As depicting the head of Nero and the Ara Pacis (66 CE)



66 CE




Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
British Museum collection: R.10067
Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Bare head of Nero looking right, globe at point of bust


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Frontal view of the Ara Pacis

Inscription: ARA PACIS - S-C

Weight (g): 

RIC I2, Nero, no. 526, p. 181.

This as, minted around 66 CE at Lugdunum, depicts on the obverse the head of Nero. The reverse depicts the Ara Pacis, or Ara Pacis Augustae, an altar dedicated to Pax, the Roman goddess of Peace. It was commissioned by the Roman Senate in 13 BCE to honor Augustus, and was consecrated in 9 BCE. The altar, together with the Horologium Solare Augusti and the Mausoleum Augusti, formed a complex erected near the Campus Martius (see Ara Pacis (13-9 BCE)_Architecture; Ara Pacis (13-9 BCE)_Reliefs). Although the Ara Pacis is not recorded in the ancient sources, it appears on coins of Nero, as in this case, and of Domitian. The structure depicted on the coins is, however, schematic.

Why did Nero decide to depict the Ara Pacis on the obverse of the coin? The most obvious answer is that by celebrating the achievements of Augustus, Nero could also associate himself with the first emperor. Yet, the question is more complicated. A possible interpretation is that offered by Anton von Domaszewski in an article published in 1903. This German scholar suggested that the last family on the Southern Wall of the Ara Pacis is that of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, the father of Nero (see Domaszewski, "Die Familie"). This identification remains widely accepted today. While Ronald Syme accepted Domaszewki's suggestion that the figures depicted are members of the gens Domitia, however, he identifies the boy not as Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus himself - as he argues that he was born after the completion of the monument -, but as another unknown member of the family, possibly an elder unknown brother of Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (Syme,"Neglected Children"; Syme's interpretation has been contested in Pollini, "Ahenobarbi, Appuleii," p. 454-456, who still defends the hypothesis that the young boy no. S-41 on the Southern Wall of the Ara Pacis is Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus).

Leaving aside this debate, it is possible that Nero chose to depict the Ara Pacis because there was a visible bond between the Augustan monument and his family, and therefore it was an occasion for Nero to claim a further connection between himself and Augustus (this idea is confirmed by the numerous echoes to Augustean motifs and themes in the coinage produced under Nero's reign, see Grau, "Néron").

Bibliographical references: 
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As depicting the head of Nero and the Ara Pacis (66 CE)
Author(s) of this publication: Samuele Rocca
Publishing date: Mon, 05/28/2018 - 12:11
Visited: Fri, 02/23/2024 - 22:24

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