Image: Bare head of Antoninus Pius, looking right
Inscription: ANTONINVS AVG PIVS P P TR P COS IIII
Image: Roma, helmeted, draped, looking left, seated on low seat holding the Palladium on extended right hand and vertical spear in left; at side, right, round shield.
RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 159a, p. 45 = BMCE IV, Antoninus Pius, no. 589, p. 84.
This aureus represents on its reverse the goddess Roma, helmeted, draped, seated on low seat while holding the Palladium and a spear. The inscription refers to the emperor as Antoninus, Augustus, Pius, pater patriae (father of the fatherland), holder of the tribunicia potestas, and consul for the fourth time. Concerning the dating of this issue, the mention COS IIII in the legend of the reverse enables us to date this coin from the period 145-161 CE; Antoninus Pius actually became consul for the third time in 140 CE, and then consul for the fourth and last time of his reign in 145 CE.
The scene depicted on the reverse of the coin presented here is a rare variant of a motif which is very frequently attested in the imperial coinage iconographic repertoire from Nerva’s reign, and which represents Roma seated on a sella curulis or a throne (and not on a pile of cuirasses or weapons as attested on another type produced under the Julio-Claudians, the Flavians and even under the Antonines), holding a Victory instead of the Palladium. This type is attested on coins produced under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian, and was produced in the mint of Rome throughout Antoninus Pius’s reign, from 140 to 161 CE (for aurei RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 80c, p. 36; for denarii RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 303, p. 63; no. 314, p. 64; for sestertii RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 621a, p. 110, no. 875, p. 136; for aes RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 911, p. 140; on the permanence of this motif later on see Denarius depicting the head of Marcus Aurelius and the goddess Roma (165 CE); Aureus depicting the head of Elagabalus and the goddess Roma (219 CE)). The type of Roma represented seated on a sella curulis or on a throne while holding the Palladium and a spear is attested for the first time under Hadrian by emissions produced between 134 and 138 CE (RIC II, Hadrian, no. 265, p. 370). The appearance of that motif fits in with a more frequent use of the Palladium in the official iconography from the Flavian period and, later on, under Hadrian’s reign. This is exemplified by the frequent appearance of the Palladium overhanging the she-wolf on the cuirassed statues of the emperor Hadrian (Stemmer, Untersuchungen, p. 159-161, quoted in Assenmaker, “La place du Palladium,” p. 62). As stated by Pierre Assenmaker, under Hadrian, the Palladium became an essential element in the definition of imperial sovereignty that was massively displayed in order to highlight the greatness of Rome’s destiny (Assenmaker, “La place du Palladium,” p. 62).
The representation of the goddess Roma seated on a sella curulis, holding the spear and the Palladium continued to be produced throughout the reign of Hadrian’s successor, Antoninus Pius. Two emissions can be distinguished, the first one during the period 140-143/4 CE, consisting of aurei and of sestertii (for aurei, RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 103, p. 38; for sestertii with the legend ROMA AETERNA, RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 621, p. 110), and the second one during the period 145-161 CE, as exemplified by the various emissions of aurei such as the one presented here (see also RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 147-148, p. 44, even if the RIC wrongly interprets the figure held by Roma as being a Victory).
Before analysing the messages conveyed through these coins representing the goddess Roma holding the Palladium, it is important to recall that the Palladium was a sacred statue of Pallas Athene represented while holding a spear in one hand and a shield in the other. According to a Roman tradition, which was largely spread by Caesarian propaganda and which is transmitted by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, this statue was brought from Troy to Italy by Aeneas (see Denarius depicting the head of Venus and Aeneas leaving Troy (47/46 BCE); Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities I.68.4-69.4; II.66.5). This Roman tradition is different from the “classical” one that assigns the abduction of the Palladium from Troy to Diomedes and Ulysses and that remained largely dominant under Augustus (on this subject see Assenmaker, “La place du Palladium,” p. 36-43). In spite of these conflicting traditions regarding the authors of the abduction of the Palladium from Troy, Roman authors made of the Palladium a Roman talisman. Due to its presence in the temple of Vesta in Rome, that is in the very place of Rome’s penates, the Palladium became a token (pignus) of Rome’s imperium and eternity (Cicero, Pro Scauro 48; Cicero, Philippics XI.24; Livy, History of Rome V.52.7; Ovid, Fasti VI.424, 435-436; its presence in the temple is presented as less certain in Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities II.66.2-6; see Assenmaker, “La place du Palladium,” p. 37-38, 60-61). This association of the Palladium with these ideas is perfectly exemplified by the sestertii previously mentioned, associating the figure of the goddess Roma holding the Palladium with the legend ROMA AETERNA.
One should associate the Hadrianic emissions of 134-138 CE and the ones of aurei and sestertii produced by Antoninus Pius between 140 and 144 CE, representing on their reverse the goddess Roma holding the spear and the Palladium, with the completion and dedication of the Temple of Venus and Roma that occurred in 135-137 CE. It is, however, largely admitted that Antoninus Pius contributed to complete the construction of some decorative elements of the temple (in that perspective, see Cassatella, “Venus et Roma,” p. 121). The aurei and sestertii produced between 140 and 144 CE and depicting the goddess Roma holding the Palladium may have been minted to celebrate the completion of the Temple of Venus and Roma by the reigning emperor (Beaujeu, La religion romaine, p. 298; Pera, “L’imperatore,” p. 79). This event would be symbolised here by a representation of the goddess Roma holding the Palladium that may look like the statue of the goddess that had been placed in one of the two cellae of the temple recently dedicated.
The second emission of coins representing Roma holding the Palladium, produced between 145 and 161 CE (corresponding to the coin presented here), should rather be interpreted in connection with the main orientations of the imperial propaganda developed throughout Antoninus Pius’s reign, and in particular with one major event, the celebration of Rome’s ninth centenary (for the connection with Rome’s ninth centenary see Pera, “L’imperatore,” p. 79-80). Actually, Antoninus succeeded Hadrian in July 138 CE. The policy he led during his reign (138-161 CE) fitted in with the main orientations of Hadrian’s policy, thus benefiting from the general prosperity that existed in the Empire at that time. However, unlike Hadrian, Antoninus did not accomplish any grand tours through the Empire. His interests were mainly focused on Italy and Rome, and on the revival of some ancestral religious cults. The official propaganda of his reign is thus characterised by the fact that the narrative and symbols of Rome’s mythical origins, as the main themes of the Golden Age, were constantly repeated, especially through coins. It is in that general context that the minting of the coin depicting Roma and the Palladium has to be understood.
In addition, it has to be noted that, in the 140s CE, to herald the celebration of the ninth centenary of Rome that occurred on the 21st of April 148 CE, various emissions of coins and medallions depicting scenes associated with the mythical origins of Rome were produced (about the dating of the celebration, see Aurelius Victor, De Caesaribus XV.4; Gagé, Recherches, p. 102). These coins represent scenes such as Aeneas’s flight from Troy (see Sestertius depicting the head of Antoninus Pius and Aeneas’s flight from Troy (140-144 CE)); Romulus advancing and holding a trophy (RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 90, p. 37; no. 624, p. 110; no. 645, p. 112; no. 665, p. 114; no. 698, p. 117); the she-wolf suckling the twins (RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 94-96, p. 37; no. 603, p. 108; no. 630-634, p. 111; no. 648-650, p. 113; no. 718, p. 119; no. 734-735, p. 120); and the sow suckling numerous piglets (RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 629, p. 111; no. 722, p. 119; no. 733, p. 120) (about the medallions minted in the 140s that represent scenes connected to Rome’s mythical origins, see Toynbee, “Some ‘Programme’”). These series of coins and medallions bearing motifs celebrating the mythical origins of Rome were minted in the same period as the first and second emissions of coins representing Roma holding the Palladium. As a consequence, the whole group of the aurei representing the goddess Roma holding the Palladium and the spear minted between 145 and 161 CE must have been produced to commemorate the imminent or recent celebration of Rome’s ninth centenary. The choice of the figure of Rome holding the Palladium fitted perfectly with this occasion, as the Palladium, provided that it remained preserved in the city of Rome, was the token of Rome’s sovereignty and permanence.