Tetradrachm minted at Aelia Capitolina depicting the head of Caracalla and an eagle (211-217 CE)



211 CE to 217 CE



Aelia Capitolina

Name of Ruler: 


Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Laureate head of Caracalla looking right


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: eagle standing facing, head left, wreath in beak, wine jug between legs


Weight (g): 

This silver tetradrachm was minted at Aelia Capitolina (the name given to the city of Jerusalem when it was re-founded as a Roman colony by Hadrian after the Bar Kokhba revolt), between 211 and 217 CE, under the reign of Caracalla. It depicts on the obverse the head of the emperor, and on the reverse an eagle with spread wings, holding a wreath in its beak and standing above a kantharos (wine jug) and vine leaf. As was the case on all tetradrachms minted under Caracalla’s sole rule, his portrait depicts him mature and bearded (seeMeshorer, The Coinage of Aelia Capitolina, p. 41).The inscription in Greek, which spans from the obverse to the reverse, refers to Caracalla as imperator (αὐτοκράτωρ, autokratōr), Caesar (Καῖσαρ, Kaisar), Antoninus Augustus (σεβαστός, Sebastos), holder of the tribunician power (δήμαρχος, dēmarchos), consul (ὕπατος, hupatos), and finally father of the country (pater patriae), which is in Latin (Meshorer, The Coinage of Aelia Capitolina, nos. 87-95, p. 90-91). The tetradrachm was a Greek denomination in silver used in the Greek East from the Hellenistic period onwards, equivalent to four drachmae. Once the Roman authorities took over, they minted their own silver coins for the local market, such as the cistophoroi in Asia Minor and the tetradrachms in the East (the first tetradrachms minted during the imperial period were under Tiberias; see Duncan-Jones, Money and Government, p. 232). Most of these coins were used to pay soldiers, so they could spend their wages in the local market. The obverse of imperial tetradrachms depicted the head of the emperor, and the reverse depicted an eagle with spread wings, as we see on this issue. The inscriptions were in Greek. From the death of Trajan until the reign of Septimius Severus there was a gap in the issue of provincial tetradrachms. However, from 208 CE onwards, with the growing importance of the East, the minting of imperial tetradrachms was resumed, and new cities were used as the seat of the imperial mint, such as Laodicea ad Mare, and from Caracalla onwards, Aelia Capitolina (Meshorer, The Coinage of Aelia Capitolina, p. 41-42).

The tetradrachms minted at Aelia Capitolina can be recognized by the small mintmark, which appears on the reverse under the eagle. This consists of one or more images associated with one of the city’s gods, Dionysus (the god of wine, among other things); either a thyrsus (a staff topped with a pinecone, carried by the followers of the god Dionysus), a kantharos (a Greek cup with handles, used for drinking wine), or a vine branch/leaf (Meshorer, The Coinage of Aelia Capitolina, p. 44). On the present issue, we see the kantharos depicted below the eagle, with a vine leaf underneath also. The eagle itself was both a symbol of the Roman army (appearing on top of military standards), and also of the supreme Roman god Jupiter (just as it was for his Greek counterpart, Zeus). The way the eagle is portrayed on this coin, appearing standing with its legs apart, wings wide open, and head up to the left holding a wreath, was common, and can be seen on many imperial issues featuring Jupiter or his symbolism. The wreath, which we see on this coin both in the eagle’s beak and upon the head of the emperor, symbolised victory in general, and was given as a prize in athletic competitions.

Essentially, imperial tetradrachms such as the present example, more than any other local issue, emphasized the bond between the emperor and the local city which minted them, in this case, Aelia Capitolina. This connection is emphasised through the blend of imperial imagery—the emperor and his titulature, as well as the eagle—with more localised imagery, in this case the symbols of one of the city’s most popular cults, that of Dionysus.

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