Skip to Content

The museum is temporarily closed. Learn more.

Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Maximianus Herculius

A work made of gold.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

Image actions

  • A work made of gold.

Date:

303

Artist:

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.

On the front of this well-preserved coin is a portrait of the Roman emperor Maximianus Herculius (reigned 286–305). He was one of the four men (called tetrarchs) who together ruled the Roman Empire at this time, after its division into east and west halves under Diocletian. Maximianus is identified by the inscription that encircles his portrait—MAXIMIA - NVS P F AVG. The phrase P[ius] F[elix] Augustus indicates that he is a “dutiful” and “happy” emperor. Diocletian gave Maximianus the title of Herculius, a reference to the great hero Hercules, who is depicted on the back of the coin with his characteristic club and lion skin.

On View

Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean and Byzantium, Gallery 153

Culture

Ancient Roman

Title

Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Maximianus Herculius

Date

303 CE

Medium

Gold

Inscriptions

Obverse: MAXIMIA - NVS P F AVG (Maximianus Pius Felix Augustus) Reverse: HERCVLI – CONSER[VATORI] AUGG ET CAESS NN (defender or protector, Our Augustus and Caesar).

Dimensions

1.8 cm; 5.25 g

Credit Line

Restricted gifts of the Classical Art Society, John T. Vaughan and Jeffrey R. Darna

Reference Number

2016.189

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.

Share

Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions

Share