Rare Coin Bearing Likeness of Nero Found in Jerusalem

A coin bearing the image of the Roman Emperor Nero is worth it weight in gold – and more – as its certain provenance provides rare insight into the distribution of and cultural value attached to the aureus. The discovery was made by archaeologists from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in excavations on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

The coin bears the portrait of Nero as Caesar, the inscription indicating the aureus was struck in 56, more than a decade before Nero’s suicide in 68 and the razing of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70, and was found in the ruins of what had been a large villa. The UNC researchers suggest that the coin had been hidden, and well, not only on account of its transactional use but because its owners ascribed a value to a memento of Nero’s notorious reputation.

According to historical accounts, Nero was responsible for the deaths of his wives Octavia and Poppaea; his mother, Agrippina the Younger; his stepbrother, Britannicus; and his mentor Seneca; presiding over the arson of Rome in 64  and then shifting the blame to the Christians (including Saints Peter and Paul). Nonetheless the coin collectors were not the only people to have been fascinated with Nero, who has been memorialized by many in the millennia since his famous last words, ““Qualis artifex peer (What an artist perishes with me).”

Reference: University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “Rare Roman gold coin found in Jerusalem at Mt. Zion archaeological dig.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160913150507.htm

Gold coin with the image of Nero, 56. Photo: Shimon Gibson, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Nero’s House in Olympia, Greece, built in 65-67 over the sanctuary of Hestia. Shmuel Magal, Sites and Photos.

Nero as Apollo playing the lyre, Roman intaglio, c. 60. Département des Monnaies, Médailles et Antiques de la Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Torso of Nero’s marble honorary statue in military dress with Nereids and the Gorgon. Found in 1513 near the Piazza dei Celestini in Bologna. Museo civico Archeologico di Bologna.

John Williams Waterhouse, The Remorse of the Emperor Nero after the Murder of his Mother, 1878. Wikimedia Commons.

Nero commissioned the Colossus Neronis, though it was never constructed. Artist’s rendering: Jaime Jones. Marianne Bergmann Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University.

Further Reading:

Miriam Griffin. Nero: The End of a Dynasty. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.: Routledge, 2001.

James Romm. Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Posted by Jean Marie Carey

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