Why are some Emperors looking left?

Nero AD 54 - 68

Nero AD 54 – 68

 

Roman Imperial coins generally have busts on the obverse that face right. At various times and for various reasons (usually unclear!) the bust of the emperor is shown facing left. These left facers are often scarce or downright rare depending upon the emperor and sought after by collectors.

 

In early Imperial times, it is believed that engravers would have worked from statues in the round. The engraver may have been free to choose where he worked from, or perhaps several engravers may have been working from the same statue so depending on where one was sitting, the resulting coin bust would have been left or right facing. The reign of Augustus is a good example of this diversity.

 

Augustus 27 BC - 14 AD

Augustus 27 BC – 14 AD

 

Later it is believed that a form of hubbing was introduced where a master-punch would have stamped a not necessarily complete portrait into a series of dies that would then be completed by hand. This would introduce a measure of consistency into the process and presumably right facing busts became the preferred ideal. Why this happened is unclear. It may simply be that, in the same way people read from left to right, they tended to “draw” people from left to right.

 

By the time of the Severans, virtually all busts were right facing. During the mid third century left facing busts began to reappear but (apart from Probus) in relatively small numbers. This is a rare type for Aurelian.

 

Aurelian AD 270 - 275

Aurelian AD 270 – 275

 

One reason for showing the bust facing left is to indicate a consular or martial purpose, hence the bust will often be shown wearing consular robes and holding a sceptre or helmeted with a spear and shield. This type is relatively common in the reign of Probus and continues into the Tetrarchic and Constantinian periods. This coin of Probus is a relatively common consular style bust.

 

Probus AD 276 - 282

Probus AD 276 – 282

 

Following the currency reforms of Diocletian, left facing busts on the large folles are scarce but at times become relatively common. This coin of Constantius as Caesar is rare and not listed in Roman Imperial Coinage (RIC). It was minted at Trier in either AD 298 or 299 and although not helmeted, is clearly a military bust as demonstrated by the spear and shield. At the time of this issue Constantius was busy resisting an invasion on the Rhine and was himself wounded in action.

 

Constantius as Caesar AD 293 - 305

Constantius as Caesar AD 293 – 305

 

Later the left facing helmeted military busts of Constantine from London during the right star issue (c. AD 311) can be relatively abundant comprising around 10% of the issue found in hoards.

 

All coins shown above are currently offered for sale in the Hookmoor VCoins store and further updates to this blog entry will be made over the next few weeks.