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March 18, 2014

The Many Faces of Augustus

rpc_3
Spanish coin showing Augustus and shield

During the period in which Augustus came to hold sole power in the Roman Empire, the minting of Roman coinage was decentralised. Instead of coinage only being struck at Rome, different generals and Roman officers struck Roman denarii at a series of different mints throughout the Empire. Indeed, coinage was probably only struck in Rome again from c. 19 BC. This means that in the period after Actium, the coinage of Augustus was struck in a variety of different mints, which meant that the image and associations of Augustus and his rule had regional differences, at least initially.

The decentralised nature of minting in this period also meant that there was the possibility for official images of Augustus to become 'entangled' with local iconographies - that is, for Roman officials and mints to take inspiration from local currency designs, either as a way of communicating Augustus' power to local populations, or as a strategy to make the currency more acceptable. Several interesting coin designs have resulted from this process, one of which is a series of coins struck in an uncertain mint in Spain (RPC 1 1-4). This coinage lacks the name of a city, and so is probably an imperial series of Augustus, although it is not listed as such in the catalogue of Roman Imperial Coinage. On this series Augustus is presented as the son of the divine Julius Caesar (IMP AVG DIVI F), and his portrait is accompanied by a palm branch and winged caduceus. These two attributes were commonly seen on the local coins struck in Spain (Iberia); the palm branch is often shown being held by a horse rider (see one example here), and the winged caduceus appears on the coinage of several cities (e.g. as a reverse type, or being held by the Tyche of a Spanish city on a coin series struck by Sextus Pompey).

rpc_2
Similar coin, but with dagger and Iberian sword

The image of Augustus presented here is thus one with a particular 'Iberian' flair. This is further suggested by the reverses of this coin series, which show an Iberian shield, sometimes accompanied by a dagger and Iberian sword. These coins are mostly found in NW Spain, meaning that the image and associations of Augustus in this region would likely have been different to that found in the East of the Empire, for example, or even in Gaul. Augustus presented many faces to different audiences, as he and his subordinates sought to communicate the new power structure to the broader Roman Empire.



(Coin images reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc., www.cngcoins.com)


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