Show your coins depicting altars or altar enclosures -- real or imagined. Comments and anything you feel is relevant are most welcome. ~~~ Researching the supposed subject of this coin, an as of Faustina I depicting an altar enclosure, uncovered one of the great misconceptions in the history of classical art -- that the temple enclosure depicted on this coin actually existed as the Ara Pietatis Augustae (The Altar of Augustan Piety). I wish to share some of what I've learned. But first, here's the coin: Faustina I, AD 138-141. Roman Æ as, 9.21 g, 26.5 mm, 11 h. Rome, AD 141-142. Obv: DIVA AVGVSTA FAVSTINA, bust of Faustina I, draped, right, hair elaborately waved and piled in bun on top of head; a band of pearls round hair in front. Rev: PIET AVG S C, rectangular altar with door in front; no flame on top. Refs: RIC 1191Aa; BMCRE4 1464-65; Cohen 259; RCV --; ERIC II 294. A NUMISMATIC MYTH Phillip Hill fell prey to the misconception that the building depicted on this coin existed outside of the imagination. Hill's work, in turn, misled David Sear. Writing about a similar coin, RIC 1191B, differing only in obverse inscription and the presence of a flame on the top of the building on the reverse, he states: This reverse type represents the Ara Pietatis Augustae, the altar vowed by the Senate in AD 22 on the recovery from serious illness of the Empress Livia. The structure was not actually built until AD 43, some fourteen years after Livia's death, when her grandson Claudius undertook the work and dedicated it to Pietas (cf. Hill, 'The Monuments of Ancient Rome as Coin Types', pp. 62-3). However, as Ashley Jones, an art historian at Yale University explains, the Ara Pietatis Augustae never actually existed. Here follows a summary of Jones's work. THE ORIGINS OF THE MYTH The myth of the monument begins with the anonymously transcribed inscription, Corpus Inscriptiones Latinarum (CIL) VI, 562, which reads, PIETATI AVGVSTAE / EX SC SVOD FACTVM EST D HATERIO / AGRIPPA C SVLPICIO GALBA COS / TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG GERMANICVS / PONTIF MAX TRIB POT III COS III IMP II PP / DEDICAVIT. This seems to record the vowing of Tiberius of a monument to the Augustan pietas in AD 22, and its subsequent dedication in AD 43/44, as noted by Hill and Sear, above. In 1796, the numismatist and historian Josephus Eckhel first connected the inscription to a passage from Tacitus (Ann. 3. 64) which reports that Tiberius, in AD 22, vowed games on the occasion of the recovery of his mother Livia from a serious illness. Eckhel, however, jumped to the conclusion that because both events occurred the same year, they must represent two separate reports of the same event. The archaeologist and historian Theodore Mommsen knew of a temple to Pietas in the neighborhood of the Theater of Marcellus and asserted in an 1850 commentary on the inscription that the object of the above dedication was an altar. The CIL commentary on the inscription solidified the myth by stating, "Eckhel revealed that this altar was vowed in the year 22 because of the recovery of Julia Augusta, cfr. Mommsen loc. cit. who suspected that it was situated near the theater of Marcellus [...] Mommsen related that Tiberius himself, however, did not complete the altar to Piety then vowed, which fell to Claudius, who, it has been noted, consecrated this and other honors to Livia." To recapitulate, Mommsen conjectured that the inscription referred to an altar to Augustan Piety; Eckhel conjectured that this was vowed on the occasion of Livia's recovery from an illness as related in Tacitus. All that remained to complete the puzzle were material remains. Those remains came in the form of several relief panels which had been known in Rome since the sixteenth century, when members of the Medici family incorporated five fragments of relief panels into the garden facade of their villa at Pincio. Here are plaster casts of two of them, from the Museum of the Altar of Augustan Peace (Ara Pacis Augustae). These panels were originally thought to have been from the Ara Pacis, the the famous altar to Augustan Peace mentioned in the Res Gestae. However, German archaeologist Johannes Sieveking demonstrated in 1907 that none of the panels in the Valle Medici could have belonged to the Ara Pacis. On stylistic grounds, he proposed a date in the reign of Claudius. On this basis, Franz Studniczka proposed in 1909 that these relief panels had come from none other than the aram pietati described in the CIL commentary on the inscription with with this story begins. In 1937, numismatic "evidence" entered the picture, when Raymond Bloch used two coin reverse types which each depict what seems to be the same or a similar altar together with the inscription PIETATI AVG (or an abbreviation thereof). These reverse types are the coins of Faustina I, of which mine is an example, and this one of Sabina issued posthumously, here illustrated by a specimen sold by Incitatus at V-Coins. Bloch published a reconstruction of the altar based upon the designs on the reverses of these coins, suggesting that it was similar in form to the Ara Pacis, but of more sophisticated artistry. Thus, a sanctuary and an altar to Augustan Piety was created out of little more than conjecture. The Ara Pacis, which, combined with the designs of the Sabina and Faustina reverse types, served as the model for Bloch's reconstruction of the hypothetical Ara Pietatis Augustae. A MYTHICAL ALTAR CRUMBLES The story began to unravel in 1977, when Mario Torelli contradicted Eckhel and denied any connection between the inscription and the story of Livia's recovery as recorded by Tacitus. Rather, he argues that problems arising from the succession of Tiberius preclude Eckhel's conjecture and he argued instead that the Ara Pietatis that was vowed became the Ara Gentis Iuliae that was actually constructed. The material support for the supposed existence of the Ara Pietatis Augustae collapsed shortly thereafter, when in 1982, Koeppel reexamined the Valle Medici reliefs and the whole history of the idea of such a monument and concluded that not only did the reliefs not come from the Ara Pietatis, but that the Ara Pietatis never existed outside of Mommsen's imagination. The final straw came in 1985, when Cordischi argued persuasively that the Valle Medici reliefs originally had a former life as components of the Arcus Novus of Diocletian. This cannot be definitively proven, however. WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE THE COIN REVERSE TYPES? It's important to note the reverse inscriptions are in abbreviated form: PIET AVG or PIETATI AVG. There is no reason to postulate that on these second century coins, the AVG in question refers to the Augustan dynasty of the first century. It seems to me, rather, that the most straightforward interpretation is they refer to the piety of the imperial family of the departed and divine empresses on whose coinage they appear. The altars or altar enclosures depicted are probably stylized archetypes, not a representation of an actual altar, sanctuary or temple. As noted numismatist and expert on architectural types Marvin Tameanko writes, such shrines "eventually became a standard consecration symbol on many coins and, over the years, it was used by emperors to commemorate the deification of the preceding emperor. The consecration shrine was used on coinage up until the reigns of Claudius II Gothicus and Quintillus, A.D. 270." ~~~ 1. Hill, Philip V. The Monuments of Ancient Rome as Coin Types. Seaby, 1989, pp. 62-63. 2. Sear, David R. Roman Coins and Their Values II: The accession of Nerva to the overthrow of the Severan dynasty AD 96 - AD 235, London, Spink, 2002, p. 276. 3. Ashley E. Jones, "An Altar Imagined. A Historical Survey of the construction and Deconstruction of the Ara Pietatis Augustae," in Ricerche di storia dell'arte 3/2005, pp. 5-12, doi: 10.7374/72504. Available for download here. 4. Tameanko, Marvin. Monumental Coins: Buildings & Structures on Ancient Coinage. Krause Publications, 1999, p. 220.