Coins of the Roman Empire During the Reign of Nero

This sample essay on Coins Of Nero provides important aspects of the issue and arguments for and against as well as the needed facts. Read on this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.

Throughout history there has always been a need for trade. This has come in ways such as bartering or more commonly as time progressed, through the use of a currency such as coinage to pay for the goods. One potential issue with coinage is that it has in the past been regarded as non-primary evidence.

This is particularly true with respects to coins of the Ancient World. However Roman coins, at the very least, can be seen as a ‘great and permanent state institution’ (Sutherland, 1976, Preface) and as such we should treat coins as very much primary evidence.

They provide a valuable insight into the way society was constructed and what was considered important. For example, Augustus began to appear on the Empire’s coins, when he effectively became emperor, whereas Early Republican coins rarely had the head of state appear on the obverse of the coin.

(Sutherland, 1976, 9-10). It had become accepted that the head of the state should appear on the coin, after all, in theory they were the one’s who controlled the mints. The two coins I’ll be looking at were both struck at Rome.

We know this as there isn’t a globe underneath the neck of Nero at the bust-truncation on the obverse (Sutherland, 1976, page 63) and it is predominantly found in Western Europe.

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The differences between the coins struck at Rome and the other main Western European mint, which was probably based at Lugdunum, was this inclusion of the globe and the quality of the typeface and images. It is difficult for modern historians to know just how old the two coins are without conducting tests because they miss out the various powers and the year of that power that held by Nero.

For example the tribunician powers were granted every year, therefore if we were to see a coin stating ‘TR P IV’ we would know the year it was struck was A. D. 58 forth year as Emperor for Nero. It was after A. D. 63 this numbering disappears (Thornton, 1972, 163) making the coins from the last five years of Nero’s reign difficult to judge when they were struck. A final major issue with Coin A is that it is lacking a mark to denote their value such as the ‘I’ on Coin B, making it an as.

This leads to research having to be done on the coin to deduce what it is made of in order to get an understanding of what coin exactly it was: a sestertius according to the British Museum. The coins were widely circulated, with some of the images and messages on the reverses being re-minted several times (See Mattingly, plates 41-43). They were as Sutherland (1976, 119) says for ‘genuinely informative purposes on a wide scale’. This was a method of propaganda. By informing the masses within the Empire of what Nero had accomplished, he could show his power.

It would have a positive affect on people’s opinions of him especially with his congiaria, as well as bringing of peace everywhere within the Empire. What is especially special about the coins of Nero is the radical change he brought about in their use. Prior to the middle to latter period of his reign as Emperor, Nero’s coinage had been ‘conservative’ in nature; in A. D. 65 it became more untraditional and offensive with Nero wearing a radiate crown in observe imagines and in one particular reverse, being ‘identified with Apollo’ (Warmington, 1969, 121; Grant, 1970, 207).

Whilst the two coins above do not have these, it is significant nonetheless that these coins would have been deemed as the more ‘conservative’ type. The coins are dated, from a period after a ten year cap in the issuing of the aes coinage. An issue that Thornton (1972, 155) finds surprising as the ‘bronze [aes] coins are the lifeblood’ in the economy for the working people. They were released in line with the tenth anniversary of Nero’s assent and the 50th year since Augustus’ death, an important anniversary in Roman history.

Grant (1954, 111) tells us that the new series was ‘of unprecedented vanity, beauty and extent’. This supports Warmington and could suggest as to why the coins began to show events like the congiaria and the closing of the Janus temple. It would show to the people that the Emperor had supreme power; he could bring peace throughout the Empire and afford to give out corn and money to the needy. Interestingly, we can compare these actions by Nero to the actions of Augustus as told to us by his Res Gestae divi Augusti (trans. Brunt and Moore, 1967).

It could be said that the Emperors after Augustus wanted to live up to his name, a reason perhaps why many of the early emperors adopted the name Augustus. The Res Gestae (Chapter 13) tells us that within Augustus’ reign, the temple of Janus was thrice, whereas before his reign it had only been shut twice in the whole of Roman history. Whilst the Emperors pre-Nero and post-Augustus may have closed it at various points, it is nevertheless a major event in the history of Rome for there to be peace throughout the whole of the empire.

The closing of the temple was an invitation for the people to regard Nero as a ‘worthy descendant of the imperial founder’ Augustus (Grant, 1970, 206). A task any Emperor had to accomplish after the popularity of Augustus’ reign. Nero could make this claim by bringing the peace with Parthia. In fact, to ‘reiterate that peace had truly come’ he closed the Temple’s door twice, according to Grant (1970, 228). This action alone shows what an important event the shutting of the Janus’ temple doors was. Henderson (1903, 191) dates the peace in A. D. 64 with a repeat of the event in A. D. 6. This date fits in with the coins, the asses depicting the Janus’ closure came from A. D. 64-5 (Mattingly, 1923, CLXXIV) and at the earliest we can roughly estimate that the temple closed that year. This has been argued by some historians, such as Thornton who argues that it came at a later date such as A. D. 66. This makes the coins vital to dating events. The asses show that the peace must have come in or before 64-65 otherwise the people would have lost all faith in Nero and the coinage as the temple was there to see in Rome and such a momentous event would be well known about.

It is possible to see that Augustus carried out his own congiaria. Within Chapter 18 of the Res Gestae Augustus mentions the ‘grain and money from [his] own granary and patrimony’. Whilst it was necessary to do this in order for the people to survive, it is possible to see it as propaganda. By giving gifts in corn and in money to the people, Nero was catering for the people’s needs which would have won him popularity. We know that Nero conducted two different congiaria, one for corn and one for money; which would have been given continuously throughout his reign.

There are two different coins with the legends ‘Cong I Dat Pop- S. C. ‘ and ‘Cong II Dat Pop- S. C. ‘ which Mattingly (1923, CLXXVII) has argued must have occurred at around the same time otherwise why would they have been numbered and struck around the same time? It is hard to tell which of coins depicts which of the congiaria; for neither of the images show the handing over of specifically grain or money. However, Sutherland and Carson (1984, 139) have said that signs such as the I (an as) and the II (a dupondii) denote the value of the coin.

This brings into question what Mattingly has said about their being the two congiaria; despite the differing pictures it could be that the gift in grain and of money was seen as just the one congiarium. Then they could have been two different images on the coins to denote that there was the giving of both corn and money. Overall, coins can become a gateway into the past as well as making the past appear more inaccessible due to contradictions that they can throw up. However this does not mean that we shouldn’t be looking at coins for sources of information.

They could be used to influence the people by them having images of the closing of the temple of Janus and the congiaria. With people using these on a day-to-day basis they would remember them and possibly think about the person that brought it about at that specific time, the Emperor Nero. However we must be careful, we can’t just use coins for our understanding of the past, just like with any ancient source. The imagines were set and chosen. We must use coins however in conjunction with our other sources to gain a better understanding of the chaotic world that was the Roman Empire.

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Coins of the Roman Empire During the Reign of Nero. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Coins of the Roman Empire During the Reign of Nero
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