Honoring Rome’s founding on ancient coins: Ancients Today

Coins over centuries reflect legend of Romulus, Remus
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 01/16/16
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Sometimes on these issues a boat appears beneath the wolf and twins, which may allude to the cradle in which the twins were delivered safely to the shores of the Tiber.

During the mid-second century A.D. the wolf and twins were used prominently as a reverse type by the emperors Hadrian (117 to 138) and Antoninus Pius (138 to 161). In the latter instance, Pius used it (along with other designs relating to early Roman lore) in anticipation of the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Rome, which occurred in 148.

On Pius’ coins the scene often is nestled within a cave or a grotto, which almost certainly represents the Lupercal, the cave on the Palatine Hill in which the she-wolf is said to have suckled the twins.

Some final uses of theme

About a century later Rome was ready to celebrate its millennium during the reign of the emperor Philip I (244 to 249). The she-wolf and twins appear as a reverse type on this emperor’s coins in relation to that event, which occurred at a time when Rome was in a particularly vulnerable state and had little to celebrate.

During that same era of military anarchy the wolf-and-twins design occurs on silver-washed coins of the emperors Gallienus (253 to 268), Claudius II “Gothicus” (268 to 270), Aurelian (270 to 275), and Probus (276 to 282) — all perhaps as nostalgic remembrances of Rome’s early days.

Later still in that century, the design was used by the rebels Maxentius (307 to 312) and Carausius (286 or 287 to 293), both of whom had established outlaw regimes. They made liberal use of designs that spoke to the faded glory of the Roman world, no doubt hoping to stir emotions among their subjects that might improve the chances of survival for the new rulers.

Late in the reign of Constantine I “the Great” (307 to 337) the she-wolf-and-twins design was again used, though in this case as a specific reference to the city of Rome, for in 330 this emperor had founded a new capital in the East, Constantinople.

Starting in 330, Constantine began to issue untold millions of small copper coins celebrating the two capitals, with the one dedicated to Rome pairing the helmeted head of Roma with the she-wolf and twins. Perhaps as late as 347, in anticipation of Rome’s 1,100th anniversary, that same design was used for bronze medallions issued at the Rome mint by Constantine’s sons.

The last major use of this iconic design in ancient times was by the Ostrogoths, “barbarians” who by 476 had taken control of the Italian peninsula from the Romans. Large, thick copper coins issued by the Ostrogoths in the late fifth and the early sixth centuries A.D. mimic the familiar design of Constantine I that paired the helmeted head of Roma with the she-wolf and twins. 

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