C1. Aureus of AugustusThis particular denarius depicting August dates back to between 2 and 4 BC. The front shows a laureate head belonging to Augustus with the words CAESAR AVGVSTVS DIVI F PATER PATER PATRIAE all round. The reverse outlines two of his grandsons named Gaius and Lucius standing facing each other with their hands placed on a shield as well as a spear. A simpulum, as well as lituus, is shown above the spears with the words VGVSTI F COS DESIG PRINC IVVENT’ and ‘C L CAESARES written under the two figures.

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The coin presents a helpful example of the amount of control that Augustus had over his image. The bust seems to show a young man. However, the emperor would likely have been aged around 60 years at the time of making the coin. It is also an illustration of the challenges that characterized the succession of an Augustus who was getting older. He did not have sons and therefore adopted Gaius and Lucius, who were his grandsons. This particular coin clearly shows that the two are the intended heirs to both the title Augustus held as well as powers. The start of their careers in public is pointed out by the fact that they are referred to as leaders of the youthful population and the fact that there are images of a priestly and military nature that are surrounding them. The positions that Gaius, as well as Lucius, hold within the Augustus family are also focused on by the fact that the two are referred to as Augustus’ sons. Moreover, the firm manner in which the term Caesares appears on the coin creates specific links to a dynasty especially considering it was the name that Augustus adopted after Julius Ceasar took him in. This particular theme is carried on in the obverse of the coin where Augustus sets out the title of Divi Filius, or God’s son, along with Pater Patriae, or the Country’s father. By showing himself as the son as well as the father, Augustus is making a link between his adoption and the one given to his grandsons. This then creates a clear image of the making of an imperial dynasty characterized by a successive passing on of powers.

C 2. Denarius of Vespasian
Vespasian issued this particular denarius in 70CE meaning it to be a reflection of the imperial power that he held. By showing Titus and Domitian, who were his sons and declaring them as Cesar and therefore potential successors to the throne, Vespasian was outlining his desire to follow in the footsteps of Augustus and create a dynasty that was new. This was one of the first coins created during Vespasian’s rule. It depicts the imagery of a dynasty that sought to create a parallel of the denarius depicting Augustus sons, Lucius and Gaius and therefore helped to create a firm and significant statement regarding the expectations over who would take over once Vespasian died. In the same way as Augustus, Vespasian did not create the chance for any doubt to occur regarding who will be left carrying the power after he passed away. It can, therefore, be concluded that for Vespasian, establishing a new dynasty was critical especially after the fall of the Julio-Claudian Empire. Being the new emperor, Vespasian had to deal with an enormous amount of pressure regarding succession. In seeking to align himself with the Roman standards of the time; he felt that he had to deal with this stress by going back to the earlier days regarding naming his successor.

C 3: Sestertius of Faustina II, struck under Antoninus Pius
On the obverse side of the coin are seated Pudicitia drawing her veil and holding on to a scepter at a diagonal angle. Right in front of her are two children; one is standing to the right of her profile while the other raises a hand to her. Women in ancient Rome were not allowed to hold a political office both within the state as well as in expressing herself in public. For them, honor was slowly gained by satisfying the cultural perception of a mother, producing children as seen in the reverse and showing the feminine aspects of chastity as well as modesty which is the reason why the reverse shows Pudicitia covering herself with the veil. The presence of the two children at a period when succession would take place through adoption was a way in which Antonius Pius could portray the image of continuity concerning his imperial rule. The presence of the two women on both the front as well as the back of the coin was an indication of the fact that the dynasty was linked through the female line. This then helped to underline the amount of control as well as the power they had and in particular drawing attention to the ability of the dynasty to carry on even after the emperor’s death.

As a whole, the coins appear to discuss the theme of succession quite precisely the tension that surrounded the Roman Empire especially after the decline of the Julio-Claudio era. In most instances, the depiction of male relatives, chosen as sons, or children was meant to show a sense of continuity, which the specific dynasty would not come to an end even with the death of the ruler. Besides, the presence of women in the coinage was a way in which to show that the line of endurance drew from women and that they continued to play a role in politics even if it was indirectly.

  • Breglia, Laura. Roman Imperial Coins: Their Art & Technique. London: FA Praeger, 1968.
  • Burnett, Andrew. Coinage in the Roman World. New York: Numismatic Fine Arts, 1987.
  • Grant, Michael. Roman History from Coins: Some Uses of the Imperial Coinage to the Historian. London: Cambridge University Press, 1968.