July 01, 2014

Coin of the Month: Two Coins Depicting Germania

Gold coin of Domitian showing Germania

In 83 AD the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD) conducted a campaign against the Germanic tribe of the Chatti, the first emperor to campaign in person since Claudius’ expedition to Britain in 43 AD. Literary tradition is divided over the success of campaign; Iulius Frontinus commended Domitian’s strategy and handling of troops, but other sources suggested that the Chatti were not subdued and continued to pose a threat, even if defences of the frontier were improved. In any case, Domitian proclaimed a victory and had this magnificent aureus struck in Rome around 84 AD. The obverse shows a laureate head of Domitian facing left, wearing an aegis. The legend overhead reads IMP(erator) CAES(ar) DIVI VESP(asiani) F(ilii) DOMITIAN(us) AUG(ustus): ‘Emperor Caesar Domitian Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian’. The reverse depicts a humbled and sorrowful semi-naked female figure sitting on a beautifully embossed shield. A broken spear can be seen underneath. The inscription overhead proclaims Domitian’s title of victor of the Germans: GERMANICUS CO(n)S(ul) X.


Gold coin of Trajan showing Germania

© The Trustees of the British Museum

The depiction of Germania in the second coin is very different. This coin is an aureus struck in Rome in 98-99 AD. The obverse displays the laureate head of Trajan (98-117 AD) facing right, with the legend IMP(erator) CAES(ar) NERVA TRAIAN(us) AUG(ustus) GERM(anicus): ‘Emperor Caesar Nerva Traianus Augustus Germanicus’. The reverse bears the words PONT(ifex) MAX(imus) TR(ibunus) POT(estas) CO(n)S(ul) II: ‘chief priest, holder of tribunician power, consul for the second time’. It depicts Germania seated on a pile of shields, resting her left arm on a hexagonal shield and holding an olive branch in the right hand. The pile of shields and the olive branch suggest the end of confrontation. At the same time, the semi-naked proud figure of Germania reminds the viewer of Tacitus’ descriptions of hostile, free, ‘barbaric’ Germanic tribes. So instead of depicting a conquered Germania like in Domitian’s coin, Trajan’s aureus presents Germania as a barbarian nation making a pact with Rome under the paternal gaze of the emperor. In this way the second coin also advertised Trajan’s successful tenure as governor of Germania before he succeeded his adoptive father Nerva in 98 AD.

desiree_arboThis month’s coin was chosen by Desiree Arbo, a second year PhD student. Desiree’s research focuses on the reception of classical texts in 18th-19th century Spanish America. She is currently exploring how Jesuit missionaries used classical themes and texts to depict the Guarani Indians of Paraguay.

(Coin of Domitian above reproduced courtesy of Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG (Auction 67, lot 139)

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