From Art to Artifact:  Making Sense of Roman Coins

Coin of Julia Domna

Research Commentary

The complexity of Julia Domna’s obverse portrait, accompanied by her diverse reverse types, renders her contribution to Roman coinage remarkable. Three different periods of minting have been identified according to the obverse legends of Domna’s coins; the first period of production from 193-196 bearing the legend IVLIA DOMNA AVG; the second period from 196-211 with IVLIA AVGVSTA; and the last period from 211- 217 with IVLIA PIA FELIX AVG. Detailed portraits of an aging Domna accompany these different legends, and the strain of the tragic events of her life is clear in the increasing harshness and severity of her features. At first, Domna appears youthful in her obverse portraits—her eyes are large and round and her cheeks and mouth appear soft—though by Domna’s last period of minting, these same features are harsh and severe, accompanied by a helmet-like hairstyle.
Approximately seventy-seven different reverse types accompany Julia Domna’s obverse portrait. Of these diverse types, only personifications of Fecunditas, Venus (most often as Genetrix), Vesta, and Mater, each a representation of motherhood and fertility, were minted during all three periods of Doma’s coinage. The embodiment of fecundity is the most consistent image on Julia Domna’s coins, suggesting the importance of this quality to a Roman empress of Domna’s time.