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Faustina Friday – The Ustrinum of Faustina the Elder

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Friday felicitations, fellow Faustina fanatics! Today's installment will be devoted to the posthumous issue for the empress minted shortly after her death in November, AD 140. The coins bear the obverse legend DIVA AVGVSTA FAVSTINA and feature the empress either veiled or bare-headed and the reverse legend CONSECRATIO around a depiction of the funerary ustrinum constructed for the deified empress. The coins were issued only in the bronze denominations, and they gives us the earliest artistic representation of an imperial ustrinum on Roman coinage.[1,2] These are illustrated below. All coins are from my own collection unless otherwise indicated.


Faustina Senior, AD 138-140.
Roman orichalcum sestertius, 22.61 g, 31.2 mm, 11 h.
Rome, AD 140-141.
Obv: DIVA AVGVSTA FAVSTINA, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
Rev: CONSECRATIO S C, Funerary ustrinum in four tiers, ornamented and garlanded, surmounted by Faustina in biga right.
Refs: RIC 1135(a); BMCRE 1429; Cohen 186; RCV 4625; Strack 1238; Hill UCR 380.
Notes: Struck with Beckmann reverse die FP2.


Sestertius with veiled bust, RIC 1135(b), British Museum specimen, ( BMCRE 1431, p.231).


Faustina Senior, AD 138-140.
Roman orichalcum dupondius, 16.19 g, 26.1 mm, 10 h.
Rome, AD 140.
Obv: DIVA AVGVSTA FAVSTINA, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
Rev: CONSECRATIO S C, Funerary ustrinum in four tiers, set on base, ornamented and garlanded, surmounted by Faustina in biga right.
Refs: RIC 1189; BMCRE p. 236 *; Cohen 187; RCV –; Strack 1238.

Marvin Tameanko, retired architect and specialist in ancient architectural coins, has written an informative article about the funerary complexes of Antoninus Pius and his family as illustrated on coins. Tameanko explains that the ustrinum was not a crematorium, but rather a monument that marked the site of the wooden funeral pyre, called a rogus in Latin, that was used to cremate the corpse." Tameanko notes the ustrinum of Antoninus was a "wedding-cake-shaped building, decorated with sculpture and statues," which "may have also been the depository for the ashes from the cremation along with dedication inscriptions and statues of family and ancestors, and possibly it functioned as a mausoleum for the Antonines and their associates."[3] Zach "The Beast" Beasley emphasizes, "The building on the coins is not a wooden rogus, but an ustrinum. Numismatists are too tradition bound with terminology, so they still perpetuate the terms, 'funeral pyre' and 'lit or large altars' when they should be saying, ustrinum and shrines."[4]

Although the remains of the ustrina of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius have been discovered near the Piazza Montecitorio, west of the Corso, in Regio IX,[5] the ustrinum of Faustina the Elder was located in the Campus Martius.[6] Unfortunately, its ruins have been lost to time and the only clues as to its structure and floor plan are these coins.

Dating the coins

Beckmann's die-study of the sestertii of Faustina the Elder demonstrates that this reverse type was one of the first three types issued to commemorate the funeral and deification of the empress in AD 140.[7] The sestertii with the veiled busts appear early in the die sequence; the sestertii with the bare-headed busts appear later,[8] probably in AD 141. Beckmann identifies nine reverse dies with which the sestertii were struck,[9] the earliest being FP 3, 5, and 6, in sestertius Series 1. These three dies are very similar in their depiction of the structure and in their details, and they are markedly different from other, later dies depicting her ustrinum.[10] The middle bronze denomination falls outside of the purview of Beckmann's die-linkage study of the aurei and sestertii of the empress, but I have no reason to think that it was issued at any time other than alongside the sestertii. It is extremely rare and may have been produced with a single reverse die. Moreover, its depiction of the ustrinum is similar to the earliest sestertius reverse dies of the type (see detailed discussion, below). This suggests a very short production run at the mint, and I have therefore dated it to AD 140.

Reconstructing the ustrinum

Sestertius die FP5 is the most carefully executed of all and demonstrates most of the details.


Sestertius, Beckmann reverse die FP5, CNG Mail Bid Sale 67, lot 1556, 22 September 2004.

Beckmann describes this die in detail. He incorrectly uses the term "pyre" to describe the structure and therefore (incorrectly) assumes it would have been constructed of flammable material. Nonetheless, his observations are quite helpful at understanding the imagery on this coin:

The pyre is in the form of a four-tiered structure surmounted by a vehicle. The lowest level is a squat base draped with garlands; above that is the main structure of the pyre in the shape of a tall, garlanded colonnaded façade with an arched doorway in the centre. Remarkably, the upper edge of this colonnaded façade rises slightly from the horizontal on both sides. This is the result of artistic perspective and indicates that the façade on each side was concave in plan. This helps explain the relatively small size of the two top stories of the pyre, for they did not have a large, square base to rest on but rather an awkwardly-shaped structure with a small central area. The first of these two upper stories is draped with great swaths of cloth, while the second bears a grid-pattern. The meaning of this pattern is not clear; on die FR4 there are small dots located in the centre of each square of the grid, perhaps representing rosettes set within coffers, a known decorative device but one which is suited to roofs, not walls. The figures atop the pyre are clear on FP1 … where they constitute a horse-drawn biga with a single rider …. The entire structure would have presumably been made of wood, lavishly embellished with gold leaf, ivory and coloured cloth. The perspective view that appears on the coins strongly suggests that the image derives from personal observation of the actual structure rather than from the copying of an architectural drawing. The perspective view would not have appeared on an architectural elevation drawing and would only have been clear to a viewer standing on the ground before the actual pyre.[11]

That this structure was not a temporary funeral pyre, but a permanent structure as is demonstrated  by the existence of other similarly shaped mausolea from Roman times. A slab of marble found in the cemetery of St. Helena on the Via Labicana preserves the floor plan of a mausoleum with a square foundation, on top of which is a second story with slightly concave sides, further topped by a smaller, round story. A well-preserved example of a mausoleum of this architectural plan is a tomb called La Conocchia, near S. Maria Capua Vetere.[12]


The mausoleum of Conocchia is a funerary monument probably dating back to the second century. A.D. Photo courtesy of Tripadvisor.[13]

I suspect Beckmann's interpretation of this structure as a funeral pyre, not an ustrinum, stems from his belief that this middle bronze (below) depicts "the altar constructed over the site of her funeral pyre."[14]


Faustina I, AD 138-140.
Roman Æ as, 9.21 g, 26.5 mm, 11 h.
Rome, AD 141-142.
Obv: DIVA AVGVSTA FAVSTINA, bust of Faustina I, draped, right, hair elaborately waved and piled in bun on top of head; a band of pearls round hair in front.
Rev: PIET AVG S C, rectangular altar with door in front; no flame on top.
Refs: RIC 1191Aa; BMCRE4 1464-65; Cohen 259; RCV --; ERIC II 294.

He asserts, without any evidence, that the structure represents "an altar, built on the site of her funeral pyre in the Campus Martius …."[15] However, other numismatists, such as Philip Hill[16] and David Sear,[17] have interpreted the structure on the reverse of this coin as a completely different structure, the Ara Pietatis Augustae (The Altar of Augustan Piety). However, even the existence of an Ara Pietatis Augustae has been convincingly debunked.[18] All of the various consecration coins depicting this reverse type are best interpreted as stylized archetypes, not a representation of an actual altar, sanctuary or temple. As noted numismatist and expert on architectural types Marvin Tameanko writes, such shrines "eventually became a standard consecration symbol on many coins and, over the years, it was used by emperors to commemorate the deification of the preceding emperor. The consecration shrine was used on coinage up until the reigns of Claudius II Gothicus and Quintillus, A.D. 270."[19] I have previously written about this middle bronze type elsewhere.

As always, comments are encouraged. Please post your coins with funerary motifs or anything you feel is relevant!



1. Sear, David R. Roman Coins and Their Values II: The accession of Nerva to the overthrow of the Severan dynasty AD 96 - AD 235, London, Spink, 2002, p. 273.

2. Beckmann, Martin. Diva Faustina: Coinage and Cult in Rome and the Provinces. American Numismatic Society, 2012, pp. 24.

3. Tameanko, Marvin. "The Funerary Architecture of Antoninus Pius."
The Celator, May 2009, pp. 6–18; see p. 10 in particular.

4. Beasley, Zach. "Architecture - 'Funeral Pyre' (or Perhaps Ustrinum)." Beast Coins, beastcoins.com/Topical/Architecture/FuneralPyres/FuneralPyre.htm. Accessed 1 June 2021; the link is no longer active.

5. Hill, Philip V. The Monuments of Ancient Rome as Coin Types. Seaby, 1989, p. 102.

6. Beckmann, op. cit., p. 24.

7. Beckmann, op. cit., Die Chart 11, Sestertius Series 1.

8. Beckmann, op. cit., Die Chart 13, Sestertius Group 2.

9. Beckmann, op. cit., pp. 159-160; Plate 19.

10. Beckmann, op. cit., p. 24.

11. Beckmann, op. cit., p. 25.

12. Ibid.

13. "Mausoleo LA Conocchia (Curti) - All You Need to Know before You Go." Tripadvisor,

14. Beckmann, op. cit., p. 38.

15. Ibid.

16. Hill, Philip V. The Monuments of Ancient Rome as Coin Types. Seaby, 1989, pp. 62-63.

17. Sear, however, does not seem to have reached this conclusion independently; rather, he cites Hill. See Sear, David R. Roman Coins and Their Values II: The accession of Nerva to the overthrow of the Severan dynasty AD 96 - AD 235, London, Spink, 2002, p. 276.

18. Ashley E. Jones, "An Altar Imagined. A Historical Survey of the construction and Deconstruction of the Ara Pietatis Augustae," in Ricerche di storia dell'arte 3/2005, pp. 5-12, doi: 10.7374/72504. Available for download

19. Tameanko, Marvin. Monumental Coins: Buildings & Structures on Ancient Coinage. Krause Publications, 1999, p. 220.


Edited by Roman Collector
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Interesting write up.


There are some differences between the "Ustrinum" of Faustina I and the one of Antoninus Pius, but the Antoninus Pius Ustrinum is nearly identical with the one of Faustina II. So one can assume that there was some work done on the structure between the the death auf Faustina I and AP.






Edited by shanxi
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Exceptional article, @Roman Collector.

Here is my Verus example


Divus Lucius Verus AD 169. Rome
Denarius AR
18 mm., 2,70 g.
RIC III Marcus Aurelius 596B; RSC 55, BMC 503
Date: AD 169
Obverse Legend: DIVVS VERVS
Type: Head of Lucius Verus, bare, right
Reverse Legend: CONSECRATIO
Type: Funeral pyre in four tiers (ustrina), adorned with statues and garlands, quadriga on top

I don't know Latin grammar so not sure if ustrina/ustrinum is a declination or not.

Funerary motif Faustina II






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Great coins and great write up RC!

Not to be that guy, cause it sure seems like you did a little research here, buuut it's pretty obviously a cake:


Here's Faustina II:


And here is my favorite cakes on a coin:



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It's not Friday. But I remembered a lonely coin that I still have. Somehow it was a "bad buy" - I liked it but I don't have any other coins from the time she lives.

So today she is lonely and alone from its era with me 😞 I don't really know what to do with the lady. I feel kind of sorry for her, so lonely and alone in the collection.


Edited by Prieure de Sion
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