A Two Headed Denarius of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius

If there was a single problem that repeatedly troubled the Roman Empire it was the matter of succession. Kings generally place great importance on the production of an heir to follow them and continue the dynasty. Roman Emperors were no different but, overall, the number of successful dynasties where son succeeded father was rather small. The First Century AD saw the reign of two dynasties: the Julio-Claudians and the Flavians. The five emperors that made up the Julio-Claudians were all related in some manner but not one was the son of another. The Flavians consisted of a father, Vespasian, and his two sons, Titus and Domitian. On the death of Domitian the rule of Rome fell to what would become a most successful dynasty that would rule for nearly a century but whose relationships were based on adoption rather than blood. Nerva adopted Trajan; Trajan adopted Hadrian; Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius; Antoninus Pius adopted Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. Each was selected for merit and each served Rome proudly. Marcus Aurelius ruined the scheme by having a son, Commodus, who proved unworthy of power and whose murder ended the dynasty.

This series of adoptions was recorded in various manners on the coinage. Most appealing to collectors are the coins showing the heads of Antoninus Pius and his adopted son Marcus Aurelius on either side of the same coin. Of the few two headed coins issued during the Roman Empire, these are the most easily available to collectors.

Antoninus Pius bare head right / Marcus Aurelius bare headed bust right
Silver denarius - 140 AD

These two headed coins were struck in all metals. They are known with heads or draped busts facing right or left. There are a number of minor legend varieties and other minor style variations that could provide a specialist with several dozen coins that are all different and all the same depending on your point of view.

The denarius that is this week's Featured Coin is just one of the minor varieties of the basic type. Pius, the senior person, is depicted with a plain head while Aurelius, the junior 'Caesar', is shown as a draped bust. Neither wears a laurel wreath which would be appropriate for Pius and is commonly found on many varieties of these coins. This exact combination of types and legends is not listed in the standard references but BMC 150 is very close quoting Pius as a bust with slight drapery on far shoulder. Minor distinctions of this type might be significant to specialists but are of little interest to most collectors.

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(c) 1997 Doug Smith