Sestertius depicting the head of Hadrian and the emperor making a sacrifice in front of the personification of Judea (134-138 CE)



134 CE to 138 CE

Brass (Æ)



Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Laureate and draped bust of Hadrian looking right


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Hadrian standing right, raising right hand, facing Judea standing left, holding patera in right hand and cup in left, at her feet, two small boys before her, one behind her, each holding a palm frond; between them, a lit altar, behind which is a sacrificial bull lying to the left.


RIC II, Hadrian, no. 893, p. 478.
This sestertius, minted between 134 and 138 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Hadrian, and on the reverse the emperor making a sacrifice in front of the personification of Judea. The inscription on the obverse refers to Hadrian as Augustus, consul for the third time, and pater patriae, or father of the fatherland. The inscription on the reverse refers to the emperor’s visit, or adventus, to Judea in 130 CE. The initials SC, which stand for the words senatus consultum, which had appeared on coins since the reign of Augustus, indicated that the senate had given its assent to the minting of bronze coins, whose value was less than the nominal one.
An inscription recently analysed by Hannah Cotton (but not published yet) clearly demonstrates that the emperor visited Judea during the consulate of Quintus Fabius Catullinus and M. Flavius Aper in 130 CE. Hadrian’s adventus to the province is cited in some sources as the reason for outbreak of violence that led to the Bar Kokhba revolt; according to Cassius Dio, Hadrian founded the city of Aelia Capitolina during that visit and pledged to build a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus on the site of the ruined Jewish Temple, against which the Jews rebelled (Roman History LXIX.12.1). Other sources have suggested that the foundation of the city came after the revolt, and was instituted as a punishment (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, IV.6). However, the inclusion of coins that celebrated the foundation of Aelia Capitolina in hoards of “Bar Kokhba coins,” which were buried during the war, has revealed that the city must have been founded before the revolt was over, and certainly before it had started (Meshorer, Coinage of Aelia Capitolina, p. 19; Meshorer, Jewish Coins of the Second Temple Period, p. 92-93). The fact that Cassius Dio associates the foundation of the city with Hadrian’s adventus is supported by coins such as that presently under discussion, which depict the personified province “welcoming” the emperor.
The reverse of the coin bears the legend ADVENTVI AVG IVDAEAE, or “for the adventus of the emperor to Judea”. In the centre of the coin is the personification of Judea in the figure of a woman, wearing traditional Roman dress. She is veiled and carries a small box. She is also accompanied by children, which Joyce Toynbee noted were the “regular symbol of a Roman colony in art,” although Leo Mildenberg has since pointed out that such children do not appear on any other adventus bronzes in the provinces (Toynbee, The Hadrianic School, p. 119; Mildenberg, Coinage, p. 97, n. 270). The children hold palm branches and flank the figure of the emperor. In the centre of the reverse image is the sacrificial altar and a bull, indicating the actual ceremonies that took place during the adventus. According to the classification made by Jane M. Cody, this coin minted by Hadrian could correspond to a type defined as provincia fidelis, which depicts the personification of the province figuratively standing next to a representative of Rome, often interacting with him as though on equal footing (Cody, “Conquerors and Conquered on Flavian Coins,” p. 103-123). It is worth noting, however, that whatever impression of equality is shared by the organisation of the figures, the attributes and instruments of the scene, as well as the ceremony that they imply, are strictly Roman. Roland Deines has noted that the image of the coins could be interpreted through the recollection of two stories from Maccabees: in 1 Maccabees 2:15-23 Mattathias was summoned to make a sacrifice on an altar to a foreign god in Modein, which he refused to do, killing the one who actually made the offering; in the second story, seven brothers and their mother prefer to die than to make an offering that would transgress the Torah’s commandments (2 Macc 7:1-41). As Deines has suggested, in this coin image, Hadrian presented “a better mother, one who leads her children to worship before the emperor and therefore into a supposedly better future” (Deines, “How Long?” p. 232-233). The fact that the Judean coins are the only provincial bronzes to contain images of children engaged in acts of loyalty to the emperor and the empire in this way has also been suggested by David Mattingly as evidence of the extent to which allusions to local customs or attributes in Judea was impossible, due to the continued Jewish resistence to Rome; instead, adventus coins for the province provided a message of Hadrian’s “introduction of the new order of Graeco-Roman civilisation” (RIC II, Hadrian, p. 332).
However there is another troubling element in this coin, the dating. Hadrian’s adventus to the city included the foundation of Aelia Capitolina, and thus in part contributed to the Bar Kokhba revolt. At the end of the war, “Judea” was renamed as “Syria Palaestina” and the Jews were banned from the city, with the exception of one day of the year when they were permitted to enter the walls in mourning. Why, then, does this coin, minted between 134-138 CE, still retain the name “Judea”? It is possible that Hadrian changed the name of the province no later than 135 CE, by which we might explain the earliest possible date for the coin, but if it was struck after 135 CE, why would Hadrian continue to commemorate a visit to the province that resulted in such devastating civic disturbance, and why did he continue to use its earlier name? It may be that Hadrian wished to emphasise a picture of longstanding and peaceful coexistence between Rome and Judea, highlighting the “welcome” extended to the emperor when he had visited, as well as the generous benefactions that the visit had brought.

Keywords in the original language: 

Bibliographical references: 


Schmidt, JoëlbookHadrienParisPerrin2014
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