Virtus Vanity

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by David Atherton, Jun 11, 2021.

  1. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    For a vain emperor Virtus was an important deity for mining imperial attributes. Needless to say, Domitian, always looking for an excuse to personally lead the troops, found quite a great deal of use for Virtus on the coinage. The commonness of my latest addition indicates how important it was to get the message out to as many plebs as possible.

    D550.jpg Domitian
    Æ As, 9.31g
    Rome mint, 87 AD
    Obv: IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM COS XIII CENS PER P P; Head of Domitian, laureate, bearded, r.
    Rev: VIRTVTI AVGVSTI; S C in field; Virtus stg. r., foot on helmet, with spear and parazonium
    RIC 550 (C3). BMC 404. BNC 435.
    Acquired from, June 2021

    The Virtus type was struck repeatedly on Domitian's middle bronzes from 84 onwards. I. Carradice in his 1983 monograph on Domitian's coinage says the following concerning the type - 'Virtus is a military type, symbolic of the courage of Domitian and the mutual devotion between the army and emperor.' Virtus first appears on the coinage in the flurry of Germania Capta types that were struck soon after Domitian's German triumph. She is seen on this common As from 87 impressively depicted in traditional Amazon attire.

    Feel free to share your Virtus coins.
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2021
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  3. Andres2

    Andres2 Well-Known Member

  4. gsimonel

    gsimonel Supporter! Supporter

    On later coins it can be difficult to distinguish Virtus from Mars. There have been discussions about this on this site. A general rule of thumb for 4th century coins is that Mars is male and usually nude except for his helmet. Virtus is female, in military dress and often has one breast exposed. (Thanks to @DonnaML for pointing this out to me.) Here are three coins of Constantine I ("the Great") to illustrate this:

    Ticinum mint, A.D. 306
    RIC 75
    Rev: VIRTVS AV-GG ET CAESS NN - Helmeted Mars, advancing right, with transverse spear and holding trophy over shoulder
    ST in exergue; • in left field
    27mm, 10.6 g.

    Rome mint, A.D. 312-313
    RIC 360
    Rev: VIRT EXE-RCIT GALL - Virtus, standing, looking right, holding parazonium and leaning on reversed spear
    RT in exergue; X in left field, VI in right
    20 x 18 mm, 2.6 g.

    Nicomedia mint, A.D. 311
    RIC 70, var.
    Rev: VIRTVTI E-XERCITVS - Soldier in military dress, advancing right with spear and shield
    SMN in exergue, A in right field
    23 mm, 4.7 g.
  5. maridvnvm

    maridvnvm Well-Known Member

    I bought a Domitian - Virtus As over a decade ago but parted with it. I will share it here nonetheless as it is relevant. It is the earlier COS XII issue and had a pleasing portrait with Aegis. The Virtus was decent but the fields on the reverse were quite corroded. I seem to recall picking it up as part of a mixed lot and flipped it as it wasn't core to my collecting interests.


    Some 100+ years later and from the eastern empire we still see a similar reverse type being depicted.

  6. Cucumbor

    Cucumbor Dombes collector Supporter

    Septimius Severus, Denarius - Rome mint, AD 200
    SEVERVS AVG PART MAX, laureate head right
    VIRTVS AVGG, Virtus standing left, holding victory and leaning on shield
    3,41 gr, 19 mm
    Ref : Cohen # 761, RIC # 171a

    Caracalla, Denarius - Rome mint, AD 210
    ANTONINVS PIVS AVG BRIT, Laureate head of Caracalla right
    PONTIF TRP XIII COS III, Virtus standing right, left foot on helmet
    3.42 gr
    Ref : RCV #6872 var, Cohen #478, RIC #117b


  7. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    Two Victorinus Gallic Empire examples: a common right facing Virtus (in fact I believe it is Mars) and another not often seen left one.


  8. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

    AR Denarius
    OBVERSE: VIRTVS III VIR ; Helmeted bust of Virtus right.
    REVERSE: MN AQVIL M N F MN N SICIL in ex.; The consul Man. Aquillius raising Sicilia
    Rome 71 BC
    3.3g, 19mm
    RSC/Aquillia-2, SYD-798
    Trajan 1.jpg
    TRAJAN AR Denarius
    OBVERSE: IMP CAES NER TRAIANO OPTIMO AVG GER DAC, laureate draped bust right
    REVERSE: P M TR P COS VI P P SPQR, Virtus standing right holding spear & parazonium, foot on helmet
    Struck at Rome, 99-100 AD
    2.8g, 19mm
    RIC 355v, C 274c anecdotal
  9. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    I've posted this interesting article in the past about the personification of Virtus being female, with a number of examples: Regarding a VIRTVS legend sometimes being accompanied by a male personage such as Mars or the emperor, the article also addresses that type of image, arising from the tension inherent in having a female personification of the manliest of virtues, i.e., martial valor -- essentially, manliness itself. See :

    "Virtus embodies manly courage and strength of character. There were powerful female figures in Roman culture, but these were generally goddesses like Minerva, not mortals. So, having a female personification of these qualities sometimes presented difficulties to the propagandists. As a result, coins often showed, not Virtus herself, but a soldier or the emperor with a "VIRTVS" legend to indicate that the army, or the emperor, was valorous and manly. In fact, a whole range of characters were brought into play. Here are some. . . ."

    The article proceeds to give various examples of coins with a VIRTVS reverse legend accompanied by images not of VIRTVS herself but of the emperor, or a soldier, or Mars.

    Here's my own obviously female example of Virtus on this Hadrian dupondius, with her bare right breast (although I think the placement of the parazonium is no coincidence, speaking of manliness):


    Also, here's a page from a 2014 article by Lillian Joyce entitled "Roma and the Virtuous Breast," in the publication "Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome," discussing the similarities between the Amazonian "one bare breast" artistic portrayals of both Roma and Virtus:


    An excerpt to the same general effect from the Google Books preview of Myles McDonnell, Roman Manliness - Virtus and the Roman Republic (Cambridge 2006), at p. 149:

    Last edited: Jun 11, 2021
  10. ambr0zie

    ambr0zie Dacian Taraboste


    1.86 g 19.4 mm
    Gallienus AR Antoninianus. Mediolanum (Milan) Mint 260-268 AD. Obverse: GALLIENVS AVG Radiate head right. Reverse: VIRTV-S AVG Soldier, helmeted, in military attire, standing left, resting right hand on shield and holding spear in left hand. References: RICV Gallienus 534


    8.75 g 25.15 mm
    RIC III Antoninus Pius 1323 (as)

    AVRELIVS CAES AVG PII FIL / TR POT VIIII COS II S C, Virtus, standing right, left foot on helmet, holding spear and parazonium
  11. DonnaML

    DonnaML Supporter! Supporter

    @Bing's post above reminded me of my Roman Republican coin portraying Virtus:

    Roman Republic, Mn. Aquillius Mn.f. Mn.n. [Manius Aquillius, son of Manius and grandson of Manius], AR Serrate Denarius, 71 BCE [Harlan: 67 BCE], Rome Mint. Obv. Helmeted and draped bust of Virtus right; III VIR downwards behind, VIRTVS upwards in front / Rev. Manius Aquillius [the moneyer’s grandfather, Consul 101 BCE] standing facing, head right, bearing shield on his left side, raising with his right hand a prostrate Sicilia [personification of Sicily], kneeling left at his feet; MN. AQVIL. upwards to right, MN. F. MN. N. [each MN in monogram] downwards to left; SICIL in exergue. Crawford 401/1, RSC I Aquillia 2 (ill.), Sear RCV I 336 (ill.), Sydenham 798, Harlan RRM I Ch. 31, pp. 183-188 [Harlan, Michael, Roman Republican Moneyers and their Coins, 81 BCE-64 BCE (2012)]. 18x20 mm., 3.76 g.*

    Mn Aquillius (Virtus-Sicilia) jpg version.jpg

    *See Sear RCV I at p. 135, noting that this coin has the “first appearance on the coinage of the triumviral title of a moneyer (III VIR = tresvir).” This is also one of only two Republican coins to depict Virtus on the obverse. The reverse design on the coin commemorates the moneyer’s grandfather, Manius Aquillius (identified in the legend), and his successful suppression in 101 BCE of a slave revolt in Sicily that had begun in 104 BCE. Sicily is portrayed as an under-nourished, helpless girl shielded and uplifted by Mn Aquillius and the military might of Rome. See Harlan at pp. 183-188. Harlan notes that although the moneyer’s grandfather was awarded an ovation in 100 BCE after his victory (a lesser form of triumph, awarded for defeating slaves, pirates, etc.), he was later charged with having engaged in extortion and bribe-taking in Sicily (although he was acquitted because of his bravery in the war), and ultimately, while serving as ambassador on a mission to Asia, was defeated and captured by Mithridates VI of Pontus, who ordered his execution in 88 BCE by the method of having molten gold poured down his throat. In issuing this coin, the moneyer obviously chose to focus on his grandfather’s earlier successes in Sicily rather than his unfortunate end, perhaps (according to Harlan) trying to equate his grandfather’s successes with the recent suppression of the Spartacus slave revolt -- ironically enough by Crassus, given his supposed execution by the Parthians after Carrhae by exactly the same method.
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