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    J.P. Morgan Collection 1951 Pedigree

    Octavian, as Sole Imperator (31-27 BC). AV aureus (22mm, 7.96 gm, 1h). NGC XF 5/5 - 3/5. Italian mint, ca. 32-29 BC. Bare head of Octavian left; linear border / CAESAR•DIVI•F; slow triumphal quadriga left, surmounted by a small fast quadriga to left. RIC I 258. Calicó 189 (this coin). Biaggi 98 (this coin). Rare. Well centered on an exceptionally large flan with a superb portrait.

    From a Private Japanese Collection. Ex Lexington Collection of Jonathan K. Kern (Heritage Auction 3033, ANA, 8 August 2014), lot 23068; Numismatica Ars Classica 52 (7 October 2009), lot 302; Numismatica Ars Classica 27 (12 May 2004), lot 291; J. P. Morgan Collection (Schulman, New York, 26/28 April 1951), lot 3036.

    The coinage of Octavian stands in stark contrast from that of the moneyers of the Republic. In a purely aesthetic sense, the coins minted under Octavian were elegantly simplistic when compared with the often busy designs of the late Republic. In a deeper sense, we also see a notable departure in themes and motifs used on earlier coins. The acclaimed Roman art historian Paul Zanker notes in The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus that "By following coin types from the late second century on, we can observe how the particular interests of the individual mint official became more and more important." Moneyers increasingly emphasized themselves and their lineage, using their position as a means of self-aggrandizement. It is both within and outside this schema that Octavian's coins fall. Zanker emphasizes that "every coin type issued under Augustus celebrated the new Republic and its leader." So in one sense Octavian did follow tradition by including himself and his ancestry on his coins, but more importantly, he broke from tradition by promoting the new Republic over himself.

    On this coin we see all aspects of his coinage reform at work. For one, the design is quite modest, with nothing on the obverse aside from a simple portrait of Octavian, and with the most minimal of inscriptions on the reverse. It is this inscription, though, where we see Octavian playing with traditional Republican coinage motifs. With the legend CAESAR DIVI F ("Son of the Deified Caesar") he is acclaiming his ancestry, but not his distant kin as most moneyers did. Instead, it is his most recent relation, his adoptive father Caesar, to which he wants the people of Rome to connect his rule. Compounding this is the triumphal quadriga on the reverse. As this coin was likely struck just before or after the Battle of Actium, which solidified Octavian as the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, this is no generic victory that he is celebrating. The Triumph is the founding of the new Republic, with Octavian as its first citizen. What he seems to be saying on this coin is that he is finally realizing the legacy that began with Julius Caesar by re-founding the Roman Republic.

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