Wednesday, May 18

The coin of the Cantabrian Wars minted by Emperor Augustus that will protect the Galician Government

There are only three copies in the world and one of them is in the hands of a Galician collector. It is a sestertius from the time of Emperor Augustus –around the 1st century BC–, the bronze coin used by the Roman legions during the last phase of the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula: the so-called Cantabrian Wars. The Xunta de Galicia has just started the procedures to protect it and facilitate public access to it.

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The piece belongs to a private individual who acquired it in 2020 at auction. It weighs about 38 grams, on the obverse it shows a head and on the reverse a caetra, a kind of shield of pre-Roman origin, surrounded by two borders, which distinguishes the Roman coinage of the Iberian northwest. It does not, however, contain dating or mint marks – the first mints. As explained by the Galician Government in a statement, “its date of issue and place of dating are not defined and are under investigation.” Lucus Augusti –Lugo– or Bracara Augusta –Braga– are the possible locations. Augustus’ armies also incorporated mobile workshops for minting sesterces.

This sestertius had belonged to the Gonzalo Cores Collection, according to the Wearenumismatics website, “one of the most important in the world” of Iberian and Visigothic money and coins. In November 2020, recently declared non-exportable by the Ministry of Culture, its current owner acquired it. Although Cores died that same month due to the coronavirus, his legacy – more than 5,000 copies – had begun to be auctioned since 2017 because he had not managed to get public institutions to take care of him. The Roman sestertius then went up for bid for 4,000 euros, but its sale price was surely higher. Cores had acquired it in New York in 1999 for 30,000 euros, according to information published at the time by the newspaper Progress from Lugo. In 2012 it was stolen, but the police recovered it.

The mint of Lugo

The Portuguese scholar Rui MS Centeno also referred to the coin in a brief article published following the discovery of another of the three sesterces of Augustus located so far, in this case in Braga (Portugal). In it he pointed out that the state of conservation of the piece that the Galician Government is now going to protect, with a green patina with red tones, was not perfect. And he explained that the place of his discovery was unknown. In the aforementioned text, published by the Diego de Sousa Museum in Braga, Centeno recounts that in Lugo there was an official mint – sesterces, duponds and aces – during the period of Emperor Augustus. And he remembers that, during the 80s and 90s of the last century, six dozen pieces of the so-called “official issue” appeared.

The other two examples of sesterces have different temporal origins. There has been news of the first of them since Leandro Villaronga, the main expert on Iberian coins who died in 2015, dedicated a study to it in 1968. It went to auction in 1979 and its whereabouts are unknown. The second emerged in Braga, another center of Roman Gallaecia, in September 2005, while archaeologists were excavating its Roman theater. Its state of preservation is good.

The Xunta de Galicia will convert the sesterce that was part of the Cores collection into an Asset of Cultural Interest (BIC), at the request of the Ministry’s General Directorate of Fine Arts. Their owner will then be obliged to “preserve, maintain and guard them” and allow their access to the public through a deposit for their exhibition for a maximum period of five months every two years.