Inscription: IMP CAES M DID IVLIAN AVG
Image: Laureate head of Didius Julianus, cuirassed, looking right
Inscription: RECTOR ORBIS
Image: Didius Julianus standing left, holding globe and roll
(RIC IV/1, Didius Julianus no. 3, p. 15)
This aureus depicts on the obverse the laureate head of Didius Julianus, and on the reverse the emperor standing holding a globe in his right hand and a roll in his left hand. The inscription on the obverse, “IMP CAES M DID IVLIAN AVG,” refers to the emperor as imperator, Caesar, Marcus Didius Iulianus, Augustus, while the inscription on the reverse refers to the emperor as RECTOR ORBIS, or ruler of the world.
Didius Julianus came from a wealthy family from Mediolanum (ancient Milan), born in 133 CE. He was educated in the house of Domitia Lucilla, the mother of Marcus Aurelius, and was a member of the senatorial order. His cursus honorum included the successive positions of quaestor, aedilis, praetor in 162 CE, and legatus of the Legio XXII Primigenia in Mogontiacum. In 175 CE he reached the pinnacle of the senatorial career, when he was appointed consul suffectus. He was then selected as governor of Dalmatia and Germania Inferior, prefect of Italy, governor of Bythinia, and then in 190 CE, proconsul of Africa. When the emperor Pertinax was murdered at the end of March 193 CE Julianus immediately succeeded him by winning an auction of the empire held by the Praetorian Guard, and reigned for a matter of months until he was killed on the first day of June after Septimius Severus marched on the city of Rome. Julianus attempted to remedy the fact that the empire had been auctioned off by reducing the weight of his coinage, with gold coins such as this aureus being reduced by roughly 6 percent (Woodward, “The Coinage,” p. 71). Naturally, not many coin issues came out of Julianus’s brief reign, but this particular aureus depicts him in a universally authoritative manner, as world ruler (rector orbis).
This particular reverse type of the emperor holding a globe and scroll (the latter a symbol of his involvement in public life) utilised some familiar imagery from the coinage of previous emperors, but the legend RECTOR ORBIS was new (Woodward, “The Coinage,” p. 71). Subsequently, Caracalla and Septimius Severus would also employ this legend on their coinage. However, their coinage depicted RECTOR ORBIS above a naked figure holding a globe and spear, which seems to be the sun god, Sol, rather than the emperor himself (e.g. RIC IV, Caracalla no. 141; RIC IV, Caracalla no. 39a). As Erika Manders recognises, these coins may have referred to the emperor’s power indirectly (Coining Images of Power, p. 233), but nonetheless it is significant that Julianus is the only emperor to make this grand claim of himself directly. The globe, which symbolized the emperor’s rule over the entire oikoumenè forwarded the idea that the rule of the world was in the right hands. Moreover, the fact that the coin used to convey the propagandistic message is an aureus demonstrates that Julianus was particularly addressing the members of elite groups, such as the equestrian and senatorial ranks, probably with the aim of restoring trust after his unconventional taking of the imperial throne. Ultimately, by going further than Caracalla and Severus would subsequently go in their employment of the legend RECTOR ORBIS, applying it directly to himself rather than having it accompany the sun god, Julianus proclaims his absolute sovereignty. Perhaps he felt this a necessary bold propagandistic act given the circumstances under which he came to power.