Denarius depicting the head of Marcus Aurelius and the goddess Roma (165 CE)



165 CE




Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
American Numismatic Society.
Id: 1944.100.49078
Name of Ruler: 

Marcus Aurelius

Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Laureate head of Marcus Aurelius looking right


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Roma, helmeted, draped, seated left, holding palladium and spear


Diameter (mm): 
Weight (g): 

RIC III, Marcus Aurelius, no. 138, p. 224.

This denarius, minted in 165 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Marcus Aurelius, and on the reverse the goddess Roma. The inscription, which spans from the obverse to the reverse, refers to the emperor as Marcus Antoninus, Augustus, Armeniacus, pontifex maximus, or high priest of the Roman state religion, holder of the tribunicia potestas for the nineteenth time, imperator for the third time, and consul for the third time. The military success of the campaign in Armenia (161-163 CE) is emphasized by the title Armeniacus assumed by the emperor. In 161 CE, Vologases IV, King of Parthia, penetrated Armenia, expelled its legitimate king, appointed by Rome, and installed his own candidate, Pacorus. In 162 CE, Lucius Verus, Marcus Aurelius‘s co-ruler, took the command of the war, and the next year, in 163 CE, he started the counter offensive. Armenia was re-conquered and the capital, Artaxata, was seized. The Romans appointed a new king, Gaius Iulius Sahaemus, a Roman senator of consular rank but also of Arsacid descent. While Lucius Verus assumed the title Armeniacus in 163 CE, Marcus Aurelius assumed the title only in 164 CE.

The reverse depicts the goddess Roma seated on a throne, with a helmet covering her head, a tunic, which leaves her left breast bare, and a round shield. Additionally,, she holds in her right hand the palladium and in her left hand a spear. The personification of Roma first appears in the Greek East in the second century BCE. In 12 BCE, Drusus dedicated an altar to Roma and to his stepfather Augustus at the junction of the two rivers at Lugdunum. Thereafter, Roma is well attested in inscriptions and coinage throughout the western provinces. By the first half of the second century, the cult of Roma penetrated the Urbs. Hadrian erected the well-known Temple of Venus and Roma in the forum, a building which much displeased the Greek architect Apollodorus of Damascus, and maybe cost him his head, once he vented his displeasure to the emperor (Cassius Dio, Roman History 69.4). The largest temple in the city, it was probably dedicated to inaugurate the reformed festival of Parilia. In the temple erected by Hadrian, as on the reverse of this coin, the statue of Roma was holding the palladium, which symbolized the eternity of Rome, and not a small statue of Victoria, which until then characterized the iconography of Roma. On this issue, a denarius directed to the army, Marcus Aurelius probably chose to depict the goddess holding a palladium because it associated him with his predecessors, Hadrian, who erected the Temples of Venus and Roma, and Antoninus Pius, who had chosen him as successor.

Bibliographical references: 

Marc Aurèle

Grimal, PierrebookMarc AurèleParisFayard1991
Realized by: