Denarius of Hadrian, “PONTIFEX MAXIMUS”

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119–122 CE
Hood Museum of Art: Gift of Arthur Fairbanks, Class of 1886; 27.1.29325

Obverse: Bust of Hadrian, facing right, bearded, laureate, drapery over the left shoulder. Border of dots.

Legend: IMP(erator) CAESAR TRAIAN(us) HADRIANVS AVG(ustus) (Emperor Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus) clockwise from six o’clock.

Reverse: A winged victory, draped, moving right, holding a trophy in front of her with both hands. The trophy consists of a helmet, hexagonal shield, circular shield, and cuirass.

Legend: P(ontifex) M(aximus) TR(ibunicia) P(otestas) CO(n)S(ul) III (Pontifex Maximus, endowed with power of the Tribune, consul for the third time) clockwise from seven o’clock.


Considering Hadrian’s humiliating retreats after Trajan’s successes, his poor initial popularity, and his public-relations campaign, Hadrian’s denarius may be part of a wider program to restore confidence in his military reputation: the coin shows a winged victory holding a trophy covered with shields and a helmet. Perhaps, contemporary military events, such as the major conflict in Britain and other pacification efforts, precipitated the iconography. The imagery may even represent Victory’s support and accompaniment of Hadrian on his travels, as he went about ensuring his policy of victory through peace.

This text was prepared by Morgan Sutherland, Class of 2014 

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