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LIBERALITAS



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LIBERALITAS - Liberality, being one of the princely virtues and at the same time a most popular quality, appears both as a legend and as a type on a great many Roman imperial medals. These attest the occasions when the emperors made a display of their generosity towards the people by all kinds of distributions amongst them, in money and provisions. In the earlier age this was called Congiarium (Munus), because they distributed congios oleo plenos. In the time of the free republic, the Ediles were specially entrusted with these distributions, as a means of acquiring the good will of the people. The same practice was followed under the emperors; and we occasionally find on their coins the word CONGIARIVM, but the more common term is LIBERALITAS, to which is frequently added the number of times, I. II. III. up to VII. and VIII. that such liberality has been exercised by each emperor.--On these occasions of imperial munificence, a certain sum of money was for the most part given to each person, and when grain was distributed, or bread, to prevent the evils of dearness and famine from affecting the Roman populace, it was called Annona. But when something beyond their ordinary pay was bestowed upon the soldiers, it was denominated Donativum, a word, however, not found on coins, but comprised under that of Liberalitas, or of Congiarium; and after the reign of Marcus Aurelius, CONGIARIVM is no longer found, and the expression LIBERALITAS is alone employed.

Liberality is personified by the image of a woman, holding in one hand a tessera, or square tablet, furnished with a handle on which are cut a certain number of holes.  These boards were used to quickly count the proper number of coins or other items for distribution to each person.  It appears they would be dipped into a container, covered with coins and the excess swept away back into the container.  The proper number of coins would fill the holes and then would be dumped out to the recipient.  On coins this symbol indicated the prince had given to the people money, corn, and other articles of consumption. In the other hand she holds a cornucopia, to indicate the abundance of wheat contained in the public graineries. Liberalitas is represented as presiding at all congiaria. The liberalities of the Augusti, by which the distribution of their bounties to the people is signified, were of two kinds, ordinary and extraordinary.

The first mention of Liberalitas occurs on coins of Hadrian; on those of succeeding emperors it is frequently reiterated. Indeed these instances of imperial generosity are more carefully recorded on medals than they are by history. On a coin of Hadrian, struck under his second consulate, in the year of Rome 870, we see two figures seated on a suggestum or raised platform. The genius of Liberality, with the attributes above described, stands beside or behind them; and another figure is ascending a small flight of steps, which leads to the raised platform, where the gift of the emperor is received.

On a gold coin of Antoninus Pius, and also of Philip I, the emperor sits in a curule chair, placed on a raised platform; before him stands the image of Liberalitas, pouring out from a cornucopia money into the bosom of a man, who is ascending by steps on the opposite side.

On a silver coin of Antonine we see the figure of a woman standing by herself, holding a horn of plenty in her left hand, and in her right hand a tessera, or a tablet, which specifies the quantity of wheat delivered to each person at a low price through the liberality of the emperor, or on which was inscribed what was given to each citizen.

A gold coin of Elagabalus exhibits the emperor sitting on a suggestum, with Liberality standing on one side, and the Praetorian Prefect, or a Lictor, on the other: distributing the congiarium to the Roman citizens.

In that emphatic tribute of eulogy to Hadrian's unexampled munificence, the celebrated coin which bears the legend of LOCVPLETATORI ORBIS TERRARVM, we see that the type refers to the Liberalitates of that emperor, who, under the auspices of the goddess, is distributing his bounties with an outstretched hand. Many medals consecrated the the liberality of the emperors shew by a numerical cipher how many times that liberality has been repeated by the same prince. Thus, a coin of Antoninus Pius, struck a short time before his death, under his fourth consulate, in the year of Roma 914, bears the epigraph LIBERALITAS IX, that is to say, the ninth Liberality or distribution made by the emperor.

The medals of Commodus and Caracalla present to us eight liberalities or donations; those of Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius record seven. On the coins of Septimius Severus and Geta, we find indications of six liberalities; there are five recorded on a medal of Severus Alexander; four on coins of Elagabalus, of Gordian III, and of Gallienus; three on some of Lucius Veras; and of the two Philips (in these the emperors, father and son, are represented sitting together, without attendants or recipients).

It is, however, to be borne in mind as to the emperors of whom some medals offer us a considerable number of liberalities, that some others give us also most of the preceding liberalities. The greater part of these coins refer to the times when it was the custom to bestow on each citizen a quantity of corn from out of the public graineries.

One of the most remarkable of Hadrians's liberalities was that of his having remitted to the people their arrears of taxes accumulated during the space of sixteen years, and of his having caused the vouchers, by which the imperial treasury could have made good its claim to fiscal dues, to be burnt in the Forum at Rome. See RELIQVA VETERA, etc



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