Digging into the Collections June 2017

Roman Coin: A bronze antoninianus of Tetricus I

This entry’s artifact is a Roman coin.

Bronze antoninianus of Tetricus I. Ohio History Connection.

This bronze coin is an antoninianus, which is a modern name for the coin type as the Roman one is unknown.  The name is derived from Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, better known by his nickname Caracalla, who introduced the coin to the Roman Empire in 215 A.D. The coin was valued at 2 denarii (s. denarius), which were the most common coins produced by the Romans.  The coin was in use until the coin reformation of Diocletian in 293 A.D., which tried to fix the percentages of metals in coins to the proper amounts.

(Side note: the Romans used precious metals such as bronze, silver, and gold to make their coins.  The weight of the coin determined the coin’s value and was slightly higher than its intrinsic value.  So one silver denarius equaled 10 bronze asses.  The predominant type of metal used for coins fluctuated throughout the Roman Empire depending on its availability.  Overtime, the purity of the metals in coins was reduced and resulted eventually in Diocletian’s reform.)


The imagery on coins were regularly used for propaganda purposes.  Coins are great for disseminating information as they were used across the empire, crossed many hands, and used imagery to convey a message (which is important to reach the illiterate population).  The practice began in the Republic when mythological figures, gods, and deceased ancestors were pictured to get a specific point across (like depicting ones political or religious office).  Julius Caesar, according to Nancy L. Thompson, revolutionized coin propaganda in 44 B.C.

“when he issued coins with his own image on them.  This was the first time that a living person had been depicted on Roman coinage…After Caesar’s assassination in March of 44 B.C., the Roman emperors who succeeded him followed the example Caesar set, seeing to it that coins struck with images of themselves were produced and disseminated throughout the empire.” (31)

The antoninianus in our collection depicts Emperor Tetricus I, who reigned the Gallic Empire from 271-273 A.D.  The Gallic Empire formed as a counter-empire to the Roman Empire in lower Germany, Gaul, and Britain.  The army in the region revolted against the Rome in 260 A.D. and declared their general, Postumus, to be emperor.  The Gallic Empire continued to exist after Postumus’ death in 269 A.D. and lasted until the summer of 274 A.D., so shortly after Tetricus I’s reign.

Map of Ancient Rome 271 A.D. Oulienne et Pomalee. 2011. Wikimedia Commons.

At this time, the Roman Empire was experiencing a period of great unrest.  Between the assassination of the last of the Severans in 235 A.D. and the beginning of Diocletian’s reign in 284 A.D., 25 men bore the title emperor.  Additionally, two areas of the Roman Empire broke off to form their own empires: the Gallic Empire and the Palmyrene Empire.  Coins are an important artifact during this time period as they are sometimes the only representations were have of the actual Roman emperors as well as those in the Gallic and Palmyrene Empires.

On the coin in the collection at Ohio History Connection, Tetricus I is depicted on the obverse (or front) of the coin with a radiate (or sun-ray like) crown.  His bust is draped, and he has a beard, which was fashionable at the time.

On the reverse (or back of the coin), there is a worn figure standing left of center holding something in their left hand. The inscription along the edge is worn, but the whole thing can be determined by what is left as it depicts standard Roman coin iconography.  The figure on the coin is Hilaritas, the personification of celebration or rejoicing.  She is shown planting her long palm branch into the ground and is usually holding a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, in her right hand.  The symbolism was meant to depict a happiness and a reason to celebrate.

You can currently see this coin on display at the Ohio History Center in my staff pick case.

Posted June 16, 2017

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