Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, Dec 14, 2018.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter


    was the personification of the Roman virtue of generosity.

    Liberalitas was employed as a propaganda vehicle by Roman leaders. From time to time, a political leader of the Roman Republic or an emperor of the imperial era would display his largess by issuing a congiarium or liberality. The leader would distribute money to the people for various reasons -- to ease economic hardship among the people, to increase the leader's "approval rating," etc. Tiberius gave a congiarium of 75 denarii (300 sesterces) to each citizen. Caligula gave the same amount of three hundred sesterces on two occasions. Nero, whose congiaria were the earliest known examples represented numismatically, gave four hundred.

    A civil servant charged with the task would use a tessera, or counting board, to quickly count out a share of money to distribute to the people attending the congiarium (donative event). The tessera was a square tablet furnished with a handle, on which was arrayed a certain number of holes or compartments. These boards were used to quickly count the proper number of coins for distribution to each person. The tessera would be dipped into a container, covered with coins and the excess swept away back into the container. The proper number of coins would fill the holes and then would be dumped out to the recipient.

    Liberalitas is depicted on coins as a female figure holding a tessera in one hand and a cornucopiae in the other. These coins may have been struck specifically for such congiaria so as to remind the populace of the emperor's liberalitas.

    Let’s see your coins depicting Liberalitas!

    Marcus Aurelius LIBERAL AVG V COS III denarius.jpg
    Marcus Aurelius, AD 161-180.
    Roman AR denarius, 3.53 g, 17.4 mm, 1 h.
    Rome, AD 169.
    Obv: M ANTONINVS AVG TR P XXIII, laureate head right.
    Rev: LIBERAL AVG V COS III, Liberalitas standing left, holding tessera and cornucopiae.
    Refs: RIC 206; BMCRE 492; Cohen 412; RCV 4914; MIR 181.

    Commodus Liberalitas denarius.jpg
    Commodus, AD 177-192.
    Roman AR denarius, 3.42 g, 18 mm, 12 h.
    Rome, AD 180.
    Obv: M COMMODVS ANTONINVS AVG, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust right.
    Rev: LIB AVG TR P V IMP IIII COS II P P, Liberalitas standing left, holding tessera and cornucopiae.
    Refs: RIC 10; RSC 302; BMC 3; Szaivert 496/4.
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2018
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  3. Hookman

    Hookman Well-Known Member

    That's cool info.

    A similar practice is the Maundy money of the British Kings and Queens.
  4. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    That's interesting. I had no idea about this. The Royal Mint has an article about it, I see.
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  5. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    Gordian III 7.jpg
    AR Antoninianus
    OBVERSE: IMP GORDIANVS PIVS FEL AVG, radiate, draped & cuirassed bust right
    REVERSE: LIBERALITAS AVG III, Liberalitas standing left with abacus & cornucopia
    Struck at Rome, 240AD
    4.6g, 21mm
    RIC 67
    Philip I 4.jpg
    AE Sestertius
    OBVERSE: IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right
    REVERSE: LIBERALITAS AVGG II S-C, Liberalitas standing left, holding abacus & cornucopiae
    Struck at Rome, 247-8 AD
    23.5g, 30mm
    RIC 180a, Cohen 88
    Philip I 2.jpg
    AR Antoninianus
    radiate draped bust right
    REVERSE: LIBERALITAS AVGG II, Liberalitas standing left with abacus & cornucopiae
    Rome mint (4thIssue, 5th Officina), AD 245
    RIC 38b
  6. eparch

    eparch Well-Known Member

    Thank you Roman Collector - most interesting. However, I am puzzled as to why 300 sesterces equals 72.5 denarii rather
    than 75
  7. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

  8. Sulla80

    Sulla80 one coin at a time Supporter

    A very interesting post on Liberalitas. Thank you, @Roman Collector! I will add that congiarium originates from the word congius and a liberal serving of wine. Congius was a liquid measurement in ancient Rome equivalent to about 6 pints - about 1/8 of an amphora.[1]

    In his discussion of "wine rations for the help", Marcus Pocius Cato ("Cato the Wise" and Consul of the Roman Republic 195-194 BC) in his liberalitas recommends issuing 3½ congii per person for the Saturnalia and the Compitalia. He also advises, "Ten quadrantals of wine per person is not an excessive allowance for the year."[2] that's about 548 pints for the year [3].

    Sadly, I have no coins of Liberalitas to share, but offer my tessera should there be an opportunity to put it to use.
  9. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    I got this coin from @Bing


    Philip I, 244-249.
    Long ago in the journal SAN Carl Carlson wrote "CONGIARIA and LIBERALITATES, Cash Distributions to the People,"
    SAN VI.4 (1972-3), p. 59-63
    It is a discussion of what is known about the liberalities of all the Roman emperors who issued the type. I quote his paragraph on Philip.
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2019
  10. AncientJoe

    AncientJoe Supporter! Supporter

    Great writeup and coins! I wonder if, across our group of collectors, we can represent all of the various Liberalitas issues?

    Here's my Pius:


    Antoninus Pius augustus, 138 – 161. Aureus 145-161, AV 7.08 g. ANTONINVS AVG – PIVS P P TR P COS IIII Laureate bust r. with drapery on l. shoulder. Rev. A. Pius seated l. on platform extending r. hand and holding scroll in l.; before him Liberalitas standing l., holding account-board and cornucopiae; in front, citizen with outstretched hands. In exergue, LIB IIII. C 496 var. (without drapery). BMC 546. RIC 141 var. (without drapery). Calicó 1572. Ex Gemini sale XI, 2014, 442.
  11. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    A couple Liberalitas coins I hope not everyone has:
    Septimius Severus dated IMP II and COS so a short period at the end of 193:

    This Commodus as Caesar as shows a citizen climbing stairs to receive his coins from the seated emperor (or Caesar). Liberalitas stands at the left counting coins; a soldier stands at right. My coin is only sharp enough to show one coin in the air just above the hand and about to fall in the cloth fold held out by the citizen.
  12. cmezner

    cmezner Well-Known Member

    My Commodus - nice portrait on the obverse, not so nice reverse :-(

    Hope many of you have one, so I can be sure I have attributed it correctly ;-)

    27.5 x 29mm; 19.32 g
    Rome, 190 AD
    Ref.: RIC III Commodus 563, Cohen 320;
    Obv.: (M CO)MMOD ANT P F / ELIX AVG BRIT PP Head of Commodus, laureate, right
    Rev.: LIBERAL AVG (VII PM TR P XV) IMP VIII COS V (I) Liberalitas, draped, standing left, holding coin-counter in right hand and cornucopia in left hand; across field S C
  13. Julius Germanicus

    Julius Germanicus Supporter! Supporter

    Awesome Aureus!!!

    Here are the two Philipps distributing what was left in the imperial treasury after the Millennial Celebrations, at their 3rd Liberalitas in 248 (This seems to be the only Liberalitas where there is no podium pictured - maybe they wanted to appear "closer to the people"?):

    Bildschirmfoto 2019-02-25 um 09.59.26.png

    IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG - Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Philip II right, seen from behind
    LIBERALITAS AVGG III - Philip II and Philip I, wearing togas, seated left on curule chairs; each extending right hands; Philip I also holding scepter in his left hand; SC in exergue.
    Sestertius, Rome 248
    17,25 gr / 29 mmRIC 267a, Cohen 18, Sear 9279, Banti 1
  14. Finn235

    Finn235 Well-Known Member

    I love Liberalitas types!

    A few to share:

    Not a Liberalitas type, but theorized to be given as a largesse at Caesar's Quadruple Triumph following the conclusion of the civil war
    Cordius Rufus denarius.jpg

    Commodus sestertius depicting the Liberalitas scene (Sold this coin a few months ago)
    Commodus sestertius Liberalitas IIII.jpg

    My favorite Roman; Caracalla's 8th Liberalitas with an exceptionally sharp and lifelike bust - I like to pretend that this obverse die was specially prepared for the Emperor's inner circle, or even the Emperor himself
    Caracalla denarius Liberalitas VIIII.jpg

    Maximinus Thrax's only Liberalitas
    Maximinus Thrax Liberalitas.jpg
    Of particular note is that the obverse legend lacks the title GERM on all of these issues; thus they are most likely part of his accession bonus, being the only event worthy of a largesse before his German campaign. This is important because these coins caused the Crisis of the Third Century. They set the dangerous precedent that not only would a successful military coup be tolerated, it would be substantially rewarded.
  15. arizonarobin

    arizonarobin Well-Known Member

    Great write up, thank you.
    I add a Julia Domna, Liberalitas!


    Julia Domna
    Ar denarius; 18mm; 3.12g; Emesa/syrian mint
    draped bust right
    Liberalitas standing left holding cornucopia and abacus
    RIC 627, RSC 103
  16. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

  17. Suarez

    Suarez Well-Known Member

    I just wanted to add that the identification of what Liberalitas holds is controversial. It could be, and I tentatively lean towards, it representing a physical tool but tessera is in any case a misnomer (the term is appropriate to the making of mosaics). So if it is a coin dispenser it had a name in antiquity by which we are unfamiliar with today. Liberalitas may simply be holding an abacus which is representative of dole record keeping.

    The main problem I see with it being a dispenser is that it would be awkward and inefficient to use a pane stuck on a long handle to function as a tool. First of all you wouldn't be able to stick that thing in a bucket of coins. The coins won't just helpfully part out of the way. You'd have to use it as a scoop. But a scoop would present its own problems with coins getting stuck or too many draining out. You absolutely wouldn't be able to just swish a few coins across an indented board like a penny book and quickly and consistently get the correct amount. It would be hard to do this with modern low-relief coins, never mind ancient handmade ones that are often of very high relief.

    Ordinary citizens would have received their benefits primarily through a combination of food distribution and relief from public debts. Based on numismatic evidence, direct disbursements would take place when the emperor and/or his assistants tossed coins out into the crowd during a procession free-for-all fashion. For soldiers, donatives must have taken place in the same non-ceremonial manner as ordinary payroll while private monetary gifts to top functionaries would have taken place during banquets and private meetings.

    Think about this - in an age where there was no personal photo ID it would have been highly impractical to pay ordinary people off a platform as pictorially suggested except for VIPs. It wouldn't work on a scale of mass crowds since there'd be no way of making sure you didn't take multiple trips through the buffet line! We're talking about tens of thousands of people showing up to these events.

    Still, lack of evidence is not in itself evidence of anything. I don't put it past me that the Romans of all people could come up with some nifty contraption to get the job done :- )
  18. Valentinian

    Valentinian Supporter! Supporter

    It has been conjectured that Liberalitas holds a counting board.

    If the amount was to be, say, 75 denarii, the counting board would have 75 coin-sized depressions. Denarii could be spread over the level board (not held up as on the coin which lets us see some of the depressions) and swept into the depressions until there was one per depression, which would make a quick way to make sure the count was right.

    This coin: Philip I, 244-247.
    Second liberality. c. 247. RIC 38b.
    23 mm. 4.41 grams.
  19. arizonarobin

    arizonarobin Well-Known Member

    I think my Liberalitas is stingy, she has only one hole in her counting board. Better be for a gold coin!
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  20. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    The reverses that show the emperor on a platform show the citizen holding out a fold of his clothing to catch the 'shower' of coins tossed in his direction by Liberalitas. Whether this is an actual depiction of how the distribution was made or more of an allegory is hardly worth arguing. The Eastern mint Domna shown by arizonarobin copies a scene from a Rome mint coin and the number of dots would mean less since it does not necessarily suggest what was given out there as much as suggesting the emperor was generous. Most of those Eastern coins probably went first to soldiers and they got a different deal than run of the mill citizens.

    Today you can't do anything without it being captured on some cell phone video. Would it not be nice to have such coverage of some things from ancient times? Did someone dress up like Liberalitas and a select citizen catch his coins while everyone else got a bag from some local magistrate? We don't know. We never will unless we find a diary of someone honored by being chosen to be in the show (chances of that are less than slim!). Today everything is subject to details and many people have no concept of allegory. I can not prove whether every citizen climbed those stairs and caught the coins or not but counting the people and the length of time the emperor would be willing to sit there, I somehow doubt this is a literal demonstration of the whole truth.
  21. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    I just got a couple of new-to-me Liberalitas types, so I thought I'd keep RC's nice thread going here.

    Antoninus Pius denarius - somewhat unusual in that Liberalitas is holding a vexillum in lieu of the typical counting board. Perhaps indicating a donativum paid to soldiers as well as the congiarium paid to civilians?

    At 3.30 grams, this one is a tad heavier than my other AP denarii - especially considering its wear and what appears to be harsh cleaning it underwent. Not sure if that signifies anything, but if you were going to show a sound monetary policy, chucking out a few "heavy" coins during a congiarium might be a good strategy.

    Antoninus Pius Den LIB IIII May 2019 (0).jpg

    Antoninus Pius Denarius
    (145-147 A.D.)
    Rome Mint

    ANTONINVS AVG [PIVS PP] laureate head right / TR PO-T [COS II]II around, LIB IIII in exergue, Liberalitas standing facing, head left, holding vexillum and cornucopiae.
    RIC 156; BMC 574; RSC 490.
    (3.30 grams / 16 mm)

    The other one I got is a sestertius of Severus Alexander. I have several SA sestertii and they are mostly quite awful - this is my best one, and one of my favorite portraits - he looks like such a nice guy here. But then anybody who hands out free money is a nice guy, right? At least that might be the theory behind a congiarium, I guess.

    The AVGVSTI IIII reverse legend is odd, I thought.

    Severus Alexander Sest Liberalitas 2 May 2019 (0).jpg

    Severus Alexander
    Æ Sestertius
    (229 A.D.) Rome Mint

    IMP SEV ALEXANDER AVG, laureate head right, draped left shoulder / LIBERALITAS AVGVSTI IIII, S-C, Liberalitas standing left, holding coin counter and cornucopiae.
    RIC 575; Cohen 136; BMC 561.
    (14.33 grams / 28 mm)

    Any new liberalitas types out there? I'd like to see more.
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