Bronze sestertius of Nero with harbour scene

Roman, mid-1st century AD
Minted at Rome, Italy

An artistic coin of a style-conscious tyrant

Under the emperor Nero (reigned AD 54-68) the artistic achievements of Roman die-cutters were taken to new heights. This was only one of many fields of artistic expression active at this time, during a reign that was as notable for its artistic concerns as for its cruelty.

This coin commemorates the completion of a new harbour at Ostia, the port of Rome. Construction began during the reign of Nero's predecessor: it was known as the Harbour of Claudius. The coin shows seven ships of various types, a statue of Neptune in the foreground, and a statue on a column in the background - all in a space of 34 mm. Clearly the engraver faced restrictions and there is a mix of naturalistic and schematic elements in the scene. Sometimes perspective is indicated, as with the different sizes of the statues on either side of the harbour. However, for the pier, which wraps around the edge of the coin, the main consideration is a design that looks pleasing within a round and limited space. The level of detail for each individual feature is most impressive. It is astonishing to think that it was created without the use of a magnifying glass, which was unknown to the ancient world.

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More information


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

T. Cornell and J. Matthews, Atlas of the Roman world (Phaidon, 1987)

M.T. Griffin, Nero, the end of a dynasty-2 (London, Routledge, 2000)


Diameter: 34.000 mm
Weight: 29.840 g

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