From Art to Artifact:  Making Sense of Roman Coins

The Coin of Julia Titi

Female Fertility on Coins

The Julia Titi coin demonstrates the malleable meaning of symbols and the political role of females during the Roman Empire. By drawing upon a rich numismatic history, imperial mints could reinvent an image for a whole new campaign. The reverse type of a half-nude Venus leaning on a column originates with an issue of Octavian in the late 30s BCE. The type was reused during reign of Vespasian as part of Titus’s coinage. It then appeared on the coins of his daughter, Julia Titi. Henceforth in the numismatic record, this reverse was paired with female imperial portraits (Domitia, Sabina, Julia Domna), with only the exception of a Julius Caesar restoration coin by Trajan. Thus, the Venus reverse created by Octavian was adopted by imperial women for the advertisement of female fertility and status. Julia Titi’s original cooption of the reverse from her father gendered the image for female usage. Because coins were political products, they reflected contemporary attitudes about the female’s position in the state. The imperial woman’s public service was performing her traditional private roles as a daughter, wife, and mother. Women of the emperors’ families served as bearers of imperial heirs and as matrons of the state. In Roman society, a woman’s sexuality was framed by her reproductive capabilities. Therefore an erotic image of a half-naked Venus paired with the portrait of an imperial daughter can be read as an assertion of fertility instead of sexual appetite. This Julia Titi coin exhibits the need to read a coin’s message in the context of the numismatic record and the contemporary culture.