Coin Relief 24 – Lucius Verus

Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief. This time Dr. Andrew Brown examines the coinage of Lucius Verus, adopted son of Antoninus Pius and twice-adopted grandson of Hadrian.

Lucius Verus, AD 161-169

On the 7th March AD 161 with the death of Antoninus Pius, his adopted son, Marcus Aurelius, assumed power. At the same time, Marcus “made his brother his colleague in the empire, giving him the name Lucius Aurelius Verus Commodus and bestowing on him the titles Caesar and Augustus” (Historia Augusta Life of Marcus Aurelius, 7.5). Lucius Verus, born Lucius Ceionius Commodus in December AD 130, was the eldest son of Lucius Aelius, the adopted son of Hadrian. Following Aelius’ death in AD 138, Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius as his heir on the understanding that Pius in turn adopted Lucius Verus as his
son. Verus, therefore, was the (twice!) adopted grandson of
Hadrian, adopted son of Antoninus Pius and Faustina I, and
adoptive brother of Marcus Aurelius. Although he was initially betrothed to Faustina II, this was broken off when Pius came to power with Faustina instead engaged to Marcus Aurelius. It was not until AD 154 that Verus became consul for the first time, then again in 161 and 167, receiving the title Imperator and his tribunician powers from the senate on 7th March AD 161. For the first time, Rome had joint rulers in Marcus and Verus, albeit with
Marcus clearly the senior partner. Verus in turn took the
names Lucius Aurelius Verus as emperor.

Although the accession to power was a peaceful one for the two emperors and for Rome itself, this did not last long and Verus’ reign is defined as much by conflict in the east as it was by anything else. Indeed, in RIC III (p. 196), the introductory notes to the period remark that although “Verus, voluptuous, debonair and superficial, allowed his passions to get the better of him and in any serious undertaking proved himself an example of sorry incompetence” it was Verus who Marcus appointed as commander to head east and lead the Roman legions in war over Armenia with Parthia. By AD 162 Verus had reached Syria with the legions. Although he achieved notable victories against Parthia firstly in subduing Armenia by AD 164 – installing a Roman puppet king and receiving the titles Aremniacus and Imperator II – and secondly by reducing the Parthian capital of Ctesiphon to ruin in AD 165, becoming Parthicus Maximus and Imperator III as a result, it seems he was very much a figurehead who took a back seat while happy to delegate to his more capable generals. Indeed, the image portrayed of Verus is more of his debauchery and enjoyment of life in the east, notably at Daphne (Antioch), with the real work of subduing Parthia carried out by those around him. Some sources are less than flattering of Lucius’s enjoyment of life and luxurious lifestyle, some suggesting he even went so far as to add gold dust to his hair and beard to enhance its appearance!

At Smyrna (Turkey) in March AD 163, Verus married Marcus’ second daughter, Lucilla, who was not yet 15 and nearly two decades younger than Verus. They had three children, although only one survived to adulthood, Lucilla later (AD 182) conspiring to assassinate her brother, Commodus, before being sent to Capri and murdered. Returning to Rome by AD 166, Verus and the legions brought with them a healthy dose of plague – probably smallpox – that raged as a full scale epidemic in Rome with
devastating outcomes around the empire. Verus remained in Rome until AD 168 when the threat of Marcomannic invasion took both emperors to the Rhine frontier, signalling the start
of the Marcomannic Wars that were to last until AD 180. Early in AD 169, with Germanic forces in retreat, while travelling south from Aquileia near to Altinum (near Venice), Verus was suddenly taken ill and died a few days later, likely as a result of the smallpox that had been brought back from the east by his legions. Verus’ body was taken back to Rome, where he was deified by the senate as Divus Verus.

Coinage of Lucius Verus

The coinage of Lucius Verus is generally identifiable and typically follows the chronology of his various Imperial titles allowing for relatively close dating of most (well-preserved and legible!) examples. Verus received his first Tribunician power (TR P) on his accession in March AD 161, but took his second in December AD 161 (TR P II) to align with the coinage of Marcus Aurelius, renewed each year for the remainder of his life. To these can be added:
– COS II (AD 161) and COS III (AD 167)
– IMP (AD 161), IMP II (AD 164), IMP III (AD 165), IMP IIII (AD 166), IMP V
(AD 168)
– Armeniacus (AD 163), PARTH MAX (AD 165)
The obverse legends adjust in his later issues from types that include, for example, IMP CAES L VERVS AVG, IMP L VERVS AVG, or L VERVS AVG, to those that reference his victories, L VERVS AVG ARMENIACVS (after AD 163) and L VERVS AVG ARM PARTH MAX (after AD 165).

The PAS records 239 coins of Lucius Verus (including 33 Welsh IARCW records), comprising 81 denarii, 119 sestertii, the remainder smaller bronze denominations (dupondii and asses). Many of these are standard types that are quite closely identifiable, although one of the major problems with the base metal coinage in particular is in differentiating very worn
coins of Verus from Marcus Aurelius and vice versa. It is likely that there is some crossover between the two within the PAS data. The standard references for Verus’ coinage should be RIC III or BMC IV.

AD 161-162

Sestertius of Lucius Verus, c.AD 161-162. Record ID is WMID-AB6701 (Birmingham Museums Trust, License: CC-BY-SA).

The initial issues of coinage for Verus at the start of the joint reign with Marcus highlight peace within the empire and between the two brothers. This is well demonstrated in coin types with reverses that depict the two emperors standing clasping hands, of which there are several PAS examples issued by both Verus and Marcus.

Aside from the Concordia reverse types, the most common types represented in Verus’ coinage are denarii with reverse legends reading PROV(identia) DEOR(vm) – the Providence/foresight of the Gods – highlighting the divine role in the accession of the
emperor(s) to power and for their rule.1 These types are struck for Verus between AD 161-163 in TR P (AD 161), TR P II (AD 161-162), and TR P III (AD 162-163) and make up at least 32 of the recorded denarii (c.40% of the total) but apparently no bronze denominations on the PAS.

Alongside the Providentia types there are a handful of issues that have typical reverse types highlighting the health and prosperity of the empire and her emperors as well as a Liberalitas type depicting the largesse of the two emperors on their accession with both Marcus and Lucius seated on a platform. These types appear to be very rare on the PAS, the Liberalitas type seemingly not represented, with the exception of a handful of bronze types
depicting Fortuna and Felicitas.

Eastern Campaigns, AD162-164

Sestertius of Lucius Verus, c.AD 162, PROFECTIO reverse. Record ID is LVPL2395 (National Museum Liverpool, License: CC-BY-SA).

As Verus set out to campaign in the east against Parthia, a number of coins carry legends reading PROFECTIO – his ‘setting forth’ or ceremonial departure – that depict Verus on horseback as he departs with the legions. There are only about 6 PAS examples of these Profectio types – the sestertii can be separated from the asses by the presence of the soldiers in front and behind Verus on the larger of the two denominations.

The quick and decisive Armenian victory sees Verus adopt the title Aremaniacus – ‘conqueror of Armenia’ – on coinage struck in the second half of AD 163, mid-way through his third Tribunician power (TR P III), and he also becomes IMP II as a consequence.
Distinctive types in this period focus on the Armenian victory, including a captive Armenia personified, seated and often depicted with a trophy of arms , Victory, Hercules, and Mars, leading up to an interesting issue that depicts Verus
ceremonially installing the Roman puppet King Sohaemus to the Armenian throne. This last type is rare and there appears to be only one PAS example.

War with Parthia, AD 165-166 

Denarius of Lucis Verus, c.AD 165, with captive Parthian on reverse. Record ID is PUBLIC-4EB143 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Coinage from the year following Verus’ victories in Armenia – AD 165, Verus’ TR P V – sees the addition of the title Parthicus Maximus (PARTH MAX) from the second half of the year when he also becomes IMP III. After the Roman push into Parthia culminating with the destruction of the Parthian capital, Ctesiphon, Verus’ types now depict a captive Parthia rather than Armenia, while Victory, Pax, and others, now reflect the Parthian rather than Armenian victory.

AD 166-169

Denarius of Lucius Verus, c.AD 165-166, with Pietas on reverse. Record ID is DENO-FD67AE (Derby Museums Trust, License: CC-BY).

Verus’ coinage after the Parthian victories is not hugely diverse and includes a continuation of Victory types with the addition of coins depicting, for example, Moneta and Fortuna.

In the latest issues of coinage during Verus’ lifetime, a number of coin types carry reverses depicting Fortuna in the guise of FORTVNA REDVX, calling for the safe return of the emperor(s) to Rome. This relates to the departure of both Marcus and Verus north to the Danube and the start of the Marcomannic Wars in AD 168. Of course, while those struck by Marcus were successful in that he did in fact return to Rome, for Verus the opposite was true with his death in Altinum on his way back to the capital.

Divus Verus (AD 169)

Sestertius of Divus Lucius Verus, c.AD 169. Record ID is BH-347D93 (St. Alban’s District Council, License: CC-BY-SA).

A short series of posthumous coin types were struck following Verus’ death and deification. Essentially two types are represented, one depicting an eagle on a globe and depicting his consecration, the other a funeral pyre. There are fewer than 10 PAS examples, the majority are of the eagle type.

References and further reading:

M. Vojvoda ‘Concept of Providentia Deorum Within the Imperial Cult and Propaganda on Roman Imperial Coins During the Principate’ in Archaeology and Science 11, 2015: 53-62
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