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About This Artwork
Solidus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Julian II, AD 361 (Summer)/363 (26 June)
Diam. 2.2 cm; 4.41 g
OB: FL CL IVLIANVS P P AVG
REV: VIRTVS EXERCITVS ROMANORVM
(In exergue: SIRM)
Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4900
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.
Coins were an excellent way for leaders to advertise their victories whether in battle or at the Olympic Games.
Emperor Julian (r. A.D. 360–363), shown dragging a captive by the hair, issued this coin as he set out to conquer the Persian Empire. He would be killed in combat.
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.