Coin Relief 23 – Faustina the Elder

Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief. This time Dr. Andrew Brown examines the coinage of Faustina the Elder, wife of Antoninus Pius who we discussed in the previous edition.

Faustina I, AD 138-161

Annia Galeria Faustina, better known as Faustina the Elder or Faustina I, was the daughter of prefect Marcus Annius Verus and Rupilia Faustina. Born in Rome in c.AD 100, she was well connected to the imperial families of Rome – Rupilia was the daughter of Trajan’s niece Salonina Matidia and half-sister to Hadrian’s wife Vibia Sabina. She married Antoninus Pius, later her uncle Hadrian’s adoptive son and heir to the empire, in the first decades of the 2nd century and by him had four children: Marcus Aurelius Fulvius Antoninus (died before AD 138), Marcus Galerius Aurelius Antoninus (died before AD 138), Aurelia Fadilla, and Annia Galeria Faustina (Faustina the Younger or Faustina II). Upon Antoninus becoming emperor in AD 138, the imperial couple also adopted Faustina’s nephew Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (later emperor Marcus Aurelius) and the son of Lucius Aelius and Hadrian’s adoptive grandson Lucius Ceionius Commodus (later co-emperor Lucius Verus). She was quickly accorded the title of augusta by the senate and as a well-respected and liked empress remained with Antoninus in Rome for the remainder of her life.

Faustina died early in Pius’ reign, in October or November AD 140, and was mourned and extensively commemorated, not least by Antoninus himself. By decree of the senate she was quickly deified, games were held, statues erected in her memory, and an order for destitute young girls called Faustinianae created in her honour. She became the first empress to be commemorated in the Roman Forum with the Temple to Diva Faustina (later shared with Antoninus following his death in AD 161) (see Historia Augusta VIII). She was interred in the Mausoleum of Hadrian (Castel Sant’Angelo) in Rome and, aside from the temple shared with Pius, the apotheosis of the imperial couple is commemorated on the base of the Column of Antoninus Pius, now located outside the Vatican Pinacoteca.

Coinage of Faustina I

Perhaps the clearest indication of the sense of connection of devotion felt within Roma to Faustina, and especially so on Antoninus’ part, is the extensive coinage that is struck after her death. As we shall see, a brief lifetime issue appeared at the start of Pius’ reign, but until his death in AD 161 an extensive and varied coinage was issued for Faustina as the deified empress. This is a remarkable issue of coinage in many respects, not least since the posthumous coinages of both emperors and empresses before her (and indeed after her) tended to be brief, short-lived issues in the immediate year(s) after their death or deification. Clare Rowan, in an excellent overview of Faustina’s posthumous coinages, notes that the continued presence of Faustina in the visual language of Roman culture gave Antoninus’ reign a maintained connection with the divine, concluding that “Faustina’s role after death was not, as Mattingly believed, one of a revered lady in a new sphere of eternity, but one concretely bound to the policies and problems of the Roman Empire in the second century”.

The PAS records over 1,200 coins for Faustina I with silver and bronze denominations represented but as yet no gold. This total includes 170 IARCW Welsh records lacking images that are not included in the analysis below. It is notable from the outset that the majority of these coins are from her posthumous issues and that the lifetime issues from the Rome mint are in fact quite rare as PAS finds. The best sources for identifying these coins remain RIC III and the more up to date BMC IV.

Denarii of Diva Faustina I (AD 141-161) (left; ASHM-B1D41D), and Faustina II (AD 147-175) (right; BH-FC2D3D). Images: Ashmolean Museum and Portable Antiquities Scheme, License for both: CC-BY.

One thing to keep in mind when recording coins of Faustina is to not confuse her with the coinages of her daughter, Faustina II. Faustina I is usually depicted with hair elaborately curled on top of her head, sometimes veiled, and more often than not with titles that include DIVA to indicate her posthumous coinage. In contrast, Faustina II usually appears younger, with hair in a bun, and in her coinages during Antoninus’ reign also with
the titles PII AVG FIL as daughter of the pious emperor. Although the two are similar their obverses and their reverse types do differ and it should be possible to separate them out when identifying coins for recording.

Lifetime issues, c.AD 138-140

The short issues of coinage prior to Faustina’s death in AD 140 are poorly represented on the PAS database. Indeed, there are only about eleven denarii and at least a dozen bronze coins that are likely to be from this period – the number of sestertii, dupondii, and asses may well be higher but problems of preservation and subsequent difficulties in identification mean there are many coins not closely identified within the dataset. The lifetime for the gold and silver issues have three main obverse legends:


In the bronze coinages, the slightly longer FAVSTINA AVG ANTONINI AVG PII P P is used almost exclusively from AD 139-140.

Reverse types typically depict Concordia, demonstrating the unity between emperor and empress, and the various goddesses to which the empress is associated and who represent her position on earth – Juno Regina (queen of the heavens and wife of Jupiter), Vesta (worshipped by the empress), and Venus, goddess of love, beauty, and fertility holding the apple, her prize during the Judgement of Paris.

Denarii of Faustina I showing the Concordia (left; BM 1938,0310.1) and Vesta (right; BM 1912,0710.221) reverse types.

There do not appear to be any examples of this earliest issue recorded to date through the PAS and the two coins illustrated above are two of just three types noted by BMC. The same holds true for the second, slightly larger, issue with longer legend that includes the abbreviations P P following Antoninus’ adoption of the title Pater Patriae in AD 139. The types for this second group are very similar to the first, Concordia, highlighting the harmony between emperor and empress, along with the goddesses Juno, Venus, and Vesta, that are reflections of the empress herself.

Gold from this period is rare and no examples for Faustina I are recorded on the PAS database to date as single finds. All of the denarii of Faustina’s lifetime on PAS are of the types with shorter FAVSTINA AVGVSTA obverse legends. The bronze coinage has a single obverse legend, but the types are essentially the same as those in gold and silver. The PAS examples are all sestertii with the exception of two dupondii/asses. Most are poorly preserved as is typical of bronze coinage of this period and there may well be others yet to be identified amongst the large numbers of 2nd century bronze coins on the database.

Denarius of Faustina I, c.AD 139-140. Record ID is IOW-4CB6D4 (copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Posthumous Coinage, c.AD 141-161

The most extensive coinage struck for Faustina was the vast posthumous issue(s) struck after her death and for the remainder of Antoninus’ life. These large issues carry a range of reverse types that highlight first her deification and then her ongoing reverence as a deity, linking Antoninus’ reign to the world of the gods. The development of the Posthumous issues is not easy to define and many can only broadly be placed within the period c.AD 141-161. However, there is some internal development that helps and again this relates in part to the obverse legends. To begin with, she is DIVA AVG FAVSTINA or DIVA AVGVSTA FAVSTINA and coins with these legends are focussed on the events immediately surrounding her death and consecration. In a second issue, Faustina is no-longer augusta,
simply DIVA FAVSTINA, as the title of augusta has now passed on to her daughter Faustina II following the birth of her first son in AD 147. This large second issue of coins is defined by two groups of reverse types, one carrying the legend AETERNITAS (Eternity) referencing not just attributes that could be associated with the personification of Aeternitas but more broadly the sense of the timeless world that the gods inhabit, the other with the legend AVGVSTA in reference to Faustina as empress and goddess in the sphere of the gods. A very rare type with obverse legend DIVAE FAVSTINAE appears at the end of the issue, but is not represented in the PAS data.


The first group with DIVA AVG FAVSTINA legends do appear as PAS finds, particularly for denarii, with Pietas reverse types particularly common.

Denarius of Diva Faustina I, c. AD 141-161. Record ID PUBLIC-240DA3 (copyright: Leicestershire County Council, license: CC-BY-SA).


Coins with the slightly longer obverse legend that include the full title AVGVSTA are probably linked to the first group and carry similar reverse types although are a much smaller issue in gold and silver. This longer obverse legend is rare for the precious metal coinage recorded through the PAS, although it does appear in the base metal denominations in slightly larger volume – Pietas is again a recurring type on the PAS examples.

Sestertius of Diva Faustina I, c.AD 141-161. Record ID SUR-BEE741 (copyright: Berkshire Archaeology, License: CC-BY-SA)


By far the largest group of coins from Faustina’s posthumous issues are those that simply carry the legend DIVA FAVSTINA. These likely post-date Faustina II becoming augusta in AD 147, with the consecration of Faustina II now complete and her place secured in the cult of a goddess in Rome. There are again a wide range of types, which we can’t deal with comprehensively here, with the two groups of coins with reverse legend AETERNITAS and then AVGVSTA being bar far the most frequently seen and recorded through the PAS – each reverse type has several hundred PAS coins.

Denarius of Diva Faustina I, c.AD 141-161. Record ID LON-4CC01C (copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, license: CC-BY).

References and further reading:

C. Rowan ‘Communicating a Consecratio: The Deification Coinage of Faustina I’ in N. Holmes (ed.) Proceedings of the XIV International Numismatic Congress Glasgow Vol 1 (Glasgow, 2012): pp. 991-998