Roman Empresses

Front and reverse of coin showing depiction of Julia Domna

Roman coins depicting elite Roman women were recovered from near Wenhaston by a local metal detector user in 2019.

Ancient Rome was ruled by men. Under the first emperor Augustus (BC 27 – 14 AD), sweeping legal reforms prescribed expected female behaviours, promoting pietas (devotion) and pudicitia (modesty). Women had to live under the authority of first their father (potestas) and then their husband (mannus) with little independence of their own.

Despite this, there are examples in Roman history where women wielded influence and power. For International Women’s Day 2022, we highlight two Roman coins depicting elite Roman women.

Julia Domna

The first coin is a silver denarius of Julia Domna. On the front face is draped bust of Julia Domna, and on the reverse is Venus standing left holding a patera (a vessel used in pouring libations) and holding a vertical sceptre. It was minted in Rome between 196 – 211 AD.

Born in Syria, Julia Domna lived between around 160 – 217 AD. The wife of emperor Septimius Severus, she became empress in 193 AD. Unusually, she accompanied her husband on military campaigns, including to Britain, and had considerably more influence over the emperor than other imperial women. She mediated between Severus’ sons Geta and Caracalla as they disputed succession after his death.

Helena

The second coin is a copper-alloy nummus of Helena. Its front face depicts a bust of Helena and the reverse has the goddess Pax (peace) holding a branch and a transverse spear. It was minted in Trier between 337 – 341 AD.

Helena lived between around 246 – 330 AD. She was the mother of Constantine the Great. Revered by her son, she played a prominent role in public life and was granted the title Augusta (empress) in 325 AD. Following her death, Constantine commissioned a statue depicted her draped in seated pose, an extraordinary honour usually reserved for gods.

View the full records on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database: Julia Domna and Helena.

Thank you to the finder for allowing these objects to be featured.

These finds were recorded by the Suffolk Finds Recording Team, supported by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

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