Abstract: The Capitoline on Coins: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Roman Temple

The biggest and most important of Rome's temples, the Capitoline Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus was the first temple ever to appear on Rome's coinage.

It was also one of the most repeatedly represented buildings in the city.

This lecture focuses on the numismatic evidence for the Temple of Jupiter, with primary attention to the question of how the coins can help us visualize the temple.

Along the way, we will consider how three additional data sets affect our reading of the coinage:

  • archaeological evidence of the temple’s foundations,
  • descriptions in ancient sources, and
  • ancient relief sculptures.

We will consider how apparently objective images, both ancient and modern, make the viewer deity-like by presenting the temple as

  • comprehensible,
  • miniscule in scale,
  • seen as from a height or with x-ray vision, and
  • stripped of the most important facets of the ancient experience of architecture:
    • the physical exertion to arrive and move around the structure,
    • awe,
    • smell,
    • dirt,
    • ancillary artworks and dedications, and
    • the embedded cultural knowledge giving it meaning.

The coinage also raises several methodological issues:

  • For instance, the mint usually issued coins showing the Temple of Jupiter in the years following its destruction. Is it possible to determine whether the coins represent a memory of the burned temple, or designs for its rebuilding?
  • In addition, the coins usually show the temple façade with details of columns and sculptures. To what extent can the coins be used as ancient equivalents to modern methods of architectural documentation?

Finally, I argue that the ancient concept of mimesis provides the most useful lens for analyzing architectural representations both ancient and modern because it prompts consideration of artistic intent and audience response.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

P.V. Hill (1989) The Monuments of Ancient Rome as Coin Types

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