Most realistic portrait on a Roman coin?

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by hotwheelsearl, Jul 14, 2020.

  1. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    I wanted to see what your most realistic portrait is.

    I think @Clavdivs has the best I've ever seen. Here's my most realistic portrait on a Caracalla denarius.
    Caracalla RIC 312d.jpeg
    Compare to a profile of a contemporary statue of Caracalla:
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  3. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    Don't forget that most sculptures of emperors and empresses have been identified by their resemblance to coins of those emperors and empresses. It's not like they have names on the bottom! So to call a coin "realistic" because it resembles such a sculpture is quintessential circular reasoning. Unless you have a photograph of Caracalla handy, I'm not sure how you can proclaim a particular coin of his to be more realistic than another one. Now, "realistic" in the sense of "resembling an actual human being" is something I can accept. But that's a different proposition.
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  4. Justin Lee

    Justin Lee I learn by doing Supporter

    How's this one??? :smuggrin::smug::woot: jk[​IMG]

    For real, this Elagabalus ant has a very lifelike portrait regardless if it is accurate to the real thing.
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  5. medoraman

    medoraman Supporter! Supporter

    But didn't the emperor sit for the busts that were then sent out to mints to make coins? I would say you can judge a coin based on how realistic the emperor allowed the busts to be.....

    Famously Augustus would never allow himself to be seen aged.
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  6. Herodotus

    Herodotus Well-Known Member

    I'm not sure if this is my most 'realistic' portrait, but for some reason the look on her face speaks to me in some way -- I dunno exactly what though.

    Otacilia Severa (Wife of Philip I) 248-249 AD AR Antoninianus Rome Mint
    O: OTACIL SEVERA AVG; Diademed draped bust right, on crescent
    R: PIETAS AVGVSTAE; Pietas standing left, holding box of perfumes
    RIC IV 130
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  7. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Donna's point about accuracy is well taken, although I think in Caracalla's case we can be pretty confident due to the large number of busts that have been found.

    "Lifelike" portraits are a small collecting theme of mine, at least I'm certainly attracted to portraits that are more lifelike than average for a particular emperor. (Lifelike in the sense of "look like a real human" rather than accurate.) My best Caracalla in this sense is probably this one:
    Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 11.52.00 PM.jpg

    It's not that hard to find realism in 1st century portraits, but this Otho die is better than most in this respect, IMO:
    Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 11.53.01 PM.jpg

    A realistic Titus:
    Screen Shot 2020-02-15 at 5.19.46 PM.jpg

    A. Pi's portraits are often quite realistic, but this portrait as Caesar is unusually good, I think:
    Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 11.54.58 PM.jpg

    Marcus Aurelius portraits are often quite cartoonish. This one not as much:
    Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 11.55.57 PM.jpg

    (Compare, for example, to this portrait which is more typical:
    Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 11.56.54 PM.jpg

    An early SA portrait with some realistic flavour:
    Screen Shot 2020-07-14 at 11.58.53 PM.jpg
    (For later SA, I like my avatar coin. Masked right now though!)

    There are lots of crappy portraits from the mid third century. I bought this Valerian because I thought it had a more lifelike portrait than most:
    Screen Shot 2020-07-15 at 12.01.54 AM.jpg

    And a sole-reign Gallienus (hard to find anything remotely realistic post-260):

    Finally, here's a surprisingly realistic Postumus:
    Screen Shot 2020-07-15 at 12.03.39 AM.jpg

    I hope @octavius drops into this thread... he has some of the most amazingly realistic portraits I've seen!
  8. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    Thanks so much for your contribution! So many Roman coins seem to be objectively un-realistic and not lifelike. At least comparing to an actual human.

    I don’t think anybody can truly say what these emperors looked like IRL, but we can certainly say that some portraits are extra cartoonish or simply unrealistic.

    I love your coins btw. So beautiful!
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  9. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Sept. Sev. bust from Syria.jpg
    Marble bust of Septimius Severus found in Syria.

    Prieur 1141 obv..JPG
  10. octavius

    octavius Well-Known Member

    Thank you @Severus Alexander for your kind words.It is difficult to determine if an emperor actually did look like his statue or even his coin portraits for that matter. @DonnaML has a good point in that archeologists often used coins to identify emperors. Mary Beard presented an interesting lecture on this very subject on youtube.-
    Mistaken Identities: How to Identify a Roman Emperor

    I generally prefer coins that portray the emperor in a more human depiction rather than god-like.

    Tiberius seems to come in 2 flavors; the first seems more Augustus -like and idealized, the second appears to me to be more natural and individualized.

    z47329.jpg 7KyGYr5PMNf43cNpr6iEo3G2Je8aP9.jpg

    I had my greatest difficulty trying to find a Caligula that did not seem to portray him as a stiff caricature of Bart Simpson .
    The first sestertius is beautiful, but his portrait is stiff. the second with him addressing the troops seems to moderate him. (this sest. was purchased from Tom Cederlind whom I miss). My As , from Numismatica Ars Classica, I believe captures a more realistic Caligula, a "kinder, gentler" appearing one if you will excuse the gross mischaracterization. image00603.jpg RI5015.jpg 2797592l.jpg gz3J4wLTD78zLGi28osFE9Mm5scKXX.jpg

    Claudius also comes in several varieties - a more regal, idealided Claudius, and one I find more human, flaws and all. my sestertii portray the former, and the asses give him a "softer" look ( and a much less prominent chin)...

    Zb2gDSs79zJaDr85zw4WX3xjfZ6EHP.jpg R9371.jpg 681097.jpg brm_576407.jpg
  11. Justin Lee

    Justin Lee I learn by doing Supporter

    I might have to take a trip to the dentist after seeing those early bronzes! Cuz they are Sweet!!!
  12. Magnus Maximus

    Magnus Maximus Dulce et Decorum est....

    Very fine coins posted so far. I would argue that the principate continued the Hellenistic style of portraits. Even some later Roman siliqua and solidii have stunning portraits.
    Here are my two favorite realistic portrait coins:

    SELEUCID KINGDOM. Antiochus II Theos (261-246 BC). AR tetradrachm (32mm, 16.99gm, 12h). Phocaea. Diademed head of Antiochus I right, elderly to middle ages, with full hair and aquiline nose; dotted border / BAΣIΛEΩΣ / ANT-IOXOY, Apollo seated left on omphalus, testing arrow in right hand, left hand on grounded bow to right behind; forepart of griffin left in upper, outer left field, A(PT) monogram in outer right field. SC 508. Extremely rare - no examples in sales archives. Pleasant medium gray old collection toning. Extreme high relief.

    I absolutely love the elderly portrait of Antiochus I in his 60’s. On the other end of the spectrum, here is a coin of Antiochus III, depicting the king as an 18/19 year old teenager.
    Antiochus III. 223-187 BC. AR Tetradrachm
    16.97 Grams
    Seleucia on the Tigris. First Reign, Before the Revolt of Molon, Ca. 223-221 BC. Diademed head of Antiochus III right / ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ on right, ΑΝΤΙΟΧΟΥ on left, Nude Apollo seated left on omphalos, slight drapery on right thigh, holding arrow in right hand, left hand resting on bow, Control marks in outer left and right fields and in exergue.
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  13. jamesicus

    jamesicus Supporter! Supporter

    Those are really beautiful coins, @octavius!
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  14. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Amen-Ra-Hotep

    I'll offer up a Pupienus (three month rule with Balbinus, 238 A.D.):

    Pupienus AE Sestertius.
    IMP CAES M CLOD PVPIENVS AVG, laureate, draped & cuirassed bust right
    VICTORIA AVGG S-C, Victory standing front, looking left, holding wreath and palm branch. RIC 23a, Cohen 38.


    Last edited: Jul 15, 2020
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  15. NewStyleKing

    NewStyleKing Beware of Greeks bearing wreaths Supporter

    As with the engraving of Shakespeare in the first folio and the bust in Stratford upon Avon it has been claimed that possibly one likeness gave rise to the other. I guess his friends and the ones who paid out would have created a stink if it wasn't a reasonable effort-unlike the infamous bust of the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo!
  16. Gary R. Wilson


    I've always thought this coin of Elagabalus offered up a realistic portrait.


    Elagabalus (Augustus)
    Coin: Silver Denarius
    IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG - Laureate, horned, draped bust right.
    INVICTVS SACERDOS AVG - Elagabalus, in Syrian priestly robes, standing left, sacrificing out of patera in right hand over tripod, holding club in left hand; behind tripod, bull lying down; in field, star

    Mint: Rome (220-222 AD)
    Wt./Size/Axis: 2.77g / 18.6mm / 12h
    RIC 88b
    RSC 61
    BMC 212
    Ex. Richard Weigel
    Acquisition/Sale: ancientgalleonllc eBay $0.00 01/19
    Notes: Feb 20, 19 - The Gary R. Wilson Collection
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  17. Carl Wilmont

    Carl Wilmont Supporter! Supporter

    Lots of nice portraits posted here! @octavius, those posted of Tiberius (and others) are fine examples! My two of Tiberius differ much from each other.

    Though more worn, this denarius of Tiberius:

    Tiberius Denarius 1.jpg

    has a more realistic portrait than this one:

    Tiberius Denarius gVF.jpg

    Neither are as realistic as these other examples of emperor portraits -

    Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Domitian, Nerva, and Trajan:

    Nero Denarius.jpg
    Galba Denarius.jpg
    Otho Denarius.jpg
    Vitellius Denarius.jpg
    Vespasian Denarius Judea Capta.jpg
    Domitian Denarius.jpg

    Nerva Denarius.jpg
    Trajan Denarius.jpg
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  18. Carl Wilmont

    Carl Wilmont Supporter! Supporter

    This one of Hadrian is also of a realistic style:

    Hadrian Denarius.jpg
  19. Clavdivs

    Clavdivs Supporter! Supporter

    This Titus has a very nice portrait... but lifelike? Who knows...
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  20. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Active Member

    Your point, effectively that the question largely boils down to semantics, is a good (partial) foil to Donna's no less valid one.
    Sorry I can't cite numismatic chapter and verse, but the first century always struck me, viscerally at least, as the apex of "realism" in the coin portraiture. In the specific sense (one would hasten to add) of that being when you see the most portraits which are frankly unflattering. Nero, Vespasian ...somebody help me out here!
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  21. +VGO.DVCKS

    +VGO.DVCKS Active Member

    Referencing my reply above, Thank you, you pretty much made my point!!! Sorry, still waking up over here....
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