Oct 16, 2011

The most expensive Roman Coin

In December 2008, Numismatica Genevensis held a spectacular auction with many lots of unique quality and rarity. A beautiful sestertius of Hadrian broke then all records for the price paid for a Roman coin at auction, changing hands for 2,300,000 CHF, including the 15 percent buyer’s fee. (2,561,530.74 USD).

This is a completely exceptional coin. The obverse presents an extraordinary portrait of Emperor Hadrian, the work of a master die-engraver dubbed the "Alphaeus Master" by C.T. Seltman ("Greek Sculpture and Some Festival Coins," Hesperia 17, 1948, 71-85). Many Scholars believe this engraver may in fact be the great sculptor Antoninianus of Aphrodisias whose superb style epitomized the Hadrianic revival of Greek classicism, but it is only speculation. The coin auctioned by Numismatica Genevensis is one of the best preserved of these sesterces.

On the obverse we see a striking portrait of the emperor and on the reverse the goddess of peace (Pax) standing and holding a branch and a cornucopia. This Sestertius was probably coined in 135 to mark the celebration of Hadrian Vicennalia (the 20th anniversary of his ascension to the throne). The selection of Pax for the reverse may well be a reference to the hope of the emperor to put a quick end to the Bar Kochba revolt in Judaea, a traumatic event that marred the last years of the emperor’s life.


  1. What a wonderful piece of ART & HISTORY, a coin that could have been held by Hadrian himself.

    It begs the question how such few pieces have stood the test of time and exist today in such condition.

    We have another such coin with a wonderful reverse of Hadrian addressing his legion in Britain ‘The Army of Britain’ in the exergue.
    Dreams allow us to watch Hadrian distribute his new Sestercii to the commanders of his ‘Army of Britain’


    “Art in the form of coins is not only what we study but the emotion when we hold a piece of history” Geoffrey Cope

  2. There are so few Bronzes that fill the descrition of A REMARKABLE COIN. The PLOTINA SESTERTIUS IN AN Untouched STATE for 1800 years joins HADRIAN PAX Sestercius.

    This coin is one of the great treasures in ROMAN ART in the form of a coin and is of the highest rarity, both because of its state of preservation and for its provenance: it comes from a hoard that was found in the late 1890’s in Bolsena, Italy* and has remained untouched, as it was found, until today. It is well struck and well centered on a broad flan so that the naturally aristocratic features of the Empress appear in a most noble manner. Quite clearly, after its discovery it was only brushed to remove any soil and dirt adhering from years under the ground. It was described and illustrated in the auction catalogue of 1906 (there it was termed Magnifique and FDC); it then sold for an immense price (1400 Lit) 349 and then a year later sold in Martinetti Collection (Sangiorgi Galleries, Sambon/Canessa, 18 November 1907), lot 1933 PLOTINA ex.Sarti ending up in a collection, which may have begun before World War I, but certainly finished in the early 1960s; after being in a bank vault for over a generation the collection was recently sold at auction.

  3. This coin certainly deserves the honor as the finest portrait to appear on a Roman coin, & the reverse die with its understated simplicity & flawless craftsmanship adds to the overall beauty of the coin.

  4. wondering how many coins this kind?

  5. I have a similar coin... who can value this for me?