City-Coin of Aelia Capitolina depicting the head of Hadrian and the ceremonial foundation of the city (130 CE)


Small denomination

130 CE



Aelia Capitolina

Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 

Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Bust of Hadrian with laurel wreath, draped

Inscription: Latin: [IMP] CAES TRAIANO [HADRIANO AVG PP] (to Imperator Caesar Trajan Hadrian Augustus Pater Patriae)

Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Foundation of a city: Hadrian ploughing the pomerium with ox and cow

Inscription Latin: COL AEL KAPIT  [C]OND (Colonia Aelia Capitolina condita)

Diameter (mm): 
Weight (g): 
RPC, III, no. 3964; Meshorer, Coinage of Aelia Capitolina 2
This small bronze city-coin of Aelia Capitolina, minted in 130 CE, under the reign of Hadrian, depicts on the obverse the head of the emperor, and on the reverse the ceremony of circumductio, which symbolized the foundation of the city as colony. Thus, the emperor is depicted while ploughing the pomerium of the city with an ox and cow. The inscription in Latin on the obverse to the reverse refers to Hadrian as imperator, Trajan, Hadrian, Caesar, Augustus, pater patriae, or father of the fatherland. The inscription on the reverse celebrates the foundation of the city of Aelia Capitolina as Colonia Aelia Capitolina condita, or founded (Meshorer, The Coinage of Aelia Capitolina, no. 2, p. 70). An inscription recently analysed by Hannah Cotton (but not yet published), clearly demonstrates that the emperor visited Judea during the consulate of Quintus Fabius Catullinus and M. Flavius Aper in 130 CE. Coins, which commemorate his visit, were minted both at Rome and in Judea. A good example is an issue minted at Gaza in 130-131 CE, which celebrates the visit of Hadrian. Amongst various initiatives, such as the erection of a temple dedicated to Hadrian, located at both Caesarea Maritima and Tiberias, Hadrian decided to rebuild the city of Jerusalem as a Roman colony, Aelia Capitolina. By then Jerusalem was the site of a Roman military camp, garrisoned by the Legio X Fretensis. The camp had been established in the wake of the Jewish War. On the foundation of Aelia Capitolina there are two conflicting statements of Cassius Dio and Eusebius. Cassius Dio states that “at Jerusalem he (i.e. Hadrian) founded a city in place of the one which had been razed to the ground, naming it Aelia Capitolina, and on the site of the temple of the god he raised a new temple to Jupiter. This brought on a war of no slight importance nor of brief duration…” (Cassius Dio, Roman History LXIX.12.1). This statement must be seen as contrary to Eusebius, who wrote that the foundation of Aelia Capitolina was the punishment that God extented to the Jews, when they tried to rebuild the Temple (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History IV.6). As various hoards of coins attributed to Bar Kochba and his followers, include coins of Aelia Capitolina, it is probable that the city was founded in 130 CE, before the war, or during it, but certainly not in its aftermath (Meshorer, The Coinage of Aelia Capitolina, p. 19-20).
The ceremony of circumductio depicted on the coin is described in detail by Dionysus of Halicarnassus (Dionysus of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities I.88), when relating the mythical foundation of Rome by Romulus, following the example of which other new cities were similarly initiated. Sacrifices were offered to the gods, and once favourable omens were taken, the ruler proceeded with the ceremonial foundation of the city. The ceremony involved the drawing of a plough by a cow and a bull around the limits of the colony, to mark out its sacred boundary, the pomerium. The ceremony ended with a prayer to Jupiter, Mars, and Vesta, in which the gods were asked to grant protection to the area (see e.g. Hill, Catalogue of the Greek Coins of Palestine, Galilee, Samaria and Judaea, p. 82). Although it is unlikely that Hadrian himself was actually present for the drawing of the plough, as the coin appears to indicate, it has been conjectured that the ceremony took place across the ruins of the old city following the example set after the conquest of Carthage in 146 BCE, and even possibly across the old Temple site, to reinforce the victory of Roman Jupiter over the Jewish god (Smallwood, Jews Under Roman Rule, p. 549). The surviving Jews of the city were banned from it, and the surrounding area, by imperial decree, with the exclusion extended to include even Jewish Christians, who had not supported the revolt (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History IV.6.3-4; Chronicon Paschale, 18-19; Orosius, Seven Books of History Against the Pagans, VII.13.5).

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City-Coin of Aelia Capitolina depicting the head of Hadrian and the ceremonial foundation of the city (130 CE)
Author(s) of this publication: Samuele Rocca
Publishing date: Fri, 08/31/2018 - 17:31
Visited: Sun, 04/21/2024 - 19:20

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