Brass sestertius with the omen of the great sow

Roman, mid-2nd century AD (reign of Antoninus Pius)

A Roman foundation myth

The Romans traditionally dated the foundation of their city to 753 BC. They were thus newcomers in the ancient world, by comparison to their Mediterranean neighbours, the Greeks and Egyptians. The Romans compensated for their lack of ancestry with 'foundation myths', which link them as the descendants of the Trojans, the civilized rivals of the Greeks during the Aegean Bronze Age. Told in Virgil's Aeneid, the Trojan refugee Aeneas flees the legendary sack of his city to settle his people in the environs of what would become Rome.

Ancient society was deeply impressed with events which could be construed as omens. Their legends frequently mention such occurrences. Indeed their factual histories are also interwoven with omens, which the modern reader would recognize as fable.

One such omen is depicted here. A sow suckles an impressively large litter of piglets and it is this sight, so the legend goes, that inspired Aeneas to found Lanuvium, the first Trojan settlement in the Latium (modern Lazio, the region around Rome). The omen involved is a favourable one, the large litter indicating that his refugees would multiply into a thriving community.

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More information


R.A.G. Carson, Principal coins of the Roman-1, vol. 2 (London, The British Museum Press, 1980)

C. Foss, Roman historical coins (London, Seaby, 1990)


Diameter: 30.000 mm
Weight: 23.960 g

Museum number

CM BMC (Pius) 1298



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