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 AD 313, Constantine I (reigned 306–37) and his coruler Licinius (reigned 308–24) jointly issued the Edict of Milan, which aimed to end religious intolerance by granting legal rights to Christians and ordering the return of their confiscated property. This solidus, bearing a large profile portrait of Constantine wearing a laurel crown, was issued during the period in which Constantine both defeated Licinius to become sole emperor and sponsored the First Council of Nicaea (325), whose goal was to establish the nature of Jesus and his relation to God the Father. Baptized on his deathbed, Constantine is honored as the first Christian emperor, and his reign marks the beginning of the Christianization of the empire. He transferred the capital of the Roman Empire to ancient Byzantium, which was renamed Constantinople in his honor.
- Ancient Roman
- Solidus (Coin) Portraying Emperor Constantine I
- 324 AD–325 AD
- Obverse: CONSTANTINVS P F AVG (Pius et Felix - dutiful and happy) Reverse: AOVENTVS [sic] AVGVSTI N ; in exergue, SMAN* (mint mark signifying Sacra Moneta Antioch) "The coming of our Augustus"
- Diam. 1.9 cm; 4.48 g
- Gift of Martin A. Ryerson