Name of Ruler:
Obverse (Image and Inscription):
Image: Radiate head of Marcus Aurelius looking right
Inscription: M ANTONINVS AVG GERM SARM TR P XXXI
Reverse (Image and Inscription):
Image: Trophy at base of which are seated a bound Sarmatian on left, and a Sarmatian woman in mourning on right
Inscription: IMP VIII COS III PP – DE SARM
(RIC III, Marcus Aurelius 1188)
This dupondius, minted in 177 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Marcus Aurelius, and on the reverse a couple of Sarmatian prisoners bound under a trophy. The inscription celebrates Marcus Aurelius as Marcus Antoninus, Augustus, Germanicus, Sarmaticus, holder of the tribunicia potestas for the thirty-first time, imperator for the eighth time, consul for the third time, and pater patriae, or father of the fatherland. On the reverse, the inscription de Sarm(atiis), “on the Sarmatians,” indicates the identity of the defeated peoples. The Sarmatians were an Indo-European people, akin to the Iranians, which Greeks and Roman geographers identified with the Scythians. By the beginning of the first century CE, they were settled in the Danubian area, together with various Germanic tribes, such as the Qadi and the Marcomanni, as far as the Caucasus, occupied by the Alani (Strabo, Geography V.7.11). Tacitus in his Germania frequently refers to the Sarmatians, as being settled in the Germanic areas, yet ethnically different from the Germans. Thus, he narrates that the Sarmatians wore long dresses, like those of the Persians, that they had a relationship of mutual hostility with the surrounding Germanic tribes, and that they often imposed on them tribute (Tacitus, Germania 43). The Historia Augusta bands the Sarmatians together with the various other Germanic tribes that were faced and eventually defeated by Marcus Aurelius, including the Marcomanni, the Vandals, and the Quadi, the Marcomanni, Varistae, Hermunduri, Quadi, Suebians, Lacringes and Buri, Victuali, Osi, Bessi, Cobotes, Roxolani, Bastarnae and also with the Marcomanni, the Hermunduri, and the Quadi (SHA, Life of Marcus Aurelius 17, 22; 27; see also Column of Marcus Aurelius). Cassius Dio, however, when dealing with the campaigns waged by Marcus Aurelius, mentions only the Iagyzes, one of the Sarmatian groups; in 166 CE, this Sarmatian group apparently moved into Dacia, and was successful in killing its Roman governor, Calpurnius Proculus. In 170 CE, the Iazyzes that meanwhile had joined the surrounding Germanic tribes in invading Roman territories were successful in defeating Claudius Fronto, the governor of Lower Moesia. This time, Marcus Aurelius conducted a series of campaign against them, defeating them in the area of the river Tisza (expeditio sarmatica). In the following peace treaty, signed with their king Zanticus in 175 CE, no fewer than 100,000 Roman captives were returned, withthe Sarmatians also providing the Roman army with auxilia (Cassius Dio, Roman History LXXII.7-14, 16; see Birley, Marcus Aurelius, p. 217-251 for a full description of the Marcomannic invasions and Roman counter-offensives against them).
This dupondius was minted in 177 CE, shortly after Marcus Aurelius celebrated a triumph, held with his son Commodus, on 23rd December 176 CE; it celebrated their joint victories over the German peoples, which was further commemorated in the reliefs of the Column of Marcus Aurelius in the centre of Rome, and the coinage – such as this issue – which promoted the message of victory. Trophies, made of the spoils seized from the enemy and which were attached to a tree trunk, were set up as public monuments from at least the mid third century CE, and became regular features of coins issues to celebrate the conclusion of wars or conquests, often with an accompanying figure of Victoria or of bound captives (Stevenson. Dictionary of Roman Coins, p. 819). The trophy and the two prisoners depicted on this reverse emphasised Marcus Aurelius’s victorious campaign, but in an abstract sense rather than a specific moment or battle. As Charles Parisot-Sillon and Arnauld Suspène rightly argue, in reference to the coinage minted under Julius Caesar which depicted a Gaul bound under a trophy, the image of the defeated barbarian corresponds to a constructed stereotype, rather than to particular reality. In the same light, the the captive Sarmatians on this coin are presented minus any iconographic elements that might illustrate their identity or ethnography; the defeat of the Sarmatians was indicated from the legend of the revers – de Sarmatiis – not by the way that the prisoners were depicted.. The propagandistic message forwarded by this dupondius, a small denomination, directed to the populations of the Latin speaking west, was probably meant to bolster and cheer them up, after the various defeats and invasions suffered by the Roman army, made even worse by the outburst of the Antonine Plague. The Roman army had by then the upper hand, and the fierce Sarmatian prisoners were the tangible proof of Roman supremacy.
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