Gold aureus with a facing portrait of Postumus

Roman, later 3rd century AD

Face to face with the man who would be emperor

The use of the portrait is the most persistent and usually the most striking feature of coins of the Roman Empire. Indeed, the tradition is still commonly seen today. Particularly during the first three centuries of the Empire's existence (27 BC-AD 284) we can see images of historically recorded (and some unrecorded) people. The emperor of the day, sometimes his deified predecessor and often his family are recorded with individual portraits (as opposed to generic portraits). They often have such attention to detail that the individual's appearance can be seen to change with age.

Postumus (ruled AD 260-9) led a revolt against the emperor Gallienus (ruled AD 253-68) and ruled over Britain, Gaul and Spain, but never managed to achieve control over the rest. Surprisingly, Postumus produced coins which were often of higher quality than those of Gallienus, the legitimate emperor.

This gold piece has been described as 'one of the most arresting' portraits on any Roman coin. The facial features and hairstyle are all carefully rendered. The facing head is unusual for the earlier Empire, but often used on Byzantine and medieval coins, though without the individuality shown here. It could be argued that facing portraits are less practical on coins because only a little use would wear away the features and make them unrecognisable.

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More information

Bibliography

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

C. Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman emperor (London, Thames & Hudson, 1997)

Dimensions

Diameter: 23.000 mm
Weight: 6.680 g

Museum number

CM 1864.11-28.141 (PCR 914)

CGR89711

Location

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