Coinage under Nero

General History of Coinage under Nero

The last several years of Claudius’ reign and the beginning of Nero’s marked a low and irregular level of minting, specifically for the base coinage. It was not until his coinage reform after the great fire of Rome in 64 that coinage production was increased. The coinage reform was the first time in the history of the Roman Empire that the precious metal content was reduced in the coins. From one pound of gold, 45 aureus were made instead of 40. From one pound of silver 96 were made instead of 84. In order to pay for the astronomical cost of rebuilding Rome, Nero was forced to debase the coinage. Besides the reform and low level of minting prior to the fire, Nero was very much like other emperors in regards to coinage; he replaced Claudius’ portray with his own when he became emperor, and he commemorated any special occurrences in the empire.

aureus ray 1208 copy

Figure 1: Gold aureus minted between 64-65

Obverse: NERO CAESA[R]

Reverse:AVGVSTVS GERMANICVS

This coin, found in central England, is one of the first coins produced after the coinage reform. The obverse depicts Nero wearing a laurel crown. The reverse depicts Nero with a radiate crown.

AN00633164_001_l

Figure 2: Denarius minted between 56-57

Obverse: NERO CAESAR AVG IMP

Reverse: PONTIF MAX TR P III P P

This is a silver denarius depicting Nero on the obverse. The reverse depicts a laurel wreath . Inside the wreath is EXSC, indicating that this coins was authorized by the senate and thus minted in Rome.

 

What denominations of coinage were being produced?

During the reign of Nero, a variety of coinage styles were minted. They ranged from the standard Roman coins such as the denarius and aureus to the more provincial didrachma and drachma. The majority of coins under Nero were produced in the central mint located in Rome. The Roman mint only made, as its name implies, Roman coinage such as the as, dupondius, sestertius, denarius, and aureus. However, the further east you went from Rome, the more Greek coinage became. Instead of standard issue Roman denominations, mints in places such as Alexandria and Syria produced coins such as the drachma and didrachma. The eastern provinces were the only ones to have unique coinage. Other provinces such as Gaul and Britain used standard Roman denominations even though they had their own mints.

Obverse: NERO CLAVD CAESAR AVG GER P M TR P IMP P P

Reverse: ROMA S C

This is a bronze dupondius minted in Rome between 64-68. On the obverse it depicts Nero with a laurel crown. On the reverse, the Roma is depicted wearing military dress with Victory in the right hand.

WMID-0CFC71

 

Obverse: [N]ERΩKAAVKA[IΣΣEBΓEP]

Reverse: AYTO KPA

This is a silver tetradrachma minted in Alexandria between 65-66 found that was found in central England. The obverse, left, shows Nero with a radiate crown. The reverse, right, shows Alexandria wearing a hat in the shape of an elephant. The provinces minted their own coinage, and as apparent above, there can be significant differences from standard Roman denominations.

What is depicted on coinage?

Since Julius Caesar first put his portrait on coinage, it became standard practice for emperors to put their portraits on coinage at the start of their rule. Not breaking from tradition, Nero began minting coins with his portrait when he became emperor. The vast majority of coinage produced under Nero had his portrait on the obverse while the reverse had a variety of images. Popular choices for the reverse include deities, current events, buildings, as well as any great imperial accomplishments. There were a great number of deities to choose from in Rome, but many emperors, including Nero, often choose between a select few such as Victory, Roma, and Virtus. Emperors also sometimes chose to depict their military successes, such as Nero did when he quelled a revolt in Armenia and Germany. The reverse side is often the most interesting and revealing by the fact that they were the most varied.

AN00637162_001_l

Bronze dupondius

Obverse: NERO CLAVD CAESAR AVG GERM P M TR P IMP P

Reverse: N/A

This bronze dupondius was struck in Rome between 64-68. The obverse, left, shows a portrait of Nero. The reverse depicts the Macellum Magnum, an indoor market built by Nero. Since it appeared on coinage, the completion of this building can be regarded as something extremely noteworthy.

Obverse: NERO CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG GER P M TR P IMP P P

Reverse: DECVRSIO S C

This is bronze sestertius minted in Rome between 64-68. On the obverse, left, Nero is shown wearing a laurel crown. The reverse, right, shows Nero riding a horse wearing a cloak. A decursio is a jousting competition done on horseback often coinciding with a larger spectacle. Nero was quite fond of the games, and so it was only fitting that a reference to them appear in coinage.

What messages did coinage convey?

Coins during the Roman empire transcended from simply currency to becoming tools to influence perception. It is important though not to overstatement their communication ability. Some have claimed that coins were depicted current events across the empire, but that does not seem likely when taking into account the lengthy process of minting and then putting a coin into circulation. A more accurate explanation is that coins helped strengthen perceptions. For instance, if an emperor wanted to be known as one of particular generosity, he might consistently put depictions of congiarium on his coinage. The belief is that overtime, this depiction as generous will eventually turn into perception.

AN00657566_001_l

Gold Aureus

Obverse: NERO CAESAR AVGVSTVS

Reverse: IANVM CLVSIT PACE P R TERRA MARIQ PARTA

This coin is a gold aureus minted in Rome between 64-65. The obverse, right, shows a portrait of Nero with a laurel crown. The reverse, left, shows the doors to the Temple of Janus closed. The doors to the Temple of Janus are closed only when Rome is not at war. It would be considered a time to celebrate and commemorate that under Nero were the doors to the temple able to be shut. This coin can be inferred as a message that Rome is at peace.

Obverse: NERO CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG GER P M TR P IMP P P

Reverse: CONG I DAT POP S C

This is bronze sestertius was minted in Rome between 64-68. On the obverse it depicts a portrait of Nero with a laurel crown. The reverse shows Nero seated on the platform to the right. On the left attendants extend the congiarium to citizens. Nero was incredibly popular with the ordinary Roman, and his vast support for both the games and the charity associated with them was definitely a possible perception he wished to reinforce. This coin may have even been given out as part of the congiarium.

Unusual coins

Obverse: NERO CLAVD CAESAR AVG GER P M TR P IMP P P

Reverse: AVGVSTI S POR OST C

This bronze sestertius was minted in Rome between 64-68. On the obverse it depicts a portrait of Nero wearing a laurel crown. The reverse shows the harbor at Ostia with Neptune at the bottom.

AN00657532_001_l

Obverse: NERO CLAVD DIVI F CAES AVG GERM IMP TR P COS

Reverse: AGRIPP AVG DIVI CLAVD NERONIS CAES MATER EX S C

This gold aureus was minted in Rome in 55. On the obverse, left, it shows a portrait of Nero in the forefront with a portrait of Agripinna behind him. The reverse, right, shows four elephants pulling Claudius and Augustus.

AN00633142_001_l

Obverse: AGRIPPINA AVGVSTAE

Reverse: NERO CLAVD CAES DRVSVS GERM PRINC IVVENT

This silver denarius was minted in Rome between 50-54. On the obverse, left, Agripinna is depicted wearing some sort of crown. The reverse, right, shows a portrait of young Nero. This coin is introducing Nero as Claudius’ heir and thus the next emperor. Claudius was the first emperor to announce his successor through coinage since the Augustus and his grandsons.