Coinage Under Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus
Date: AD 161
Obverse: IMP CAES M AVREL ANTONINVS AVG: Head of Marcus Aurelius, bare, right
Reverse: CONCORDIAE AVGVSTOR TR P XV COS III: Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus standing left and right, facing each other, clasping right hands: each holds roll in left hand at side.
A new series of numismatic types was introduced at the start of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus’ reign. Legends reading CONCORDIA AUGUSTORUM began adorning coins, as well as OMONOI AVTOKRATOPEC in the provinces. Whereas ancient epigraphy was a medium through which to honor the imperial household, numismatics was the most effective and widely distributed message with which to inform the Roman people. Minted on sestertius, dupondius, as, and aureus, the image of the imperial handshake served as a mass communication tool for harboring optimism and solidarity in a time of uncertainty.
This would have been one of the most widely distributed images possibly in all of Roman numismatics. Every Roman–plebeian to member of the imperial house–would have recognized and loved this motif. It projects the symbol of cooperation, unity, and stability in the empire.
Date: AD 163 – AD 164
Obverse: M ANTONINVS AVG ARMEN P M: Head of Marcus Aurelius, laureate, right
Reverse: TR P XVIII IMP II COS III ARMEN: Armenia, seated left on ground in mournful attitude; before her, vexillim and shield; left hand rests on bow
This image of the conquered Armenia would have dominated the coins produced by mints for 163 and 164. Coins of all value–as or aureus–were struck to commemorate Marcus and Lucius’ joint victory over the Armenians. Their recent military campaign would have brought an influx of riches to the city. It is important to note that the vast majority of these coins minted featuring the portrait of Marcus Aurelius are denarii and aurei while most of those depicting Lucius are sestertii and asses. This suggests a continuing discontinuity between the two.
Minted in 163-164 AD, coinage honoring Aurelius after the victory over Armenia is triumphant but not merciless. This denarius features the portrait of the emperor on the obverse and a conquered Armenian on the reverse surrendering a flag and a heap of spoils.
- Date: AD 163 – AD 164
- Denomination: Sestertius
- Mint: Rome
- Obverse: L AVREL VERVS AVG ARMENIACVS: Head of Lucius Verus, laureate, right
- Reverse: VICT AVG TR P IIII IMP II COS II S C: Victory, winged, draped, standing right, holding trophy in right hand; at her feet, Armenia seated on ground
This similar sestertius of Lucius portrays his imperial profile and on the reverse a mangled body of an Armenian in a submissive position dominated by the winged Victory. This coin highlights the more violent tendencies of Verus and the Armenian campaign, while Marcus’ (above) simply celebrates the triumph of Rome over an enemy that retains its dignity and humanity even in defeat.
- Date: AD 165 – AD 166
- Denomination: Aureus
- Mint: Rome
- Obverse: L VERVS AVG APM PARTH MAX: Bust of Lucius Verus, bare-headed, draped, cuirassed, right
- Reverse: TR P VI IMP III COS II: Lucius Verus, in military uniform, on horse galloping right, brandishing spear in right hand; below, man on knees being trampled
All numismatic types honoring Marcus Aurelius for the victory were benign with images of deities like Victory, Pietas, Fortuna, and Liberalitas among others. The coins of Lucius focused more on his military valor or brutality, perhaps. An aureus from this time period sported a dashing Verus atop a war horse trampling a crippled Parthian underfoot. As if the crushing weight of his steed were not enough, he is brandishing a spear poised to deliver the coup de grace.
- Date: AD 174 – AD 175
- Denomination: Denarius
- Mint: Rome
- Obverse: M ANTONINVS AVG TR P XXIX: Head of Marcus Aurelius, laureate, right
- Reverse: IMP VII COS III: Genius, nude, standing left, holding patera in right hand and corn-ears in left hand
The only nude figures that appear on coins with Marcus Aurelius are Genius and Jupiter, the former of which are much more extant. The patera symbolizes the piety of the emperor and the corn-ears represents the fruitfulness and plenty of his reign.
Marcus Aurelius does not mint nude motifs for about another 10 years after Lucius, but when he does his invocations are regal and flattering. On denarii he is coupled with the nude embodiment of Genius, a holy spirit or force of some religious nature. Around the same time, a nude figure of Jupiter is placed on imperial coinage, linking omnipotence to the emperor. Unfortunately, Online Coins of the Roman Empire does not provide us with images of these particular coins. Though Lucius Verus had died and been deified in the previous decade, the outstanding differences in representation of the imperial partners was apparent. Though we will never know what it was truly like to live in the Rome under Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, examining in detail the numismatics of the period reveals a snapshot into how each ruler chose to present himself and how each was received by the senate and people.
- Date: AD 167 – AD 168
- Denomination: Dupondius
- Mint: Rome
- Obverse: L VERVS AVG ARM PARTH MAX: Head of Lucius Verus, radiate, right
- Reverse: TR P VIII IMP IIII COS III S C: Mars, helmeted, nude, advancing right, carrying transverse spear in right hand and trophy sloped over left shoulder in left hand
Lucius Verus’ audacity did not end with military exploits. In a series of coins he groups his portrait with several nude heroes or deities. Immediately following the Armenian campaign after he has taken Armeniacus, a sestertius was minted with his portrait and a nude figure of Hercules wielding a club and a laurel branch. The comparison was brazen and assuming. Verus subsequently mints sestertii and asses after the conquering of the Parthians of a similar likeness to a nude Mars. Dressed for battle, the image of the Roman god of war is paradoxical as warrior would never have elected to fight without armor.
The image of Mars nude is an incredibly rare depiction of the god of war. Lucius’ association with him adds to his belligerent audacity. The presence of the spear and spolia only seem to add to his tendency toward bloodlust.