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.
In the mid-50s BC, it became common to portray ancestors that reinforced an important family lineage. The
politician Lucius Marcius Philippus traced his lineage to the legendary King Ancus Marcius, who was believed to have lived in the late seventh century BC.
- Ancient Roman
- Denarius (Coin) Portraying King Ancus Marcius
- Roman Empire
- 56 BC
- Diam. 1.8 cm; 4.19 g
- Gift of Martin A. Ryerson