(82) Vespasian - AV aureus, A.D. 71, 7.22 g. (inv. 91.147).
Obverse: Laureate head of Vespasian r.; IMP(ERATOR) CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG(VSTVS): Imperator Caesar Vespasianus Augustus.
Reverse: Aequitas standing l., with scale in r. and rod in l.; TR(IBVNICIA) POT(ESTATE) CO(N)S(VL) III: with tribunician power, consul for the third time.
Provenance: Coin Galleries, 1959.
Bibliography: H. Mattingly and E.A. Sydenham, The Roman Imperial Coinage II: Vespasian to
(London 1926) 12.

The emperor Vespasian (Titus Flavius Vespasianus) had a successful military career under Claudius and Nero. He was the last of four men acclaimed emperor in the troubled year A.D. 68-69, and with his sons, Titus and Domitian, he founded a new dynasty, the Flavians. Because he came into power following a period of unrest and because he intended some necessary and unpopular reforms, Vespasian was careful to dissociate himself from his discredited predecessors and to undertake works for the benefit of the Roman public. He continued the reconstruction of part of the city that burned in the fire of A.D. 64, he began the Flavian Amphitheater (later known as the Colosseum) as an arena for public entertainment on land reclaimed from Nero's extravagant estate, and he completed the Temple of Divine Claudius, which Nero had failed to finish, as a way of dissociating himself from Nero while paying homage to the rest of the Julio-Claudians.

Vespasian's portraits, like those of Galba and Vitellius, break with the Julio-Claudian tradition and return to a harsh realism reminiscent of the veristic portraits of the late republic (see no. 60), no doubt as a further means of dissociating himself from Nero. Vespasian was sixty when he became emperor, and in his portraits he looks his age, heavy-set and bald, with a broad, deeply lined forehead, deep creases around his eyes and mouth, and lines ringing his neck. His tight-lipped mouth, hooked nose, and protruding chin give him a tough look.

The reverse of his coin depicts Aequitas, the personification of equity or fairness, particularly in business transactions. Here she appears with her usual attributes, the scales and measuring rod that ensure fair transactions. Her appearance on the coins of Vespasian at this time probably refers to the fair administration of grain distribution.


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