Weight: 7.950 g
Purchased with the assistance of Professor M.H. Crawford
Room 70: Roman Empire
Gold aureus of Octavian
Roman, 28 BC
Probably minted in Asia Minor (modern Turkey)
A coin to legitimize the republican monarchy of ancient Rome
It must be hard to be an emperor and a republican at the same time. But that is exactly what Augustus, the first emperor of ancient Rome, did. He rose to sole power in the period between the murder of his adoptive father Julius Caesar in 44 BC and the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, when he defeated his rival Mark Antony and Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. Octavian (as he was still called in 31 BC; he did not take the name Augustus until 27 BC) had achieved supreme power. But Rome had traditionally been a republic. Even he could not totally ignore the republican feelings of many Romans.
His answer was to portray his victory as the restoration of the Republic of the People of Rome, as the design on the back of this coin proclaims. Octavian is shown seated in his toga holding out a scroll, while the Latin legend reads:
LEGES ET IVRA
P[OPVLO] R[OMANO] RESTITVIT
('He has restored to the People of Rome their laws and their rights').
The reality of course was very different. The emperor, not the people, was now sovereign in Rome.
R. Syme, The Roman Revolution (Oxford University Press, 1939)
T. Cornell and J. Matthews, Atlas of the Roman world (Phaidon, 1987)
J. Rich and J.H.C. Williams, 'LEGES ET IVRA P.R. RESTITVIT. A new aureus of Octavian and the Settlement of 28-27 B.C.', Numismatic Chronicle-5, 159 (), pp. 169-213