Vibia Sabina (C. 83/86-137AD)

Bronze Sestertius, struck 128 AD

Obverse: Inscription: SABINA AVGVSTA HADRIANI AVG PP; Draped bust of Sabina facing right with elaborately raised coiffure built up on triple stephane.

Reverse: Inscription: SC; The goddess Ceres, veiled, seated left on basket, holding grain ears and transverse torch.

This piece represents the first issue of coins minted in Sabina's name, a year after her and her husband's return to Rome from his great tour of the empire. During the Hadrianic period, the imperial women's hairstyles were at their most ornate and complex as testified to by Sabina's elaborate coiffure on the obverse of this coin. Sabina's hair is tightly plaited, gathered together at the back, and wound around the top of her head, the front of her head surmounted by a series of three tiaras (termed stephane from the Greek for crown, stephanos).

Ceres, appearing on the reverse of this coin, was the principle Roman goddess of agriculture as shown by the grain ears that she extends. Her presence on this coin was probably meant to signify the agricultural wealth and prosperity of Rome at the time it was minted.

Posthumous Portrait Bust of Sabina (C. 140AD)
Malibu, The J. Paul Getty Museum

The eldest daughter of Lucius Vibius Sabinus and Matidia the elder, the emperor Trajan's niece, Vibia Sabina married her distant cousin Hadrian in 100 AD largely due to the instigation of Trajan's wife Plotina. Since Trajan and Plotina were childless, Hadrian's marriage to Sabina promoted him to the first in line for succession of throne, and indeed he became emperor when Trajan died in 117.

Hadrian and Sabina's marriage was a rather unhappy one, Sabina being known for her sharp temper and Hadrian for his cold demeanor. The two remained childless, probably because Hadrian preferred the company of his favourite male companion, Antinous. Nevertheless, Sabina remained an important and powerful woman in the empire, accompanying Hadrian on his great tour of the empire, which brought them to Gaul, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece. On their return to Rome in 127, Sabina received the title of Augusta.

Sabina died sometime around 137 AD, either by suicide or poison. At the news of her death, rumors circulated in Rome that the unfortunate Sabina was poisoned by Hadrian himself. Subsequently, Hadrian had Sabina deified, probably more to reinforce his association with Trajan's family than for any affection felt by Hadrian for his wife.

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