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|---------- The Sign Language of Roman Coins ----------|
|Romulus and Remus, Founders of Rome|
|And some other Roman twins.|
|You can click on any coin image to see the full coin.|
Rome, it was said, was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus. Of course, this was a myth; in fact it was the city's "foundation myth." In this account, Romulus and Remus were the children of the god Mars and a vestal, Rhea Silvia, a descendant of Aeneas. As babies, they were exposed in the wild, and were suckled by a wolf. Later, when they decided to found a city, they argued about which hill was better, and in the quarrel, Remus was killed.
The "wolf and twins" motif appeared on many Roman coins, from the Republic onwards. The coin on the near right is a Republican denarius dating from 115-114 BCE, and shows Roma, a personification of the city, seated on a pile of shields and a helmet. She is holding a spear.
The gear belonged to her enemies, and now it is hers by conquest. Birds fly nearby, and in front of her is the she-wolf suckling the twin babies.
The same wolf and twins are the motif of the coin on the far right, issued by Constantine the Great 400 years later in 322-323 CE. This coin is a city commemorative, with Roma on the obverse side and the legend VRBS ROMA, The City Of Rome. It was issued at the same time as a coin commemorating his new Easterm capital, Constantinopolis.
Romulus expanded his city (it was said) by kidnapping the women of the neighbouring Sabines. The city flourished and spread over five hills. Eventually, Romulus died. By the first century BCE, Quirinus, who might originally have been a Sabine war god, was said to be the deified Romulus. Quirinus was one of Rome's leading deities, one of the original Capitoline Triad with Jupiter and Mars; though by the time of the Empire, Quirinus had a lesser place in the pantheon and the Capitoline Triad was Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. The triad which included Quirinus is often called the "archaic triad." But Quirinus' chief priest, the Flamen Quirinalis, retained a powerful position in the religious heirarchy of Rome.
The coin on the left, a denarius from 56 BCE, shows Quirinus' head, decorated with a laurel wreath and with his beard in long ringlets.
Later in Roman history, during the empire, Romulus was shown at least twice on coins. The denarius of Hadrian on the right has him in the military gear of, and carrying the attributes of, the war god Mars. Compare with the denarius of Geta to its right, which does show Mars.
We can be sure Hadrian's coin does not show Mars because the figure is not wearing a helmet, as Mars invariably did, even when posed heroically nude.
The legend is ROMVLO CONDITORI, (dedicated to) Romulus the Founder. So this is Romulus in the guise of Mars. Quirinus was originally a martial deity, so this is probably Quirinus, the deified Romulus.
My last Romulus coin is another with just the same image, this time a denarius of Severus Alexander from 228 CE. This time the legend is VIRTVS AVG, the soldierly virtue of the emperor.
Coins with a VIRTVS legend often showed Mars. There was a personification of Virtus, but she was female, and often it was clearly thought more appropriate to have a masculine image on the emperor's coins. Again, we can be sure that this is not Mars because the figure is not helmeted.
It is also possible that this image is supposed to represent the emperor himself, in the guise of Romulus in the guise of Mars!
Romulus and Remus were not the only twins in Roman mythology, and they should not be confused with Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri (Roman) or Dioskouri (Greek) or just the Heavenly Twins.
Of course, they would not be confused when reading or hearing about them, but symbols of twins on coins need to be distinguished. Like Romulus and Remus, the Dioscuri also appeared on Roman coins over a long period.
On the near right is a Roman Repucblican denarius from 146 BCE, showing the Dioscuri on horseback, galloping with their spears couched, ready to be raised in action.
You can see that they are wearing pilei, conical felt hats. The pilei of the Dioscuri were simple felt caps associated with the manumission of slaves and freedom from servitude.
Above the pilei are stars, which indicate the divinity of the wearers.
The pilei and stars were the typical attributes of the Dioscuri. In an act of synecdoche, some coins showed just the hats, with a star above each, like the Republican denarius on the far left from 85 BCE.
On the near right is an antoninianus of Maxentius from 309-312 CE showing the Dioscuri with horses; nearly 400 yars later, they still have their stars.
Even though they are not actually wearing their typical pilei on this coin, they can not be Romulus and Remus because they are both adult and both deified.
And, in fact, on some versions of this coin a wolf and twins motif for Romulus and Remus, signifying Rome, is placed between this pair.
Romulus and Remus, when they appeared together, did so only as babies underneath the she-wolf.
The two little wonders seated on the throne below are also twins, born in 161 CE.
They are the children of the younger Faustina and the emperor Marcus Aurelius. It was common for Imperial children to be given prominent advertising on coins. Not only did it show that the empress was fulfilling her pious duty of procreation, but in some periods, if they were boys, it showed that there was going to be an Imperial successor without any ruinous civil wars.
But this was the empire's golden age, when the incumbent emperor selected his successor by adoption, looking for the best candidate. And these two were boys; they were the young Commodus and Antoninus.
The coin places them on a throne; this meant trouble ahead. Antoninus died in 165 CE, at the age of four. But Commodus did later become joint emperor with Marcus Aurelius in 177 CE, and sole emperor on his father's death in 180 CE, and the golden age ground to an end.
The coin next to it shows the twins again, this time in the arms of a personification of fecundity. This no doubt represented the empress, or one aspect of her. Around her stand her four other children, all girls. Fecunditas was clearly an appropriate type.
Finally, a slightly misleading coin, struck in 326 CE for Fausta, daughter of Maximianus and wife of Constantine the Great. This reverse shows Fausta as Salus, the goddess of health and welfare, holding what looks like twins; but actually they are not, though they were very close in age. They are the children who would become the emperors Constantine II, born in February 317 CE in Arelate (modern Arles), and Constantius II, born later in 317 in Sirmium.
When this coin was struck, they would have been 9 or 10 years old, so the image of two babies is more symbolic than realistic.
|The content of this page was last updated on 16 January 2011|
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