Image: Bare head of Augustus looking left
Inscription: CAESAR AVGVSTVS
Image: SIGNIS – RECEPTIS – S P Q R - CL • V
Inscription: Round shield inscribed CL(IPAEUS) • V(IRTUTIS); aquila and signum flanking
This aureus minted at Augusta Emerita between 19 and 18 BCE depicts on the obverse the head of Augustus and on the reverse the clipaeus virtutis, which was awarded by the Senate to Augustus in 27 BCE. A copy of the clipaeus virtutis in marble from a local monument to Augustus was found in Arles (Arelate). The text of the inscription reads “Senatus populusque Romanus Imp(eratori) Caesari divi f(ilio) Augusto co(n)s(uli) VIII dedit clupeum virtutis clementiae iustitiae pietatis erga deos patriamque,” that is: “The Senate and the people of Rome gave to Imperator Caesar Augustus, son of a god, during his eighth consulship, a shield of virtue, clemency, justice and piety to the gods and the fatherland” (see Marble copy of the clipeus aureus (Golden Shield) of Augustus (AE 1952, 165)). According to the inscription, Augustus deserved the clipaeus virtutis or shield of virtues because of his actions, which were worthy of the gods and of his fatherland. This certainly alludes to the return of the standards lost by Crassus at the battle of Carrhae, as stated on the coin with the expression signis receptis, "the military standards (having been) taken back". The standards were restored to the Romans following negotiations with the Parthian ruler, King Phraates IV in 20 BCE. Augustus wrote in his Res Gestae: "The Parthians I compelled to restore to me the spoils and standards of three Roman armies, and to seek as suppliants the friendship of the Roman people. These standards I deposited in the inner shrine which is in the Temple of Mars Ultor" (Augustus, Res Gestae 29). This success was also celebrated with the erection of the Parthian Triumphal Arch and the well-known Statue of Augustus from Prima Porta.
The four virtues mentioned on the shield are virtus, or bravery, clementia, or clemency, iustitia, or justice, and pietas, or piety. According to Carlos Noreña, these virtues represent the basis of the future imperial taxonomy, the virtues which characterized the perfect emperor. Virtus, a word which derived from vir, or man, can be translated as manliness, or as the virtue which ought to characterize the man, bravery or courage in warfare. By the late Republic, with the increasing influence of the philosophical ideal of aretē, the ethical dimensions of virtue became more prominent. In the first century BCE, Cicero could state that nobilitas, or nobility which depended from birth and fortune, was opposed to virtus, which could only be displayed through individual deeds and the public merit and reward, or gloria, they earned (Cicero, Sest. 136). While Virgil and Horace both disconnect virtus from gloria, Livy reasserts the traditional association between the display of virtus through the performance of great deeds in the service of the state and the gloria that one gains from such accomplishments (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 28.17.2).
Clementia, the Roman counterpart of the Greek goddess Eleos, was the goddess of forgiveness and mercy. Clementia was seen as an important characteristic of a good leader, closely connected with humanity or forbearance. Julius Caesar, the adoptive father of Augustus, was known for his display of mercy, especially following the civil war with Pompey, when the Roman leader forgave most of his political enemies. Clementia was also a goddess and in 44 BCE, a temple was consecrated to her by the Roman Senate, possibly at Caesar's instigation. However, here is not much information surrounding the cult of Clementia.
Iustitia, roughly translated as “justice,” was considered the queen of all virtues (Cicero, Off. 3.28). The personification of Justice, according to Noreña, was to become central to Roman imperial ideology. Iustitia is in fact the embodiment of divine righteousness. She is often portrayed as a woman holding scales and a double-edged sword, or sometimes a cornucopia. By the late first century BCE and in Augustus's time, Iustitia Augusti reflected the idea that Augustus's actions were just, and thus mirrored the will of the gods. Later on during the imperial period, Iustitia became all the more fundamental as the Emperor came to assume the task of supreme judge, the head of the Roman legal system, to whom the provincials and the provincial governors themselves turned to ask for a fair judgment or a counsel.
The idea of Pietas consisted in fulfilling one's responsibilities toward anyone or anything to which one was bound in any way. The fulfillment of these responsibilities could be motivated by the requirements of duty or obligations, in which case pietas often overlapped with the notions of officium, fides, and religio, or by the feelings of love and affection. Hence this virtue emphasized exemplary relations within the family, between men and gods, and between the Romans and their fatherland. Carlos Noreña has shown that pietas would later become one of the most important imperial virtues displayed on Roman imperial coinage (Noreña, Imperial Ideals in the Roman West, p. 71).