Suetonius reports that the 90-day emperor Otho had a peculiar abhorrence for bodily hair and depilated every part of his body, including his head. To cover his baldness, he then wore a carefully made wig. In his coin portraits (including this one) he sports a suspiciously helmet-like head of hair, almost certainly his famous wig.
If Galba’s rise to power was a shocking novelty because he was the first emperor to be hailed by legions outside of Rome, the stakes were raised by his successor Otho, who was the first emperor to openly attain his office through the murder of his predecessor. Galba’s last moments were filled with terror, and, as Suetonius (Galba, 20) reports, his corpse was callously defiled: “Galba was murdered beside the Curian pool, and left lying just as he fell. A private soldier returning from the grain issue set down his load and decapitated Galba’s body. He could not carry the head by the hair – for there was none – but stuffed it in his cloak; and presently brought it to Otho with his thumb thrust into the mouth. Otho handed the trophy to a crowd of servants and camp-boys, who stuck it on a spear and carried it scornfully round the camp…” Such was the environment in which Otho took control – a disturbing state of affairs that seemed like it could not persist, yet would get worse for the next eleven months until soldiers loyal to Vespasian entered Rome on December 20, 69 and restored some semblance of order. Otho’s coinage is unique among his contemporaries, for he struck only at the mint in Rome, produced no imperial bronzes, nor any reverse types of direct historical value. The other emperors of the civil war – Galba, Vitellius and Vespasian – all had a variety of interesting reverse types, struck a full range of imperial bronzes, and produced many of their imperial coins at mints in the provinces. With this in mind we can see how this superb denarius distinguishes itself from the mass of Otho’s coinage: not only does it have an unusually sensitive and dignified portrait, but it employs his only interesting reverse type, with which he attempts to curry optimism among his soldiers despite the long odds they faced in the upcoming contest with Vitellius.
Bare, bewigged head right
IMP M OTHO CAESAR AVG TR P
Victory advancing left holding wreath and palm branch, globe under her feet
A perfect choice for Numismatists, Historians, Military Veterans, Collectors.