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RIC I (second edition) Nero 60, Rome, 65-66 CE, JIAAW 038.04.03, 3.44g


Can you describe this coin for us?

The obverse of the coin features a bust of the emperor, facing right, and decorated with laurel, a sign of imperial authority. Running clockwise along the edge of the coin is the legend NERO CAESAR AVGVSTVS, a listing of some of the emperor's titles. The reverse of the coin, as is typical for Roman coinage, is more abstract, featuring the goddess Salus, or Well-Being, seated on an ornamental throne, holding in her right hand the patera (libation bowl), another object associated with the Roman emperors and their power. Her name is written in exergue (beneath the image).

Can you tell us something about the context in which your coin was minted?

This coin is a silver denarius dating from 68 CE, toward the end of the reign of Nero (37-68; ruled 54-68). Like other imperial denarii of the period, this coin was minted at Rome. Before Nero's reign, the city of Lugdunum, Gaul, (modern Lyon, France) had been the main hub for precious-coin production. This denarius type is significant for several reasons. It was minted c. 65, a year after Rome had been devastated by a great fire, and Nero himself had almost been assassinated in a conspiracy led by the Roman senator C. Calpurnius Piso. In the wake of these events, (although not necessarily because of them) Nero made significant changes to Roman gold and silver coinage, reducing the purity and weight of each by an unprecedented amount. For instance, while previous Imperial denarii had been almost completely pure, and had weighed 3.85 g on average, Nero reduced the silver content and average weight of the denarius to 85% and 3.2-3.5 g, respectively, setting a precedent that later emperors would follow during times of financial hardship. These reductions may help to explain the fact that Nero's coinage is relatively common today compared to that of his predecessors, whose purer coins would likely have been hoarded and, especially, melted down for their precious metal content.

What is the most interesting thing you have discovered doing research about this coin?

Another interesting aspect of this coin is the significance of the use of Salus on the reverse. Purely figurative depictions of the goddess had not been featured in Imperial coinage before. Nero, following the conflagration at Rome and his own scrape with death, may have adopted the symbol in order to indicate the wellbeing of both himself and the city. In any event, Nero also dedicated a temple to the goddess. Following Nero's death in 68 without an heir, and the ensuing civil wars ending with the ascension of Vespasian, the use of Salus on Imperial coinage became much more common, being associated with both the emperor's good fortune (SALVS AVGVSTI) and the public weal (SALVS PUBLICA). While Salus coins were never an especially numerous type, most Roman emperors were minting them by the start of the third century, and their use persisted at least through the reign of Constantine, who equated himself with Salus and in doing so commemorated the identification of the emperor with the state. Nero's post-64 denarii are thus notable not only for changing Roman coin standards forever, but also for introducing a type that would prove influential to future Imperial issues.

William Jacobs
h o m e
late 3rd c BCE
2nd c BCE
1st c BCE