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Faustina Friday – The Empress as Mater Castrorum

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For much of the early 170s, Faustina II accompanied her husband Marcus Aurelius on campaign to the northern front, probably in what is now modern Hungary. This was not unprecedented. Livia is said to have traveled with Augustus during his trips to the eastern and western parts of the empire,[1] and with him in Gaul.[2] During Augustus' reign, Julia and Antonia traveled outside of Italy with their husbands (Julia first as wife of Agrippa, then as the wife of Tiberius; Antonia as the wife of Drusus).[3] Agrippina, pregnant with Caligula, was with Germanicus and the first and twentieth legions at Ara Uborium,[4] and across the Rhine the following year when they battled the Cherusci.[5] Agrippina later traveled with Germanicus to the East.[6] Plotina was with Trajan when he died on campaign in Cilicia.[7] Sabina accompanied Hadrian on his first great provincial tour and later in Egypt.[8]

Although not the first imperial woman to accompany her husband in his travels, Faustina II was the first to be awarded the title of Mater Castrorum, "the mother of the camps." The title may have been awarded fleetingly to Crispina, the wife of Commodus.[9] It was awarded to Julia Domna by her husband, Septimius Severus, and appears on coins of all three metals.[10] Julia Domna's sister, Julia Maesa, held the title,[11] as did her niece, Julia Mamaea, the mother of Severus Alexander.[12] Herennia Etruscilla, the wife of Decius, and Magnia Urbica, the wife of Carinus, also bore the title.[13]

Cassius Dio[14] provides the most detailed description of how Faustina was awarded the title of Mater Castrorum. Dio describes a ferocious encounter between Marcus Aurelius' troops and the Quadi. The desperate Romans, hemmed in by the Quadi and kept from water in blazing heat, were losing until a sudden, drenching rainstorm brought the Romans water and struck the Quadi with thunderbolts. This "miracle of the rain god" brought victory to the Romans, and the soldiers saluted Marcus Aurelius as imperator for the seventh time. At the end of Dio's long excerpt, we read "Moreover, Faustina was given the title 'Mother of the Camp.'"[15] Faustina's title would thus date to June of 174,[16] the date of the battle and of Marcus Aurelius' seventh acclamation as imperator.



Column of Marcus Aurelius (AD 193), on Piazza Colonna, Rome. Detail of a relief scene depicting the "rain miracle in the territory of the Quadi."

However, the Historia Augusta[17] reports that Faustina received the title from Marcus Aurelius at the time of her death. This cannot be the case, however, based upon the numismatic evidence; several coins issued in Faustina's lifetime bear the title of Mater Castrorum. One intriguing possibility is an inscription discovered in Carnuntum in Upper Pannonia and published in 1983.[18] This inscription has been dated to 172 and reconstructed as reading "[I. O. M. K.] / [Pro s]alu[te] / [uxo]ris Aug(usti) / [Faustinae] Aug(ustae) mat[ris] / [ca]stror(um)." This would seemingly attest to Faustina's presence in Carnuntum in 172 as well as imply that she had already been bestowed the title of Mater Castrorum by that date. However, both the reconstruction and dating of this inscription have been called into question.[19]

Lifetime Issues Honoring the Empress as Mater Castrorum

Coins for the empress as Mater Castrorum were issued in the aureus and sestertius denomination. These coins bear the reverse inscription MATRI CASTRORVM and feature the empress standing left, sacrificing over a decorated and lighted altar; she holds a patera in her right hand and an incense-box in her left; before her are placed two (aurei) or three (sestertii) standards. Both the aurei and the sestertii were struck with two obverse inscriptions, one in the nominative case and the other in the dative. Each of the aurei of this type is known from only a single specimen! The obverses of the aurei have some unusual stylistic features for the period.[20] First, the legend is executed in larger-than-normal letters and encircles the portrait without a break at the top of Faustina's head, reminiscent of the
"all-round" legends used a dozen years previously. Second, the hair is less finely detailed than on earlier coins with the Beckmann Type 10 portrait, with fewer braids and which are larger in size. These features are seen on her posthumous coinage and point to a date toward the end of Faustina's lifetime, AD 174-175. Moreover, the coinage of Faustina's son Commodus, which began in AD 175, also regularly employs a legend with no break above the portrait. Lastly, MATRI CASTRORVM reverse types continue after her death in AD 175. Thus, the numismatic evidence supports Cassius Dio's account that the empress was acclaimed "Mother of the Camps" in AD 174 and argues strongly against a date of 172 as has been proposed for the inscription at Carnuntum discussed above.

The Nominative FAVSTINA AVGVSTA obverse inscription (1st Emission), AD 174-175.

The aureus of this type was first described by Marcel Thirion in 1963. This unique coin was formerly part of the Du Chastel collection and now resides in the Royal Library of Belgium. Along with a description of this previously unpublished aureus, Thirion performed a die study of all the lifetime and posthumous issues of Faustina's Mater Castrorum reverse type in all denominations.[21] He considered the lifetime coinage bearing the nominative case obverse inscription to be the first emission among these types and dates them to AD 174-175.


Aureus of Faustina the Younger, Cabinet des Médailles, Brussels, the Du Chastel Collection (photo Ch. Weber). Bursche Fig. 3, p. 134.[22]

I have an example of the corresponding sestertius in my own collection.


Faustina II, AD 147-175.
Roman orichalcum sestertius, 23.24 g, 29.5 mm, 1 h.
Rome, AD 174-175.
Obv: FAVSTINA AVGVSTA, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
Rev: MATRI CASTRORVM S C, Faustina standing left, sacrificing over lighted altar and holding incense-box; three standards before.
Refs: RIC 1659; BMCRE 930-31; Cohen 164; RCV 5280; MIR 23-6/10a.
Notes: BMCRE 929 erroneously gives FAVSTINA AVGVSTA on obverse. The obverse inscription on that coin is in the dative case.

The Dative FAVSTINAE AVGVSTAE obverse inscription (2nd Emission), AD 174-175.

The dative case was used on the obverse inscriptions of the first issues of Faustina the Younger under her father, Antoninus Pius, from AD 147-149 but was replaced by a variety of nominative obverse legends. However, as I have
previously discussed elsewhere, the dative case reappears on a rare sestertius of the Diana Lucifera type contemporaneous to the Mater Castrorum types under discussion.

The aureus of this type was first described by Aleksander Bursche of the University of Warsaw in 2020. This unique coin comes from a pre-2016 find from the locality of Stygajny in northern Poland and now resides in the
Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg.[23] Although this aureus was, of course, unknown to Thirion, he considered the lifetime sestertii bearing the dative case obverse inscription to be the second emission among these types and dates them also to AD 174-175.[24]


Aureus of Faustina the Younger, Museum of Archaeology and History in Elbląg (photo A. Grzelak) Bursche Fig. 1, p. 134.

The British Museum collection has a handsome specimen of the corresponding sestertius.


Sestertius bearing the dative obverse inscription FAVSTINAE AVGVSTAE (RIC 1660). British Museum specimen, BMCRE 929.

A reverse variety of the sestertius depicting only two military standards instead of the usual three has been described. Cohen (no. 166) cites an example in Paris,[25] which is in turn cited by RIC (no. 1661); also Henri Hoffmann, Paris (Gréau sale), 19 May 1869, lot 2218. These are perhaps the same coin; Cohen (no. 167) cites the Gréau coin as a middle bronze (= RIC 1662 = BMCRE p.541†) but this is an error, the Hoffmann catalogue definitely describes the coin as a sestertius.[26] I have been unable to confirm the existence of this two-standard variety; it is absent from Thirion's comprehensive die study of the type,[27] is not listed in Szaivert,[28] and a comprehensive search of the online coin databases yields no other specimens. I suspect the description of the coin in the Gréau sale catalog a century and a half ago was simply in error.

Posthumous Issues Honoring the Deified Empress as Mater Castrorum

The MATRI CASTRORVM reverse type was continued immediately after the empress's death, but with changes to both the obverse and reverse. The obverse inscription now bears the title Diva, reflecting the empress's deified state after death, and is written in dative case as an honorific: DIVAE FAVSTINAE PIAE. While the reverse still bears the legend MATRI CASTRORVM, the empress is now depicted
seated left, holding a phoenix on globe in her right hand and a transverse scepter in her left; before her are placed two or three standards.

The coins were issued in the aureus, denarius, and sestertius denominations. The only known aureus illustrates three military standards, whereas the denarii depict two standards.[30] The sestertii may feature either two or three standards. The coins illustrated below are from my own collection unless noted otherwise.


Aureus issued posthumously for Faustina the Younger, RIC 751. British Museum collection, BMCRE 704. According to Thirion, the specimen is unique.[29]


Faustina II, AD 147-175.
Roman AR denarius, 2.80 g, 18.1 mm, 6 h.
Rome, AD 176 and later.
Obv: DIVAE FAVSTINAE PIAE, veiled and draped bust, right.
Rev: MATRI CASTRORVM, Faustina II seated left, holding phoenix on globe in right hand and transverse scepter in left hand; before her, two standards.
RIC 753 corr.; BMCRE 705; Cohen 161 corr.; RSC 161; RCV 5220; MIR 49-4/19; CRE 175.
Notes: Cohen (corrected by Seaby in RSC), cited without correction by RIC, reports Faustina's portrait as diademed as well as veiled -- an error, probably caused by the added prominence the die engravers give to the front edge of the veil.


Faustina II, AD 147-175.
Roman orichalcum sestertius, 25.19 g, 30.7 mm, 5 h.
Rome, AD 176 and later.
Obv: DIVAE FAVSTINAE PIAE, veiled and draped bust, right.
Rev: MATRI CASTRORVM S C, Faustina II seated left, holding phoenix on globe in right hand and transverse scepter in left hand; before her, three legionary standards.
Refs: RIC 1711; BMC 1556; Cohen 162; Sear –; MIR 49-6/19.


Sestertius (RIC 1712) featuring only two military standards on the reverse. Numismatica Ars Classica, Auction 74, lot 312, 18 November 2013.

A Few Brief Remarks About the Issues with the AVG MATR CASTROR Title in the Obverse Legend

The Mater Castrorum accolade is used on coins of all metals by means of the obverse inscription, DIVAE FAVSTIN AVG MATR CASTROR. These coins are paired with reverses featuring the legend CONSECRATIO and depicting either Pietas sacrificing, the empress's ustrinum, or the empress being conveyed to the heavens on the back of an eagle. I have previously discussed the ustrinum issue elsewhere. These coins were issued after the MATER CASTRORVM reverse type because the ustrinum reverse design was also used with the later DIVA AVG FAVSTINA obverse legend and the Pietas sacrificing design was used with the still later DIVA FAVSTINA PIA obverse legend. Indeed, Coin Talk member Aestimare has performed a die-linkage study of the sestertii of the ustrinum reverse type and found two die reverse die linkages between dies with the FAVSTIN AVG MATR CASTROR and the DIVA AVG FAVSTINA obverse legends, demonstrating these obverse legends were used roughly concurrently. Because these coins go afield of the subject at hand, I shall not discuss them further here.

Post comments, Mater Castrorum coins of other empresses, or anything you feel is relevant!



1. Tacitus
Ann. 3.34.6.

2. Seneca Clem. 1.9.2 and 6.

3. Halfmann, Helmut. Itinera Principum: Geschichte Und Typologie Der Kaiserreisen Im Romischen Reich. Steiner, 1986, p. 90.

4. Tacitus
Ann. 1.39-44.

5. Tacitus
Ann. 1.69.1-4.

6. Tacitus Ann.
2.54.1, 2.57.4, 2.75.1.

Hist. Aug. Hadr. 4.10.

8. Hist Aug. Hadr. 11.3.

9. A sestertius of Crispina under Commodus,
BMCRE 418, about which Mattingly writes, "The B.M. coin is in sad condition, and has considerably been altered. There is, however, just a chance that it is a genuine ancient piece." Mattingly, Harold, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, vol. IV: Antoninus Pius to Commodus. Introduction, indexes and plates. London, BMP, 1968, p. 766, n. 418. RIC3 notes the coin has been "probably tooled and altered." Mattingly, Harold and Sydenham, Edward A. The Roman imperial coinage, vol. 3: Antoninus Pius to Commodus, London, Spink, 1986, p. 442. note.

10. For example: BMCRE5
56, 57, and 774.

11. Calabria, Patrizia. "La Leggenda 'Mater Castrorum' Sulla Monetazione Imperiale." Miscellanea Graeca e Romana, vol. 14, 1989, pp. 225–233.

12. "Julia Avita Mamaea." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Feb. 2021,

13. Calabria, op. cit.

14. Cassius Dio Hist. Rom.

15. Cassius Dio Hist. Rom. 71.10.5.

16. Mattingly, Harold and Sydenham, Edward A. op. cit., pp. 206, 211.

17. Hist Aug. Aur.

18. Knibbe, D. "I(uppiter) O(ptimus) M(aximus) K(arnuntinus). Kaiser Marcus, Faustina, Commodus und der 11. Juni 172 n. Chr." ÖJh 54, 1983, pp. 138-140.

19. Boatwright, Mary T. "Faustina the Younger, 'Mater Castrorum'" in Les Femmes Antiques Entre sphère privée Et sphère Publique: Actes Du Diplôme D'Etudes Avancées, Universités De Lausanne Et Neuchâtel, 2000-2002, Bielman, Anne, et al., eds. Peter Lang, 2003, pp. 249-268, esp. pp. 257-259.

Beckmann, Martin, Faustina the Younger: Coinage, Portraits, and Public Image, A.N.S. Numismatic Studies 43, American Numismatic Society, New York, 2021, p. 65.

21. Thirion, M. "Faustina augusta, mater castrorum : un aureus inédit." GNS 17, pp. 41-49. https://www.e-periodica.ch/cntmng?pid=smb-001:1963:13::1120.

22. Bursche, Aleksander.
"A unique aureus of Faustina II with the legend Mater Castrorum from a Late Roman area of hoards in the Southern Baltic region" in Group and individual tragedies in Roman Europe: The evidence of hoards, epigraphic and literary sources (Journal of Ancient History and Archaeology.
Monographic Series 1), ed. Cristian Găzdac (2020), pp.133-148, doi:10.14795/j.v7i1_si.478.

23. Bursche, op. cit., pp. 133-134.

24. Thirion, op. cit. p. 44.

25. Cohen, Henry. Description historique des monnaies frappées sous l'Empire Romain, Tome III: de Marc Aurèle à Albin (161 à 197 après J.-C.). Paris, 1883, p. 150.

26. Dinsdale, Paul H. The Imperial Coinage of the Middle Antonines: Marcus Aurelius with Lucius Verus and Commodus. Leeds, Paul H Dinsdale, 2020, p. 85.

27. Thirion, op. cit. p. 44.

28. Szaivert, Wolfgang, Die Münzprägung der Kaiser Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus und Commodus (161/192), Moneta Imperii Romani 18. Vienna, 1989, p. 169.

29. Thirion, op. cit. p. 45.

30. While Cohen (no. 160) cites an example in Paris (in turn cited by RIC, no. 752), I have been unable to confirm the existence of such a reverse variety after an exhaustive search of online databases. Moreover, Thirion had access to the Bibliothèque nationale de France and illustrates it in plate 1 (5 Bc) of his die-study (op. cit., p. 47) and it clearly shows only two standards. On some of these issues, the phoenix on globe could be easily mistaken for a third standard, and Cohen erred in this way in his description.

Edited by Roman Collector
New photo of a sestertius
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Nice write up, as always:


Here is a Faustina II with the title MATRI CASTRORVM on the obverse



Diva Faustina Junior
Denarius, Rome, 176-180.

Obv.: DIVAE FAVSTIN AVG MATR CASTOR Veiled and draped bust of Faustina Junior to right.
Rev. CONSECRATIO Ornamented funerary monument of four stories with biga atop.

AR, 19mm, 3.26g, 6h
Ref.: BMC 701, Cohen 81, RIC 749 var., CRE210 [R2]

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Lovely and informative Faustina Friday as always, @Roman Collector - I appreciate your efforts.  

Today's installment sent me to review the only one of this type that I own, a very worn sestertius.  It is so worn I am not entirely positive it is RIC 1711 (three standards) or RIC 1712 (two standards).  After a lot of squinting at stuff online, I am tentatively going with the two standard version, RIC 1712.   I base this on the possibility mine is a die-match for two others I found (Savoca and British Museum).  Below are the fruits of my haphazard research: 

My coin: 

814181782_FaustinaII-SestMatriCastFeb19a(0a3).jpg.0eaa1a719462c5830663e6066653222d.jpgFaustina II Æ Sestertius  (176-180 A.D.)  Rome Mint DIVAE · FAV STINAE [PIAE], draped and veiled bust right / [MATRI CASTRO]RV[M], SC in ex., Faustina II seated left holding globe with phoenix and sceptre; two standards in l. field. RIC III Marcus Aurelius 1712; Cohen 163; BMCRE IV, 1554. (24.43 grams / 29 mm) eBay Feb. 2019   

Notes:  Standards not visible: 

RIC 1711:  three standards

RIC 1712:  two standards

Given other examples, possible die matches etc., this seems to fit RIC 1712 (note obv. legend dot (·) & break FAV / STINA).

Possible Die-Matches:

British Museum number R.14725 - https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/C_R-14725

Savoca Numismatik 1st Blue Auction; Lot 1117; 23.09.2017 - https://www.acsearch.info/search.html?id=4412866

 Photos of the possible die-matches; mine on top, Savoca middle and British Museum on bottom (note the dot/pellet between DIVAE and FAV): 


As always, corrections and opinions welcomed!  


Edited by Marsyas Mike
Slight tweak to description.
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Very nice topic, thank you. Veiled Diva Faustina Junior are some of my favourite coins. With the Matri Castrorum mention, here are mine:

- on the obverse legend, or on the reverse

And yes, I have duplicates as I love them so much 😍







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4 hours ago, Barzus said:

And by the way, I also have this one, which I did not even know existed before I acquired it... without the veiled portrait 🙂

If you know some other specimens, I would be glad to discover them!


I know off the top of my head that the British Museum has a specimen of the bare headed bust variety. 

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