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Augustus, 16 January 27 B.C. - 19 August 14 A.D.

Ancient Roman coins of Augustus for sale in the Forum Ancient Coins consignment shop.

Octavian. named Augustus by decree of the Senate, understood the lesson from his grand-uncle. Julius Caesar, that the Republican form of government could not stand against a strongman backed by the power of the Legions. After the Civil War accompanying the Second Triumvirate, he founded the Imperial rule of the Roman state on the defeat of Marc Antony and his cohort, Cleopatra. His innately clever and adept manipulation of power was considered the model for all emperors that followed him for a thousand years. He enjoyed a long reign of 41 years marked by dignity, promotion of the ideals of the Roman religion and personal conduct. and the ruthless execution of power as seen necessary for the preservation of the Roman state as he saw it. He was aged 77 at the time of his death and deified by the Senate following the peaceful transfer of Power to his adopted son, Tiberius.



Photo taken by Joe Geranio - Photo may be used if credit is given

Roman, about A.D. 50
15 3/8 in.
After many years of civil war, Augustus took complete power in Rome in 27 B.C. He claimed that he was re-establishing the Roman Republic, but he actually founded the Roman Empire. Visual signs emphasizing its power and legitimacy bolstered this new political order.

Portraits of Augustus served as symbols of his political agenda rather than corresponding to his physical features as described in written sources. Augustus is always shown in an ideal, classicizing style, and he never ages over the length of his reign. One constant feature of Augustus's portraits is his hairstyle, with its distinctive forked locks of hair on his forehead.

This portrait was carved about the middle of the first century A.D., after Augustus' death in A.D. 14. Posthumous portraits of Augustus were popular and were often used by his successors to legitimize their rule. This portrait, however, may originally have been a head of Caligula, a later emperor. The head's wide-open eyes and concave temples characterize Caligula's portraits. When the hated Caligula was murdered in A.D. 41, most portraits of him were destroyed, but some may have been re-carved into other, more popular emperors.


Sutherland, C.H.V. "The symbolism of the early Aes coinages under Augustus" in Revue numismatique 1965, volume 6, issue 7, p. 94-109.
Sutherland, C.H.V. "The gold and silver coinage of Spain under Augustus" in NC 5 (1945), pp. 58-78.
Sutherland, C.H.V. & C.M. Kraay. Catalogue of Coins of the Roman Empire in the Ashmolean Museum, Part I: Augustus. (Oxford, 1975).
Sutherland, C.H.V. "Augustan aurei and denarii attributable to the mint of Pergamum" in Revue numismatique 1973, volume 6, issue 15, pp. 129 - 151.
Sutherland, C.H.V. "Some observations on the coinage of Augustus" in NAC 7 (1978), pp. 163 - 178.
Sydenham, E. A. "The Coinages of Augustus" in NC 20, series 4 (1920), pp. 17 - 56.


Augustus Octavius Caesar, first emperor of Rome, was the grand-nephew and adopted son of the dictator, Julius Caesar. He was the son of Gaius Octavius and Accia, neice to Julius Caesar. On the death of his adoptive father, he inherited the greatest part of his fortune.

He lost his actual father at the age of four; and though only eighteen when his grand-uncle was murdered, he hastened to Rome where he ingratiated himself with the senate and people, and received the honors of the consulship two years after. Though his youth and his inexperience were ridiculed by his enemies who branded him with the appellation of boy, yet he rose in consequence by his prudence and valor, and made war against his opponents, on pretense of avenging the death of his murdered uncle.

When he perceived that by making him fight against Anton, the senate wished to debilitate both antagonists, he changed his views and, uniting himself with his enemy, soon formed the second triumvirate, in which his cruel proscriptions shed the innocent blood of 300 senators and 200 knights, and did not even spare the life of his friend Cicero. By the divisions that were made among the triumvirs, Augustus retained for himself the more important provinces of the west, and banished, as if it were his colleagues, Lepidus and Antony, to more distant territories. But as long as the murderers of Caesar were alive, the reigning tyrants had reasons for apprehension and therefore the forces of the triumvirate were directed against the partisans of Brutus and the senate. The battle was decided at Philippi, where it is said that valor and conduct of Antony alone preserved the combined armies, and affected the defeat of the republican forces. The head of the unfortunate Brutus was carried to Rome, and in insolent revenge thrown at the feet of Caesar’s statue. On his return to Italy, Augustus rewarded his soldiers with the lands of those that had been proscribed; but among the sufferers were many who had never injured the conqueror of Philippi, especially Virgil, whose modest application procured the restitution of his property.

The friendship between Augustus and Antony was broken as soon as the fears of a third rival vanished and the aspiring heir of Caesar was easily induced to take up arms by the little jealousies and resentment of Fulvia.

Her death, however, retarded hostilities; the two rivals were reconciled; their united forces were successfully directed against the younger Pompey; and, to strengthen their friendship, Antony agreed to marry Octavia, the sister of Augustus.

But this step was political and not dictated by affection, Octavia was slighted, and Antony resigned himself to the pleasures and company of the beautiful Cleopatra. Augustus was incensed, and immediately took up arms to avenge the wrongs of his sister, and perhaps more eagerly to remove a man whose power and existence kept him in continual alarms and made him dependent. Both parties met at Actium, B.C. 31, to decide the fate of Rome. Antony was supported by all the power of the east, and Augustus by Italy. Cleopatra fled from the battle with 60 ships, and her flight ruined the interest of Antony, who followed her into Egypt. The conqueror soon after besieged Alexandria, and after victory honored, with a magnificent funeral, the unfortunate Romans, and the celebrated queen, who, in the fear of being led in the victor’s triumph at Rome, had committed suicide. After he had established peace all over the world, Augustus shut up the gates of the temple of Janus.

Augustus was an active emperor, and consulted the gods of the Romans with the most anxious care. He visited all the provinces except Africa and Sardinia, and his consummate prudence and experience gave rise to many salutary laws; but it may be said, that he finished with a good grace, what he began with cruelty. While making himself absolute, he took care to leave his countrymen the shadow of liberty; and if under the character and office of the perpetual tribune, of priest and imperator, he was invested with all the power of sovereignty, he guarded against offending the jealous Romans, by not assuming the regal title. His refusal to read the letters he found after Pompey’s defeat, arose more from fear than honor, and dreaded the discovery of names which would perhaps united to sacrifice his ambition.

His good qualities, and many virtues he perhaps never possessed, have been transmitted to posterity by the pen of adulation or gratitude, in the poems of Virgil, Horace and Ovid. To distinguish himself from the obscurity of the Octavii, and, if possible, to suppress the remembrance of his uncle’s violent fate, he aspired after a new title; and the submissive senate yielded to his ambition, by giving him the honorable appellation of Augustus. He has been accused of licentiousness and adultery, and the fidelity of his friendship, which in some instances he possessed, made some amends for his natural foibles. He was ambitious of being handsome; and as he was publicly reported to be the son of Apollo, his eyes were clear, and he affected to have it thought that they possessed some divine irradiation; and was well pleased, if, when he fixed his looks upon anybody they held down their eyes as if overcome by the glaring brightness of the sun. He distinguished himself by his learning; he was a perfect master of the
Greek language, and wrote some tragedies, besides memoirs of his life, and other works, all now lost.

He was married three times; to Claudia, to Scribonia, and to Livia; but he was unhappy in his matrimonial connections, and his only daughter, Julia, by Scribonia, disgraced herself and her father by the debauchery and licentiousness of her manners.

It is said that he twice resolved to lay down the supreme power, immediately after the victory obtained over Antony, and afterwards on account of his ill health; but his friend Mecaenas dissuaded him, and observed that he would leave it be the prey of the most powerful, and expose himself to ingratitude and anger.

He died at Nola in 14 A.D., 76 years old, after he had held the sovereign power for 44 years. He recommended, at his death, his adopted son Tiberius as his successor. He left his fortune partly to Tiberius, and to Drusus, and made donations to the army and Roman people.

Virgil wrote his heroic poem at the desire of Augustus, whom he represented under the amiable and perfect character of Aeneas.

The name of Augustus was afterwards given to the successors of Octavianus in the Roman Empire as personal and the name of Caesar as a family distinction. In a more distant period of the Empire, the title of Augustus was given only to the emperor, while that of Caesar was bestowed on the second person in the state, who was considered the presumptive heir.

Shield portrait of Roman Emperor Augustus.
Sheet silver worked in repoussé to form the high relief portrait , engraved, partly gilded.
About 15-30 A.D.
Weight: 220 grams.
The Toledo Museum of Art- USA.

The Romans called this type of portrait in a round frame a shield (imago clipeata).
It represents the first emperor, Caesar Augustus (born 63 B.C.).
The heir of Julius Caesar was only 18 years old when Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.. Thanks to political savvy. charisma, and luck, Augustus brought an end to civil war, and peace to people around the Mediterranean Sea.
The acanthus leaves under the bust mean he is deceased.
Augustus died in 14 A.D.and was promptly defied by the Senate.
Augustus wears a laurel wreath and armor. On the background three dogs hunt a lion and a boar. These symbols of war and hunting represent Augustus' s military might.
The animals are drawn with stippled, curving lines not common in classical Greek or Roman art but typical of art made along the northeastern frontier of the Empire.
This suggests that this costly portrait was made as a diplomatic gift for a local ruler, to remind him of the power and majesty of Rome. Photo by Hans. Joe Geranio .

Obverse legends


Rarity of Denominations, Average Weights of Well Preserved Coins, Mints, and Other Information

Gold aureus S
Silver denarius C 3.82 grams (97.5% silver)1
Silver quinarius R1
Sestertius with his head R2
Sestertius without his head R1
As and Dupondius C

Note: The rarity scale here includes three main ratings from C (common), to S (scarce), to R (rare). Within each rating numbers from 1-10 are may be used to indicate increasing degrees of rarity with 1 the most common and 10 the least common.

1. Luis C. West, Gold and Silver Standards in the Roman Empire, Numismatic Notes and Monographs, #94, ANS, NY, 1941.


Rome, Lugdunum, Emerita, Ephesus, Brundisium(?), Colonia Patricia(?), Caesaraugusta(?), Pergamum, Nemausus.


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Dictionary of Roman Coins

AUGUSTUS - This was the surname which, in the year U. C. 727 (27 before the Christian era), the Senate of Rome, in its own name and in that of the people, conferred on Octavius, or Octavianus, the adopted son and heir of Julius Caesar, as an acknowledgement of the services which he had rendered to his country. This epithet, which signifies "revered" or "worthy of veneration," and which, up to that time, had been appropriated solely to sacred persons and things, he ever afterwords bore, and it is that under which he is habitually designated. After him it became the title of sovereignty, which all the other emperors took, as well out of respect for the memory of him on whom it was first bestowed, as for a mark of their right (whether valid or merely assumed), to succeed him. The appellation of Augustus was placed by his successors in the empire after their own name; and characterizing, as it did, the supreme power of the state, it was invariably adopted, not only be legitimate princes, but even by those who in after times usurped the imperial purple. The title of Augustus was, however, at first confined to such as were actually invested with the sovereignty. The sons, or adopted sons, of emperors, previously to their being associated with them in the government, were each called simply Caesar; and this last, originally a proper name, became a dignity, which served to distinguish the heirs presumptive to the Augustal throne.

Having offered this general a brief explanation of the word Augustus, used as a title and a surname, we cannot, on a point which, from its constant recurrence, is so requisite to be fully understood by the student of Roman numismatics, do better (as it seems to us) than to subjoin the substance of Eckhel's learned citations and illustrative remarks on the subject, contained in the 8th volume of Doctrina, pp. 355, 356, et seq.:

1. -Augustus, origin and occasion of the title.- Dion Cassius, in his history of the Roman Emperors (L. 1iii. § 16) remarks, that Caesar Octavianus, "after the fulfillment of the promises he had made, assumed the name of Augustus, at the desire of the Senate and the People. For, as they had determined on distinguishing him by some peculiar appellation, and were comparing the merits of several, Caesar, though himself very ambitious of the name of Romulus, still, on finding that he was from that circumstance suspected of aiming at kingly dignity, gave it up, and was styled Augustus, as if he were a being superior to the mortal race. For all things [among the Romans] which are considered most honorable and most sacred, are called August (Augusta); and on this account the Greeks rendered the word AUGUSTUS by SEBASTOS, or revered (quasi venerandum dicas)." The same event is thus recorded by Suetonius: "He then assumed the name of C. Caesar, and afterwards the cognomen of AUGUSTUS; the one in accordance with the will of his uncle; the other at the suggestion of Munatius Plancus. For, whilst some were of opinion that he should be called Romulus, as though himself the founder of the city, it was determined that the title of AUGUSTUS should in preference be given him-a title not only novel, but also more dignified, inasmuch as places dedicated to religious purposes, and in which anything is consecrated by divination, are called Augusta.

Velleius also slightly alludes to the subject: "The Roman standards were sent back by the Parthian King to Augustus, a title conferred on him by the universal consent of the Senate and People of Rome, on the motion of Plancus." And lastly Censorinus: "From the day before the 16th of the calends of February, Caesar Imperator Divi Filius (i.e. son of the Divine Julius), on the motion of L. Munatius Plancus, was called Augustus by the Senate and rest of the citizens, in his own seventh consulate, and the third consulate of M. Vipsanius Agrippa.--From these testimonies, may be gathered the origin and cause of the title of Augustus.

2.--Augustus ; signification and etymology of the word. -- From the authors above quoted, the explanation of the epithet is obtained, both in the Latin form, AUGUSTUS, and in that of the Greek SEBASTOS. And to them may be added the testimony of Ovid (Fast I. V. 609).

Sancta vocant augusta patres, augusta vocantur Templa, sacerdotum rite dicata manu.

The Fathers (i. e. the Senate) call all sacred things August; temples too, if duly consecrated by sacerdotal hands, are styled August.

Also Pompeius Festus (in Augusto). Pansanias likewise (L. iii. c. 2), says, "His name was Augustus, which the Greek language is equivalent to SEBASTOS (venerabilis).--At a later period it was erroneously supposed, that the name Augustus was derived from another root, namely, augere, auctus, to increase. As regards the character of this appellation, it is sufficiently evident from the testimonies adduced, that it was conferred upon Octavianus for no other reason than that which operated in giving the name Torquatus to Manlius, Magnus to Co. Pompeius, Pius to Metellus, & namely, on account of their eminent services."

3.--Augustus the title of, transmitted to descendants.--As the posterity of Manlius and others, adopted as of hereditary right, the same respective appellations, so the family of Octavianus acquired a claim to the name of Augustus. With propriety, therefore, not only did Tiberius assume the name of Augustus after his adoptive father's death; but his widow Livia, also adopted by the will of her deceased husband, succeeded to the titles Julia and Augusta ; and Caius too (called Caligula) being by adoption the grandson of Tiberius. And it was for this reason, that Suetonius has not hesitated to designate the title of Augustus as hereditary.

Not long afterwards, this name was appropriated to those who had no hereditary right to it : and Caligula was the first to set the example, by giving the title of Augusta to his grandmother Antonia, who was neither by blood nor by adoption, connected with the Caesarian family. Claudius likewise, with as little pretension, on his elevation to the empire, after the death of Caligula, assumed the title not only of Caesar, but of Augustus; and this example was followed by all his successors. For not merely did all, immediately on their accession, assume the title (Vitellius alone shewing a temporary disinclination to it), but they in like manner dignified their wives. (See the article AUGUSTA, p.97). Claudius was the first (though tardily and reluctantly), to allow of its being conferred to Messalina. And a still more surprising circumstance subsequently occurred, viz. the bestowal of the title of Augusta on Domitella, wife of Vespasian, though she died before her husband became Emperor (Vespasian himself, or his son Titus, acting in the matter), in order that neither the wife, nor the mother, of a reigning prince might be compelled to pass her time "among the manes of private individuals." Seeing then, even under Caligula, that the quality of the title Augustus was changed, the remark of Alexander Severus, quoted by Lampridius, is just one: Augustus primus, primus est auctor imperii, et in ejus nomen omnes VELVT quadam adoptione, aut jure hereditario succedimus.-"The first Augustus is the first founder (or first increaser) of the empire; and as if by a kind of adoption, or hereditary right, we all succeed to his name."

4.--Augustus, the title of, conferred honor but no power.--One of the other characteristics of the above title was, that it imparted to him on whom it was conferred, the most exalted honor, but no accession of power. Dion (L. iii. § 16), again learnedly explains this point: "For the appellations Caesar and Augustus added nothing to the intrinsic power of the emperors. It was by the former that their descent from a certain race was indicated; by the latter, their illustrious rank." And the reason of this circumstance is, that the offices of Imperator and Pontifex Maximus, joined to, and merged in, the Tribunate and the Proconsulate, gave them possession, in effect, of universal power, while the supreme title of Augustus shewed, that this accumulated authority was vested in one individual. The consequence of this was, that looking to general estimation, and the majesty of the empire, we find that the world itself had not the title to exhibit, which could vie in grandeur and dignity with that of Augustus ; and that until it was bestowed, the pinnacle of greatness was yet unattained. There were emperors who conferred the title of Caesar, and also of Imperator, on their sons; as did Vespasian on Titus, and Hadrian on Antoninus. They were, however, esteemed as of the second rank. But in cases where princes conferred upon others the title of Augustus, as M. Aurelius did on his brother L. Verus, and afterwards on his son Commodus, those persons were considered to have attained the highest dignity, and to have become sharers and colleagues of the government, in honor little inferior to those who thus elevated them; and that too in consequence of the source whence the distinction was derived. Nevertheless, that the title of Augustus added dignity without power to its possessor, is plain from the very fact, that the emperors hesitated not to confer a similar nominal distinction on their wives, and other females connected, or pretended to be connected, with the house of Caesar, overlooking all those who enjoyed real power, because it was the policy of ancient Rome, at all times, to exclude women from any participation in the conduct of public affairs.

5.--Augusti--the first example of TWO reigning together.--From the earliest period of the empire, a single individual only had been distinguished at one and the same time, by the title of Augustus; but the middle of the second imperial age, saw two raised simultaneously to this eminence--viz. M. Aurelius and L. Verus; and shortly afterwards (on the death of Verus) M. Aurelius and his son Commodus. Not much later Severus followed this precedent, associating with himself his son Antoninus, commonly called Caracalla; and towards the end of his life, his other son, Geta. So that, Rome had at that time (about A.D. 209) its three Augusti, a circumstance which had never before happened. At a subsequent period, many examples of this extension of the honor were witnesses. But it will be asked, what was the relative power or dignity of the respective bearers of the title? These (answers Eckhel), varied with circumstances. It is not to be doubted, that he, who attached to himself a colleague, whether his son, or his brother, or one not related to him, had the per-eminence in rank, and in most instances in authority also. It is equally certain that in both these particulars, fathers were superior to sons ; as Severus to Caracalla and Geta. Greater honor was also paid to Aurelius than to his adopted brother, L. Verus, whom he elevated to a share in the government; and for the like reason Diocletian held a higher rank than Maximian.--Caracalla enjoyed greater dignity than his younger brother Geta, notwithstanding the wish of their father, Severus, that they should reign with equal power. For Caracalla had the advantage in point of age, and likewise on account of the number of years, during which he had borne the title of Augustus: he was besides alone distinguished by the Pontificate. In the case of Balbinus and Pupienus none of these reasons prevailed; for they were both called to the bead of affairs by the Senate, in consequence of the difficulties of the State. That body, therefore, conferred upon both equal dignity and authority, and, departing from the hitherto invariable custom, gave to both the office of Pontifex Maximus, lest the envy of either should be excited towards the other.

6.--Of two or more Augusti, at the same time, which held the higher rank.--From the reign of Diocletian there were constantly more than one Augustus at the same time. And the Caesars, connected with each other by no ties of consanguinity, ruled, each over his own province, on such terms that neither depended on the other. Although they possessed equal power, yet in dignity they were distinct from each other, as this was imparted by the length of time during which each of those titles had been held by an individual. That individual Augustus, therefore, enjoyed the first position, who had first received the title; and the like usage prevailed in the case of a Caesar. It is on this principle, that Diocletian is styled, in Ensebius, "he who both in honor and in position held the first place." Constantine is stated, by the same author, to have stood superior to M. Licinius, "both in honor and in rank." Numerous instances may be found within that period of disputes arising from this mode of taking precedence. When Constantine the Great informed Maximianus, that, on the death of his father [Constantius Chlorus, A.D. 306] he had received the title of Augustus from the army, the latter felt aggrieved, and according to Lactantius (de mont. perfec. c. 25) "determined on naming (Fl. Val.) Severus, the elder by birth, Augustus ; whilst he commanded that Constantine should not be styled Imperator (which he had been created) but Caesar, in conjunction with Maximinus (Daza) in order to degrade Constantine from the second post of honor to the fourth." [For other instances of the jealousy and dissension caused by this clashing of claims to dignity and pre-eminence, reference may with great advantage be had to Eckhel's dissertation on the imperial coins of the lower empire, and also to the intelligent observations of Bimard de la Bastie on the same subject.]

7.--A plurality of Augusti, how indicated.--As already shewn in p. 95 of this dictionary--when there were two emperors at the same time, the fact was pointed out by the inscription AVGG.; a custom which, on coins at least, commenced under S. Severus, it being usual, in that emperor's mint, after he has associated Caracalla with himself in the supreme government, to use the legends ANNONAE AVGG.--VICT. AVGG. &c. And by a similar multiplication of the same letter, AVGGG. denoted a colleagueship of three Augusti.

8.--Augusti, by association.--It is to be observed, however, that even the son of an emperor, though only Caesar, was by association with his father who was Augustus, also called by that title; as in the case of Maximus Caesar, there is on a large brass coin MAXIMINVS ET MAXIMVS AVGVSTI GERMANICI.--And this cicumstance is still more clearly illustrated on a marble published by Spon, bearing the following incription:--PRO SALVTE IMP. ET CAESAR. PHILIPPORUM AVGG. ET OTACILIAE SEVERAE AVG. MATRIS CAES. ET CASTROR. This marble was erected in the year U.C. 989 (A.D. 236), as appears from the addition of Philipo Aug. et Titiano Cos. (Philippus senior and Junius Titianus being consuls), in which year, however, the younger Philip was certainly not yet Augustus; and yet the monument exhibits the letters AVGG. That is to say there were two Augusti, by association. The prevalence of this custom is exemplified on the respective coins of Diadumenianus, Maximus, Tetricus the younger, Carinus, and others. It is much more surprising that the title of Imperator was in the same manner shared by the wife of a reigning prince. But such an extraordinary feature of the aevum inferius is given to us by Maffei, fron an African marble inscribed thus--SALVIS DOMINIS NOSTRIS CHRISTIANISSIMIS IMPERATORIBVS IVSTINO ET SOFIA, &c.--On coins of the lower empire may frequently be seen AVGGGGG, imposing an arduous task in the identification of so many of the Augusti.

Augustus Perpetuus.--Not unfrequently some epithet is found united with the title Augustus as PERPETVVS AVGVSTVS.--Spanheim quotes a coin of Trajan, on which he is called AVG. PERP. to trace the first use of the addition of that emperor. But the genuineness of the coin in question rests solely on the statement of Mediobarbus; and Eckhel is not inclined, therefore, to adopt the opinion.--"The word Perpetuus, often written with only the letters PP. I find (says he) first added to the Emperor's titles under Probus: PERPETVO IMP. PROBO. AVG. From the time of the sons of Constantine the Great, the inscription PERP. AVG. is very frequent on coins. The origin of this piece of flattery belongs to a remote period, as on the coins of the earliest emperors their eternity was vauntingly put forward. But the legend PERPETVITATI AVG. became more frequent from the time of Alexander Severus, in whose mint alone we read POTESTAS PERPETVA.--Semper Augustus, so frequently observed now-a-days, amongst the imperial titles, Spanheim could not find among ancient inscriptions, before Diocletian's time.--See PERP. AVG. and SEMPER AVGVSTVS.

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