The Roman Empire
Asinius Gallus

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Coin Details

Origin/Country: AEOLIS, TEMNUS Asinius Gallus, d.AD 33
Design Description: Asinius Gallus AE15
Item Description: AE15 rv Dionysus issued as proconsul, 5 BC
Full Grade: NGC MS Strike: 4/5 Surface: 4/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Roman Empire
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

Gaius Asinius Gallus (40 BC? – 33 AD) was a Roman patrician during the momentous period wherein the Republic transformed into an Empire. Numismatic data and other evidence demonstrate Asinius served prominently during Augustus’ reign, including tenures as triumvir monentalis (commissioner of the mint) (16 BC), consul (8 BC) and proconsul of Asia (6-5 BC). While serving the latter post, Asinius struck portraiture coinage. Apparently Asinius and a few other provincial governors were afforded this honor during the first half of Augustus’ reign. After this experimental period, very few, if any, such gubernatorial portraiture coins were produced; after all, the imperial family deemed themselves the only living persons worthy of adorning Rome’s coinage.

This rare bronze coin provides an example of Asinius’ portraiture coinage. It survives in a remarkable state of preservation, and it is likely among the finest known. Despite a relatively small flan - larger denominations were reserved for coins depicting the Emperor – the engraver managed a bold and impressive portrait of the Asian proconsul. The bare head is encircled by the Greek epithet ACINIOC ΓAΛΛOC AΓNOC, promoting Asinius Gallus as pure (or holy). This curious, grandiose title may reflect Asinius’ ambition to promote himself within his province and beyond its borders.

For the reverse, Asinius choose to depict the ivy-wreathed head of Dionysus, the Pantheonic deity associated with a cornucopia of festive concepts such as wine and winemaking, religious ecstasy, and theatre. According to legend, Dionysus married the Minoan princess Ariadne, after finding her abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos. The coin’s reverse inscription, APOΛΛAC ΦAINIOY TAMNITAN, perhaps refers to the philosophical concept of the Apollonian and Dionysian, or dichotomy between the irrationality of emotions (associated with Dionysus) and rationality of reason (represented by Dionysus’ brother, Apollo). According to the concept, the divine brothers were not opposites or rivals, but rather complementary and interconnected, mirroring the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang. If this interpretation is correct, Asinius’ invocation appears unique among ancient coinage.

Undisputedly, the reverse epithet proclaims the coin’s pedigree of Temnos, formerly one of the twelve city-states comprising the western Anatolian dodecapolis known as the Aeolian League. At the time, Temnos was on the decline after experiencing its golden, Hellenistic age. The location was famed as birthplace of Hermagoras, the 1st century BC rhetorician famous for the “seven circumstances” (who, what, when, where, why, in what way, by what means) that still provides a basis for modern investigation. Alas, Temnos’ structures proved far less enduring than its philosophies. In 17 AD, a massive earthquake destroyed the city and many other population centers in western Anatolia. Although Temnos was rebuilt, it never reached its former splendor.

Interestingly, many of the themes present on this coin relate to Asinius’ fate. In 11 BC, Asinius married Vipsania Agrippina, the recent divorcee of Tiberius, echoing Dionysus’ pairing with the abandoned Ariadne. In the case of Vipsania and Tiberius, their divorce was forced upon them by Augustus (who preferred that Tiberius marry his daughter Julia). Tiberius, evidently still in love with his ex-wife, lamented the new arrangement, fostering understandable enmity with Asinius. Even more invidious, rumors raged that Asinius, rather than Tiberius, sired Vipsania’s first son, Drusus the Younger. Asinius never denied the rumors, suggesting he achieved his own personal balance among the Apollonian and Dionysian; marriage to Vipsania harmonized his emotional desires with his rational strategy for political advancement. It was even reported that Augustus considered Asinius among the few patricians worthy as his successor.

Ultimately, it was not Asinius, but Tiberius, who ascended Rome’s throne after Augustus died in 14 AD. The enmity between the two men escalated. For instance, it is widely described that Asinius introduced measures to the Senate attempting to shame Tiberius. In 30 AD, Tiberius ordered the elderly patrician’s arrest, perhaps suspecting an association with Praetorian Prefect-turned-conspirator Sejanus, who was arrested and executed the following year. Asinius’ culpability notwithstanding, he remained in solitary confinement until his death in 33 AD, probably via starvation. Although Asinius was never convicted or even brought to trial, there is evidence that Tiberius declared damnatio memoriae, or erasure of Asinus’ name from all history. There is also evidence that Asinus’ name was rehabilitated sometime after Tiberius’ death. Like the mint city that produced his portrait coinage, Asinius’ reputation rebounded, but never attained its prior glory.

Additional Reading: DCA Shotter, “Tiberius and Asinius Gallus,” Historia (20), 1971, pp 443-457.

Coin Details: AEOLIS, TEMNUS, Asinius Gallus, proconsul of Asia, circa 5 BC, AE 15/16 (4.159g), struck 5 BC, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 4/5, Surface: 4/5, Obverse: Bare head of Asinius Gallus right, ACINIOC ΓAΛΛOC AΓNOC, Reverse: Head of Dionysos right, wreathed with ivy, APOΛΛAC ΦAINIOY TAMNITAN, References: RPC I 2447; SNG Cop 276; SNG München 627; BMC Troas p. 146, 25; SNGvA -.

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