Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Aurelian

A work made of gold.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of gold.


272, issued by Aurelian


Roman, minted in Siscia (uncertain)

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 empire never fully recovered the strength and prosperity enjoyed under the Good Emperors. A period of inflation and economic depression, mixed with increasing pressure from invading tribes, pushed the empire into crisis. Coins produced during this era never matched the beauty of ones produced during the era of the Good Emperors—a reflection of the empire in decline. Like many of the 20-plus emperors who rose and fell
in this short 50-year timespan, Aurelian was a soldier (reigned 270-75). His coin here shows him in military gear. He helped secure the empire’s borders with initiatives further developed by Diocletian.

On View

Ancient and Byzantine Art, Gallery 153


Ancient Roman


Aureus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Aurelian




272 AD




Obverse: AURELIANVS AVG "Aurelianus Augustus" Reverse: P M TR P COS P P


Diam. 2.1 cm; 5.72 g

Credit Line

Gift of Martin A. Ryerson

Reference Number


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 .


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