Posted Jun 29, 2021 by Martin Armstrong
QUESTION: Marty; What is the rarest Roman coin? I figure nobody really knows that answer better than you.
ANSWER: There are three major coins of which only one exists in private hands. They are the champion of all Roman coins – Saturninus. There is one other in existence, and that is in the Louvre. Then there is a gold coin of Leontius, the Isaurian Usurper (484-488 AD). Only four coins exist, but three are in museums.
The third rarest coin of which only one is known is that of a denarius with the portrait of Caracalla on one side and Plautilla on the other. Caracalla was a deranged and hateful emperor. As soon as his father died, he had a brother who killed him while in his mother’s arms. He then had portraits of Geta removed.
Plautilla was the daughter of the powerful Praetorian Prefect Plautianus, a close friend of Septimus Severus. Plautilla was married to Caracalla in 202 AD against his will. Caracalla literally hated his wife and vowed to have her killed when he became emperor, a promise which he would most certainly keep. In 205 AD, Caracalla first had to remove her father on the grounds of treason, which Caracalla arranged.
Caracalla then sent Plautilla to be banished to the Lipari Islands. Later, Plautilla was murdered on the orders of Caracalla in 212 AD during the purge which followed the murder of his brother Geta.
We can see surviving portraits of his family where he erased the image of his brother. Likewise, his hatred for Plautilla was so renowned that the extreme rarity of this lone surviving coin stands as a testament to Caracalla was also eradicating existing coins that show him with his most hated wife.
Therefore, while individual coins of Plautilla are fairly common, Caracalla appears to have recalled those showing him with his wife on the same coin. Other dynastic coin issues showed his brother was not recalled with as much fervor. Even the coinage of Geta is also fairly common. The number of individual coins of Geta and Plautilla most likely made such a recall impossible.
Therefore, each of these coins is unique. However, that does not mean they are of equal value. The Plautilla issue is probably worth $50,000 to $100,000. The Leontius aureus would bring probably $500,000 to $1 million. The Saturninus is far more important for this is the coin that changed history. Academic declared the book Historia Augusta was a fraud because it listed over 20 emperors during the short span of the early years of the 3rd century, which they never heard of. When the two gold coins of Saturninus were discovered in a dig in Egypt, that proved that Historica Augusta was real.
This coin today would most likely bring even $5 million. If ancient coins reach the level of American, then we should be looking at $18.8 million for this coin by comparison to the 1933 $20 gold coin, which is also unique.