Bronze sestertius depicting the head of Antoninus Pius and the personification of Italy (140-144 CE)



140 CE to 144 CE

Brass (Æ)



Name of Ruler: 

Antoninus Pius

Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Laureate head of Antoninus Pius looking right


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Italia, towered, draped, seated on globe, holding cornucopiae and sceptre

Inscription:  SC


RIC III, Antoninus Pius, no. 746a, p. 122.

This sestertius, minted between 140 and 144 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Antoninus Pius, and on the reverse Italia, the personification of Italy, who is sitting on a globe, holding both a sceptre and cornucopiae. The inscription on the obverse refers to the emperor as Antoninus, Augustus, Pius, pater patriae (father of the fatherland), holder of the tribunicia potestas, and consul for the third time. On the reverse, the initials SC stand for the words senatus consultum.
Antoninus Pius minted this issue to celebrate the fact that, contrary to Hadrian’s previous policy, which had made Italy a province like all the others, he had brought back the peninsula to its former standing as the center of the empire. Hadrian divided Italy into four juridical districts, appointing to each of these an official of consular rank, the quattuoviri consulares, holding the position of legati propraetores. Thus, Italy was in fact taken away from the Senate and reduced to the legal status of a province, directly administered by the emperor, through his legati. No one could understand the meaning of Hadrian’s decree better than Antoninus Pius, who was chosen as one of the four proconsuls, and thus administered Italy. As soon as Antoninus Pius became emperor, however, he cancelled Hadrian's reform. The fact that Italy was again the center of the empire and of the oikoumenē is shown by the depiction of Italia as seated on the globe, the orbis terrarum. Her restored primacy is emphasized by the fact that she holds the sceptre.
The cornucopia symbolizes prosperity. The fact that Italia holds cornucopiae may also be connected to the decision of Antonius Pius to continue the policy of Trajan, who had created the institutio alimentaria. This institution granted permanent loans from the fiscus to Italic cities or municipia. Then, out of their own revenue, the municipia had to provide maintenance allowances for the children of needy families living in their territories. Moreover, Antoninus Pius created a charitable trust, called puellae faustinianae, which assisted orphaned girls in Italy, after the death of his wife Faustina major in 141 CE.
As mentioned previously, this coin celebrates the primacy of Italy, the center of the empire. Yet, the message is not necessary in opposition to the expectations of the provincial elites outside Italy. The provincial elites were associated with Italy in many ways. For example, Trajan had decreed that in order to be elevated to the senatorial dignity, at least a third of a provincial’s land had to be located in Italy. Antoninus Pius continued this policy.

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