Denarius depicting Vespasian on a triumphal quadriga and a naval trophy (74 CE)



74 CE
74 CE




Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 
Image: Vespasian standing in quadriga, right, holding branch and sceptre
Inscription: IMP CAESAR
Reverse (Image and Inscription): 
Image: Victory standing on the prow of a ship, holding a wreath and palm.
Inscription: VESP AVG
Weight (g): 
RIC II part 1, Vespasian, no. 688, p. 107
This denarius minted in Rome in 74 CE depicts on the obverse the triumphal chariot of Vespasian while the reverse depicts Victoria, the personification of victory, on the prow of a ship. This specimen is part of the Iudaea Capta series, which were issued by Vespasian to celebrate the conquest of Judea and the destruction of the Second Temple by his son Titus in 70 CE, during the First Jewish Revolt. The Iudaea Capta coins depict a number of different motifs, the most common of which represented the personification of the conquered province sitting bound to a Roman trophy of arms, with the legend IVDAEA inscribed beneath it; other variations depicted Judea beneath a palm tree, another symbol of the province, or Jewish prisoners sitting with their hands bound again either beneath a palm tree or next to piles of Roman arms (see e.g. Sestertius depicting Vespasian and a couple of Jews mourning under a palm tree (71 CE))

This denarius corresponds to one previously minted by Vespasian in 70 – 71 CE with the same motifs and legends. The iconography of the coins was not a new innovation, but rather one that imitated a series minted by Octavian in 30 BCE, in commemoration of his victory at Actium; just as this Flavian denarius, the coins issued by Octavian depicted the victorious leader triumphing in a quadriga, with the personification of Victory standing on a prow, but with the motifs on opposite sides of the coin (see e.g. RIC I, Augustus, no. 4, p. 60). The coins had been issued by Octavian before he was given the title Augustus in 27 BCE, and reverted back to an older, Republican type, which did not promote the individual through the addition of a portrait. Instead, both sides of the coin were struck with images that celebrated and commemorated the extraordinary nature of Octavian’s victory in Egypt, with the personification of that victory standing on the prow of a ship, in emphasis of the kind of battle – one won at sea – that Actium had been. The depiction of a triumphal quadriga referred to the triumph celebrated by Octavian following that victory, or more precisely, to the triple triumph he celebrated in 29 BCE for his victories in Dalmatia, Actium and Egypt (Suetonius, Augustus 22). Just as Octavian’s civil war with Marc Anthony had been recontextulised as a conflict with a foreign enemy, so too had Vespasian and Titus’s war against the Jews been used to distract attention away from their involvement in the civil conflict of the year of 69 CE; Titus’s triumph in the city of Rome in 71 CE, which he shared with his father, culminated with the construction of two arches, one at the Circus Maximus and one in the Roman Forum, the latter of which was also decorated with similar images of Titus, a quadriga and the personification of Victory, therefore echoing the images found on this denarius.


However, while the naval trophy on the type minted by Augustus commemorated the naval battle of Actium, there is a priori no known sea battle between the Jewish rebels and the Romans that could justify the emission of such a type. It is possible, though, that the image of Victoria standing on the prow of a ship possibly commemorates a naval engagement fought in the Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) between the Jewish rebels and the Romans. The village of Tarichaea, on the shore of the lake, was one of the first to have endured an attack by the Romans in 67 CE , from which Josephus, then governor of Galilee, was taken prisoner (Josephus, Jewish War III.466; 522-531); according to his extensive history of the war, the Jews had only at their disposition fishermen’s boats, which were easily taken and burnt down by the Romans in 67 CE at the battle of Migdal, which may be represented on the coin here. The image of the prow may therefore have referred to some real episode of the war between the Romans and the Jews, while simultaneously evoking the memory of the battle of Actium and that of Augustus. The association of Flavian and Augustan victory was to become a key feature of Flavian imperial policy, and one upon which they were to base their authority and legitimacy. By replicating the iconography of Octavian’s coin, Vespasian’s denarius of 74 CE cast the new dynasty as the rightful heirs of the Julio-Claudians, whilst also ensuring that the destruction of Jerusalem was remembered as the result of victory against a foreign enemy, rather than the consequence of internal civil discord at Rome.

Keywords in the original language: 

Bibliographical references: 


Levick, BarbarabookVespasianRoman Imperial Biographies LondonRoutledge2005
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