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Choice 'Scipio' Portrait

POST-BARCID SPAIN. Carthago Nova. Ca. 209 BC. Æ Unit (25mm, 11.56 g, 12h). Bare male head left with close-cropped hair (P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus?) / Horse standing right; palm tree in background. SNG BM Spain 127-8. Carson and Sutherland, Essays Mattingly, p. 52, 7(p) and pl. III 7(p). An extraordinary example, well struck and beautifully patinated, with dark highlights and light earthen fields. Certainly among the finest examples known of this scarce early portrait type. Nearly Extremely Fine.

The Carthaginian city of Carthago Nova produced a remarkable series of coins in silver and bronze for the Barcid rulers of Spain in the years leading up to the Second Punic War (218-202 BC). The male heads shown on these issues are often interpreted as "disguised" portraits of the Barcids themselves, including Hamilcar, Hasdrubal, and Hannibal, in various incarnations of the Phoenician demigod Melqart. The distinctive features of these portraits lend credence to the theory, though it is not universally believed, and even those who accept the "disguised portrait" theory disagree over which Barcid is depicted on which issues. Carthago Nova fell to the brilliant young Roman commander P. Cornelius Scipio (later Africanus) in 209 BC, and around this time a very distinctive head, with a close-cropped "Roman" haircut and youthful features, suddenly appears on the civic coinage, replacing the previous "Barcid" effigies. This head is quite likely that of Scipio himself. It would have been natural for the Punic celators to switch to a portrayal of the current ruling authority, Roman though he be, and the rarity of the issue in both silver and bronze attests to a brief period of issue, before the Roman Senate quashed any notion of a living person (a youthful upstart at that) being depicted on circulating coinage, albeit outside Rome itself. 

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Auction Dates
April, 2013
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