Roman Imperial Coin Portraits

Denarius of TrajanCoins are sculptural monuments in miniature. Imperial coin portraits conveyed important socio-political messages during Roman times. In a time before photography, coin portraits, usually found on the obverses (fronts) of the coins, allowed the emperor to present his image to people living anywhere within the bounds of the Empire. In doing so he could choose to present himself in a variety of styles, from the idealized to the harshly realistic, and in a variety of guises, from the heroic military leader, to the tactful statesman, and even to the living incarnation of a god. His name and official titles are listed in the space that surrounds the portrait. These images are invaluable, as coins sometimes present the only known portraits of certain imperial personages. In addition, these portraits provide evidence of changes in aesthetic tastes such as hairstyles and modes of dress. Changes in the imagery and quality of the portraits reflect the evolving social, political, and economical state of the Empire.

The coins exhibited here have been selected because they are choice examples of Roman Imperial portraits of the 1st and 2nd centuries after Christ, a time when many of the finest portraits were executed.

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"I still remember the feeling of awe and disbelief when I was alone and walked in the room with those casts." --Ruth Tofle, chair of architecture, winner of the 2013 distinguished faculty award from the MU Alumni Association