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A Rare Facing Portrait Roman Silver Denarius of Octavian/Augustus (27 B.C.-14 A.D.)

By Joe Geranio

Octavian as Augustus, 27 BC 14 AD. Mescinius Rufus. Denarius 16 BC, AR 3.90 g. [S CO]B R P CVM SALVT IMP CAESAR AVG[VS CONS] Facing head, slightly turned to r. on roundel within laurel wreath (imago clipeata). Rev. L MESCINIVS R[VFVS III VIR] Mars, naked but for helmet, holding spear and parazonium. standing on pedestal inscribed S P Q R V P / S PR S ET / RED AVG. C 465. BMC 90. Kent-Hirmer pl. 38, 134. RIC 356. CBN 341.Extremely rare. Attractive old cabinet tone, two counter marks on obverse and an almost invisible one on reverse, otherwise good very fine. Ex Sotheby 's 1895, Bunbury, 334; Leu 33, 1983, 13 and Leu 71, 1997, 284 sales.

in Divus Julius. - Oxford: The Clarendon Press 1971. XVI, 469 S., 31 ..., Volume 1- There is another frontal type portrait with reverse which is the nicest I have seen. (plate 16). Other than the fouree seen below offered by cng; I have only seen 2 specimens for this issue. Joe Geranio - JCIA.

Since I look at Julio Claudian portraits in the round often, I found this issue from NAC very interesting, is this the only almost full frontal we have from the Early Empire on numismatics?   I will be adding to this post if more coins from the first century are found, possibly from the Flavian period?  This coin issue by Augustus was a stroke of genius.  Familial tradition, and military power as well as rhetoric.

The obverse of this denarius is one of the most ambitious designs of Rome 's first emperor, a man noted for the variety and interest of his coin types. But in this case we hardly can credit the emperor, for he was away in Gaul and was recovering from a severe illness of the type he periodically suffered in his youth. Instead, we must credit the moneyer L. Mescinius Rufus, for this coin was struck in Rome and its types and dedicatory inscriptions are, in fact, a reaction to the emperor 's illness and a vow for his safe return from Gaul. The composition of the obverse not only would have challenged the engraver with a facing portrait, but is framed on a shield (an imago clipeata) set within a laurel wreath that is enclosed by a dedicatory inscription. The fineness of the workmanship and the lack of open field in the periphery of the die makes it doubtful that the glory of this engraver 's work was fully reproduced on more than a tiny percentage of these denarii.The year 16 B.C., when this denarius was struck, was important for the development of Augustan coinage: not only does it seem that the copper as was introduced, but from this date onward we see a blatant shift in iconography from the vaguely Republican-style coinage Augustus had maintained thus far to one wholly devoted to the emperor. Hereafter the names of moneyers lingered uncomfortably for the next four years on precious metal coins and the next 12 years on base metal issues, but there was no longer any pretense of Republicanism.Curiously, this is also the most critical year for the efforts of modern scholars to order Augustus ' coinage because some of the Augustan portrait coins in this series (including coins of Mescinius Rufus) cite the 8th renewal of Augustus ' tribunician power. Though some useful chronological hints are offered in the designs of other moneyer issues, those naming Augustus ' 8th tribunician power are the only ones with a secure and specific chronological signpost.We suspect that one (the cross cornered by pellets) of the two counter-marks on the obverse could be rather medieval than ancient. NAC45, 66

I believe we are seeing on this issue an "Imago Clipeata" of Octavian/ Augustus.  I will first show a few examples of non-numismatic evidence.



This is very rare to find a Julio Claudian Princeps on something other than coinage or in the round. This radiate portrait of Claudius quite rare and shows the Princeps as Pontifex Maximus flanked by a simpulum and littus. Claudius ruled from 41-54 A.D.


Of hammered sheet, sculpted in high relief within the concave tondo, the Emperor depicted wearing a radiate crown, with a full cap of short comma-shaped locks of hair, a single hooked lock before each prominent ear, with a broad cranium and tapering chin, his face with emphatic signs of aging in the two furrows of the forehead and bags under his wide eyes, the pupils articulated, the brows modeled, the rounded nose with pronounced naso-labial folds, the small mouth with full lips, the neck creased, wearing a toga with V-shaped folds at the neck and a pallium over the shoulders, the bust flanked by the symbols of the office of pontifex maximus, a dipper (simpulum) to the left and a wand (lituus) to the right, framed by a raised band of Lesbian kymation off set by beading, the edges folded over a lead backing
9 3/4 in. (24.7 cm.) diameter


Found at the Roman settlement of Derventio, near Stamford Bridge, Yorkshire, England in 1991.
The Property of a Gentleman; Christie 's, London, 8 July 1992, lot 168.
The Property of a Gentleman; Christie 's, London, 5 July 1995, lot 197.
with Royal-Athena Galleries, New York, 1996 (Art of the Ancient World, 1997, no. 53).

Shield portrait of Roman Emperor Augustus.
Sheet silver worked in repouss 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. (from Flickr associate Hans Ollermann)

Publication Entry: Images of the Roman emperorssuch as this imago clipeata, or shield portrait, of the first Roman Emperor Augustus (Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, 63 BCE-14 CE)served as much more than portrait likenesses. In order to provide unifying symbolism for Rome 's far-flung and diverse provinces, portraits of the emperor and his family were used during his lifetime, and after his death and official deification by the Senate as propaganda of the power and majesty of Rome. Millions of portraits were issued on coins, as a guarantee of peace and prosperity. Millions more were made in every mediummetal, stone, ceramic, textileand in sizes from the miniscule to the colossal. The more important the patron or the commission, the more likely the portrait was to be made in an intrinsically valuable medium (gold, silver, ivory, or precious gems).

This bust portrait is close to the later official iconography of Augustus and may represent a posthumous portrait type. This fact is compatible with the acanthus foliage under the bust, which symbolized that Augustus was dead when the portrait was made. On the stippled background three dogs hunt a lion and a boar, the two most powerful predators. In classical Greek and Roman art, animal hunt iconography symbolized courage and the fundamental protection of villages, fields, and herds from wild animals and lawless men. The message of power is further underlined by Augustus 's armor and laurel wreath, symbols of imperium(military authority) and victory.

The hunting animals and stippled designs on the background are reminiscent of Greco-Thracian ornament from areas of modern Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. The background could have been designed to appeal to a recipient from these frontiers of the empire.

Bibliography: The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo Museum of Art Masterworks, Toledo, 2009, p. 82, repr. (col.).

Current Location: Toledo Museum of Art (2445 Monroe Street), Gallery, 02, Classic


Augustus. Fourre Denarius (17mm, 2.95 g, 9h). Imitating a Rome mint issue of 16 BC. L. Mescinius Rufus, moneyer. Bare head of Augustus facing slightly right, within oak wreath / Mars, wearing crested helmet, naked except for a cloak falling over his right arm, standing left on low pedestal, holding spear in right hand and parazonium in left; S P Q R/V PR RE/CAES in three lines on pedestal. Cf. RIC I 356/351 (obv. /rev.); cf. RSC 465/463a (obv./rev.).


Augustus. 27 BC-AD 14. AR Denarius (3.77 g, 4h). Rome mint. L. Mescinius Rufus, moneyer. Struck 16 BC. Laureate head right / L MESCINI-VS RVFVS, Mars, wearing crested helmet, naked except for a cloak falling over his right arm, standing left on low pedestal, holding transverse spear in right hand and parazonium in left; S P Q R/V PR RE/CAES in three lines on pedestal. RIC I 351; RSC I 463a; BMCRE I 86 = BMCRR Rome 4479; BnF 331-6.

Joe Geranio - Julio Claudian Iconographic Association

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