Welcome to the Roman Baths Blog!

This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Tuesday Times Tables: Propaganda in your Pocket

Roman propaganda is everywhere! From literature to architecture, statues to religious ceremonies, the Romans made sure to impart what they saw as the benefits of living within the empire onto the provinces. Coins are a quick and easy way to spread imagery and messages, as we use money every day, and Roman coins were no different.
In the provinces, conquered locals were very unlikely to ever see the emperor, and even people living in Rome itself wouldn’t see him on a daily basis. Having his face on a coin allowed people outside of Rome to recognise the emperor, so he wasn’t just another faceless ruler from another country. It also strengthened the practice of the imperial cult outside of Rome, which was the idea that the ruling emperor and his family were worshipped, but not recognised as formal deities. Generally, people would be more willing to perform sacrifices if they knew who it was for, and coinage greatly helped.

The reverse of the coin was also used for propaganda, showing military or religious imagery, depending on who issued it. For example, coins issued by Vespasian (AD 69-79) and Titus (AD 79-81) bear images linked to the First Jewish Revolt (AD 66-73) and the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70). These two emperors lead the legions that crushed the Jewish revolt in the province of Judaea demonstrating military strength, and the message seems to be ‘We will crush any rebellion’, possibly to dissuade future revolts.

Vespasian dupondius; reverse showing ‘Judaea’  next to a trophy

                                   Titus sestertius; reverse showing defeated Jewish rebels                              next to a palm tree, IUDAEA CAPTA S.C

Even emperors with no experience in the army used military imagery. The Nero sestertius pictured below depicts him on the reverse with a soldier, galloping on horseback, despite Nero preferring to pursue more artistic activities, like music and literature.

Nero sestertius; reverse showing Nero and a soldier on horseback

On both faces of a coin there is usually writing around the edge, though on some Roman coins this is difficult to read because it has worn away over time. This list of achievements or titles gained during an emperor’s reign tells us a lot about how he wanted to present himself. 

The names ‘Augustus’ and ‘Caesar’ are seen on imperial coins, and became adopted titles for emperors and their heirs. Augustus was Rome’s first emperor, and Julius Caesar his adoptive great-uncle, so the names also provide a link to military heroes who were loved by the people. The religious implication of these names is important too, as Caesar claimed to be descended from Venus, and therefore so did Augustus and all of his heirs.

Military titles are also included like ‘Germanicus’, translating as ‘Conqueror of the Germans’. We see this on Caligula’s coinage, and here it has two meanings; Germanicus was Caligula’s father’s name, but he was also a successful general in Germania. Associating himself with his father’s memory and achievements helped legitimise Caligula’s rule.

Caligula sestertius; reverse showing Caligula’s sisters depicted as the Three Graces, goddesses representing charm, beauty, and creativity

All in all, Roman coinage tells us a lot about how emperors wanted to be viewed and remembered, highlighting military strength and spreading the Roman religion, but also making the emperor seem accessible in the provinces.  This concept can still be seen today on modern coins more than 2,000 years later! Have a look in your pocket and see if you can spot any similarities!

Jess, Roman Society Placement

No comments:

Post a comment