Aureus depicting the head of Trajan and the same extending his hand to indigent children (111 CE)

Denomination: 

Aureus

Date: 
111 CE
Material: 

Gold

Mint: 

Rome

Name of Ruler: 

Trajan

Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust of Trajan looking to right

Inscription: IMP TRAIANO AVG GER DAC P M TR P

Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Trajan, togate, standing left, holding roll in left hand, extending right hand towards boy and girl to left, who stand right, the boy extends left hand up towards Trajan, the girl stretches both hands

Inscription: COS V PP • S P Q R • OPTIMO PRINC, ALIM ITAL

Commentary: 

This aureus, minted in 111 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Trajan, and on the reverse the emperor extending his hand to indigent children, symbolically a boy and a girl. The inscription celebrates Trajan as imperator, Augustus, Germanicus, Dacicus, pontifex maximus, or high priest of the Roman religion, holder of the tribunicia potestas, consul for the fifth time, and pater patriae, or father of the fatherland. Moreover, the inscription on the reverse refers to Trajan as optimus princeps, or best ruler. Already in 100 CE, in his Panegyric, Pliny referred to the emperor as optimus (Pliny the Younger, Panegyric 88.4-10), in spite of the fact that the Senate officially bestowed the honorary title to the emperor only in 114 CE.
The coin, as stated on the reverse, celebrated the institution of the alimenta in Italy, hence the wording alimenta Italiae. The alimenta was a welfare plan, whose purpose was to assist orphans in Italy. At the beginning the program was made possible by the enormous loot taken during the Dacian wars. Then, the plan was supported through mortgages on farms, or fundi. However, it was still financed privately, through funds coming from the imperial fiscus. Thus the emperor distributed to landowners a determined quantity of money as a loan to help them improve their lands. In exchange, each year the landowners devolved a proportion of the loan to the nearest municipium, or Italic city. The municipal authorities, out of their own revenues, had to provide maintenance allowances for the children of needy families in their territories. The purpose of these allowances was to provide both a way of living as well as an education to needy children. The institution of alimenta was celebrated on the Beneventum Arch. It is possible that this program served both to emphasize the position of Italy as the center of the empire as well as to assist the peninsula in recovering its formal economic condition. The childless Pliny the Younger, to whom, nonetheless, Trajan accorded in 98 CE the ius tria liberum, is a good example of landowner who advanced Trajan’s scheme. Indeed, the Italic senator founded the alimenta’s plan in his native Comum. His annual income, at least 30.000 sestertii, would have covered the expenses for no less than 150 children. As on the main, landowners came from the senatorial class, and even provincial senators were obliged to purchase and to hold lands in Italy, clearly this scheme associated far away provincials with the welfare of Italy. Indeed Trajan ordered that members of the senatorial order ought to own no less than a third of their total landed properties in Italy. Thus, even if this coin celebrated an institution which benefited Italy alone, it nevertheless also praised the association between the provincial elites and Italy. The message was therefore directed to provincials as well. As Stanley Hoffer suggests, the childless Trajan wished to present himself to all his subjects as their pater, or father. The emperor is therefore celebrated, albeit indirectly, as the father of the whole oikoumenē.
(RIC II 93 var. (not cuirassed); MIR 14, 345f; Strack 155; Calicó 984; BMCRE 380; BN 427)

Bibliographical references: 

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Aureus depicting the head of Trajan and the same extending his hand to indigent children (111 CE)
Publishing date: Wed, 01/11/2017 - 16:42
URL: http://judaism-and-rome.cnrs.fr/aureus-depicting-head-trajan-and-same-extending-his-hand-indigent-children-111-ce
Visited: Fri, 11/24/2017 - 10:11

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