Image: Laureate head of Nero looking left, with globe at point of bust
Inscription: NERO CLAVD CAESAR AVG GER P M TR P IMP P P
Image: Triumphal arch, with a wreath hanging across front and left side; on top of the arch, emperor in facing quadriga escorted by Victory on the right, holding a wreath and palm, and by Pax on the left, holding a caduceus and cornucopia; flanking quadriga beneath, small soldiers; on niche in left side of the arch, Mars standing facing, holding a spear in right hand and a round shield in left hand.
(RIC I, Nero no. 393, p. 175)
This sestertius, minted at Lugdunum (modern day Lyon, France) in 65 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Nero, with a globe (barely visible) at the tip of his bust, symbolising his wide-ranging power, and on the reverse an elaborate triumphal arch. The inscription on the obverse refers to the emperor as Nero Claudius (acknowledging the emperor’s Julio-Claudian dynastic heritage), Caesar, Augustus, Germanicus (a title which was given to all of the male descendants of Nero Claudius Drusus (38-9 BCE) in recognition of his victory in Germany), Pontifex Maximus (chief priest), holder of the tribunician power, imperator (commander in chief), and pater patriae (father of the country). The inscription on the reverse, SC, which stand for senatus consultum, indicates that the senate had guaranteed this issue. This was very common on early imperial bronze coins such as this one.
The triumphal arch of Nero, depicted on the reverse, probably with a central fornix, or bay, similar to that of the later Arch of Titus, is now lost, but is well attested on coins such as the present example. It was erected in 62 CE to celebrate the ‘victory’ of Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo in Parthia (see Tacitus, Annals XIII.41; Champlin, Nero, p. 216-217). The arch of Nero was located on the slope of the Capitoline Hill. Its probable location has been identified by foundation slabs and a plinth which would have held one of its protruding columns, next to the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, where it would have made a grand entrance into the piazza for all to see (Champlin, Nero, p. 217; La Rocca, “Staging Nero,” p. 196). The arch was likely destroyed soon after Nero’s death in 68 CE and his subsequent damnatio memoriae (for more on the arch of Nero, see Kleiner, “The Arch of Nero in Rome” and La Rocca, “Disiecta membra Neroniana”). In actual fact, after a humiliation of the Roman army under Caesennius Paetus, Corbulo had negotiated terms of peace with the Parthians, which can hardly be called a military victory (Champlin, Nero, p. 216). Nonetheless, Nero went ahead and forwarded a message of Roman triumph all the same in Rome, in what Edward Champlin has described as part of a “cheapening of triumphal vocabulary and paraphernalia” on the emperor’s part (Nero, p. 217).
Indeed, in 66 CE, Tiridates, the brother of the Parthian king, who had been promised a crown by Nero as part of the agreement to end the Armenian conflict with Parthia, visited Rome to receive his crown and was lavishly received by Nero, who used the occasion to boost his own popularity. The emperor ordered the gates of the Temple of Janus (whose doors were open during times of war and closed during peace time) to be shut, thus declaring that peace reigned throughout the Roman Empire. Nero celebrated this peace as a major achievement (for an example of a coin type which forwarded this notion of peace, see As depicting the head of Nero and the Ara Pacis (66 CE)). The statue of Mars (the god of war), who can be seen with his shield and spear on this coin, which stood in a niche on the triumphal arch erected a few years earlier, shows that Nero wanted to present the peace that had been recently brought about as owing to military achievement. Nero himself can be seen riding in the quadriga on the top of the arch carrying a standard (probably an eagle-tipped sceptre), itself a reminder that he is head of the Roman army and therefore responsible for their military successes, despite the fact that in reality he never saw an army himself (on Nero’s quest for personal military glory, particularly relating to the events in the east, see Griffin, Nero: The End of a Dynasty, p. 231-233). The propagandistic message of this coin, which of course draws on that of the arch itself, is embodied in the statutory group atop the triumphal arch, with Nero’s quadriga escorted by the goddesses of victory and peace, Victoria and Pax, and flanked by soldiers (the smaller figures on the lower level). Those who looked upon this monument, or were reminded of it on coins such as the present example, saw that the emperor was responsible for both the bringing of military victory and providence to the empire, as signified by the palm branch and cornucopia carried by the goddesses of victory and peace respectively, and the wreath, a symbol of victory, which can be seen hanging from the centre of the arch. The role of military victory was of course also strongly portrayed through the statue of Mars. Regardless of the reality of the situation, therefore this coin contributes to Nero’s propaganda effort which emphasised military greatness, and promoted peace across the empire.
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