From Art to Artifact:  Making Sense of Roman Coins

Sestertius of Nero

Obverse: IMP NERO CLAUD CAESAR AUG GER PM TRP PP; Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, as Pontifex Maximus with Tribunician power and Father of the Country.

Reverse: PACE P[E]R TERRA MARIQ[UE] PARTA IANUM CLUSIT; [continuation of obvesrse] having borne peace throughout the land and sea, closed the Temple of Janus.

Coin Information

The inscription on this brass sestertius of Nero (24.5 g), minted at Rome in 66 CE, is the first of its kind: Nero’s sestertius is the first Roman coin to create a complete sentence from the sum of the obverse and reverse inscriptions . This design capitalizes on the double-sidedness of the coin, emphasizing the medium’s interactivity and dynamism as a political instrument. This coin begs to be flipped over

According to convention, the obverse inscription records the emperor Nero’s titles: IMP NERO CLAUD CAESAR AUG GER PM TRP PP, Imperator Nero Cladius Caesar Augustus Germanicus Pontifex Maximus Tribunicia Potestas Pater Patriae [Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, as Pontifex Maximus with Tribunician power and Father of the Country].

The reverse inscription, however, transforms the emperor’s titles on the obverse into a grammatical subject by adding a verb phrase: PACE P[E]R TERRA MARIQ[UE] PARTA IANUM CLUSIT […closed the Temple of Janus, having borne peace throughout the land and sea].

The obverse of the coin shows the filleted head of Nero facing left. The reverse of the coin depicts a simplified image of the Temple of Janus flanked by the letters ‘SC,’ Senatus Consulto [By decree of the Senate].

RIC 182; Hood 27.1.29288.