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The Reception and Rejection of Roman Imperial Portrait Models in the Eastern Provinces, 234-270 CE

Faculty Mentor: Lee Ann Riccardi

Student: Emily Conforto

The focus of this MUSE project was to examine imperial portraiture on Roman provincial coins between the years of 235-270 CE. During this time, the empire faced political turmoil and had many rulers who led for short periods of time. New coins were minted each time a new ruler assumed the throne. Bronze coins were specifically chosen for the study because they were common, and many examples exist. Unlike precious metals, bronze coins were minted in local cities all over the empire. This allowed for thousands of samples to be available for study.

The imperial portrait was a means of propaganda for the empire. The portrait of the emperor in various media was displayed in public places. Therefore, there were strict guidelines to ensure the emperor was portrayed a certain way. The imperial portrait would have distinct characteristics making it immediately recognizable by all citizens. This project studied a variety of portraits on Roman provincial coins, and compared them to the official imperial portrait types.

Traditional scholarship often assumes that the image of the emperor in the Roman provinces was highly regulated. However, by examining the portraiture on provincial coins, it becomes evident that most cities did not adhere to the official portrait image. This project therefore disproves the traditional theory by exposing the wide variety of imperial portraiture on provincial coins. Many of the portraits in the provinces barely resemble the official versions. After examining the results of this study, it becomes evident that the guidelines for the imperial portrait were only loosely followed in the many of the Roman provinces and there was far more local input than expected. Another interesting result of this study is that certain cities employed the same artisans to mint their coins, evident through the matching obverses of various coins from different cities.

 

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