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Architectural Representation on the Coinage and Imperial Praise from Augustus to Trajan

Nathan Elkins

Baylor University

            In the period from Augustus to Trajan, there is an observable shift in the types of buildings represented on imperial coinage.  Honorific monuments, such as arches and altars, tend to be the most common architectural representations through the reign of Claudius; from the reign of Nero to Trajan, buildings for popular use and public works are also featured on the coinage.  A cogent explanation for the shift is that building activity in the first half of the first century AD focused on arches and other honorific monuments, while there was more public and utilitarian building in the periods from Nero to Trajan.  But there is some nuance to add.  Imagery on the coinage is often explicitly or implicitly considered to be political propaganda, concocted by the emperor or a close advisor to advertise his greatness.  It is more probable that the imagery was instead formulated by high-ranking equestrians in the imperial service who oversaw mint activities or by the Senate.  Honorific monuments are akin to poetry and panegyric as they were directed at the emperor to praise him.  Coin iconography similarly has demonstrable relationships with such monuments and with poetry and panegyric and, therefore, the depiction of honorific monuments on the coinage of the first fifty years of the empire is explicable.  When more public and utilitarian building was launched, emperors were praised by equestrian and senatorial poets and panegyrists for these gifts to the people.  The coinage thus reflects not only a reality in the shift of building activity in the middle part of the first century AD, but also that the coinage adapted to a new mode of adulation directed at the emperor in visualizing public benefactions in addition to monuments that honored the emperor.

Session/Panel Title:

Visions of Ancient Cities...

Session/Paper Number

10.2

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