The most basic responsibility of government is to provide for the welfare of its citizens. In a totalitarian government, and the Roman empire certainly was that, the weight of the peoples’ needs can become very heavy indeed. Basic things that we take for granted, like roads, water, theaters, churches, food, festivals, etc. etc. were the responsibility of the emperor in Roman times. Some did a marvelous job of providing for those needs others did not. When they did complete a project on behalf of the people, it was certainly not beneath the emperors and their administrators to boast of their deeds. The most notable public works of the day were usually edifices of stone. Consequently, architectural motifs are not unusual on Roman coins.
The coins of Nero are rich in architectural detail. The large structure with domed central section on the dupondius
illustrated here is the magnificent two-story public market completed by Nero in AD 59. The Macellum Magnum was
built on the Caelian Hill and later be came the church of San Stefano Rotundo. In spite of the infamous fire for which Nero is usually credited, his rule saw the
addition or improvement of many public facilities, especially of those related to the appreciation of the arts. He did not
build the Temple of Janus, but during his reign, the doors were closed (only allowed during times of world peace) and
that rare event was depicted on bronze coins issued by Nero.
Among Trajan’s many public works was the repair and expansion of the aqueduct system providing water to the city of Rome. The motif on this coin, heralding completion of the Aqua Traiana, depicts a river god reclining within the entrance to a Nymphaeum or grotto at the end of the aqueduct (the Castellum). The scene appears on coins of gold, silver and bronze struck between about AD 104 and 110.
Construction of the Colosseum of Rome, also referred to as the Flavian Amphitheater, began in AD 72 during the reign of Vespasian. It was formally dedicated (still incomplete) in AD 80 by his son Ti¬tus. The structure was finally completed during the reign of Vespasian’s youngest son, Domitian. It was designed to seat 45,000 spectators (comparable to the Hous¬ton Astrodome). The colosseum was con¬stantly renovated and improved during the second century and a major restoration due to fire was completed during the reign of Severus Alexander.
The Circus Maximus, located between the Palatine and Aventine hills, was first erected in 329 BC and was expanded several times. In the first century BC it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar. It was the site of Rome’s most important races and was built to accommodate 250,000 spectators. The track was about 600 meters long and 150 meters wide (1,500 meters per lap) and the main races were of seven laps (over 10 kilometers!). The coin illustrated here commemorates the restoration completed during the reign of Trajan.
The camp gate was a universal symbol of Roman strength and of the emperor’s ability to provide for the security of the Roman people. Frontier life tended to cen¬ter around the military camps, where shel¬ter could be taken in times of barbarian incursion. Roman citizens must have taken some measure of comfort in the fact that a fortified camp would open its doors and shelter them against invaders. The camp gate theme is especially prevalent on the silver coins of Diocletian’s tetrarchy, and on the bronze coins of Constantine the Great. It was also used by several of the later emperors.