- The Collaborative Numismatics Project
  Welcome Guest. Please login or register. The column on the left includes the "Best of NumisWiki" menu. If you are new to collecting, start with Ancient Coin Collecting 101. All blue text is linked. Keep clicking to endlessly explore. Welcome Guest. Please login or register. The column on the left includes the "Best of NumisWiki" menu. All blue text is linked. Keep clicking to endlessly explore. If you have written a numismatic article, please add it to NumisWiki.

Resources Home
New Articles
Most Popular
Recent Changes
Current Projects
Admin Discussions
How to
Index Of All Titles


Aes Grave
Aes Rude
The Age of Gallienus
Alexander Tetradrachms
Ancient Coin Collecting 101
Ancient Coin Prices 101
Ancient Coin Dates
Ancient Coin Lesson Plans
Ancient Coins & Modern Fakes
Ancient Counterfeits
Ancient Glass
Ancient Oil Lamps
Ancient Weapons
Ancient Wages and Prices
Ancient Weights and Scales
Anonymous Folles
Anonymous Follis
Anonymous Class A Folles
Antioch Officinae
Armenian Numismatics Page
Byzantine Denominations
A Cabinet of Greek Coins
Caesarean and Actian Eras
Campgates of Constantine
A Case of Counterfeits
Byzantine Christian Themes
Clashed Dies
Coins of Pontius Pilate
Conditions of Manufacture
Corinth Coins and Cults
Countermarked in Late Antiquity
Danubian Celts
Damnatio Coinage
Damnatio Memoriae
Denarii of Otho
Diameter 101
Die Alignment 101
Dictionary of Roman Coins
Doug Smith's Ancient Coins
Edict on Prices
ERIC - Rarity Tables
Etruscan Alphabet
The Evolving Ancient Coin Market
Facing Portrait of Augustus
Fel Temp Reparatio
Fertility Pregnancy and Childbirth
Friend or Foe
The Gallic Empire
Gallienus Zoo
Greek Alphabet
Greek Coins
Greek Dates
Greek Coin Denominations
Greek Mythology Link
Greek Numismatic Dictionary
Hellenistic Names & their Meanings
Hasmonean Dynasty
Helvetica's ID Help Page
The Hexastyle Temple of Caligula
Historia Numorum
Horse Harnesses
Identifying Ancient Metal Arrowheads
Illustrated Ancient Coin Glossary
Important Collection Auctions
Islamic Rulers and Dynasties
Julian II: The Beard and the Bull
Kushan Coins
People in the Bible Who Issued Coins
Imperial Mints of Philip the Arab
Later Roman Coinage
Latin Plurals
Latin Pronunciation
Library of Ancient Coinage
Life in Ancient Rome
List of Kings of Judea
Malloy Weapons
Maps of the Ancient World
Military Belts
Mint Marks
Museum Collections Available Online
Nabataean Alphabet
Nabataean Numerals
The [Not] Cuirassed Elephant
Not in RIC
Numismatic Bulgarian
Numismatic Excellence Award
Numismatic French
Numismatic German
Numismatic Italian
Numismatic Spanish
Parthian Coins
Patina 101
Paleo-Hebrew Alphabet
Phoenician Alphabet
Pi-Style Athens Tetradrachms
Pricing and Grading Roman Coins
Reading Judean Coins
Representations of Alexander the Great
Roman Coin Attribution 101
Roman Militaria
Roman Mints
Roman Names
Rome and China
Satyrs and Nymphs
Serdi Celts
The Sign that Changed the World
Silver Content of Parthian Drachms
Star of Bethlehem Coins
Statuary Coins
Sylloge Nummorum Graecorum
Syracusian Folles
Taras Drachms with Owl Left
The Temple Tax
The Temple Tax Hoard
Test Cut
Travels of Paul
Tribute Penny
Tribute Penny Debate Continued (2015)
Tribute Penny Debate Revisited (2006)
Tyrian Shekels
Uncleaned Ancient Coins 101
Venus Cloacina
What I Like About Ancient Coins
Who was Trajan Decius
Widow's Mite

   View Menu

'The Portraiture of Nero on Roman Imperial Coins- Joe Geranio

NeroSestertius. ca 65 AD. NERO CLAVD CAESAR AVG GER P M TR P IMP P P, laureate head right, aegis on far shoulder / PACE P R TERRA MARIQ PARTA IANVM CLVSIT S-C, Temple of Janus with latticed windows & garland hung across doors; doors to the right. Cohen 146.


Gold Aureus of Nero and Agrippina

Gold Aureus of Nero

Period: Early Imperial, Neronian
Date: A.D. 54

The Realistic Portraits of Nero on Coins  by   Joe Geranio


On or about 64 A.D., the portraits on the coinage of Nero as well as reverse images take on a dramatic change.  Many feel that coins of the Roman empire reach the peak of artistic excellence especially on his obverse portraits.  The Author Sydenham 1 on his study of systematic research on Neronian coins has come to this conclusion.   The realism on Neroís portraiture during this time show not only the Roman image of realism, but also show some Greek technical art of high quality.   

Neroís early portraiture on coins shows a young man through the maturation process.    These younger portraits are skillfully done, and have realism belonging to the young emperorís (princeps) age.  He is much thinner and does not have the heaviness of the jowls and bloated face as we have come to love in his later portraits.   This is Roman realism in portraiture.  We never see Augustus or Tiberius age on Roman Imperial coin portraits, there are some portraits of Octavian that seem younger looking, but are not the same quality as Neronian  portraits from the imperial Mint.  Tiberius has never aged on his coins from imperial Rome, especially the big flan coins with nice room for portraits, yet even on Neroís portrait on denarii and aureii we see a high achievement in artistic quality in his portraiture.  Caligula was young and always had a sense of youthful realism, and Claudian coins have a more realistic sense to them on imperial coinage like Nero.  The difference in wanting to convey realism on Neroís portraits is the high quality and die cutters ability for detail with the Hellenistic technical skills added. 2 

The Beard and Physiognomy/ Hairstyle of Nero and the Importance of Numismatics in Portraiture

There are not many numismatists, no matter of what stage of their expertise who does not recognize the emperor (princeps) Nero immediately on his later coinage.  Again, I must reiterate as I do in all articles on the subject of numismatics that if it were not for the coins of any emepror (princeps) of the Julio Claudian dynasty, or for any Roman period of dynastic change; we would not know what the emperor (princeps) looked like.  Most, if not all portraits in the round of  emperors (princeps) are not found with any inscribed base to tell us who the emperor is.   Numismatics plays a crucial role in any Roman portrait study because of the legend or inscription found on the coin.3   Nero is an easy one, especially on his later coins.  Portraits in the round are also easy to recognize because of the hair style and the bloated face.  So realism seems to be a sound doctrine on coins of Nero, except for the beard that we see on Neroís portraiture.   The beard could be symbolic of his ancestry? (speaking of his identification to the Claudian gens)  Nero had first shaved his beard in 59 A.D. according to Cassius Dio.4  We know that the beard appears on coins of 66/7 A.D. even though Suetonius tells us that Nero was clean shaven on the Greek tour of 66/7. 5    The main strength that is recognizable on the portraiture of Nero is his hairstyle.  We know that his hair was  keeply kept according to Suetonius in the coma in gradus formata form of curls that are easily recognized for Neroís portraits on coins and in the round. 6     The Neronian hairstyle is worn by Apollo when represented by Apollo Auriga or Citharoedus. 7   We see in the slight upward tilt of the head and the deep setting of the eyes a Hellenistic influence.  Neroís hair as discussed was realistic and although influenced the Hellenistic style that Nero actually wore, was somewhat idealistic, but you know Nero the Greek actor and his hair needed to be perfect and idealistically Greek.    I argue for realism on Nero's coinage.  except for the beard as discussed by ancient sources, we are seeing Nero as he really appeared, and he wanted to be perceived as such.   Look at his coin of him playing the lyre.  Nero felt his musical talents were a wonder to behold and so shared hem with everyone he could force to listen.  He won prizes at every competition at which he performed while touring Greece, and upon his return to Italy, he led a procession to the capital while he was cheered by the incredulous spectators along the way.  He caused to be set up many statues of himself playing the lyre along the route, and even Suetonius mentions a coin with the same device.  This is that type mentioned by the ancient writer.


1. E.A. Sydenham The Coinage of Nero (London 1920) , 33f.  This has never been dispute of Sydenhamsí statement of the high quality of Neroís portraiture on coinage.  See also, M. Griffin, Nero: The End of a Dynasty (Yale Press 1984) 120.  

2.  M. Griffin, Nero: The End of a Dynasty (Yale Press 1984) 120.     

3.  Joe Geranio, The Portraits of Caligula:  The Seated Figure?  Society for Ancient Numismatics- vol. xx. No.1.  Also on American Numismatic Society library index.  The importance of numismatics and portrait in the round studies.

4.  Dio 61.19 He was about the average height, his body marked with spots and malodorous, his hair light blond, his features regular rather than attractive, his eyes blue and somewhat weak, his neck over thick, his belly prominent, and his legs very slender. His health was good, for though indulging in every kind of riotous excess, he was ill but three times in all during the fourteen years of his reign, and even then not enough to give up wine or any of his usual habits. He was utterly shameless in the care of his person and in his dress, always having his hair arranged in tiers of curls, and during the trip to Greece also letting it grow long and hang down behind; and he often appeared in public in a dining-robe,156 with a handkerchief bound about his neck, ungirt and unshod.

5.  Suetonius Nero 12, Dio 63. 9, I

6. Suetonius Nero, 51. 

7. J.M.C. Toynbee, NC7 (1946), 136-7.  Also see:  D.W. Macdowall, The Western Coinages of Nero, American Numismatic Society Notes and Monographs no. 161 (1979), 31 c.f. 42.