Sestertius depicting the head of Domitian and a trophy with German captives (85 CE)



85 CE




Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Laureate bust of Domitian looking to right with aegis on left shoulder


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: On left side of trophy a female German captive sits to the left mourning. On the right side a German captive man stands to the right with head turned and hands tied behind back



(RIC II, Domitian no. 278, p. 188.)

This sestertius, minted in 85 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Domitian and on the reverse a trophy, with two German prisoners next to it, a woman kneeling and a man standing. The inscription on the obverse refers to Domitian as imperator, Caesar, Augustus, Germanicus, and as consul for the eleventh time. “Germanicus” acknowledged his victory in Germany. Domitian assumed the title Germanicus in 83 CE after battling the Chatti on the Rhine (see Jones, The Emperor Domitian, p. 128-131). On the reverse, the initials SC, which stand for senatus consultum, indicate that the senate had guaranteed this issue. This was very common on early imperial bronze coins such as this one. The legend GERMANIA CAPTA (which is partially obscured in the picture here) means “Germany captured.” On the obverse, Domitian wears a laurel crown, which symbolises his victory; in addition to being awarded in athletics competitions, laurel crowns were bestowed upon victorious commanders who were acclaimed by their soldiers as imperator (commander in chief). Domitian also wears the aegis on his left shoulder. Several emperors were depicted as wearing the aegis in such a way on their coinage. Although its precise nature has been debated, the aegis is thought to be some form of body armour or animal skin associated with the Greek goddess Athena, and later with Minerva, the patron goddess of Domitian (see Homer’s Iliad IV.17). The aegis symbolised strength and protection, and in this case, the aegis worn by Domitian emphasises the emperor’s close association with his patron goddess and the protection and power that she offers him. This divine protection and power can be interpreted as partly responsible for the victory that the emperor had won over the Germans, who are pictured in total submission on the reverse of this issue, in typical poses suggestive of capture and defeat – kneeling and bound, with the faces turned away. The depiction of the trophy (trophaeum), originally a tree hung with armour and spoils of the enemy, which stands between the two captives, and also has a shield and helmet below it, is very typical on Roman coins which celebrate military victory. Trophies on imperial coinage either stand with captives beneath them, as on this issue, or are carried by a deity or other person (e.g. Aureus depicting the head of Septimius Severus and Victoria, the goddess of victory (198-200 CE)).

This issue is an example of Domitian’s second capta coin type. The first (83 CE) depicted back to back German captives, and mimicked the style of republican and Augustan types that Domitian’s father had also used. The third (85-86 CE) depict Victoria inscribing a shield with DE GER(MANIS), and a female captive sits below (see Cody, “Conquerors and Conquered on Flavian Coins,” p. 112). The immediate source of inspiration for the scene depicted on the reverse was the Iudaea Capta (“Judea Captured”) series of coins, minted by both Vespasian and Titus in order to celebrate their victory over the Jewish people in the First Jewish Revolt of 70 CE, which resulted in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. For example, a Sestertius depicting Vespasian and a couple of Jews mourning under a palm tree (71 CE) depicts two defeated Jews in a submissive pose under a symbol of Judea, the palm tree. As is the case with many of the Iudaea Capta series, this coin of Vespasian emphasizes the muscular character of the male Jewish figure in order to show that the Roman power had defeated a worthy adversary (on the Iudea Capta series, see Cody, “Conquerors and Conquered on Flavian Coins,” p. 107-113). While on the present issue there is a woman kneeling, the male German captive (probably a soldier) standing on the right hand side is tall, with muscular-looking legs, and so is therefore perhaps suggestive of a similar message to that forwarded on the Vespasian coin. That Domitian chose to imitate the Iudaea Capta types is suggestive of the fact that he was eager to show that he could acquire military glory himself, and did not want to live in the shadow of his father and brother, Vespasian and Titus. The rivalry and envy felt by Domitian towards his relatives was mirrored in the fact that as soon as he was elevated to the imperial throne the Iudaea Capta series ceased to be minted in the capital. On the present issue, therefore, the imagery relating to Domitian’s own military success in Germany both acknowledges and supplants that of his father and brother, asserting that the current emperor’s military campaigns were every bit as impressive and important as those before. Indeed, Brian Jones argues that as neither Vespasian nor Titus took the title Iudaicus after their victories in Judea, the fact that Domitian adopted the title Germanicus indicates that he sought to portray himself as superior (Jones, The Emperor Domitian, p. 129).

Bibliographical references: 

Domitian: Tragic Tyrant

Southern, PatriciabookDomitian: Tragic TyrantRoman Imperial BiographiesLondonRoutledge1997

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Sestertius depicting the head of Domitian and a trophy with German captives (85 CE)
Author(s) of this publication: Kimberley Fowler, Samuele Rocca
Publishing date: Mon, 05/21/2018 - 16:24
Visited: Mon, 04/15/2024 - 13:52

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