About This Artwork

Roman, minted in Rome

Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Domitian, A.D. 90/91, issued by Domitian

Diam. 2 cm; 7.52 g
"Domitian Augustus"

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4869

The purpose of the first portrait coins was to identify the ruler. The front side became a mirror of the sovereign’s self-image. The back was often used to communicate the ruler’s accomplishments or intentions.

The profile portrait was used because it suited the very shallow depth and limited surface of the coin. The tiny images were carved by engravers into bronze dies, one for the front and another for the back. Whereas modern coinage is cast by pouring molten metal into molds, these coins were struck, one by one.


Since few citizens actually saw their sovereign, recognizable symbols such as crowns, robes, and regalia served to identify the ruler. The laurel wreath, long a symbol of victory in Greece, was adopted by the Romans as the sign of kingship as well as victory.

—Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

"Ruling Families : Imperial Dynasties of the Early Roman Empire 31 B.C.-A.D.235." Nov.
1997-Nov.2001, Gallery 155 (Coin Case)

Publication History

Karen B. Alexander. "From Plaster to Stone: Ancient Art at the Art Institute of Chicago." in Recasting the Past: Collecting and Presenting Antiquities at the Art Institute of Chicago, by Karen Manchester, (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2012) p.29.

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