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Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Aurelian

A work made of gold.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of gold.

Date:

272, issued by Aurelian

Artist:

Roman, minted in Siscia (uncertain)

About this artwork

On the front (obverse) of this coin is a portrait of Roman Emperor Aurelian facing to the right. He is laureate, cuirassed, and has an aegis over his left shoulder. On the back (reverse) is a rearing lion rears facing left, radiate, and carrying a thunderbolt in his mouth.

Portraits of important people appear on local currency all around the world. The same was true in ancient Rome, which began producing its first coinage in the late 4th century BC. Early coins depicted the heads of gods and goddesses on the front side, often in profile, while the back depicted animals, natural resources, symbols, and references to historical events. It was not until 44 BCE that the portrait of a living person—Julius Caesar— appeared on coins. Thereafter, profile portraits of rulers or other members of the imperial family became the standard subject on coins throughout the Roman Empire.

Inscriptions on coins help identify the ruler. While the front side depicted the sovereign’s portrait, the back was often used to communicate the ruler’s accomplishments or aspirations. Until Late Antiquity, portraits usually appeared in profile. The tiny images were carved by engravers into bronze dies, with one for the front and another for the back. The coins were then struck, one by one, in a process similar to how coins are created today.

On View

Ancient and Byzantine Art, Gallery 153

Culture

Ancient Roman

Title

Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Aurelian

Origin

Rome

Date

272 CE

Medium

Gold

Inscriptions

Obverse: AURELIANVS AVG "Aurelianus Augustus" Reverse: P M TR P COS P P

Dimensions

Diam. 2.1 cm; 5.72 g

Credit Line

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson

Reference Number

1922.4899

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.

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