Sestertius depicting Vespasian and a couple of Jews mourning under a palm tree (71 CE)



71 CE




Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Laureate head of Vespasian looking right


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Jewess in attitude of mourning, seated to the right beneath palm tree; to the left, a Jewish captive stands with hands tied behind his back; captured weapons behind

Inscription: IVDEA [CAPTA] - S C

Diameter (mm): 
Weight (g): 
RIC II/1, Vespasian, no. 161, p. 71.

This sestertius minted in 71 CE depicts on the obverse the head of Vespasian, while the reverse depicts two Jews mourning under a palm tree. The inscription on the obverse, which advertises the titles of Vespasian is the element which permits to date the coin. Hence Vespasian bears the titles of imperator, Caesar, Augustus, he is also Pontifex Maximus, or high priest, he possesses the tribunicia potestas, or tribunician power, as well as the honorific title of Pater Patriae, or father of the fatherland, and he has been appointed consul for the third time.
This coin was part of the Iudaea Capta series, struck to commemorate the Roman victory over the Jewish rebels in Judea and the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 66-70 CE. There are a number of variant images depicted on the reverses of these issues, but this coin depicts that most frequently found: a woman, possibly representing Jerusalem or the personification of the province, appears seated to the right of a palm tree with two bunches of dates, another symbol of Judea, in an attitude of mourning. To the left of the tree, a bearded male stands with his hands tied behind his back, and wearing a chlamys. This mantle of Macedonian origin, which was worn in the Greek East, may have been part of the Jewish male costume, indicating that this figure is a Jewish prisoner or captive. To his left a trophy is visible, which is comprised of a Roman helmet, two shields and a sword or knife, the familiar attributes of Roman soldiers. The legend Iudaea Capta – “captured Judea” – was inscribed around this image of the submissive Jews and the  trophy of arms, indicating that their ‘barbarian’ nature had only recently been contained by Rome’s civilising force, with the use of just one figure – rather than several Jewish captives – representing the personification of the province now brought under Roman control (see Rosso, Idéologie impériale et art officiel, p. 173-179; 209-242; Cody “Conquerors and conquered on Flavian coins,” p. 103-123. Brin, Catalogue of Iudea Capta coins provides a full catalogue of known Iudaea Capta coin types).
These Iudaea Capta coins continued to be minted for 25 years, under the reigns of Vespasian and his sons, indicating the importance of the Jewish campaign for the Flavian claims of legitimacy. The length of time for which the coins were minted served their imperial ideology well too, demonstrating that the campaign waged against the Jews was long and difficult. As Meshorer rightly argues, for both Vespasian and Titus, the Jewish War was a key aspect of imperial propaganda; it masked their rise to power through the civil wars of the year 69 CE, reconstituting it as a victory against a foreign enemy, even if in this case the unrest was not a full scale rejection of Rome’s presence, but rather the rebellion of a province against her central authority. As with all the Iudaea Capta coins, also this sample is a striking statement of Roman power, and a warning to provincials to accept the Pax Romana
Bibliographical references: 


Levick, BarbarabookVespasianRoman Imperial Biographies LondonRoutledge2005
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