Stunning (Unique?) Nilus Aureus

    Hadrian (AD 117-138). AV aureus (20mm, 7.12 gm, 6h). NGC Choice AU ★ 5/5 - 5/5, Fine Style. Rome, AD 134-138. HADRIANVS AVG COS III P P, bare head of Hadrian left / No legend, Nilus reclining left, half draped, holding cornucopia cradled in right arm, left arm resting on sphinx rearing right; before him, hippopotamus walking right with head raised and mouth open, below, crocodile advancing left amid waves on river embankment. RIC --, cf. 312a (bare head right, Nilus holds reed). BMCRE --, 867 note (same). Calicó --, cf. 1161 (same). Extremely rare, an apparently unrecorded and possibly unique variety of this highly attractive travel issue, the reverse die of extraordinary artistry.

    Hadrian's career of traveling the length and breadth of the Roman Empire culminated in an extended visit to Egypt in AD 130-131, accompanied by a vast entourage that included his wife Sabina and his young protégé and lover, the handsome Bithynian Antinous. During a barge trip up the Nile, Antinous fell overboard and drowned, plunging the emperor into extravagant grief. The incident is shrouded in mystery, with some gossips suggesting that the youth had sacrificed himself in some strange ritual to restore Hadrian's failing health. Whatever the manner of death, Hadrian ordained that Antinous be deified and worshipped as a god, not by the Roman Senate or people, but by the Greek denizens of the Empire who held a more sympathetic view of their emperor's "forbidden love." Hadrian finally returned from his travels in circa 132 and retired to his lavishly decorated villa at Tivoli, where Egypt and the Nile were given special prominence. His famous Travel Series of coins was struck during his final years, perhaps as a personal remembrance of his imperial wanderings. This remarkable aureus, of a variety not recorded in the standard references, boasts an astonishing reverse depiction of the river god Nilus surrounded by the fauna of Egypt, rendered in the highest artistry of the age. Unusually, the reverse bears no legend, leaving the engraver's work to speak for itself.

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