Coin, Basiliscus, Solidus
475 - Constantinople - AU(55-58) - Gold - RIC:1003
Helmeted, pearl-diademed and cuirassed bust facing, holding spear and shield decorated with horseman and fallen enemy motif.
Victory standing facing, head to left, holding long jewelled cross; star in right field.
Rare specimen of a solidus of Basiliscus, Eastern Roman emperor who reigned only for a very short period, from January 475 to August 476. Playing on the unpopularity of Zeno, then emperor of the East, Basiliscus overthrew him with the help of his sister and took his place, but quickly the blunders and disasters followed for him. He alienated his sister by murdering her lover, as well as the clergy for disagreements of a Christological nature, and his reign also witnessed the great fire of Constantinople, during which the entire city library went up in smoke. Corrupt, he raised unpopular taxes and extorted money from the Church. Having failed to have Zeno assassinated, the latter returned and laid siege to Constantinople. The Senate, exasperated, opened the gates to him and the former emperor, who had regained his position, exiled Basiliscus to Cappadocia, where he left him to die. This chaotic episode prevents the eastern part of the Empire from helping its western neighbor, which will precipitate its fall and force Zeno to accept the state of affairs and recognize the barbarian Odoacre as "Patrice of Italy". Fascinating witness of this pivotal period of history, the solidus that we offer for sale is in a superb state of preservation, struck on a wide and regular flan, allowing the entire portrait and legends to appear. We note a very discreet scratch in the obverse field, under the tip of the spear and a small die break under the N of CONOB in the exergue on the reverse. This coin comes from the Mare Nostrum find (1954). This extraordinary find consisting of 426 solidi in an exceptional state of preservation was acquired without us knowing its precise provenance. Nevertheless, we can say that it is a maritime treasure, if we refer to the traces of marine concretions visible on several specimens that survived. The set, which includes mostly coins dating from the end of the Western Roman Empire, is a remarkable testimony of the monetary circulation in this troubled period. The present coin will be published in the book dedicated to this find, by I. Vecchi, R. Beale and S. Parkin (2022).
D N bASILISCµS P P AVG
VICTORIA AVGGG / CONOB in exergue
- Composition: Gold
- Mint name: Constantinople
- Denomination: Solidus
- Diameter: 20.9
- Product type: Coin
- Year: 475
- Main character: Basiliscus
- Coin rarity: rare
- RIC: 1003
Although nowadays gold enjoys a reputation as the king of precious metals, that was not always the case. For example, in Ancient Greece, Corinthian bronze was widely considered to be superior. However, over the course of time, it has established itself as the prince of money, even though it frequently vies with silver for the top spot as the standard.
Nevertheless, there are other metals which appear to be even more precious than this duo, take for example rhodium and platinum. That is certain. Yet, if the ore is not as available, how can money be produced in sufficient quantities? It is therefore a matter of striking a subtle balance between rarity and availability.
But it gets better: gold is not only virtually unreactive, whatever the storage conditions (and trouser pockets are hardly the most precious of storage cases), but also malleable (coins and engravers appreciate that).
It thus represents the ideal mix for striking coins without delay – and we were not going to let it slip away!
The chemical symbol for gold is Au, which derives from its Latin name aurum. Its origins are probably extraterrestrial, effectively stardust released following a violent collision between two neutron stars. Not merely precious, but equally poetic…
The first gold coins were minted by the kings of Lydia, probably between the 8th and 6th century BC. Whereas nowadays the only gold coins minted are investment coins (bullion coins) or part of limited-edition series aimed at collectors, that was not always the case. And gold circulated extensively from hand to hand and from era to era, from the ancient gold deposits of the River Pactolus to the early years of the 20th century.
As a precious metal, in the same way as silver, gold is used for minting coins with intrinsic value, which is to say the value of which is constituted by the metal from which they are made. Even so, nowadays, the value to the collector frequently far exceeds that of the metal itself...
It should be noted that gold, which is naturally very malleable, is frequently supplemented with small amounts of other metals to render it harder.
The millesimal fineness (or alloy) of a coin indicates the exact proportion (in parts per thousand) of gold included in the composition. We thus speak, for example, of 999‰ gold or 999 parts of gold per 1 part of other metals. This measure is important for investment coins such as bullion. In France, it was expressed in carats until 1995.
An “AU(55-58)” quality
As in numismatics, it is important that the state of conservation of an item be carefully evaluated before it is offered to a discerning collector with a keen eye.
This initially obscure acronym comprising two words describing the state of conservation is explained clearly here:
This means – more prosaically – that the coin has been in circulation but sufficiently little that its original beauty is preserved almost in its entirety. The wear is barely visible and any other defect can only be identified with a magnifying glass or a particularly keen eye. The number (55-58) indicates that between three quarters and almost all of the original luster remains.