Denarius of Augustus depicting the Parthian triumphal arch (18-17 BCE)



18 BCE to 17 BCE



Uncertain mint. Colonia Patricia (modern day Cordoba) ?

Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Bare head of Augustus looking left


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Parthian triumphal arch of Augustus: central arch surmounted by a facing quadriga; side arches, on each of which is a standing figure; on left, figure standing right, holding a signum in raised right hand; on right, figure standing left, holding a standard with an eagle in raised right hand and bow at side in left.

Inscription: CIVIB(us) ET SIGN(is) MILIT(aribus) A PA-RT(his) RECVP(eratis)

Weight (g): 

RIC I2, Augustus, Spain, n° 132, p. 50.

This denarius minted in Spain (in a uncertain mint, possibly Colonia Patricia, modern day Cordoba) in 18-17 BCE depicts on the obverse the head of Augustus and on the reverse the Parthian Triumphal Arch. Moreover, the obverse probably reproduces an inscription that stood on the Parthian arch: "The citizens and the military standards (having been) taken back from the Parthians." The beginning of the inscription records that the arch was dedicated by both the Senate and the Roman People. Augustus is mentioned both as Augustus, the honorary title that the Senate bestowed to him in 27 BCE, and as Caesar, or legitimate heir of Julius Caesar. Both titles conferred to Augustus auctoritas, or moral and political authority. Moreover, the inscription mentions that Augustus was consul for the eleventh time and enjoyed the tribunicia potestas, or inviolability as representative of the Roman people, for the sixth time. These titles mirror the legal position of Augustus as primus inter pares, first between peers, and of princeps senatus, the First Man of Rome. The Parthian triumphal arch was erected by Augustus in 19 BCE to celebrate the return of the Roman military standards that had been captured by the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae in 53 BCE. It stood on the southwestern side of the temple of Divus Iulius. The best source for the reconstruction of the arch is indeed this very coin, as only the foundations of the arch remain. It was a triple arch with a quadriga standing on the central arch. The triple arch is of an unusual type. It consists of a lofty central arch with an inscribed attic surmounted by a quadriga flanked by lower post-and-lintel fornices supported by columns and surmounted by triangular gables crowned by figures of barbarians offering standards to Augustus. It was elaborately decorated.

The inscription on the reverse of the coin is emblematic. Augustus refers not only to the return of the standards but also to that of the prisoners taken at Carrhae and later on from Antony's armies. This adds a humane dimension as well as a dimension of pietas, or piety, in this case in relation to the bond between the Roman ruler and his army. The triumph over Parthia and the hegemony over Armenia were two of the most important achievements of the Augustan policy in the East. This was seen as compensation for the defeats suffered first by Crassus and then by Antony in the wars against Parthia. The return of the Roman standards was also celebrated through the erection of the statue of Augustus of Prima Porta, the most important of Augustus's portraits. This statue depicts the return of the standards on the reliefs of the cuirass. In short, this coin emphasizes the supremacy of Rome in the East and the personal power of Augustus. 

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Bibliographical references: 
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Denarius of Augustus depicting the Parthian triumphal arch (18-17 BCE)
Author(s) of this publication: Samuele Rocca
Publishing date: Mon, 08/27/2018 - 11:19
Visited: Sat, 04/13/2024 - 03:06

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