Antoninianus depicting the head of Aurelian and the emperor receiving Victory from the goddess Roma (270-275 CE)



270 CE to 275 CE


Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 

© American Numismatic Society; Id : 1944.100.32781

Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Radiate, cuirassed bust of Aurelian looking to right


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Aurelian, standing right before Roma, helmeted, draped, seated left on shield, holding spear in right hand and Victory in left hand

Inscription: ROM[A]E AETER

Diameter (mm): 
Weight (g): 

RIC V/1, Aurelian, no. 142, p. 280.

This antoninianus minted between 270 and 275 CE at Milan, depicts on the obverse the head of Aurelian and on the reverse the emperor receiving the personification of victory, Victoria, from Roma, the goddess who personified the Roman state. The inscription on the obverse refers to Aurelian as imperator Aurelian, Augustus. By the middle of the third century, most of the imperial coins refer to the emperor only as Caesar and Augustus. Therefore, Aurelian is presented as imperator, or commander in chief of the Roman army, chosen and elected by his soldier, and as Augustus, a title which, by then, served to emphasize the emperor's sacral standing. The inscription on the reverse refers to Rome as Eternal Rome.
This issue is an antoninianus. First minted under the rule of Caracalla, in 215 CE, the antoninianus was a double denarius. It was in fact one of the emperor’s main economic reforms and it was minted in order to raise the pay of the legions to 675 denarii, and to distribute to them various bounties. In fact, from the reign of Nero onwards, the percentage of silver in the denarius had seriously devaluated, and by the beginning of the third century it reached its minimum. Thus, Caracalla created an issue which in fact contained double the amount of silver present in the denarius. In fact, the real value of the antoninianus was only 1.5 denarii. From the reign of Caracalla’s onwards, as in this case, the obverse of the antoninianus depicts the head of the emperor crowned by the radiate crown. From Caracalla's reign onwards, the weight and silver content of the antoninianus were reduced, but the process then accelerated after 250 CE. The debasement reached its lowest point between 260 and 274 CE. Thus, from 271 CE, Aurelian undertook a monetary reform in order to reverse the debasement process of the various denominations. He thus augmented the standard weight of the antoninianus (Cizek, L' empereur Aurélien et son temps, p. 172-175).

The reverse of this issue depicts the emperor, dressed in a toga, while facing Roma, the goddess of Rome, dressed in a long tunic and draped in a stola. Besides, the head of the goddess is covered by a helmet, and nearby her seat, is depicted a shield. The goddess is bestowing Victoria, the winged goddess of victory, to the emperor. Aurelian had very good reasons to celebrate his victories. From 270 onwards, the emperor had spent most of his time as ruler, in unifying the empire, victim to the usurpations of various rulers. Thus in 270 CE, Aurelian defeated the invasion of Vandals, Juthungi, and Sarmatians in northern Italy, as well as various claimants. The successive year, Aurelian moved to the Balkans, and defeated there a Gothic invasion, killing during the battle their leader, Cannabaudes, and earning the title Gothicus Maximus. However, the area of Dacia beyond the Danube had to be abandoned (Cizek, L' empereur Aurélien et son temps, p. 123-149). A new province of Dacia was carved in the area of Moesia, and named Dacia Aureliana (Cizek, L' empereur Aurélien et son temps, p. 36-102). Then, Aurelian faced in the East the usurper Vaballathus. The young Vaballathus was the son of Septimius Odenathus, ruler of Palmyra, a client state which bordered the powerful Sassanian Kingdom, and of Zenobia. When in 267 CE her husband was murdered, Zenobia assumed the title Augusta, which she bestowed on her son Vaballathus. In 269 CE, taking advantage from the situation of anarchy, the queen of Palmyra conquered Egypt. By 272 CE, she was ruling on most of the Roman East. In less than six months, Aurelian had defeated the rebellious queen and her son. By the end of 273 CE, the east was back in the hands of Aurelian (Cizek, L' empereur Aurélien et son temps, p. 103-117). In 274 CE, only Tetricus, the ruler of the Gallic Empire, which included most of the Latin West, remained. Yet, Tetricus, after he met with Aurelian, decided to abandon his army in exchange for his life. The enemy army was defeated easily (Cizek, L' empereur Aurélien et son temps, p. 119-122). And yet, the emperor’s resounding victories, while they can explain the presence of Victoria, probably does not justify enough the depiction of Rome. In fact, being aware of the Barbarian invasions, which he defeated, Aurelian understood that it was to time to encompass the city of Rome with a new circle of walls. The Aurelian walls were thus erected between 271 and 275 CE, but terminated by Probus. They defended an area of 1400 hectares, which included all the regions of Rome, including Transtiber and the Campus Martius, which stood outside the previous Republican walls of Rome. Built in bricks, the walls’s course ran for the length of 19 kilometers, and it included 18 main gates, as well as 383 towers. Therefore, this issue celebrates the close bond between the emperor, and Rome, the capital of the empire, which, thanks to the emperor’s loving care, was made once more aeterna.

Keywords in the original language: 

Bibliographical references: 
Mellor, Ronald, “The goddess Roma” (Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II, 17.2; Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1981)
Realized by: 

How to quote this page

Antoninianus depicting the head of Aurelian and the emperor receiving Victory from the goddess Roma (270-275 CE)
Author(s) of this publication: Samuele Rocca
Publishing date: Fri, 07/13/2018 - 09:47
Visited: Sat, 02/24/2024 - 04:56

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