Author Topic: The Nicholas M.McQ. Holmes collection of coins from Gallienus and Valerian  (Read 305 times)

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Offline Pellinore

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This coin collection was sold by CNG last April, I bought a few coins there. This collection is still inspiring me. If you divide your collection in Beauties and Beasts, the beasts being the ugly but historically interesting coins, most of what I bought in April is Beasts.

That's only natural, for the Roman empire fell flat on its face during the reign of this father, son and miserable grandsons. At first, the elderly senator (of an old and mighty senatorial Roman family) Valerian promised to be the saviour whom the Empire needed, after five years of generals, soldiers coming and dying in the purple, murdered by their underlings or slain in battle. Valerian had proved himself capable of leading Rome at home, when emperors Decius and Gallus went away for border fights or trying to crush usurpators.

In the first years, Valerian with his son Gallienus (a capable general, too) managed to win most wars with the border barbarians, but starting from 258 things went horribly wrong. There were usurpators, incursions of Franks in Gaul, incursions of Goths in Asia Minor, the West was won by the indigenous emperor Postumus. Two sons of Gallienus perished as 'child generals', more likely figureheads, and Valerian himself was captured ignominiously by Shapur I. A small wonder that Gallienus managed to cling on to the trone so long, until 268.

Nicholas Holmes, a Scottish art historian and archaeologist, brought together a large collection of coin witnesses of this sad drama of history, and in the introduction of the thick catalogue admirably comments on it, adding more in detail in the descriptions. Anybody interested in third century Roman coinage should read these commentaries.

I want to show you some of the Beasts that I bought. The first is a hockey puck 8 assaria of a Cilician town, Irenopolis-Neronias, issued by Valerian I in 253-54, his first year as emperor. Not much artistry in it! But it clearly shows the stern and ugly emperor on the obverse and a fantastic sort of car, a biga drawn by two panthers, driven by Dionysos, god of the wine (who probably already had a drop or two too much, so both animals decided to take a different way).

Valerian I (253-260), AE Irenopolis-Neronias, Cilicia. Dated CY 203 (AD 254/5). Obv. Radiate and cuirassed bust r. AVT K Π [ΛI OVAΛЄ]PIANOC. Rev. Dionysos in biga of panthers facing. IPHN[OΠO-ΛITΩN]; H in right field (= 8 assaria), ΓC (C retrograde: = year 203 according to the Cilician era) in exergue. 26mm, 17.14 gr., 1h. (Bought by Holmes from David Miller, 1995). Karbach 153; SNG BN 2271. CNG auction 442, cat. CNG N.McQ. Holmes nr. 782.

-- Paul

Offline THCoins

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Thanks for this write-up ! I generally focus a bit more Eastern, but background stories like these help to broaden my view.
I do like the artistry ! Especially the fact that the artist tried to experiment with perspective view in the panther Biga. That was a relative novel field in the arts at the time. Nice to see that also represented on Roman coinage.

Online Figleaf

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Re: The Nicholas M.McQ. Holmes collection of coins from Gallienus and Valerian
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2019, 08:10:39 AM »
I think your argument is in essence on how collectors supplement the work of pro numismatists by going where they cannot go. If you have two square meters of museum exhibition space, you can bet it will not include any of such coins. There are more than enough amazingly nice Romans in the collection of any history museum to fill the space. Similarly, they will get taken up in a catalogue, but not to the extent you describe the museum catalogue, filled with the fruits of a life long of reading, thinking and experience.

That is of course not a new thought. Collectors go where pros don't go all the time. Think of tokens, from the artless coffee machine tokens to the vast area of UK bus and tram tokens. They will collect coins from circulation and discover variants and even modern versions of secret marks (on some German commemoratives) that would have remained a note in the archives at most without them. The detectorists search in places archeologists don't go and think of approaches to coins pros have never thought of (hands on coins?).

Therefore, I read your "hockey puck" as a plea for co-operation between pro numismatists and collectors. A confession of faith in symbiosis. May we see many more here.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.