Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius - The Rain and Lightning Miracles

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The image of the emperor on the reverse of this coin is not only unusual, but also historically very interesting. Aurelius has here assumed the symbols of Jupiter, holding a thunderbolt and spear while Victory crowns him with laurels; we should interpret this image as representing the close connection between the supreme god Jupiter and the person of the emperor who was not only the head of state but also the pontifex maximus. Yet the dating of this issue seems to precede two important events that occurred across the Danube in the campaign of 172-4: namely, the 'lightning miracle' and the 'rain miracle', which two incidents are recorded on the column of Marcus Aurelius in Rome.

The Historia Augusta (Marcus 24.2) tells us that in the case of the 'lightning miracle' the emperor 'summoned a thunderbolt from heaven against a siege-engine of the enemy by means of his prayers' - the column clearly shows a stone enclosure filled with Romans, and outside a siege tower struck by a bolt of lightning that has burst into flames. The second and more important of the two events, the 'rain miracle' as related by Cassius Dio, describes how the legio XII Fulminata was surrounded and entangled in a defile, suffering from thirst, and almost forced to surrender. A sudden storm then gave abundance of rain which refreshed the Romans, while hail and thunder confounded their enemies who were struck down by bolts of lightning. Thus the Romans were able to achieve a near bloodless victory. This was considered for a long time afterwards to have been a miracle and nothing less than divine intervention by Jupiter on behalf of the Romans.

That the issue pre-dates the rain miracle seems relatively certain, since it is well attested that Aurelius' seventh acclamation as Imperator occurred in the immediate aftermath of the rain miracle. The depiction then of Aurelius on the reverse of this coin, wielding the power of Jupiter, seems curiously prophetic.

Marcus Aurelius AV Aureus. Rome, AD 172. M ANTONINVS AVG TR P XXVI, laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Marcus Aurelius to right / IMP VI COS III, Marcus Aurelius in military dress standing to left, holding thunderbolt in his right hand and reversed spear in his left; behind him stands Victory, who crowns him with a wreath held in her right hand, and holds a palm with her left; between them, pellet. Biaggi 856; BMC 566; C. 308; Foss 46; RIC 264; Sear II 4860; Calicó 1873. 6.95g, 20mm, 6h.

Near Mint State. Very Rare.