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Taxes and Tyranny: The Significance of Liberty on the Coinage of the Early Roman Empire

October 11, 2023 @ 5:30 pm EDT

Classics Library, Angell Hall rm 2175, University of Michigan,
435 S State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109 United States

AIA Society: Ann Arbor

Lecturer: Nathan T. Elkins

In the Roman world, libertas (freedom or liberty) was the condition opposite slavery. As with so many Roman ideals, the concept was also personified. Libertas carries the pilleus (freedman’s cap) and vindicta (rod used during manumission ceremonies) in visual representations. While the cult of Libertas can be traced back to the third century BCE, the best visual evidence for Libertas is the coinage of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire. In the Republic, her image appeared to connote political protections and as ripostes to tyranny. Under the emperors, her image often appeared after the death of an emperor who was characterized as a tyrant, suggesting the new emperor would rule in a more inclusive way. Scholarly interpretations have typically asserted her appearance was a message for the Senate (libertas senatoria), but the great frequency of her imagery in the reigns of some emperors and her appearance on the coins of emperors who succeed deified emperors suggests a more popular message. Coins from the reigns of Caligula and Galba specifically connect Libertas with the remission of taxes and customs duties and the appearance of her image on coins in the second century CE tends to correlate with the forgiveness of public debt and activity related to the alimenta, an Italian program that provided resources to relieve the financial burden associated with the upbringing of children. Libertas thus had a broader meaning and appeal than has been recognized.

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October 11, 2023
5:30 pm EDT
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Classics Library, Angell Hall rm 2175, University of Michigan,
435 S State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109 United States
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