Roman history: source analysis. Essay Example

  • Category:
    History
  • Document type:
    Essay
  • Level:
    Undergraduate
  • Page:
    2
  • Words:
    1091

Roman History: Source Analysis

Ancient history, as a discipline, heavily relies on a wide range of sources such as texts, inscriptions as well as coins in a bid to establish a coherent history of a particular ruler. The study of Roman history, in particular, has relied on coins as an important source for examination of imperial power (Callu, 252).1 Hekster et al. (8) point out that coins and other sources such as texts and inscriptions can be viewed as a medium to the ancient Roman world.2 They state that through coinage, different groups of people in the Roman Empire we able to learn more about their rulers despite never meeting them in person.3 As such, coins played an integral role in creating an imperial image. Levick (104) adds that the coinage system was also used by the Roman Emperors as a tool for propaganda through which the rulers influenced public opinion, reconciled their subjects with regard to the rule of Princeps and even communicated the imperial policy to the public.4 Emperor Nero, the focus of the current paper, is one such Roman ruler that used imperial coinage not to only communicate about themselves, but the plans he had for the people.

Shortly after succeeding Claudius as the ruler of Rome, Nero replaced Claudius’ with that of his own and kept on commemorating most special events by portraying them on the imperial coins. The coin shown below is a Silver Denarius used shortly after Nero became the Roman Emperor.

Roman history: source analysis.

On the observe side, Nero is depicted together with his mother, Agrippina. They are facing each other and the busts are proportional to each other. Nero is portrayed as being relatively young. On the opposite side, a laurel wreath is depicted. The wreath has within in the letters EXSC, an indication that the senate authorised the coins and that they were minted in Rome.

From the above coin, historians can learn several things about Nero and his reign. The first thing we can learn that he become the Roman emperor at a relatively young age. This evident in the books of history where it is told the Nero succeeded Claudius when he was only 17 years old. We are told, “Hailed Emperor on the steps of the Palace, he was carried in a litter to the praetorian camp, and after a brief address to the soldiers, was taken to from there to the House (Suetonius, 99).5” The fact that the coin also has a portrait of Agrippina tells us the extent to which Nero highly regarded his mother. It is evident that Nero shared a close relationship with his mother, often seeking advice from her. This is evident in Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars where we are told that upon coming to power, he delegated to his mother the power to manage all public and private business in the entire empire. The close relationship Nero shared with his mother is also reported by Suetonius, who states that “Indeed, on the first day of his rule, he gave to the tribune on guard the watchword «The Best of Mothers,» and afterward he often rode with her through the streets in her litter (101).6”Agripinna also played an influential role in Nero’s upbringing and his bloodless ascent to power. In Dio’s Roman History, it is stated that she started training her son for power as soon as Claudius took her as his wife. Not only did she amass a lot of wealth for him, but she also ensured that he was always protected from all the potential threats.7 The fact that she managed to have her portrait on the imperial coin shows how influential and powerful she was during her son’s reign.

Coins have proved to be an important source of information for ancient historians. However, concerns continued to be raised about utilising them as evidence given the challenges attached to their interpretation. According to Howgego (2), coinage has a long history and the fact that it spread from one empire to another makes it an important source of historical evidence about ancient rulers and their Kingdoms.8 However, Howgego (3) is quick to point out that little is known about the functions of the earliest coins as well who was responsible for their production. Howgego (3) states there are many theories and hypotheses that have been developed with the aim of explaining how the earliest coins were used.9 Despite the many theories, documentary and literary evidence indicating which hypotheses are correct remain limited; a fact that makes it hard for historians to decide among competing theories and hypotheses.

In conclusion, coins, in combination with other items such as texts and inscriptions, have been used by scholars of ancient history as an important source of evidence. Scholars of the Roman Empire have particularly relied on coins to examine how individual rulers interacted with their subjects. By using coins, ancient Roman rulers were able to communicate with their subjects, making the public aware of the imperial policy to the public. In addition to that, coins were used to influence public opinion and to reconcile their subjects on issues relating to the rule of Princeps. In the current paper, the focus was on a coin used during the reign of Nero. By examining it, it is evident that Nero came into power at a relatively tender age and that his mother, Agrippina, played an influential role in his ascent to power and even the early periods of his rule.

Works Cited

Callu, J-P. «Ancient History from Coins.» (1997): 251-253.

Dio, Cassious. Roman History. Loeb Classical Library Edition, 1925, penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/cassius_dio/61*.html

Hekster, Olivier, et al. «Nero’s Ancestry and the Construction of Imperial Ideology in the Early Empire. A Methodological Case Study.» Journal of Ancient History and Archaeology 1.4 (2015).

Howgego, Christopher. “Ancient history from coins.” Routledge, 2002.

Levick, Barbara. «Propaganda and the imperial coinage.» Antichthon 16 (1982): 104-116.

Suetonius, Tranquillus. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars 1914, penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/suetonius/12caesars/nero*.html
. Loeb Classical Library,

1Callu, J-P. «Ancient History from Coins.» (1997): 251-253.

2Hekster, Olivier, et al. «Nero’s Ancestry and the Construction of Imperial Ideology in the Early Empire. A Methodological Case Study.» Journal of Ancient History and Archaeology 1.4 (2015).

4Levick, Barbara. «Propaganda and the imperial coinage.» Antichthon 16 (1982): 104-116.

5Suetonius, Tranquillus. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars 1914, penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/suetonius/12caesars/nero*.html
. Loeb Classical Library,

6Suetonius, Tranquillus. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars 1914, penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/suetonius/12caesars/nero*.html
. Loeb Classical Library,

7Dio, Cassious. Roman History. Loeb Classical Library Edition, 1925, penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/cassius_dio/61*.html

8Howgego, Christopher. “Ancient history from coins.” Routledge, 2002.

9Howgego, Christopher. “Ancient history from coins.” Routledge, 2002.