May 01, 2014

Coin of the Month: A Denarius of Augustus, Presenting a Dynasty

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Denarius of Augustus

This denarius of Augustus dates from 2-4 BC. The obverse features a laureate head of Augustus with the legend ‘CAESAR AVGVSTVS DIVI F PATER PATER PATRIAE’. The reverse depicts his two grandsons Gaius and Lucius stood facing each other, hands resting on a shield and spear, with a simpulum and lituus above. The legend around the edge reads ‘AVGVSTI F COS DESIG PRINC IVVENT’ and ‘C L CAESARES’ is written horizontally underneath the figures.

The coin is a useful example of the control that Augustus exercised over his personal image. The bust appears as that of a young man, however the emperor would have been in his 60s at this point. It is also illustrative of the problem of succession that faced an ageing Augustus. Having no sons of his own, the emperor had adopted his two grandsons and this coin is a clear message that they are the heirs to his title and powers. The beginning of their public careers is alluded to by the presentation of the title of “Leaders of the Youth”, as well as the appearance of both military and priestly images around them. Gaius’ and Lucius’ positions within the family are also emphasised by the fact that the two are explicitly called the sons of Augustus. Also, the prominent way in which ‘Caesares’ is placed upon the coin has clearly dynastic overtones, especially given that it was the name that Augustus himself took following his own “adoption” by Julius Caesar, which launched his political career. This theme is further continued on the obverse, where Augustus presents the title ‘Divi Filius’ (“Son of a God”) alongside that of ‘Pater Patriae’ (“Father of the Country”). By presenting himself as both son and father, Augustus is drawing the parallel to his own adoption as well as that of his grandsons and it is made clear that an imperial dynasty, with the successive handing down of powers, has been founded.

This particular denarius is contained within the South-Warwickshire Hoard of Roman denarii, which was discovered in 2008 by a local metal-detectorist. The hoard is comprised of 1153 silver denarii, with dates ranging from 190 BC to AD 64. It is one of the largest coin hoards from the Roman world and is made even more special by the fact that the pot in which the coins were buried has also survived. The South-Warwickshire Hoard was acquired by Warwickshire Museum, catalogued by Stanley Ireland and it is currently on display at the Market Hall Museum in Warwick.

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The South Warwickshire Hoard in the Warwickshire Museum


This month's coin was chosen by Abigael Flack, a museum assistant at the Warwickshire museum. Abigael is interested in the presentation and reception of the Roman imperial regime, particularly in literature. Her MA thesis examined this theme in the biographies of Suetonius.


(Images courtesy of Sara Wear and Heritage & Culture Warwickshire.)


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