venerdì 15 agosto 2014

Augustus, second of the Twelve Caesars

Portrait of Augustus in gold.






A synopsis of the life of Augustus was dealt with in a previous entry, so here we shall comment briefly on some of the numismatic legacy he left us.

Contextually, it is important to remember that as Princeps, he was "First among Equals", which in actuality gave him the status of emperor.  His political maneuvering gave him the position of absolute monarch, veiled behind the smokescreen of senatorial consent.  As long as deference was given to the senate, and lip service also given them, the onus of kingship (the dread of the Roman Republic and the senate) was avoided.  Power, in actuality shifted to Augustus, while the appearance of power was maintained by a weakened senate.

The self image of the senate extended to the coinage of the empire.  It was at this point that the coinage was issued by the consent of the senate, thus allowing them to claim control of Rome's purse.  This also served to distance Augustus from accusations of kingship, so it was a benefit to both parties.

SC as central device, showing the power of the senate


SC as a secondary device, yet still holding power.
The SC inscription appears for the first time on the coinage of Augustus.  SC is shorthand for Senatus Cunsulto, and appears on the reverse (rarely on the obverse) of Roman coins, and often in a size comparable to the emperor's portrait.  The inscription around the dominant SC usually references the tresviri monetales, the government officials given the right to issue money in the name of Rome.
SC as a secondary device, but with military connotations.

A portrait showing the man, without propaganda.
Highly realistic style.
The obverses of Augustus' silver often sport exquisite portraits of Greek-like purity, of high style and execution.  Often, the obverses are without inscription, allowing one to focus on the portrait.  Regnal portraits in bronze tended to be simple, and are far more Roman in style.

Divus Augustus by Titus.
Divus Augustus, by Tiberius.
Augustus was well respected, and had a long reign.  Successive emperors adopted his name as the title of the emperor.  They also wanted to associate themselves and their identities in the minds of the people with his identity and reputation.




Divus Augustus by Nerva.
It is interesting to note that there were probably more different coinage issues in bronze depicting Augustus as deified than there were of him in life.  Or, at least they had a greater survival rate.  Many were issued during the reign of Tiberius, but they were also issued by later emperors, such as Caligula, Titus and Nerva.  The image and reputation of Augustus were powerful and long reaching in the Roman memory.

It is with the coinage of Augustus that Roman coinage pivoted to a style that was less like that of the Republic and more Imperial.  The image of the emperor became firmly ensconced on the obverse, and the artistic style of portraiture became more firmly Roman Imperial, and the coinage no longer glorified generals and moneyers.  It now represented the emperor and Rome as a whole.
Portrait of Augustus in high style,  more Imperial than Republican.









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