Denarius (Coin) Portraying Emperor Augustus

A work made of silver.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of silver.


19/18 BC, issued by Augustus


Roman; minted in Spain, possibly Colonia Caesaraugusta (Zaragoza) or Colonia Patricia (Cordoba)

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 place of human ancestors, some rulers substituted real or mythic heroes or even the gods as their progenitors.

When a great comet appeared in the sky after Julius Caesar’s assassination, Caesar’s heir Augustus (r. 27 BC–AD 14) claimed it was proof that Caesar had become a god, making Augustus the son of a god.

On View

Ancient and Byzantine Art, Gallery 153


Ancient Roman


Denarius (Coin) Portraying Emperor Augustus




19 BC–18 BC




Obverse: CAESAR AVGVSTVS "Augustus Caesar" Reverse: DIVVS IVLIVS "Divine Julius"


Diam. 2 cm; 3.90 g

Credit Line

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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