Society Lecture, 17 Apr: The Iconography of the Coinage of the Valerianic Dynasty

The next Society lecture will take place on Tuesday 17th April at 6pm at the Warburg Institute. Nick Holmes, National Museum of Scotland, will present on the title The Iconography of the Coinage of the Valerianic Dynasty (AD 253-268). Society lectures are open to all and full information about the current lecture schedule can be found here.


Paper Abstract:

Aureus of the emperor Valerian, 253-260 AD. Linked through Wikimedia commons.

The principates of Valerian I and Gallienus have been described as among the most disastrous in Roman imperial history, and Gallienus in particular has been unjustly maligned by both ancient and modern historians. More recent studies have attempted to redress the balance by demonstrating that his 15-year reign was remarkably successful in military terms given the constant threats from with the imperial boundaries as well from external enemies. Less frequently mentioned are the innovations in coin design which took place during this period, reflecting the images which the imperial family wished to disseminate across the empire of themselves and their policies and achievements.

The first part of this study concentrates on portraiture, in particular on the coins of Gallienus, who had himself represented in numerous guises rarely or never previously seen on issues from central imperial (as opposed to provincial) mints. These portraits – military, consular, heroic, etc. – were intended to reinforce the emperor’s claim to the qualities required to rule the empire during the troubled times in which it found itself.

Reverse designs were frequently intended to contribute to the claims of the Valerianic dynasty to be the founders of a new ‘Golden Age’ for Rome. Clearly not all of them can be studied in the course of a single talk, and those themes which have been selected are those which are associated in particular with the coins of these emperors and which contain substantial number of innovative types to illustrate these themes. Unsurprisingly many of these are military in nature, not only highlighting victories achieved but acknowledging and encouraging the support of military units, on which the emperors relied for the continuation of their rule and even of their lives. Adherence to religious observance is emphasised by the sheer numbers of different deities from whom support was sought and the different ways in which they were represented on coins. Finally the frequently misunderstood concept of Virtus is discussed, along with the many ways in which these emperors attempted through coinage to convince their subjects that they possessed that quality.

As the various aspects of the coinage of the Valerianic emperors are studied, mention also has to be made of what can only be described in modern terms as a ‘propaganda war’ by means of coinage being fought between Gallienus and the Gallic emperor Postumus in the 260s AD. Similar themes can be found in the coin designs of the two emperors, as each appears to have tried to match or exceed the claims of the other to be the most effective ruler and defender of the empire.

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