Aureus of Pertinax

This week we feature from the Robert O. Ebert Collection an Aureus struck by Pertinax during his short-lived reign as Roman Emperor. Pertinax (A.D. 193) was a self-made man, and rose from being the son of a former slave to the highest position in the Empire. This meteoric rise was fueled by his skill and dedication to his work, whether as a soldier, general, governor, or civil servant.

Pertinax served under the benevolent Marcus Aurelius (161-180) and his tyrannical son Commodus (177-192), so he witnessed both the good qualities of an Emperor and the corruption. Pertinax made a superb general, and won praise from Commodus and appointments to important civil positions such as Consul and Prefect of Rome. At the time of Commodus’ assassination, Pertinax quickly secured the position of master of the Roman state by first winning over the Praetorian Guard and then the Senators. Upon his succession Pertinax set to work cleaning up the corruption in the Roman government. Unfortunately, Pertinax tried to reform the system too quickly and angered the people who could arrange to overthrow him. Pertinax survived the first coup by governmental officials, but eventually the Praetorian Guard turned on him too. Sedition broke out in the barracks and the soldiers rushed the Imperial palace and murdered Pertinax. This assassination was not planned, but succeeded where the first attempt failed. The soldiers immediately regretted this event, and offered the throne to a relative of Pertinax. However a wealthy senator Didius Julianus arrived and bribed the Guard to become emperor. This unprecedented maneuver soiled the position, and ushered in a renewed period of civil war.

Pertinax had incredible potential to fix the problems facing the Roman Empire, which had turned away from the values that made it great. Rome’s ruling elite were exceedingly corrupt, and Commodus compounded this problem. Pertinax represented the honorable and spectacular Roman military and as a general, Pertinax used a watch-word that also represented the future of Rome, a future that belonged to military leaders. This phrase was militemus, “Let us be soldiers”.

This Aureus is in magnificent condition, fully lustrous and remarkably choice. The level of artistic detail in the portrait is astounding; it is rendered in high relief and the style is impeccable. The obverse is a right facing bust of Pertinax with a laureate, surrounded by an inscription. The inscription reads: “IMP. CAES. P. HELV. PERTIN. AVG.” which translates to “Imperator Caesar Publius Helvius Pertinax Augustus” the full name of Pertinax along with the titles Imperator (military command/victory) Caesar (one of the titles held by the Emperor) and Augustus (the Exalted one, or simply Emperor). The level of detail in Pertinax’s features, from his beard curls to his laureate crown is amazing. The reverse depicts the Roman goddess Laetitia, the goddess of happiness, standing facing left while holding a wreath in her right hand and a scepter in her left. The level of detail is remarkable here as well, fully lustrous, high relief and of good artistic style and details. The inscription states the goddess’ name, LAETITIA and includes Pertinax’s governmental titles of Consul for the second time. This coin is very rare, especially when considered that Pertinax ruled for only 86 days. A must-have for any collector of Roman Imperial, Roman Gold, or history buffs.

Preview this impressive coin and the entire Robert O. Ebert Collection January 11-12, 2013, at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio Official NYINC Auction, held at The Waldorf Astoria, New York. Earlier viewings are also available by appointment in Irvine, California or New York City, for details please refer to the Auction Schedule/Details link under Current Auctions at To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646 (West Coast) or 800.566.2580 (East Coast).

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