Skip to Content
Closed today, next open tomorrow. Closed today, next open tomorrow.

Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Otho

A work made of gold.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

Image actions

  • A work made of gold.


69 (January-April), issued by Otho


Roman; minted in Rome

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.

Roman emperor Nero killed himself in 68, bringing an end to his chaotic reign. What followed was an equally chaotic struggle over who would succeed him. The year 69 saw one general after another rule and die in quick succession: Galba (reigned June 68–Jan. 69), Otho (reigned Jan.–Apr. 69), Vitellius (reigned Apr.–Dec. 69), and finally Vespasian (reigned 69–79), who founded the Flavian dynasty that ruled until 96. The harsh character of these four emperors is emphasized by the realistic features of their coin portraits—the hooked nose of Galba, the double chin and vain curls of Otho (seen in this coin), the plump features of the gluttonous Vitellius, and the lined complexion of battle-hardened Vespasian.

The front (obverse) of this coin portrays the head of Emperor Otho to the right, bare. On the back (reverse) is Securitas standing to the left, with a wreath in right hand, scepter in left.


Currently Off View


Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean and Byzantium


Ancient Roman


Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Otho


Rome (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.

69 CE






Diam.: 1.9 cm (3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson

Reference Number


IIIF Manifest  The International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) represents a set of open standards that enables rich access to digital media from libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural institutions around the world.

Learn more.

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.


Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions