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Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Diocletian

A work made of gold.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of gold.


294-305, issued by Diocletian


Roman; minted in Trier, Germany

About this artwork

Portraits of important people appear on local currency all around the world. The same was true in ancient Rome, which began producing its first coinage in the late 4th century BC. Early coins depicted the heads of gods and goddesses on the front side, often in profile, while the back depicted animals, natural resources, symbols, and references to historical events. It was not until 44 BC that the portrait of a living person—Julius Caesar—appeared on coins. Thereafter, profile portraits of rulers or other members of the imperial family became the standard subject on coins throughout the Roman Empire.

Inscriptions on coins help identify the ruler. While the front side depicted the sovereign’s portrait, the back was often used to communicate the ruler’s accomplishments or aspirations. Until Late Antiquity, portraits usually appeared in profile. The tiny images were carved by engravers into bronze dies, with one for the front and another for the back. The coins were then struck, one by one, in a process similar to how coins are created today.

The fourth century was a time of tremendous political, social, and religious strife within the Roman Empire, but the imagery on these coins tells a story of an unbroken chain of powerful rulers. Diocletian (reigned 284–305) enacted a series of administrative, military, and monetary reforms that brought an end to the chaos of the third century. He divided the vast empire into western and eastern halves and assigned their administration to four men, the Tetrarchy. Each half was governed by two tetrarchs, one senior and one junior in status. Portraits of these rulers are generic-looking, without individualized features, to reinforce the unity of their joint rule.


On View, Gallery 153


Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean and Byzantium


Ancient Roman


Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Diocletian


Trier (Minted in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

294 CE–305 CE




Obverse: DIOCLETIANVS P F AVG Reverse: IOVI FVLGERATORI; PT (in exergue)


Diam.: 1.8 cm (3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Mr. Roger Trienens

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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