Browse Exhibits (7 total)

Friends and Enemies of Rome


Our exhibit focuses on the relationships that Rome had with other empires and leaders. Throughout these times the massive empire had quite the list of friends and enemies. Rome's allies or “friends” would become allies of Rome after they were defeated by the large empire. The enemies of Rome dared to stand against the Roman Empire and were grudgingly respected by the Romans. The extensive history of war and conquering empires is deep-seated in the roots of Rome. In this exhibit we focus on coins that were embossed with friends and enemies of the Roman Empire. We dig deep into finding their place and influence on the Roman Empire throughout its time as the most powerful empire in the world.  

Connections Between Emperors and Gods


About the Exhibit

This specialized collection of nine coins were selected to represent the various ways in which emperors try to make connections to gods and goddesses through the creation of coins. The different depictions of objects, people, and temples are ways for emperors to show respect and admiration towards certain gods. This paying tribute to the gods directly connects the emperor to these gods who have the public's trust. Throughout this exhibit, we display and discuss how and why specific emperors came to choose these five gods. These coins are powerful evidence of how emperors connected themselves to the gods, which reinforced traditional Greek and Roman values. 

This exhibit is laid out by specific gods or goddesses. Once one chooses a god, such as Hercules, they will be directed to a page that will discuss some general information about Hercules and why an emperor would choose him to be represented on their coin. A multitude of interactive coins will be displayed on this page, but note only one or a few of these coins will be discussed in detail and accessible on the drop-down menu below the selected god.

Evolution of Coins

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Coinage began in the western portion of Anatolia in ancient Lydia, part of modern Turkey, in what would later become the heart of the Byzantine Empire. The imagery and material used for coins changed significantly as power changed hands and culture shifted. Various rulers, gods, goddesses, items, and symbols were used to show what was important to the culture at the time, for propaganda by the ruler, or as a means to denote a great event. As time progressed there is a clear shift in what was important to depict on the coins, from rulers as conquerors to deities to rulers as pious, there are marked differences throughout time. Some of these choices are rooted in the culture they derive from, where some found it important to place the likeness of gods to connect themselves to a higher being on coins while others showed the rulers to remind the people of their strength. Regardless, coins evolved through time as the understandings of their worth grew and artistic depictions shifted.



Overlaying commonalities can be found among ancient coins throughout time. One of the consistent themes throughout many of the coins is the representation of gods and goddesses. These gods and goddesses played important roles in Greek and Roman culture. Both cultures believed there is more than one god, and all the gods represent a different aspect. Gods in the Roman culture were often influenced by the gods worshiped in the Greek culture; however, there are many differences in the gods they honored and the stories told. The rich history of these cultures can be discovered when studying the imagery and details of the coins. The gods and goddesses depicted on coins often were incorporated with symbols of their power. Coins can be a powerful evidence behind the stories and beliefs of the Greek and Roman cultures. 

Greek Coins vs Roman Coins


Our exhibit focuses on both the differences and similarities found when comparing ancient Greek and Roman coins to one another. As seen through the various comparisons conducted in our gallery, one can learn that the biggest differentiation between these two types of coins is that while Greek coins often depict the busts of gods on their obverse sides, the obverse sides of Roman coins were often made with the busts of specific rulers or emperors from when the coin was minted. This being the largest distinction between them in regards to how they were designed, the symbolism behind them is actually quite similar. That is, in both Greek and Roman coins, the gods or other prominent human figures who were stamped into the currency were meant to be held in reverence by the populace. Moreover, both types of coins emphasized previous victories in battle for each of their respective cultures, as well as the importance of certain idealized virtues in their societies that became a part of their identities as citizens. With all of this in mind, it can be seen in our exhibit that the Greeks played a large role in influencing Roman culture. 

The Faces of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty


Our exhibition centers around the monetary representation of members of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty (27 BCE-68 AD), which included the sovereignty of Emperors Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. These were the Roman Empire’s first five Emperors, whose lineage dates back to Julius Caesar. Augustus was adopted by Julius Caesar and later became his heir. Tiberius later became Augustus’s heir by divorcing his wife Vipsania to marry Augustus’s daughter. After Tiberius’s death, Caligula and his cousin Gemellus were made equal heirs to their uncles throne. Caligula had murdered his cousin to become the sole heir of the throne at the age of 25. After Gaius’s murder, Claudius was found inside the palace trembling and was crowned emperor by the palace guards. Claudius had conquered parts of the Middle East and Africa during his rule. In his final battle with Parthia, the pro-Roman government had come to a collapse following their defeat. 

All of the coins selected for this exhibition represent Emperors and other Roman public figures either involved with the Emperor or the Julio-Claudian lineage. Each coin features profiled busts of the figure, oftentimes making them appear more youthful or attractive than they really were in order to preserve an idealized, and therefore infallible, appearance. Oftentimes, such figures would invoke Greco-Roman gods and goddesses, which was indicative of how dictators and emperors of ancient Rome, embellished their families and connections. Thus, such coins were designed to make Roman public figures appear less mortal, a departure from Rome’s republican ideals its population had previously held. 

The Life and Rule of Nero


Beginning his rule on December 15, 37, Nero became one of Rome’s most well-known emperors through both his positive and negative actions, starting with how he got his place on the throne. Much of his early rule was controlled by his mother Agrippina, who killed and manipulated her way to power through her son. She started by killing her second husband in order to marry her uncle, the emperor Claudius, and married off his daughter Octavia to Nero to give him a better chance of being picked to rule next. Once Nero was picked, she most likely killed Claudius with poisonous mushrooms to solidify Nero as Rome’s ruler.

The first five years of Nero’s rule were controlled by Agrippina and two other advisors, Burrus and Seneca. He was politically generous in his first five years, as he promoted the share of power within the Senate as well as making political trials open to the public and well-known. After five years had passed his advisor Seneca pushed him to rule on his own, but as this would take power away from Agrippina she was against it. She countered by saying that Claudius’ blood son should be on the throne instead of Nero and used his affair with Poppaea Sabina to say he was unfit to rule. His response to this was one that Agrippina herself would have come up with, his stepbrother “mysteriously” died, his wife Octavia was exiled and killed, and Agrippina was stabbed to death on his orders. He married Poppaea after this ordeal, but their marriage lasted for only three years before he killed her as well.

After his familial ordeal, Nero began to focus on art and entertainment throughout Greece. He encouraged dance and art lessons within the upper class, sang and performed at private events, started and participated in quinquennial public games, and recreated Rome after the tragic fire starting on June 19, 64. The fire damaged 10 of Rome’s 14 districts, with 3 being completely destroyed, and rumors began to spiral that Nero burned Rome to gain more land for a larger palace complex on the Palatine Hill. Along with this rumor was one that said Nero performed parts of “The Sack of Ilium” while standing on a roof, which has changed into the modern false fact of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. After the fire Nero used most of the treasury money to rebuild Rome around his palace complex, with a 100-foot-tall bronze-casted statue of himself, the Colossus Neronis, standing in the center. Regardless of if he played a part in the fire, Nero blamed the disaster on the Christians in the area and had them persecuted and killed for years.

After the fire, British and Judean revolts, Parthian conflicts, and rebuilding costs, Nero was forced to devalue the currency, with the silver denarius becoming worth 10% less. Not many people were happy with him after this, so there was an attempt on his life in 65 that led to him ordering the deaths of many prefects and senators, including his former advisor Seneca. He took this time to do a tour of Greece where he continued his artistic passions, but eventually returned to Rome in 68. With his return he ignored a Gallic revolt, leading to continued unrest in Africa and Spain, and governor Galba took this as an opportunity to claim leadership of the Senate and Roman People. The Praetorian Guard and the Senate allied with Galba, declaring Nero an enemy of the people. Nero tried to escape, but was unable to and took his life instead, with his last words being “What an artist dies in me!”