Roman Gold from Boscoreale at the ANS

by Sebastian Heath

Boscoreale, near Pompeii in Italy, is well known to Roman numismatists as the find spot of a hoard of over 1,000 gold aurei, the latest of which dates to AD 78, that came to light in 1894 or 1895. Covered with volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius on August 24, AD 79, the villa in which the coins were found had lain undisturbed until 1876, but even then the coin hoard lay undiscovered for almost another 30 years. Unfortunately, no formal study of the Boscoreale coins was made before they were dispersed into the market, and, as is often the case, it is very possible that a list pubished 1909 includes material from other finds as well.

A distinctive feature of coins from Boscoreale is their deep-red toning, and the term “Boscoreale” is now used in auction catalogs to describe similar discoloration on any Roman gold. The ANS cabinets hold many such coins as well as five aurei of Nero from the E. T. Newell collection that are accompanied by tags in Newell’s handwriting specifically noting the Boscoreale Hoard as their provenance. This is as good a basis for assigning the coins to the hoard as is likely to be available today. In addition, a single aureus of Nero from the A. J. Fecht bequest, which was deposited at the Society in 1948, but not formally accessioned until 1980, has a tag indicating that it is “ex Boscoreale find, Pompeii, 1898,” and so is included here.

Boscoreale coins tend to be well preserved and the ANS pieces are no exception. The small selection shown here certainly illustrates the high artistic skill of mid to late first century imperial engravers. Additionally, this group is interesting for showing the changing style of Nero’s official portrait. Born into a prominent family, Nero’s prospects improved dramatically when his mother Agrippina, Jr., herself a great-granddaughter of Augustus, married the reigning emperor Claudius in AD 49. Coins were subsequently issued in the name of the new imperial prince, including the specimen illustrated in figure 1. In this early phase, Nero’s image has similarities with that of Claudius, who had adopted him in AD 50.


Figure 1. Nero r./Inscribed shield, spear behind (RIC 78 under Claudius, AD 50-54). (ANS 1944.100.39405, E.T. Newell bequest).

At the beginning of his reign, following the death of Claudius in 54, Nero issued coins that also bore his mother’s portrait, as shown in figure 2. By 55, mother and son had fallen out with each other, and Nero had Agrippina murdered in 59. Figure 3 shows a coin of 60-61 that certainly depicts a slightly older man with more individualized features.


Figure 2. Jugate busts of Nero and Agrippina r./Deified Claudius and Augustus drawn by quadriga of elephants (RIC 6, 55). (ANS 1967.153.219, A. M. Newell bequest).


Figure 3. Nero r./Virtus standing l. (RIC 25, 60-61). (ANS 1944.100.39413, E.T. Newell bequest).

These first three coins may well have been struck at Lugdunum, modern Lyon in France, although debate on this matter continues. The last three, struck between 64 and 68 (figures 4, 5, and 6), are products of the Roman mint and show Nero’s fully developed and mature portrait. By this time, Rome had suffered the great fire of 64, and Nero’s subsequent behavior became increasingly erratic. Resistance to his rule came to a head in 68 when revolt broke out in Africa, Gaul, Germany, and Spain. Finally, on June 9 of the same year, Nero took his own life rather than be cut down by pursuing assassins.


”Figure 4. Nero r./Nero radiate standing (RIC 46, 64-65). (ANS 1944.100.39419, E.T. Newell bequest).


Figure 5. Nero r./Jupiter seated r. (RIC 52, 64-65). (ANS 1944.100.39422, E.T. Newell bequest).


Figure 6. Nero r./Salus seated l. (RIC 59, 65-66). (ANS 1980.109.158, bequest of A.J. Fecht).

Sources Used

Adelson, H. 1858. The American Numismatic Society, 1858-1958. (ANS: New York).

Blanchet, A. 1895. “Le trésor monétaire de Bosco Reale,” Revue Numismatique, Troisième Série 13, pp. 574-575.

Canessa, C. 1909. “Trésor monétaire de Boscoreale,” Le Musée 6, pp. 259-265.”

Tameanko, M. 1994. “Boscoreale; the aurei from the fabulous treasure of 1895,” The Celator 8.3, pp. 6-8, 10-12, 14-16.

Full information about each coin illustrated is available on the ANS web-site, http://numismatics.org/collection.