Deified Augustus the most influential man in Roman history and his era is justly called the Augustan Age

Ancients Today column from the July 7, 2014, issue of Coin World
By , Coin World
Published : 06/23/14
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The emperor Augustus (27 B.C. to A.D. 14) was arguably  the most accomplished and influential man in Roman history. 

His impact on his own era — justly called the Augustan Age — was nothing less than revolutionary, and upon his death he was declared a god.

Before Augustus, his adoptive father Julius Caesar was the only Roman to have been honored with deification. Augustus became the first emperor to be deified, setting a precedent that allowed the practice eventually to become a standard feature of holding that office.

Augustus’ deification allowed later emperors to honor him with coins that described him as a god. Most were “imperial” issues struck at mints operated by the central government, though many other coins of this nature were struck in the provinces.

The next four emperors who reigned after Augustus belonged to the Julio-Claudians, the ruling family that he once headed. Three of them struck coins honoring Augustus as a god. Such coins were ideal for reinforcing the status of current members of the royal family by advertising their association with the divine Augustus.

The first to do so was Augustus’ adoptive son and successor, Tiberius (A.D. 14 to 37). Of all Rome’s emperors, Tiberius had the most urgent need to honor Augustus, for there was some resistance to his succession. The memory of Augustus was fresh in the minds of all Romans, and Tiberius eagerly associated himself with the legacy of Augustus.

Though Tiberius had only one precious metal coinage for Divus Augustus — a gold aureus that he struck upon his accession — he issued untold millions of brass and copper coins honoring Augustus that circulated mainly in the western half of the empire.

Brass sestertii of Tiberius showing a statue of Augustus, either free-standing or set upon a cart drawn by four elephants, are quite scarce. However, his brass dupondii and copper asses with the head of Divus Augustus wearing a radiate crown were mass-produced. Seven reverse types for these coins were produced: a winged thunderbolt, an eagle standing on a globe, an oak wreath enclosing the letters S C, an altar, a temple, the figure of Victory advancing, and the seated figure of Augustus’ widow, Livia.

Whereas Tiberius’ program for Divus Augustus had focused mainly on base metal coins, that of his successor, Caligula (A.D. 37 to 41), focused mainly on gold and silver coinage. His types are not particularly original, as they merely pair his own portrait with that of Divus Augustus. Caligula had almost no experience in government or military affairs when he became emperor, and it was important for him to publicize his main qualification for office — being a great-grandson of Augustus.

Caligula’s brass coins for Divus Augustus are limited in scope and were not produced on a large scale. They consist of sestertii that show Caligula preparing to sacrifice a bull before a temple of Divus Augustus, and a dupondius with Augustus’ portrait.

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