Denarius of Trajan, “OPTIMO PRINCIPI”

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112–114 CE
Hood Museum of Art: Museum purchase; 163.67.29759

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

Legend: IMP(erator) TRAIANO AVG(ustus) GER(manicus) DAC(icus) P(ontifex) M(aximus) TR(ibunicia) P(otestas) CO(n)S(ul)VI P(ater) P(atriae) ( Emperor Trajan Augustus Germanicus Dacicus, Pontifex Maximus, endowed with power of the Tribune, consul for the sixth time, Father of his Country), clockwise from six o’clock.

Reverse: Mars, advancing right, wearing a helmet, carrying a long spear in his right hand and balancing a trophy on his left shoulder. Border of dots.

Legend: S(enatus)P(opulus)Q(ue)R(omanus) OPTIMO PRINCIPI (the Senate and the Roman people, for the best Princeps) clockwise from seven o’clock.


Trajan’s coinage reveals a distinctive brand of militarism characterized by dynamism and perpetuity. With his “never-aging” adult self on the obverse, the coin develops this image of endurance on its reverse through its depiction of the god Mars, advancing from left to right, as if from one battle to the next. Further, while Trajan had a great respect for Augustus and sought to associate himself with the Julio-Claudians, his coin nevertheless conveys an active militarism that purposefully sets him apart from how Augustus, for instance, portrayed Mars on his coinage. Clad in armor inside a temple, Augustus’ Mars suggested peace or the conclusion of a military campaign.

This text was prepared by Jasper Hicks, Class of 2012 

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