About This Artwork

Roman, minted in Rome

Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Nerva, A.D. 97, issued by Nerva

Diam. 1.9 cm; 7.64 g
"Public Liberty"

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4870

Five Good Roman Emperors

The Roman Empire, which flourished from 27 B.C. to A.D. 410, was ruled by a variety of emperors, some who inherited the throne and some who seized it. As rulers came and went, it was important to announce the transition of power quickly. Since the Mint regularly struck coins to pay the armies stationed throughout the empire, it was easy to change the portrait, revise names in the inscription, and publish the news.

In A.D. 96 Emperor Domitian (r. A.D. 81–96) who fancied himself a god, was assassinated with the assent of his wife. To avert a succession battle, the Army and the Senate stepped in to choose the next ruler. From A.D. 96 to 180, Rome enjoyed a series of five wise leaders who were chosen for their merit and who came to be known as the "Good Emperors." Nerva (r. A.D. 96–98; no. 1), an honest and respected senator, took the throne with the understanding that he would be succeeded by a popular general from Spain named Trajan (r. A.D. 98–117). Although Nerva ruled only two years, he enacted compassionate social programs and is considered the first of the Good Emperors. For the next 85 years each emperor would select from among the best possible candidates, adopting his chosen successor as his son.

—Permanent collection label

This work appears in the online catalogue Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, featuring art historical essays and conservation reports on artworks from the ancient Roman world in the Art Institute’s collection. Entries include new high-resolution photography, stunning 360-degree views of the works, and in-depth technical imaging and analysis. The volume is free to the public.

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

Classical Philology, 97, 1 (Jan. 2002), cover illustration.

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), pp. 28, 29.

Karen Manchester. Recasting the Past: Collecting and Presenting Antiquities at the Art Institute of Chicago, (Art Institute of Chicago/Yale University Press, 2012), pp.90-91, (cat.20), 113.

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