Defacing the Past: Damnation and Desecration in Imperial Rome

British Museum

13 October 2016 – 7 May 2017

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Presenting objects that were defaced either to condemn the memory of deceased Roman emperors, or to undermine the power of living ones.

Bronze medallion of Commodus whose face has been erased, Rome, AD 191

‘Money is power’, so the saying goes, and it was never truer than in the realms of imperial Rome, where emperors asserted their authority throughout the provinces by minting coins bearing their likeness.

This exhibition at the British Museum examines the widespread phenomenon of defacing these coins as a means of mutinous propaganda, which soon spread to engravings and sculpture.

Although this was often a rebellious action, there were also instances of senate-sanctioned damnatio memoriae, where all mementos of an unpopular ruler were effectively erased following their death.

Coins from the reign of Caligula and Nero – the first ‘damned’ leaders – are on display alongside various inscriptions that were subject to this violent erasure.

Venue information

Opening times

Daily, 10am – 5.30pm (Fri until 8.30pm)

Closed 24 – 26 Dec and 1 Jan

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