Aureus of Elagabalus
- Place of origin:
Rome, Italy (made)
221 AD (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Bequeathed by Mr George Salting
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Medieval and Renaissance, room 8, case 13
This coin shows the Roman Emperor Elagabalus, whose short reign lasted from 218-222 AD. On the reverse of the coin in the Sun God, holding a whip in his hand. Elagabalus held the hereditary rank of high priest to the Syrian sun god El-Gabal (or Baal). Behind the figure of El-Gabal in the sky is a blazing star, a potent symbol of Rome's eternal light and power.
Roman coins were used both as currency and as a means to spread the image of the Roman Emperor and his family and closest supporters across the empire.
Gold coin. On the obverse: Inscription. Head of Elagabalus to right, laureate, border of dots. Reverse: Inscritpion. The Sun God walking to left with right raised, and holding a whip in left. in the field a star.
Place of Origin
Rome, Italy (made)
221 AD (made)
Materials and Techniques
Marks and inscriptions
'IMP. ANTONINVS PIVS AVG.'
'PM TR P IIII COS II P P'
Diameter: 2.15 cm, Weight: 6.35 g
Object history note
This coin shows the Roman Emperor Elagabalus, whose short reign lasted from 218-222 AD. On the reverse of the coin in the Sun God, holding a whip in his hand. Elagabalus in fact held the hereditary rank of high priest to the Syrian sun god El-Gabal (or Baal), and his mother was related to the Imperial dynasty. Behind the figure of El-Gabal in the sky is a blazing star, another potent symbol of Rome's eternal light and power, burning bright amid a sea of non-Roman neighbours, 'barbarians' and the like.
Elagabalus was born Varius Avitus Bassianus in 203 or 204 at Emesa in Syria. Around 220 he unsuccessfully attempted to make El-Gabal the supreme god of the Roman state cult.
From the Salting bequest.
Historical context note
Roman coins were used both as money and to spread the image of the Roman Emperor and his family and closest supporters. They are general not 'portraits' in the modern sense, but instead use facial and physical features to express the manner, and central tenor of the Emperor's rule - his style and interests as a ruler - a thinker like Marcus Aurelius was shown bearded and wise-looking, regardless of whether or not he did in actual fact wear a beard.
Nonetheless, they should not be completely dismissed as records of Imperial likenesses, since the Emperors showed an interest in portraiture in the modern sense, and artists had produced naturalistic portraits since Alexander the Great's time, another man with a keen interest in spreading his image, one of youth, vigour and victory.
Coin (aureus), gold, of the Emperor Elagabalus (reigned 218-222) / the Syrian sun god El-Gabal (Baal), Roman, 221 AD
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
'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. 114
Laurel wreaths; Elagabalus (Emperor)
Sculpture; Myths & Legends; Coins & Medals