Roman Coin Designs (part 2). Animals, The Army, Places and Buildings.
Animals and Mythical Creatures
Animals had been represented on ancient coins for centuries before Rome began minting. Romans continued the tradition with crocodiles, bulls, boar, lions, stags, eagles, crabs, butterflies, elephants, Capricorn, Pegasus, the sphinx, the griffin and more all represented on coins. To celebrate Rome's 1000th anniversary Emperor Philip (244-249 AD) released coins showing the founders of Rome Romulus and Remus suckled by the she-wolf. This became a popular reverse and was continued by the House of Constantine (306-364 AD). In the 4th and 5th centuries the empire was under constant attack from barbarians and was beginning to fall apart, in response an optimistic set of coins was minted depicting the phoenix.
War and the Army
In the five centuries of its existence the Empire was involved in numerous wars and conflicts, many of these were commemorated on coins. For example the conquest of Britain was recorded on several coins of Claudius (41-54 AD), some show triumphal arches or Claudius in a grand horse drawn vehicle with the inscription 'DE BRITANN' 'For Britain'.
The power the emperors exercised was dependant on the goodwill of the army. Emperors were therefore keen to lavish praise on their legions through coin design. Some appealed to specific legions depicting their badges or crests. Septimius Severus for example issued sestertii thanking the specific troops that helped him become emperor. These coins looked not only to honour the legions under the emperors control but also secure the loyalty of others which were not.
Some designs honoured the army in general. We see coins inscribed 'VITVS MILITUM' praising the 'Valour of the Army', others 'GLORIA EXERCITVS' 'The Glory of the Army'. Depictions of heroic battle scenes were also popular such as the slaying of an enemy, or the spearing of a fallen horseman. These were designed not only to gain loyalty from the army but strike fear into the hearts of those who opposed Roman rule.
The empire was huge and made up of many different provinces and territories. Many of these regions were depicted as female personifications, such as Britannia who first appeared on a coin of Hadrian and still appears on our 50 pence pieces! Specific landmarks were also represented, Diocletian (284-305 AD) for example was depicted standing beside the River Rhine following his conquest of the Germanic tribes.
Hadrian travelled widely throughout his reign and he was clearly very proud of the provinces under his control. He struck many coins depicting Britain, Spain, Gaul, Germany, Italy, Egypt, Africa and many more provinces, cities and landmarks.
Many of the great buildings that the Romans built can still be seen today. Emperors loved building huge architectural wonders in their cities and were understandably proud of their achievements. A number of grand structures are displayed on Roman coins, including market places, bridges, and amphitheatres such as the Coliseum, first depicted on sestertii of Titus (79-81 AD). Huge temples are also depicted, such as the Temple of Janus shown on sestertii of Nero. Following the conversion to Christianity under Constantine these temple depictions decline and are replaced by depictions of camp gates and military camp plans.
The Romans depicted many more images on coins. Perhaps you would like to see how many more you can spot in our collection?