Novaesium, alias Neuss

Roman coins, republic and empire

von Carol Humphrey Vivian Sutherland   
I. The beginnings V. Early imperial mint policy
II. Introduction of the denarius VI. Portraits and types
III. Control and content of the coinage VII. The 4th century and after
IV. Caesar and after VIII. Literatur

VI. Portraits and types

The use of Caesar's own portrait upon coinage set a precedent; although under Augustus and Tiberius token denominations occasionally lacked the imperial portrait, it was thereafter an essential element of virtually every gold, silver, and bronze coin of the official mints, as also of nearly all provincial and local coins. Emphasis on the personality of the emperor (extended sometimes to empresses, sons, or deceased members of the imperial house) was a powerful propaganda instrument in a coinage that circulated throughout a vast empire. The great series of imperial portraits, from Augustus to Romulus in AD 476, is artistically outstanding. Many of the finest appeared on the large brass sesterces down to the 3rd century and on the even larger bronze medallions produced for presentation; but particular care was taken over the portraits for gold, which, being softer, showed a beautiful and highly sensitive impression. Nothing is known of the portrait artists, though it is likely that they were often from the Greek East.

Imperial reverse types, if artistically less remarkable, are uniquely important for the unparalleled fullness of the historical commentary that they supply. The major mints provided annual evidence of imperial interests: victories in war; frontier defense (e.g., Rex Parthis datus - "A king is given to the Parthians" - of Trajan); a well-earned peace (e.g., the Pace terra marique parta Ianum clusit - "There being peace on land and sea, the doors of the Temple of Janus were closed" - of Nero); the birth of an heir or alternative provision for the succession; public shows; acts of social reform or public relief (e.g., Civitatibus Asiae restitutis - "For the restitution of the citizenries of Asia"); imperial journeys (e.g., Adventus Augusti - "The arrival of the emperor"); and religious or other anniversaries (e.g., the Felix temporum reparatio - "Happy days are here again" - on Rome's 1,100th birthday). Their interpretation demands care, since, being selected by imperial officials, their tenor can conflict with the attitude of anti-imperial historians. But they show the efforts made by emperors, as the omnipotent semireligious heads of a huge and heterogeneous empire, to conciliate and inform. They contributed powerfully to the growing conception of an eternal Roman empire, seen no less in the special types of eagle (the soul flown heavenward) or funeral pyre or temple in honour of "good" emperors consecrated as divi than in the annual record of military victory, economic security, and provincial peace and implicit in the regularity of imperial succession. The normal colour given to this imperial program was religious, for the coinage types commonly embraced such characteristically Roman concepts as Aequitas (Justice), Fides (Faith), and Concordia (Harmony) - social virtues operating in the guise of minor deities.



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