Aureus of Hadrian thumbnail 1
Aureus of Hadrian thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery

Aureus of Hadrian

Coin
118 AD (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

On the obverse of the coin is a relief profile of the Emperor Hadrian, who ruled over the Roman Empire 117-138 AD. We see Hadrian as a learned bearded figure, youngish, but with the heavier face and neck of a man approaching middle age. Around his head are the laurels of the Emperor of Rome.

Roman coins acted as a vehicle for the quick and wide-reaching spread of propagandic images of Imperial power, at the centre of which was the embodiement of Rome and all that its Empire stood for, the Emperor himself. Roman coins survive in very large numbers and are frequently found right across Europe, reaching the furthest corners of the Empire.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Gold
Brief Description
Coin, aureus of Hadrian, gold, head of the Emperor Hadrian, Roman, ca. 118 AD
Physical Description
Gold coin.

Obverse: Inscription. Head of Hadrian, laureate, border of dots.

Reverse: Inscription. Hadrian on horseback, galloping to right, holding a double-pointed spear.
Dimensions
  • Diameter: 1.9cm
  • Weight: 7.14g
Style
Marks and Inscriptions
  • 'HADIANVS AVGVSTVS' (obverse)
  • 'COS III' (reverse)
Credit line
Bequeathed by Mr George Salting
Object history
On the obverse of the coin is a relief profile of the Emperor Hadrian, who ruled over the Roman Empire 117-138 AD. We see Hadrian as a learned bearded figure, youngish, but with the heavier face and neck of a man approaching middle age. Around his head are the laurels of the Emperor of Rome. This is the man of whom Edward Gibbon remarked in his 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire':



"During a happy period of more than fourscore years, the public administration was conducted by the virtue and abilities of Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and the two Antonines. It is the design of this and of the two succeeding chapters to describe the prosperous condition of their empire, and afterwards, from the death of Marcus Antoninus, to deduce the most important circumstances of its decline and fall, a revolution which will ever be remembered and is still felt by the nations of the earth."



Hadrian was born on 24th January, 76 AD. Where he was born is unclear - either Italica, in Hispania Baetica, (the birthplace of his predecessor Trajan), or, and more likely, at Rome. He rose to become a military tribune at an early age, and reached the consulate as a suffect at the age of 32, the earliest possible under the principate. At Trajan's death, he was legate of the province of Syria, with responsibility for the security of the east in the aftermath of Trajan's Parthian War. Trajan was his first cousin once removed, and Hadrian was chosen as successor. His reign was largely one of conscientious administration and peace. His unusual ambition was to establish natural or man-made boundaries for the empire, making for an imperial policy more of consilidation and protection than expansion. His own military experience was extensive, and the legions were employed in Britain to build the defensive line that today bears his name. Hadrian on 10th July, 138.



On the other side of the coin is a dashing equestrian figure dressed in Roman parade armour, evidently a soldier of high rank, perhaps a legate or other general of some sort. In his hand is a light lance. This figure is a personifcation of victory, and the military might of Rome's legions. It is ironic that a horseman should be the symbol for conveying such a message, since Roman cavalry were never so skilfully used as their infantry, and indeed were unable towards the end of the Empire to compete with so-called 'barbarian' cavalry.
Historical context
Roman coins acted as a vehicle for the quick and wide-reaching spread of propagandic images of Imperial power, at the centre of which was the embodiement of Rome and all that its Empire stood for, the Emperor himself. Roman coins survive in very large numbers and are frequently found right across Europe, which we can take as proof that Romanization as a process did work, and did reach even the furthest corners of the Empire.
Subjects depicted
Summary
On the obverse of the coin is a relief profile of the Emperor Hadrian, who ruled over the Roman Empire 117-138 AD. We see Hadrian as a learned bearded figure, youngish, but with the heavier face and neck of a man approaching middle age. Around his head are the laurels of the Emperor of Rome.



Roman coins acted as a vehicle for the quick and wide-reaching spread of propagandic images of Imperial power, at the centre of which was the embodiement of Rome and all that its Empire stood for, the Emperor himself. Roman coins survive in very large numbers and are frequently found right across Europe, reaching the furthest corners of the Empire.
Bibliographic References
  • 'Salting Bequest (A. 70 to A. 1029-1910) / Murray Bequest (A. 1030 to A. 1096-1910)'. In: List of Works of Art Acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum (Department of Architecture and Sculpture). London: Printed under the Authority of his Majesty's Stationery Office, by Eyre and Spottiswoode, Limited, East Harding Street, EC, p. 112
  • This object features in 'Out on Display: A selection of LGBTQ-related objects on display in the V&A', a booklet created by the V&A's LGBTQ Working Group. First developed and distributed to coincide with the 2014 Pride in London Parade, the guide was then expanded for the Queer and Now Friday Late that took place in February 2015.
Collection
Accession Number
A.681-1910

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record createdNovember 16, 2005
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