Gold aureus commemorating the consecration of the Emperor Hadrian
From Rome, Italy
This gold coin was issued by Antoninus Pius, the successor of the emperor Hadrian, to celebrate his predecessor’s deification.
Hadrian died at Baiae on the Gulf of Naples on 10 July AD 138 after a long illness. Hadrian's successor requested that the reluctant senate overcome their hostility to the deceased emperor and deify him.
Deification was an elaborate public ritual. A wax image of the deceased was laid in state in the Forum and praised by his successor. Accompanied by a large procession of public representatives from across the empire, the effigy was then taken to a cremation site. The wax image, gifts and offerings were placed on a massive, multi-story funerary pyre, often decorated with sculptures and precious ornaments. An eagle – concealed in a cage on top of the pyre – was released just before the effigy was consumed by flames, symbolising the soul soaring to heaven to join the gods. No references to Hadrian’s consecration ceremony have survived, but it must have followed the usual ritual.
On the obverse of this coin, Hadrian is shown with a laurel wreath and the portrait is inscribed ‘Divus Hadrianus Aug’ (Deified Hadrianus Augustus). On the reverse, Hadrian is carried up to the heavens by a mighty eagle. This side bears the legend ‘consecratio’, the term used by the Romans for the deification of members of the imperial family.