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The Salvation of Rome: Gordian III Ancient Gold Aureus at MA-Shops

MA-Shops Gordianus

By CoinWeek ….
Rome in the third century is a fascinating period for historians. It was a time of turmoil and encroaching chaos, but also one of the most creative eras in Roman history. it was a time of great triumphs, but also great setbacks–from some of which the Empire would never recover. Because of the demands the era placed upon the state, its coinage began to double down on the propaganda. The Roman emperor, who never truly had much job security before, had to impress his authority upon the people to an even greater extent (especially the troops he must now keep paid and happy). And on the reverse of said coinage, themes of safety, prosperity and military success began to dominate, despite the truth of such matters.

An interesting representative of this new political type of coin is this gold aureus of Gordian III, being offered by coin dealers Comptoir des Monnaies on MA-Shops.com.

Gordian III

Gordian III assumed the throne in 238 CE at the age of 13, making him the youngest de facto emperor in Roman history. He was the grandson of Emperor Gordian I and the nephew of Gordian II, both of whom were declared joint emperors by the Roman Senate earlier in 238 in defiance of the brutal reign of Maximinus Thrax (ruled 235-238). A Roman legionary of “barbarian” descent, Maximinus had been declared emperor by his troops after the assassination of the previous emperor, Severus Alexander. Having little love for their new “Gothic” ruler (the feeling was mutual), the Senate quickly latched on to Gordian I’s nascent rebellion in Africa. And while it was quickly put down by Maximinus’ forces, the Gordians were beloved by the Roman people.

After the deaths of Gordians one and two, the Senate attempted to assert itself one last time by electing two members of its own patrician class, Pupienus and Balbinus, as co-emperors. Gordian III was also raised up as Caesar, or junior emperor, to the two Augusti. Unfortunately for the Senate, the common people rejected the inconsequential Senate picks and after the emperor’s Praetorian Guard assassinated the two patricians, Gordian III–barely a teenager–was proclaimed emperor.

This is why 238 is called the “Year of Six Emperors“.

The younger Gordian served for almost six years, during which time he appears to have been guided wisely by both the Senate and his powerful father-in-law (and praetorian prefect) Timesitheus. However, despite the unlikely length and competence of his reign at the beginning of what future historians would refer to as the “Crisis of the Third Century”, Gordian III died under mysterious circumstances while fighting against the Sassanian Persians. He was succeeded by his by-then praetorian prefect, Philip the Arab.


Salus, meaning “health”, “security”, or “safety”, is the personified goddess of those ideas – especially as applied to the Roman state. This makes her one of many such personifications worshiped in pre-christian Rome; her sisters include Liberty and Victory, who continue to grace our own coins to this very day. Released towards the middle of Gordian III’s reign, the makers of this coin still had cause to express both the new-found feeling of security of the Roman people and the emperor’s desire to be perceived as having supplied it.

And yes, that is a snake she is holding. Salus was long associated with serpents, much like Minerva and her owl, or Cybele and her lions.

The Aureus

The Latin word “aureus” means “golden”, and derives from the Roman word for gold: aurum. The coin “aureus” was originally produced in the first century BCE and was still being struck in the fourth century CE. It was initially valued at 25 silver denarii – the denarius being, of course, the primary silver coin in Rome. The aureus wasn’t commonly used before the time of Julius Caesar (who standardized its weight at approximately eight grams) but the first emperor Augustus (Caesar’s nephew and adopted son Octavian) made it a more important part of the imperial economy.

Eventually, the aureus was replaced by the gold solidus under Constantine the Great (ruled 306-337) due to the debasement of the denarius. Nevertheless, the aureus somehow stayed almost 99% pure over its five-century run.

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About MA-Shops

MA-Shops small sealMA-Shops.com is an internet marketplace headquartered in Europe. MA-Shops has assembled a network of reputable coin dealers – both large and small – onto one, easy-to-use platform to sell coins, paper currency, medals, military orders and stamps directly to the collector. Founded by German engineer Joachim Schwiening in 2005, MA-Shops is now the leading ”online collector mall” worldwide. Browsing through the site quickly reveals how wide and variegated the selection from MA-Shops and its associated dealers really is. In recent months, Schwiening and MA-Shops have made a concerted push into the American market.

Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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