Aemilius Scaurus and Pub. Plautius Hypsaeus. Silver Denarius (3.80 g), 58 BC. Rome.
Obv: M SCAVR / AED CVR in two lines above, EX S C across field, [REX ARETAS] in exergue, the Nabatean king Aretas kneeling to right, extending olive-branch and holding reins, before camel standing right.
Rev: [P] HVP[SAE] / AED CVR in two lines above, CAPTV to right, C HVPSAE COS / PREIVE in two lines in exergue, Jupiter driving quadriga left; below horses’ forelegs, scorpion.
Hendin 1441; Crawford 422/1b; Sydenham 913; Aemilia 8. Lustrous and untoned.
During the first century, it was normal for a money-er to highlight some important event from his family’s past. This was because for the Roman aristocracy an illustrious past was extremely important for advancing one’s political career. Here, however, M. Aemilius has deviated from the norm, depicting an event from his own career, the first such instance in Roman coinage. While serving as Governor of Syria, Scaurus invaded Nabataea, laying waste much of its territory. Although he was unable to conquer king Aretas’ stronghold, through an intermediary he was able to convince Aretas to pay a substantial bribe (300 talents) for him to desist. As the event is presented on the coin one would think that the Nabataeans were soundly defeated and that Aretas begged for mercy, but this is mere propagandistic opportunism on the part of Scaurus. Unlike the obverse, the reverse follows tradition by commemorating a past deed of the moneyer’s ancestor, the consul Gaius Hypsaeus, who captured the Volscian town of Privernum.