Denarius depicting the head of Titus and a kneeling captive (79 CE)

79 CE Jun 24th to 79 CE Jul 1st
Name of Ruler: 
Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Head of Titus, laureate, looking right

Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Inscription: Male captive kneeling in front of trophy

Weight (g): 

RIC II/12, Titus, no. 1, p. 199.

The titulature of Titus in the inscriptions on the obverse and reverse of this coin, namely “Emperor T(itus) Caesar Vespasian Aug(ustus), with tribunician power for the eighth time, consul seven times” shows that this denarius must have been minted after Vespasian’s death, that is after the 24th of June 79 CE, and before Titus had the tribunician power for the ninth time, that is before the 1st of July 79 CE.

Concerning the use of the image type appearing on the reverse of this coin, that is the representation of a male captive kneeling in front of a trophy, it has to be remembered that it is first attested during the Republican period, under Marius in 101 BCE (see RRC 326.2). It is also later attested between 25 and 23 BCE on denarii minted at the effigy of Augustus at Emerita; the captive being a Spaniard (see RIC I2, Augustus, no. 6, p. 41) (on the origins of this type see Cody, “Conquerors and Conquered,” p. 105-106). The type then reappeared in 79 CE and was intensively produced both on aurei and denarii at the effigy of Caesar and then Augustus Titus, before and after Vespasian’s death on the 24th of June (before Vespasian’s death see RIC II/12, Vespasian, no. 1075-1076, p. 135; after Vespasian’s death, see RIC II/12, Titus, no. 1, p. 199; no 11-12, 29-31, p. 200; no. 48-50, p. 201). The choice of this type was thus intrinsically connected to the period of transition between the two reigns, and especially to the ideological messages Titus wanted to convey at that time.

On the reverse of this coin is represented a captive man, he actually has his arms tied behind his body. He is depicted bearded, bare-chested, wearing braccae (trousers) and a cloak. His physical aspect and the way his clothes are depicted suggest that he is an archetypal representation of the barbarian. He is standing before a trophy composed of a helmet, a cuirass, crossed spears, a round shield and a parazonium (that is a short sword). The message conveyed by this representation is that this barbarian, even if he had been a worthy warrior (implied by his muscular appearance), had been submitted by the mighty Rome.
However, the interpretation of this type raises one question: does the captive man depicted on this reverse refer to a specific people submitted by Rome in the 70s or not? In that perspective, it can be suggested that this captive man may embody a Jew. This type would thus be part of the IUDAEA CAPTA types, that is the various types of coins commemorating Vespasian and Titus’s victory over the Jews during the Jewish war (about the IUDAEA CAPTA types see Sestertius depicting Vespasian and a couple of Jews mourning under a palm tree (71 CE)). In spite of the variety of the scenes depicted in the capta types, and among them the IUDAEA CAPTA types, many share some common elements: the conquered peoples or captives are represented kneeling, sitting or standing, men are commonly represented naked or half-naked, and most of the time the armours and weapons of the defeated people are represented piled up or organised in a trophy. These elements are actually present in the coin presented here.

Among the arguments that can be quoted to support the hypothesis that the captive represented on this coin could be a Jew, there is first the fact that during Titus’s reign between June 79 CE and September 81 CE, that is a decade after the Jewish War, coins commemorating this victory continued to be produced (especially the type representing a palm tree in the very centre, flanked on one side by a mourning Jewish female and on the other by a captive Jewish man, see RIC II/12, Titus, no. 57, no. 133, no. 145-153, n° 369, n° 500-502). So, the preserving of the memory of that victory remained something important for Titus during his entire reign. The second argument that can be quoted is related to the physical appearance of the captive. As we previously recalled, the fact that this captive is represented as a bearded man, bare-chested, and wearing braccae (trousers) fits in with the common way to represent a barbarian. Even though in the majority of the coins that are part of the IUDAEA CAPTA series the defeated Jews are embodied by a female figure standing for the province of Judea, there exist a few types in which a male figure is depicted aside Judea. In one of them the captive Jew is depicted as partially naked and draped in a cloak that may recall the one draping the kneeling captive on our coin (see Sestertius depicting Vespasian and a couple of Jews mourning under a palm tree (71 CE)). There exists also another type in which the Roman emperor is standing before supplicating Jew and Jewess (RIC II/12, Vespasian, no. 499, p. 93). The Jew is represented bare-chested and he seems to wear braccae (this detail can be seen on the drawing of the coin in Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage 2, p. 193). In addition, as rightly recalled by Jane Cody, even if Judea became a Roman province in 6 CE, “Jews continue to appear as part of compositions reserved for conquered peoples beyond the borders of this world and their dress and pose reinforce this characterisation” (Cody, “Conquerors and Conquered,” p. 109). Cody explains this uninterrupted assimilation of Jews with barbarians on Roman coins by the fact that during the first century CE, Jews resisted Rome several times and openly revolted against Rome from 66 CE onwards: “Rather, in adopting the compositional scheme and details of the republican and Augustan capta types, the designers intended to portray the Judean Jews as worthy enemies on the battlefield, but as uncivilised, like Gauls or Spaniards” (Cody, “Conquerors and Conquered,” p. 110).

However, on the coin presented here, the slogan IUDAEA CAPTA does not appear, and there is no implicit reference to Judea, in particular via the representation of a palm tree. So we cannot be sure that the captive represented here is actually a Jew. The second important element is that during the two years of his reign as sole Augustus, Titus did not take part personally in any conquests, whereas ten years before he had been the main military leader who put an end to the Jewish War. The only important military campaign that had been undertaken under his reign is the campaign led by Agricola in Britain from 78 CE onwards (see Cody, “Conquerors and Conquered,” p. 110-111). As a consequence, Harold Mattingly has argued that the coins of the type presented here that had been minted before Vespasian’s death commemorate the victory over the Jews, whereas the coins minted after his death commemorate Agricola’s successes in Britain (see Mattingly, Coins of the Roman Empire II, p. xli). This interpretation has been contested by Jane Cody who convincingly argues that the coins of this type minted before and after Vespasian’s death have such an identical image of their reverse that they must commemorate the same event. For Cody it is unlikely that the coin presented here commemorates the campaigns in Judea because the design of the trophy is different from the trophy usually appearing on the IUDAEA CAPTA types. She argues that the shield and the whole trophy on the present coin instead look like some round shield and trophies depicted on coins connected to the commemoration of Claudius’s campaign in Britain (see RIC I2, Claudius, no. 33, p. 123), and it would thus prove that this type had been minted at the very end of Vespasian’s and at the very beginning of Titus’s reigns to celebrate the operations in Britain led between these two reigns (Cody, “Conquerors and Conquered,” p. 111).
If that interpretation is correct, this type is not part of the group of Flavian coins commemorating the subduing of the Jews. It remains, however, a good example of the stereotyped representation of the figure of the barbarian on Roman coins, a figure that was also used to embody the Jews, even if they had lived in a Roman province since the end of the first century BCE.

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Denarius depicting the head of Titus and a kneeling captive (79 CE)
Author(s) of this publication: Marie Roux
Publishing date: Mon, 10/22/2018 - 10:14
Visited: Wed, 04/17/2024 - 07:35

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