower levels flooded for naval combats.

Engraved and minted immediately following its completion in 80 AD, this type is the most accurate, original depiction of the Colosseum in any medium. Various minor changes were made by later emperors until it was severely damaged in 217 by lightening. Elagabalus and Gordian III worked to restore it, completing the restoration by 244. The Colosseum was used for hundreds of years, surviving a series of earthquakes in 442 and 470, with additional restorations completed in 523 by the Germanic conquerors of Rome. However, after an earthquake in 847, no further attempts to restore it were made and it remains in the same state today.

A dedicatory inscription was discovered in 2001 which reads, “Imp T. Caes. Vespasianus Aug. Ampitheatrum Novum Ex Manubis Fieri Iussit”. This translates to “The Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus had this new amphitheater erected with the spoils of war”. This finding matches well with the depiction of Titus on the reverse of the present coin, shown as the master of the world, with his curule chair sitting on top of the globe, bringing peace with an olive branch by being victorious over their enemies (shown as captured arms).

Upon its completion and inauguration, Rome celebrated in 100 days of festivities at the Colosseum, including gladiator battles, recreations of famous victories, and hunts of exotic animals.

The obverse die continued to be used after the death of Titus but this particular coin was part of the earliest issue. The latest research shows that this type was minted to commemorate the inauguration of the Colosseum and was personally distributed by the Imperials to key spectators. These coins were as loved in antiquity as they are now, and most are heavily worn, likely because they were held as pocket-pieces by the Romans, showing their pride for attending the first games.

As one of only six examples available to private collectors, with the remaining 10-15 examples impounded permanently in museums, this coin represents one of the rarest and most exciting Roman artifacts.