About This Artwork

Roman, minted in Rome

Antoninianus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Balbinus, AD 238 (April/June), issued by Balbinus and Pupienus

Diam. 2.2 cm; 4.85 g
"Imperator Caesar Decimus Caelius Balbinus Augustus"
"Mutual Piety of the Augusti"

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4894

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 ray-like crown depicted on Balbinus’s head associated the emperor with the sun much like a halo indicates a holy being.

—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

The Art Institute of Chicago, Grave Goods from Ancient Cultures, Gallery 141, November 9, 1991-February 25, 1992.

Publication History

Theresa Gross-Diaz, “Cat. 64 Antoninianus Portraying Balbinus: Curatorial Entry,” in Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 2016).

Theresa Gross-Diaz, “Cat. 66 Aureus Portraying Gordian III: Curatorial Entry,” in Roman Art at the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 2016), para 2.

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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