Tag Archives: aureus

Antonine Pyres and Consecratio Coins

Fig_0_PortraitSteven Burges is a PhD candidate in the Department of History of Art & Architecture at Boston University. He is currently writing a dissertation that examines the representation of Roman imperial funerary pyres on the coinage of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius and the commemorative significance of these representations within the ideology of antiquity and beyond. He was a participant in the 2018 Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar.

In March of the year 161 CE, the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius died at the age of 74 at his villa near Rome after reportedly “eating Alpine cheese at dinner rather greedily” (Historia Augusta, M. Ant. 12.4). His death marked a turning point in Roman imperial history, since, for the first time, a deceased emperor was succeeded by a set of official co-regents, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. Hadrian had organized their joint adoption by Antoninus 23 years earlier.

Fig. 1. ANS 1966.62.10.
Fig. 1. ANS 1966.62.10.

The co-rulers issued coinage – bearing the obverse legend Divus Antoninus, or the divine Antoninus—to commemorate their father’s passing and subsequent deification, and it reflected the unprecedented transition of power and the continuation of the familial piety that had earned Antoninus the title “Pius.” An unparalleled type from the series contained the first images of a funerary pyre on which the emperor was cremated to appear on gold denominations of the Roman mint (fig. 1). In fact, the pyre became the exclusive reverse type of the aurei struck for Divus Antoninus in addition to becoming the most prevalent type of the silver and bronze issues. All included the legend consecratio, which likely referred to the funereal process of deification itself.

Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.

In an effort to discover why the innovative iconography of the pyre came to dominate the commemorative coinages of Antoninus, I conducted a die study and hoard analysis of the aurei honoring Divus Antoninus. I then compared the results to studies of aurei minted after the death of his wife, the empress Faustina the Elder. She died and achieved godhood in 140 CE, at the beginning of her husband’s reign. While Antoninus produced a massive series of aurei for Diva Faustina with 24 different reverse types over a period of nearly twenty years, only one uncommon type from the early issues bore the consecratio inscription (fig. 2). It depicts the empress and a female driver in a quadriga – perhaps the celestial vehicle that bore her to the heavens. Although absent from her aurei, contemporary bronzes announcing her apotheosis were the first of any denomination to carry images of a funerary pyre.

Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.

In the years to follow pyres continued to adorn currency honoring deceased empresses and emperors, but primarily, they were found on the silver and bronze coins. The numerous tiers and ornate decorative sculptures, garlands, and tapestries align with the descriptions of ancient eyewitnesses (Cassius Dio, Historia Romana 75.4-5). Between the years 310 and 313 CE, the emperor Constantine would strike the last pyre coin, a rare gold solidus, to honor his deified father, Divus Constantius (fig. 3).

My analysis of the original Divus Antoninus aurei has enabled the identification of 30 obverse and reverse dies from 70 coins all with the same reverse type. In contrast, the earlier aurei of Diva Faustina survive in over 900 examples with nearly two dozen reverses, reflecting both the extraordinary scale and longevity of their production (Martin Beckmann, Diva Faustina: Coinage and Cult in Rome and the Provinces, 2012). Despite the limited run of the Antoninus coins, the ratio of dies observed to the number of coin examples is nearly equivalent. Hoard evidence from Italy, France, and Portugal also suggests that the two coinages circulated within similar regions.

Fig. 4. ANS 1965.66.10.
Fig. 4. ANS 1965.66.10.

The difference lies in the significant expansion of the novel consecratio reverse with the pyre to the aurei under the adopted Marcus and Lucius. This suggests that they intended the pyre to serve as a specifically Antonine advertisement of dynastic continuity for the elite users of gold coinage. Further, it was a memento of the cremation and deification ceremony itself, which the co-rulers jointly oversaw, as the inscription on the pedestal of the column of Antoninus Pius indicates. The dynastic uncertainty of the time had been likewise countered in some of the last coins struck during Antoninus’s life. They depict the fecundity of his daughter Faustina the Younger surrounded by her four daughters: Lucilla, Cornificia, Fadilla, and Annia Faustina (fig. 4).

As I continue this research, I will expand the scope to the pyre reverses found in other denominations struck under Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus along with other contemporary consecratio types, in order to continue unveiling the significance they held for the citizens, soldiers, and senators who used the coins.

The Coin Portrait Types of the Empress Sabina

Fae AmiroFae Amiro is a PhD candidate at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Her research focus is Roman portraiture, and she is currently writing a dissertation on the portraiture of the Imperial house during the reign of the emperor Hadrian, which addresses broader questions of portrait type creation and the dissemination of sculpture throughout the Roman empire. She was a participant in the 2017 Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar.

The empress Sabina is not a figure who is frequently given much attention, due in part to her lack of prominence in the literary record. She was wife of the emperor Hadrian and they are said to have had an unhappy marriage, but not much else is known. Her coinage, however, has received more scholarly attention, because it was issued in larger numbers than that of any previous empress and features a good deal of variety in its portraiture. The question of the true chronology of her coinage has been debated for ninety years. However, few have addressed the reasons behind the changes observable in the coinage, in particular the impetus behind its start date and the introductions of new types.

 

Fig. 1: Sabina aureus with turban portrait type, ca. 128–131 (ANS 1960.175.30).
Fig. 1: Sabina aureus with turban portrait type, ca. 128–131 (ANS 1960.175.30).

In order to address these problems, I conducted a die study of the aurei which display the portrait of the empress Sabina. This had not previously been done and is the best way to form a relative chronological sequence for coinage. The die-link sequence confirms the following chronology for the portrait types which appear on the aurei. First is a type called the turban, dating to 128 C.E. (Fig. 1). The next type is Sabina’s main portrait type, the queue, which was probably introduced in the year 131 C. E. (Fig. 3). The Aphrodite type comes next, around 133/134, and was in use until her death and shortly thereafter. Following her death in 136/7, she was consecrated as a diva and a posthumous issue was created to commemorate this.

Fig. 2: Matidia aureus (ANS 1958.214.20).
Fig. 2: Matidia aureus (ANS 1958.214.20).

So, this answers the question of the true sequence of the types. The reasons for the creation of the last two types, the Aphrodite and posthumous types, are well understood. The Aphrodite is represented in a classicizing style, which is associated with Hadrian’s return to Rome after his trips in the east. The posthumous type was created to commemorate her consecration.

Fig. 3: Sabina aureus with queue portrait type, ca. 131–136 (ANS 1960.175.29).
Fig. 3: Sabina aureus with queue portrait type, ca. 131–136 (ANS 1960.175.29).

The impetus behind the creation of the other types is harder to address. The motivation behind the start of coining for the empress in 128, eleven years into Hadrian’s reign, is unclear. Previously scholars believed that it was because Sabina gained the title of Augusta in that year, but this has been proven incorrect by Eck and the results of the die study. Most likely a number of factors came together at the right time to inspire this change: the ten year anniversary of a reign was a common time for coinage reform, the imperial couple had just returned from a trip abroad and were about to embark on another one, there were no other Augustae alive at the time, and Sabina’s presence on coinage may have helped advertise the family’s prestige, given her relation to the imperial family of the previous dynasty. This last point is supported by the style of the portrait, which resembles that of her mother, Matidia, who was Trajan’s niece (Fig. 2).

Fig. 4: Plotina aureus (ANS 1967.153.139).
Fig. 4: Plotina aureus (ANS 1967.153.139).

Scholars have previously believed that the queue type was introduced to form a visual connection between Sabina and her predecessor, Plotina. However, there are a number of problems with this assessment. This message would have been redundant, since the turban already showed dynastic continuity, and untimely, since Plotina had died eight years previous. A side by side comparison shows that the very assertion that they look alike has been overstated, especially given the prevalence of ponytail-style hairdos among women at this time (Fig. 4). The motivation for the creation of the type is more likely the opposite, that it actually represents a stylistic departure from the previous dynasty and the introduction of a uniquely Hadrianic style.

More work needs to be done, but the results so far show that Sabina’s life events, particularly in association with Hadrian’s imperial travels, had an effect on the appearance of her coin portraits.