Coin Portraits of Emperor Tacitus  


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Tacitus was

Preceded by Aurelianus (Aurelian)

Succeeded by Florianus (Florian)





  William Storage and Laura Maish
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Marcus Claudius Tacitus, as emperor: Marcus Claudius Tacitus Pius Felix Invictus Augustus. Extremely little is known about this emperor of 275-276. The Historia Augusta paints Tacitus as being mild and contemplative, no doubt inferring this from his numismatic portraits. However, the account of Tacitus in the Historia Augusta appears to be almost completely fictional. It seems relatively certain, however, as stated in the HA, that after Aurelian's murder, Tacitus captured and executed his murderers, and then successfully dealt with the barbarian invasions (Heruli and Maeotidae) resulting directly from Aurelian's death. These tribes were originally allied with Aurelian and were to join Rome in an attack on Parthia. Denied of this opportunity when Aurelian died, they turned on Rome instead, and were defeated by Tacitus.

The circumstances of Tacitus's death are uncertain. The HA says he was either murdered or died of disease, but Zosimus reports that he was murdered. HA also states that Tacitus was half brother of Florian, his successor, although no other ancient source mentions this. Zonarus reports that Tacitus was 75 years old when he took office. Coin portraits show a considerably younger man, however many images on coins of Claudius Gothicus and Gordian I show them as much younger than they were when they took office. Perhaps these 3rd century rulers (or at least their sculptors) drank from the same fountain that froze Augustus in his twenties for six decades.

"SPES PVBLICA" is probably the most common motto on coins of Tacitus. "CLEMENTIA TEMP[ORUM]" (as shown below) is also common. As noted by Robin Mc Mahon, Tacitus never used the title, deus et dominus natus (god and born ruler, or ruler of the world by birth right) as did his contemporaries, Aurelian and Probus, nor do any of his coins show Sol Invictus.

For a well-researched account of Tacitus, see Robin Mc Mahon's summary at De Imperatoribus Romanis

For other coins of Tacitus, see the online reference at

Coin portraits (private collection):          


Tacitus AE Antoninianus (3.71g. 22mm). RIC 82C. Cohen 8. Ex Den of Antiquity, ex old collection.
IMP C M CL TACITVS AVG, radiate cuirassed bust right /
AEQVITAS AVG, Aequitas standing left, holding scales & cornucopia. 



Tacitus AE Antoninianus Antioch mint (4.32 g, 22 mm). Ex WCNC Online.
. RIC 210. Sear 3303. Cohen 20.
 IMP.C.M.CL.TACITVS AVG, radiate cuirassed bust right /
CLEMENTIA TEMP, Tacitus standing right receiving globe from Jupiter. "A" in field center. XXI in exergue



Copyright 2008 William Storage and Laura Maish. Created 4/18/2008

Keywords: Tacitus, emperor, Roman imperial portraits, pictures of roman emperors, sculpture, art history, iconography, William Storage, Bill Storage, Laura Maish, ancient Rome, numismatic portrait, coin, antoninianus