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|---------- The Sign Language of Roman Coins ----------|
|Fides: Loyalty and Trust|
|You can click on any coin image to see the full coin.|
Fides was the Roman goddess of trustworthiness and good faith. Although not a major deity, she was important to the Romans, and had a temple on the Capitoline hill next to that of Jupiter, the most important Roman god and the head of the pantheon.
To honour Fides, there was an annual procession and a ceremony officiated by Jupiter's chief priest, the Flamen Dialis, with his hand wrapped in white cloth because it was regarded as sacred while taking an oath of fidelity.
On coins, Fides was sometimes shown as on the coins on the right; standing, holding a bowl of fruits in one hand, and with a couple of ears of wheat or barley trailing behind in her other hand. The denarius of Hadrian on the near right has the legend FIDES PVBLICA, the confidence of the people, which in this case clearly sends the message that no-one need worry about the harvest this year. Ironically, this particular coin is a contemporary fake, so the silver content of this coin is more of a concern than the fruitfulness of the harvest.
The denarius of Septimius Severus on the far right also shows Fides, but has the legend BONI EVENTVS, dedicated to Bonus Eventus, a minor agricultural deity. This confirms the link between this image of Fides and the harvest.
But most Roman coins of Fides show something more like this. This is a billon antoninianus of Victorinus which shows Fides Militum, the loyalty of the army. She is holding two military standards. A coin like this sent three different messages at the same time. The populace were reassured that they were well defended. Enemies of Rome were reminded that Rome would not be an easy target. And the army were reminded of the solemn oaths they had taken when they joined up. That makes coins like this particularly good value as propaganda.
Interestingly, this particular coin was struck by a breakaway emperor of the Gaulish "Roman" empire, consisting of parts of Britain and France. So, the coin's message was probably aimed at the actual Roman emperor as much as anyone else. At that time, there was another breakaway empire in Palmyra in the east, as well as the actual Roman empire. Both of these mini-empires followed the Roman model in many respects, including their coinage, but neither lasted very long. They were reconquered by the armies of the emperor Aurelian in 272 and 274 CE.
Three variations of the same general type on antoniniani of the real Roman empire. On the near right is a coin of Gordian III. Fides is carrying a standard and a long sceptre. In the centre, a coin of Elagabalus, on which Fides carries a standard and a vexillum, which is the flag of a section of a legion. They both have the same legend as the previous coin, FIDES MILITVM.
On the far right is an antoninianus of Aurelian, the emperor who reunited a divided empire. Sol is standing, facing left, holding a globe which represents the whole cosmos. He is making the hand gesture which is always associated with Invincible Sol, saluting a figure who holds two standards, Sometimes that figure is labelled as Providence because of the legend, PROVIDEN DEOR, short for Providentia Deorum, the Foresight of the Emperor. But she is not the normal depiction of Providentia, and if you compare with the figures shown above, you can see that she is clearly Fides Militum again. So, the emperor's foresight consists of combining a loyal army with Invincible Sol, who was Aurelian's preferred deity.
Fides Militum was sometimes shown seated. On the far left, an antoninianus of Probus, with a seated Fides Militum (named in the legend) and three legionary standards, two being held and one apparently pushed into the earth in front. Next to that is an antoninianus of Elagabalus, with the legend FIDES EXERCITVS, the Loyalty of the Infantry. This time, Fides Militum is holding one standard and a bird, with the other standard in front as on the Probus coin. The bird does not look very impressive, and in fact it has been mistaken for a dove, but actually it is supposed to be a legionary eagle.
The rightmost of these three coins is a denarius of Commodus on which Fides Militum is standing and holding ears of corn in her right hand. There is the usual standard in her left, although on the die for this specimen the top of the standard has merged with one tail of the X to its right and has an odd shape. The legend on the reverse of this coin begins FIDEI COH, Of the Loyalty of the Cohorts (a cohort being a section of a legion). Probus was a military man, but Elagabalus and Commodus were not. The need for these emperors to appeal to the loyalty of their army suggests a certain level of insecurity.
These two coins have a Fides legend with quite different imagery. On the near right is a pair of hands clasped around a caduceus and some corn and poppy stems. These symbolise trade and the annual corn supply, respectively, and the legend FIDES PVBL refers to the confidence that the people ought to have in the emperor's ability to provide those things.
On the far right, the legend FIDES AVG might mean the good faith of the emperor. The image is of Mercury, the god of trade and prosperity. This might refer to the sound commercial foundation of the trust between the emperor and the people.
This coin is unusual in that it was minted by Aureolus, a usurper against Gallienus, in the name of Postumus, another usurper.
Aureolus had developed and commanded a crack troop of horsemen for Gallienus, the legitimate emperor. But he became disenchanted during Gallienus' campaigns against invading tribes, when he was apparently left behind in a minor command, stripped of honour. He revolted, invaded Italy and took over Mediolanum (modern Milan). From this base he made overtures to Postumus, who was busy establishing a quite successful breakaway empire of his own in Britain and Gaul. Victorinus, whose coin is shown above, was one of Postumus' successors. Aureolus wanted Postumus to join him in challenging Gallienus for the whole empire.
Unfortunately for Aureolus, Postumus did not respond, and Milan was soon retaken by Gallienus. It must have galled him that the very cavalry he had set up took part in his defeat. Aureolus used the Imperial mint in Milan to strike these coins, whose legend, FIDES EQUIT, The Loyalty of the Cavalry, was an unsuccessful appeal to the loyalty of his old troops.
Fides is seated, holding a standard behind her, but this time is also holding a patera, thus attempting to appeal to the piety as well as the loyalty of the cavalry. Aureolus struck several other coins in the same vein, equally unsuccessful, referring to "his" cavalry's military virtue, and to concord and peace with them.
|The content of this page was last updated on 18 October 2008|
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