Augustus

27 B.C. - A.D. 14

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AR Denarius, 20mm (3.49 gm), Struck 19 BC, Caesaraugusta

OBVERSE
Bare head right, CAESAR AVGVSTVS

REVERSE
SPQR - CL V in two lines on shield

REFERENCES
RIC I 42a (pg. 44); RSC I 294

 
HISTORICAL CONTEXT

After having achieved absolute power, as did Caesar before him, Octavian declared the restoration of the Republic. Octavian did not want to lose this power in the same manner as Caesar, so on 13 January 27 BC, he forfeited most of his authority to the Senate and the people of Rome. He kept his position as Consul along with the provinces and legions of Spain, Gaul, Syria and Egypt. Three days later, on 16 January 27 BC, the Senate conferred upon Octavian the title Augustus, which means "sacred" or "revered."

It has been thought that the clipeus virtutis, the golden shield of virtue, was awarded to Octavian/Augustus at the same time. Sydenham continues, however, "that there is no decisive evidence as to the exact date at which the golden shield was conferred, but the coins on which it is represented are of later date than the year BC 27."

The CL V on the reverse of this coin represents the 'CLipeus Virtutis'. The acronym S.P.Q.R. signifies Senatus PopulusQue Romanus, 'the Senate and the Roman people'. Thus, the reverse inscription, S.P.Q.R. CL V signifies the conferrence of the clipeus virtutis by the Senate and the Roman people, in commemoration of Octavian's virtue, piety, justice and clemency.

 
CLIPEVS VIRTVTIS

This marble copy of the Clipeus Virtutis, found in Arles, was made a year after the actual Clipeus was conferred to Augustus. This marble copy can be found in the Musee de l'Arles Antique in Arles, France. The original shield was displayed in the Curia Iulia, and copies were placed throughout the empire. The inscription on this copy reads:

SENATVS
POPVLVSQVE ROMANVS
IMP CAESARI DIVI F AVGVSTO
COS VIII DEDIT CLVPEVM
VIRTVTIS CLEMENTIAE
IVSTITIAE-PIETATIS-ERGA
DEOS PATRIAMQVE

As stated above, the first two lines, SENATVS / POPVLVSQVE ROMANVS signify 'the Senate and the Roman people'. The third line, IMP CAESARI DIVI F AVGVSTO, names Augustus as the son of the divine Julius ("DIVI F" or divi filius). The forth line, COS VIII DEDIT CLVPEVM, along with the first word in the fifth line, VIRTVTIS, states that the Clipeus Virtutis was awarded to Augustus in his 8th consulate (COS VIII), or in 26 BC. This conflict in date, 26 BC versus the date in which the clipeus was actually awarded (27 BC), is explained by the fact that this marble copy was made one year after the actual award, or in 26 BC.
Photo by permission of the Musée de l'Arles et de
la Provence antiques/Cl. M. Lacanaud
The fifth and sixth lines, VIRTVTIS CLEMENTIAE / IVSTITIAE-PIETATIS cite the virtues of Augustus honored by this award. VIRTVTIS is a continuation of the previous line CLVPEVM VIRTVTIS ('Clipeus Virtutis') but also represents the virtues so honored. CLEMENTIAE represents clemency or mercy; IVSTITIAE represents justice; and PIETATIS represents piety, or dutifulness. TABULA VI, 34 of the Res Gestae of Augustus makes reference to the Clipeus Virtutis as illustrated in the following excerpt: ". . . the inscription of that shield testified to the virtue, mercy, justice, and piety, for which the Senate and Roman people gave it to me." Reflections of this honor appear on many of the coins issued during Augustus reign.
 
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The Telford Collection of Ancient Coins

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