Aureus depicting the head of Caracalla and the emperor sacrificing before the Temple of Vesta (214 CE)



214 CE




Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
British Museum. BNK,R.46.
Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Caracalla looking right


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Caracalla, veiled, togate, standing left, sacrificing before the Temple of Vesta, two Vestal virgins standing before, child between them, two togate men standing behind

Inscription: P M TR P XVII COS IIII P P

Weight (g): 

RIC IV/1, Caracalla, no. 249, p. 247.

This aureus, minted in 214 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Caracalla and on the reverse the emperor offering a sacrifice in front of the Temple of Vesta. The inscription refers to the emperor as Antoninus Pius, Augustus, Germanicus, pontifex maximus, or high priest of the Roman state religion, holder of the tribunicia potestas for the seventeenth time, consul for the fourth time, and pater patriae, or father of the fatherland. Caracalla was born as Lucius Septimius Bassianus at Lugdunum in 187 CE. He was the son of Septimius Severus and of Julia Domna. When his father was acclaimed emperor by the legions of Pannonia in 193 CE, his name was changed to Marcus Aurelius Bassianus Antoninus to emphasize his connections to the Antonine dynasty. On this issue the association with the Antonine dynasty is emphasized by the assumption of the name Antoninus Pius. The name typified the Antonine rulers, such as Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. The name Germanicus indicates his victories on the Alemanni in 213 CE in the Agri Decumati.
The scene depicted on the reverse portrays the emperor sacrificing before the round Temple of Vesta, located in the forum, together with two Vestal virgins, a child between then, and two men dressed in a toga. Vesta, who was the equivalent to the Greek goddess Hestia, was the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family. The importance of Vesta to Roman religion is indicated by the prominence of the priesthood devoted to her, the Vestal Virgins, Rome's only college of full-time priests. The temple of the goddess, where the goddess's sacred fire was kept, was built close by the House of the Vestals and the Regia. This building originally served as the residence of the kings of Rome, and later on became the office of the pontifex maximus, the high priest of Roman state religion. From Augustus onwards, this priesthood was always in the hands of the emperor.
This issue may have been minted when the emperor’s mother, Julia Domna, had taken it upon herself to restore the Temple of Vesta. Besides, the emperor probably chose to emphasize his close association with the goddess, as Vesta was closely connected to good morality. Vesta symbolized a return to Rome's values of old, such as the sacred nature of the home's hearth and of course the family. As pontifex maximus, the emperor was the direct superior of the Vestal Virgins, and thus the primary protector of Rome's morality. The choice of Vesta does not only enhance the pietas of the emperor, the fulfillment of his obligations towards the gods, but also his moral authority, or auctoritas, as the supreme ruler of the state. Thus, the message forwarded by this denomination, an aureus, was directed towards the imperial elites, senatorial and equestrian, but also towards the urban aristocracies of the west and the east, to emphasise the role of the emperor as the primary example of morality for the whole oikoumenè. Possibly this was made more cogent by the fact that from 212 CE, all the free inhabitants of the Roman empire had received the Roman citizenship. Thus, by then, in the eyes of the emperor, the gods of the city of Rome had become the gods worshipped by all the inhabitants of the empire.

Bibliographical references: 
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How to quote this page

Aureus depicting the head of Caracalla and the emperor sacrificing before the Temple of Vesta (214 CE)
Author(s) of this publication: Samuele Rocca
Publishing date: Fri, 08/31/2018 - 18:25
Visited: Fri, 03/01/2024 - 19:07

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