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Pietas

Pietas in traditional Latin usage expressed a complex, highly valued Roman virtue; a man or woman with pietas respected his or her responsibilities to the gods, family, other people and entities (such as the state), and understood his or her place in society with respect to others.


DICTIONARY OF ROMAN COINS






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     PIETAS.—On many coins of Roman families, and on a vast variety of Imperial medals from Augustus, in almost uninterrupted succession down to Constantine the Great, we see the personification of Piety, a virtue which, elevated by the Romans to the rank of divinity, had a temple erected to its honour in the ninth and the eleventh region of Rome. They expressed by this word not only the worship and reverence due towards the gods, but also in an more extended sense applied it to love and charity borne towards parents, children, friends, and neighbors, to their country, prince, and soldiers.
     Piety has her head ornamented with a veil or with a fillet, and in this form, with the title of PIETAS, is found on denarii of the Herennia family, and also on some coins of the Emperor Tiberius : although in the latter instance the effigy is by some considered to be that of an imperial lady ; for at that period they had not the boldness and confidence to place female portraits publicly on coins, or as it were to deify them. It is generally supposed that the image in question (beneath which is inscribed PIETAS) is that of Livia Drusilla, mother of Tiberius.1

     Piety is for the most part represented under the figure of a devout woman, with veiled head, near a lighted altar, before which, as in Hadrian and Antonine, she sometimes stands with both hands lifted up, which is peculiarly the attitude of praying (as in Antonine and Verus) ; at others she is seen with a patera in the right and the acerrra (or censer) in the left hand ; or with the right hand extended she is dropping grains of frankincense into the fire, as we observe in the silver coins of L. Aelius, and of Faustina, all with the title PIETAS, by which representation is clearly shewn the pious feeling, and religious worship, implied both the legend and the type.—To these are to be conjoined many Imperial medals bearing the circumscription PIETAS AVGVSTI, or AVGustorum, and which, having the same professed object of reverence for the gods, exhibit on their reverses the facades of splendid temples, as in Antoninus Pius and Faustina senior ; others represent pontifical and augural vases, pateras, altars, also sacrifices and sacrificial instruments (such as the lituus, the urceolus, the aspergillum, the simpulum, and on the larger coins the secespita (or axe)—as in Commodus, Maximus Caesar, Gordian Pius, etc.
     Pietas, when intended by the Romans to signify the love and affection of parents towards their children, or of children towards their parents, and in like manner thos of Emperors and Empresses towards subjects, is found symbolized under the figure of a stork, an example of which we have on a denarius of Q. Metellus Pius.—The same attribute of filial love is displayed under the figure of Aeneas, in the act of carrying on his shoulders his aged father Anchises, after having been taken captive, and expelled from the city of Troy, as may be seen not only on denarii of the Herennia family, but also on coins of Pompey the Great and of Julius Caesar's moneyers.—The story of the pious brothers (Pii Fratres) of Catania, in Sicily, who, during a destructive eruption of Etna, were content to lose all their property in order to secure the safety of their father and mother, is also made subject of a type on silver of the Herennia family, and on a denarius of Sextus Pompey. See Amphinomous and Anapius.—Another coin of the Pompeia family with the legend of PIETAS, has a female figure, in the stola, holding a hasta transversely in her left hand, and a laurel branch in her right. And as it was a frequent custom of the Romans to include in the use of the words Pius and Pietas, love towards parents, children, country, etc., so on Imperial coins Piety frequently shadows forth the same mutual affection, not only under the symbol of a mother cherishing her children in her bosom, or extending her hand protectively over them ;  but also, as in a gold coin of Antoninus Pius, designates it by a female figure standing with three children, one in her arms, the other two by her side ; whilst below is the inscription PIETATI AVG. COS. IIII. Nor ought mention to be omitted of a third brass struck in honour of Fl. Maximiana Theodora, second wife of Constantius Chlorus, which represents a woman standing, with an infant (and in rarer coins two infants) at her breast, with the inscription PIETAS ROMANA.
     On coins of the Imperial series we also see represented the submission and the veneration of the Senate towards the Prince, as towards a common parent, or even as a kind of tutelary deity. This is finely illustrated on a rare first brass of Galba, where the Emperor stands, in a military dress, crowned by a Senator, accompanied with the significant legend SENATVS PIETATI AVGVSTI. (See the words).—An utterly prostituted instance of similar honors was afterwards wrung from the senatorial body during the reign of terror established under Commodus, who (on gold and large brass) complimented them on the affection for him—PIETATI SENATVS—whilst he was at the same period thinning their frightened ranks by daily murders.—Could we find this legend and its accompanying type (two men clothed in the toga, joining hands) amongst the genuine coins of Antoninus Pius, they would indeed be pronounced worthily appropriated ; but none such receive authentication from Eckhel, Mionnet, or Akerman.
     The concord (more matter of boast than of reality) subsisting between the two Augusti Balbinus and Pupienus, is symbolized by their favorite device of two hands joined, and round it is read PIETAS MVTVA AVGG.
     There is something very peculiar in the mode of representing PIETAS AVGG. The piety of the Emperors, by the mint of Trajan Decius, on one large brass specimen of which we see Mercury, with the crumena or purse in his right hand, and his caduceus in the left, with the above circumscription.—The same legend and type is continued on coins of Herennius and Hostillian, sons and successors of the above-named emperor.—Similar to this is a medal of M. Aurelius, on which also Mercury appears, holding in his right hand the crumena (or purse), if indeed it be not a patera. But the legend round the type is, not Pietas, but RELIGio AVGusti, under which expression the Emperor perhaps wished to teach the Roman people, that in paying all honour and service to the gods, was the way to proceed in the path of national improvement, to preserve peace with their neighbors, and to increase the fertility of their country.—See RELIG. AVG.
     With reference to the PIETAS AVGVSTA, or Imperial Piety, a word or two may here be said, respecting coins of Matidia, on which "August Piety" appears as a female standing between two children ; also respecting a rare medal of Faustina, wife of Antoninus Pius, on the reverse of which that princess is seen seated in an elevated place, in the act of receiving from Roman matrons their infant daughters, for the benevolent purpose of educating and providing for them, as is further illustrated by the legend of PVELLAE FAVSTINIANAE.
     On a coin belonging to the Antonia family, Piety is represented standing with a lighted altar in her right hand, and with a cornucopia in her left. On a coin of Trajan, she appears with a caduceus in one hand and cornucopia in  the other ; and on coins of Constantine the Great, Piety is represented under the image of a soldier, who holds in his right hand a globe, with the usual monogram of Christ, and in the left a hasta, with the circumscription PIETAS AETERNA.
     PIETAS.—A first brass of Caligula, a very beautiful though not a very rare coin, has on one side the Goddess Piety seated, with patera in her right hand, and on the other side are three figures sacrificing a bull before a temple of six columns, richly ornamented : thus representing divine honors paid to Augustus, and indicating the pious affection professed by Caligula for the memory of his deified progenitor.—At the bottom of the obverse is the PIETAS, and round the figure is this legend, C. CAESAR DIVI AVGVSti PRONepos AVGVstus Pontifex Maximus TRibunicia Potestate IIII. Pater Patriæ.—The inscription on the reverse explains to whom the sacrifice was offered, namely, DIVO AVG. S. C. To the divine Augustus by decree of the Senate.
     PIETAS, a surname of L. Antonius the consul, brother of Mark Antony the triumvir. According to Dion, he assumed this addition to his name during his consulate in the year of Rome 713, out of fraternal piety towards Marcus, then absent in the Perusinian war. This accounts for the legend of PIETAS COS., with the type of a woman standing with rudder and cornucopia, and stork at her feet, appearing on a denarius of M. Antonius, who caused it to be struck in memory of the act. Storks were chosen as symbols of Piety, because it was believed of them that they supported on their wings their parents when enfeebled by old age.

1This is now thought to be Vipsania Agrippina (J. Burns, Vipsania on Roman Coins?, in The Celator 18 (2004), pp. 6-20.), Antonia minor (H. Mattingly, Coins of the Roman empire in the British Museum, IV, London, 1940, XVII-XVIII (n. 2); N. Kokkinos, Antonia Augusta. Portrait of a Great Roman Lady, London, 1992, pp. 90-95.) or Livilla (M. Kreuzer, Livilla's Portrait on Roman Coins, in The Celator 9 (1995), pp. 10ff.).



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