First Issue Priscus Attalus Solidus, One Of Two KnownPriscus Attalus, Western Roman Emperor, first reign (AD 409-410). AV solidus (21mm, 4.47 gm, 6h). Rome, First Coinage, September-December AD 409. IMP PRISCVS AT-TALVS P F AVG, pearl and rosette-diademed, draped and cuirassed bust of Attalus right / VICTORIA AVGVSTI R - M, Attalus standing right in military attire, holding vexillum in right hand and victory on globe in left, left foot on bound captive, COMOB in exergue. RIC 1401 (R5). Cohen 9. Extremely rare, one of two known, and certainly the finest example extant. Well struck on a full, round flan. Good Extremely Fine.
Ex S.C. Markoff Collection (NAC 62, 6 October 2011), lot 2121; NAC 42 (20 November 2007), lot 236 (realized CHF 290,000); NAC 18 (29 March 2000), lot 773.
Priscus Attalus was born ca. AD 370 and entered the Roman Senate early in the fifth century AD. Though a pagan in Christian Rome, Attalus excelled in eloquence and quickly became a prominent senator. Early in AD 409, the Emperor Honorius appointed him Urban Prefect, but this came as the Visigoths, under king Alaric, were rampaging unchecked through Italy. By mid year, Alaric was outside the walls of Rome, demanding enormous concessions in land and gold. Honorius, holed up in Ravenna far to the north, refused negotiations, leaving the denizens of Rome to face slow starvation or slaughter. Outraged, the Senate elected Priscus Attalus as emperor with instructions to come to terms with Alaric. Attalus readily acquiesced to most of Alaric's demands and joined him in marching on Ravenna early in AD 410 to force further concessions from Honorius. Again, Honorius refused talks. With Attalus' popular support crumbling, Alaric abruptly deposed him in the July of AD 410 and subjected Rome to a thorough sacking the following month, an event that sent shock waves through the Ancient World. Attalus became a rootless camp follower of the Visigoths in their wanderings. In AD 414, he enjoyed a brief echo of glory when Alaric's successor Athaulf again proclaimed him emperor in opposition to Honorius. This time, his brief "reign" ended in capture by loyalist forces. He was marched in chains through the streets of Rome, ritually mutilated, then, surprisingly, allowed to retire to the island of Lipari, where he passed the rest of his days.
Gold solidi of Priscus Attalus rank among the greatest rarities of the Roman series, with fewer than a dozen known of all varieties. This specimen is a particularly rare example of Attalus' first coinage from the Rome mint; J. P. C. Kent in RIC X refers to a "single specimen" known in gold (page 138) in the Biblioteche Nationale Collection of Paris and RIC lists the type, no. 1401, as R5 - unique. This example, first publicly offered for sale in 2000, would seem to be the second known specimen. Struck in Rome following Attalus' elevation, it is of unusually fine workmanship, with a remarkably realistic portrait depicting Attalus with a heavy double-chin and a docile, upward-looking gaze. The reverse type, depicting the Emperor spurning a prostrate captive, is a straight carry-over of Honorius' gold coinage; Attalus would later issue a different reverse type with a seated Roma, of which there are perhaps eight to ten known examples.
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