Roman rulers considered coins an ideal means to disseminate the public image of the Roman state, thereby furthering its interests. This exhibition presents a selection of coins from the Numismatic Cabinet of Catalonia, housed at Museu Nacional, that reveals the evolution of the iconographic message of Roman coinage from the very first issues, dating back to the third century BC, to those of the fourth century AD. These coins are displayed in conjunction with luxury objects from the Roman age acquired by the Museu d'Arqueologia de Catalunya, objects used in connection with the domestic, religious and military life of the Roman aristocracy.
The iconographic motifs of the first issues made by the Roman Republic presented a developing state, under the protection of the gods. Over the course of the 2nd century BC the messages conveyed by the coinage became more diverse, introducing types that referred to the deities protecting the families of the Roman nobilitas in power, and their exploits. In 44 BC Julius Caesar was named dictator perpetuus and the Roman Senate granted him the honour of having his likeness engraved on coins, following the tradition of the Hellenistic sovereigns, in opposition to the principles of the Republic. This custom of exalting the figures of rulers on coins would be maintained until the very last Roman issues.
Throughout the imperial age it became customary to have the obverse of coins engraved with the portrait of the emperor, who usually appeared alongside the legends imperator and Augustus; in the late Empire we also come across the inscription dominus. The exaltation of the venerable ruler was often the theme on the reverse of coins. The emperor was the main character in all such scenes, and was portrayed in a variety of attitudes: shaking the hands of the gods, handing out presents to citizens or posing as a triumphant soldier. The emperor's family also enjoyed a significant presence in coin images; heirs were especially honoured, designated principes iuventitis or caesares, while the female figure acquired prominence during the High Empire, on account of her importance in the hereditary succession of power.
In addition to the exaltation of the emperor and his family, the choice of images on the reverse of coins was intended to reinforce the traditional values of the empire. The personification of the virtues of Rome was a constant theme, as was the representation of traditional gods, who only disappeared from coins in the fourth century AD with the ascent of Christianity. Another value that coins sought to promote was the territorial cohesion of the empire. The army was a key institution in this aspect, which explains why the exaltation of Rome's military power and the victory over her enemies featured as many secondary designs. In times of crisis, such propaganda served to conceal the empire's political, economic or military instability.