Image: Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Lucius Verus looking right
Inscription: L VERUS AUG ARM PARTH MAX
Image: Emperor on horseback riding down Armenian, soldiers with standard behind
Inscription: TR POT V – IMP IIII – COS III - ARMENIA
(Francesco Gnecchi, I Medaglioni Romani, Vol. II (Bologna: Forni Editore, 1912), Lucius Verus no. 6, p. 45, and pl. 72, no. 5).
This medallion, minted in 165 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Lucius Verus, and on the reverse the emperor on horseback trampling a figure who is arguably the personification of Armenia, based on the legend below: “ARMENIA”. A Roman soldier carrying a standard follows behind the emperor. The inscription on the obverse, “L VERUS AUG ARM PARTH MAX,” refers to the emperor as Lucius Verus, Augustus, Armeniacus, Parthicus Maximus, with the inscription on the reverse, “TR POT V – IMP IIII – COS III,” identifying him as the holder of the tribunician power for the fifth time, imperator for the fourth time, and consul for the third time (these details allow us to date the coin). As Carlos Noreña acknowledges, between 69 and 235 numerous coins were minted celebrating victories over specific places, whether these were real or imagined (Imperial Ideals, p. 162), and this issue provides one such example.
In 161 CE, Vologases IV, King of Parthia, penetrated Armenia, expelled the Armenian Roman client king, Sohaemus, and installed his own candidate, Pacorus (also known as Bakur). In 162-163 CE Lucius Verus (who at this point was co-ruler with his adoptive brother, Marcus Aurelius) entered Armenia with his army, while Marcus Aurelius remained in Rome (Cassius Dio, History 71.1.3, argues that this was because Lucius Verus was physically more suited to military activity) and seized the capital, Artaxata, deposing Bakur and reinstating the Armenian Sohaemus, who while being of Arsacid descent was a Roman senator with consular rank (see Birley, Marcus Aurelius, p. 121). In 163 CE Lucius Verus assumed the title Armeniacus, mentioned on the obverse of the present medallion, to commemorate his victory following the Roman army’s retaking of Armenia. Moreover, as his army had also defeated the Parthians, Lucius Verus also claimed the title of Parthicus Maximus, or “great victor of Parthia.” Rome’s war with Parthia, in which Armenia was fought over by the Roman and Parthian forces, lasted until 166 CE. In 163 the Parthians occupied Rome’s client kingdom Osroene, deposing Mannus, its king, and the Roman army spent two years preparing for a counter offensive, which came in 165 CE. One army under the leadership of Martius Verus, occupied Osroene and reinstated its king, while a second army under the leadership of Avidius Cassius occupied Mesopotamia, reaching Seleucia and Ctesiphon, and advancing as far as Media by 166 CE. The Parthians were forced to cede western Mesopotamia to the Romans, and this victory for Rome is celebrated on the reverse of this medallion through the depiction of the emperor riding on a horse, hurling a spear at the fallen personification of Armenia (on Lucius Verus’s war with Parthia, see Edwell, Between Rome and Persia, p. 23-26; Birley, “Hadrian to the Antonines,” p. 160-165).
The origin of the scene depicted on the reverse of this medallion, a horseman spearing a fallen enemy, can be found in late Classical-Hellenistic iconography of kings hunting with a spear. This iconography appeared first on coins minted by Trajan at the beginning of the second century CE to celebrate the conquest of Dacia (e.g. RIC II Trajan 534; RIC II Trajan 543; RIC II Trajan 536; see Sestertius depicting the head of Trajan and the same riding on a horse hurling spear at a Dacian (105 CE)). Later, this iconography also appears on imperial coins minted by Antoninus Pius (137-161 CE), Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE), and Commodus (180-192 CE) (e.g. RIC III Marcus Aurelius 549; RIC III Marcus Aurelius 549). Moreover, this iconography appears on Jewish gems which depict a rider, dressed as a Hellenistic King or as a Roman emperor, trampling under his horse a she-daemon. The rider is commonly identified as Solomon, as the name Solomon sometimes appears round the horseman, and on the reverse of the gem appear the words “Seal of G-d” (Jewish tradition speaks of a signet ring which acted as a “seal” given by God to Solomon, which gave him power over demons). The scene on the present medallion therefore similarly takes inspiration from this Hellenistic iconography to emphasizes the supreme power of the Roman emperor, who is victorious over his enemies. The solider carrying the army standard behind the rider also further highlights the relationship between the emperor and his army, and reminds that the emperor’s victory is firmly grounded in the military power of Rome’s troops, which loyally follow their commander in chief. As Carlos Noreña recognises, by the late second century Victory was firmly established as a “divine attribute of the monarchy itself,” regardless of whether one or more rulers were in power (when this medallion was minted there were of course two). While this issue does not portray the goddess of victory explicitly, the theme of victory is very strongly presented through the vivid image of Rome trampling its opposition (Imperial Ideals, p. 161). This coin can therefore be understood within this broader tendency of the period to emphasise imperial victories. Indeed, the titles Armeniacus and Parthicus Maximus, which we find in the legend on this medallion in reference to Lucius Verus, were also claimed by his co-Augustus Marcus Aurelius.
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