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Congiarium



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CONGIARIUM.----A gift made to the people by the emperors, and the presentation of which is often exhibited on Roman coins, accompanied by the legend above named, generally abbreviated, but sometimes inscribed at full. The word comes from congius (a measure of liquids, as modius was a measure of solids); because originally the gifts distributed to the people consisted of oil and wine, which was measured by congii. The imperial presents, on the other hand, consisted of silver, of spices, of corn, as things more suitable to the occasion; but the name remained the same.

On the reverse of coins recording these largesses, as a Congiarium datum Populo, the emperor is usually depicted, seated on a curule chair, which is placed on a suggestum, or raised platform, in the midst of several figures, several of whom appear in the act of delivering, others in that of receiving, the benefaction. When the reigning prince thought proper to grant a second, or a third, etc. we read on the coin Congiarium Secondum, Tertium, etc.  Sometimes we see, standing on the same estrade with the emperor, the personification of Liberalitas, under the figure of a woman, having a tessera, or sort of square tablet, in her right hand; and, occaisonally, a cornucopiae resting on her left arm.

It is further to be observed, that the Congiarium was a present from the emperor to the people. His gifts to the soldiery were called, not congiaria, but donativa.----Thus it was said----Congiarium populo dedit, militibus donativum addidit.----See Kolb, Traite Elementaire, vol. i. p. 248.

Nero is the first emperor whose congiaria are recorded on coins; and he carried the practice itself of distributing gifts to the people, or rather the populace, to the most preposterous excess. He frequently established a species of lottery, for which the tesserae served as tickets, and of which the numbers entitled the bearer to gifts of from the lowest to the highest value.

After the reign of M. Aurelius the word congiarium disappears from numismatic legends, and the term Liberalitas is used alone.  It original phrase which corresponded to the simplicity of the earlier distributions did not fit the munificence of the later emperors displayed. 


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