NGC Ancients: Jugate and Confronted Portraits on Ancient Roman Coins

Posted on 9/8/2020

Roman die engravers had to be creative when portraying multiple subjects on a single coin.

Last month we learned how the ancient Greeks depicted two monarchs on one side of a coin. The Romans also had many occasions to portray more than one ruler on a coin. Aside from the most obvious choice — putting one portrait on each side of a coin — they came up with other creative solutions.

When two portraits appeared, they typically were shown “jugate” or “confronted”. Above is a silver denarius of A.D. 70 on which the brothers Titus and Domitian, both heirs to the throne, are shown confronted on the reverse. Their father, the emperor Vespasian, appears on the obverse.

As with our last column, we’ll focus on coins with portraits of mortals, even though gods often were depicted with mortals or with other gods in confronted or jugate formats. The Romans used these portrait styles far more often than did the Greeks, so what follows is just a sampling of the known types.

We’ll start with the jugate-style portraits on a 19mm bronze coin (above) struck in about 10 B.C. at the provincial mint of Smyrna. Produced well after Rome’s first emperor, Augustus (27 B.C.-A.D. 14), had consolidated his authority in the Roman world, it shows the portraits of Augustus and his wife, the empress Livia.

Taking the dual-portrait concept a step further, this 21mm bronze from the provincial mint of Magnesia in Lydia shows four members of Rome’s first royal family. The obverse presents two portraits jugate (Augustus and Livia) and the reverse shows two confronted (Augustus’ grandsons and heirs, Caius and Lucius).

The same two heirs of Augustus, Caius and Lucius, appear jugate on this 18mm bronze of Nicaea in Lydia. These two promising young men suffered premature deaths that many considered unnatural, though in neither case could murder be proven.

In A.D. 50 or 51 this silver cistophorus was struck at the mint of Ephesus for the emperor Claudius and his niece-wife Agrippina Junior. These rank among the most artful of all jugate portraits to appear on Roman coinage.

The silver denarius above was struck at the Rome mint late in A.D. 54, after Claudius died and was succeeded by his stepson Nero. It depicts the confronted portraits of the new emperor Nero and his domineering mother, Agrippina Junior.

On this rare billon aurelianianus, issued in A.D. 283 at the Lugdunum mint, the father-and-son emperors Carus and Carinus are shown jugate. Though they appear on the same coin, the father Carinus was leading an army to Asia Minor to fight the Persians while the son Carinus remained in command of affairs in Rome’s unstable provinces in Western Europe.

Another rare jugate type occurs on billon nummi struck at the Trier mint in A.D. 288 or 289 (shown above) for the Caesars Constantius I ‘Chlorus’ and Galerius, both of whom were subordinate to the emperors Diocletian and Maximian.

We’ll now move on to more ambitious coin types on which three rulers are shown on the single side of a coin. These five examples reveal the innovative approaches taken by the Romans to honor three subjects with a single coin design.

We’ll start with the coin above, a 17mm bronze struck at the provincial mint of Ephesus. It shows the portraits of Marc Antony, Octavian and Lepidus, the members of the Second Triumvirate, c.43-33 B.C. The presentation is fairly straightforward with all three of the portraits being jugate.

A different approach is taken on this gold aureus issued in A.D. 202 at the Rome mint. It shows the founding members of the Severan Dynasty, with the senior emperor, Septimius Severus, presented alone on the obverse. Its reverse shows the portraits of his wife, the empress Julia Domna, in the center, flanked by the confronted portraits of her two sons, the elder Caracalla on the left and the younger Geta on the right. Since Caracalla held the title of Augustus, he (like his co-emperor father) wears a laurel wreath, whereas Geta held only the subordinate title of Caesar, and thus is shown bare-headed.

Yet another triple portrait appears on this bronze medallion of A.D. 247-248, which features a delightful combination of the jugate and confronted formats. The emperor Philip I and his empress-wife Otacilia Severa are presented jugate at the left and their son, the co-emperor Philip II, is confronted with them on the right.

A similarly inventive approach was taken on this 25mm bronze (above) struck A.D. 253-260 at the provincial mint of Nicaea in Bithynia. It shows the emperor Valerian confronted with his co-emperor son Gallienus, while the next-generation heir to the throne, the Caesar Valerian II, appears between them. The two emperors wear radiate crowns, whereas the Caesar is bare-headed and smaller in size.

We’ll end this brief survey with another rare and remarkable coin depicting three emperors. This billon double-denarius was produced in Britain, perhaps in A.D. 292, by the rebel-emperor Carausius (A.D. 286/7-293). He took the bold and presumptuous step of portraying himself with his two sworn enemies, the official Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian. The coin is inscribed CARAVSIVS ET FRATRES SVI (‘Carausius and his brothers’), seemingly in the hope it might help spawn friendly relations or would deceive his subjects into believing such relations actually existed.

Images courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, LLC.

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