About This Artwork

Byzantine, minted in Ravenna, Italy

Solidus (Coin) of Honorius, AD 405

Diam. 2.1 cm; 4.39 g
(in exergue: RIV COMOB)

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson, 1922.4906

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. Rather than defending the Roman Empire, the emperor Honorius (r. A.D. 394–423) lived to see Italy overrun by Visigoths led by King Alaric, who virtually ended the rule of Rome.

—Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

The Art Institute of Chicago, Ancient Art Galleries, Gallery 155, April 20, 1994 - February 22, 2004 and May 16, 2004 - February 6, 2012.

"Coin Production in Ancient World" 1994-1997

Houston, TX, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston"The Centaur’s Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art" 22 February – 16 May 2004.

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.

Karen Alexander and Mary Greuel, Private Taste in Ancient Rome: Selections from Chicago Collections (Art Institute of Chicago, 1990), n.pag. (n. 61).

Louise Berge and Karen Alexander, "Ancient Gold Work and Jewelry from Chicago Collections," The Ancient World, vol. 11, nos. 1 and 2 (1985), p. 22.

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