Friday, 26 February 2010

The entry of Constantius II into Rome in 356AD

Constantius II, AE maiorina, Siscia mint, RIC VIII Siscia 257

Roman coins of the fourth century AD take on a rather uniform and quite stylised approach to portraiture where the individual features of the emperor can be lost. They almost become caricatures with quite staring, cold eyes. Expressionless!

I then came across a passage in the writings of Ammianus Marcellinus, the historian who wrote an imperial history from Nerva in the first century through to the late fourth century, of an imperial visit of Constantius to Rome in 356 AD which certainly made me look at the imperial image, as presented on the coins, in a different way.

"As he (Constantius) approached the city he let his eye dwell without expression on the senators paying their humble duty and the venerable images of the patrician families"

And continues:

"The emperor was greeted with welcoming cheers, which were echoed from the hills and river banks, but in spite of the din he exhibited no emotion, but kept the same impassive air as he commonly wore before his subjects in the provinces. Though he was very short he stooped when he passed under a high gate; otherwise he was like a dummy, gazing straight before him as if his head were in a vice and turning neither to right nor left. When a wheel jolted he did not nod, and at no point was he seen to spit or to wipe or rub his face or nose or to move his hand. All this was no doubt affectation, but he gave other evidence too in his personal life of an unusual degree of self control, which one was given to believe belonged to him alone"

Constantius II, AE maiorina, Siscia mint, RIC VIII Siscia 251