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December 01, 2018

An Unusual Victory Coin


RIC II Trajan 557. Image reproduced courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum.

The practice of issuing a victory coin after the conquest of a new territory was frequent in ancient Rome and it was a practice with a long tradition. In most instances what is depicted on the coins is either a scene in which a representation of the defeated country is mourning (cf. Iudeea capta, RIC II, Part 1 (second edition) Vespasian 161), or a symbol of the defeated country (cf. Aegypto capta, RIC I (second edition) Augustus 275A). However, one of the coins issued by Trajan after the conquest of Dacia is very different.

This coin is a sestertius dated between AD 103 and AD 111, issued in Rome, and now kept in the British Museum. On the obverse of the coin we find the bust of Trajan, laureate, facing right, with the text ‘IMP CAES NERVAE TRAIANO AVG GER DAC P M TR P COS V P P’- Trajan’s name and titles in the dative. On the reverse is a combat scene in which the river Tiber pushes Dacia to the ground with his right knee. The violence and the dynamism of this image is unusual for a Roman coin and I will present my hypothesis for this matter in this article.

This coin was issued to celebrate the Trajan’s victories over the Dacians. In AD 101, Trajan crossed the Danube and attacked Dacia despide the treaty that his predecesor Domitian had made with the Dacians. Another war followed in AD 106 after which most of Dacia became a Roman province.

The exact causes are controversial because of the lack of contemporary sources, but Dio’s text suggests that it was a punitive war. Regardless if this is true or not, it is clear that Trajan wanted to display this image and maybe show through this image that the nations willing to attack Rome would be defeated in battle.

The fact that it is the personification of the Tiber, a river, that is shown defeating Dacia is very interesting. On Trajan’s column, which depicts his wars against the Dacians, there is another personification of a river: the Danube. As the coin circulated over time, a viewer who had seen the column once it was completed in AD 113 might recall its scenery and the battle scenes depicted upon the monument. On the column the Danube is represented helping the Roman army.

This was the first Roman conquest in fifty years and it is possible that Trajan wanted to show it in a memorable way. To do this he chose to use this vivid violent scene to impress the people who would see it and to suggest that more territories would be conquered: in 114 and 115 he would also annex Armenia.

So, I think that the fact that Trajan wanted to show the people what happened if a people were to challenge Rome may have contributed to the creation of this unusual victory coin.

luiza Diaconescu

This month's entry was written by Luiza Diaconescu, a third year undergraduate student in Classical Civilisation. Luiza is very interested in Roman history and literature.

Select Bibliography:

Bellinger, A & Berlincourt, M (1962) ‘Victory as a coin type’, Numismatic Notes and Monographs 149:1-68

Bennett, J. (2001) Trajan: Optimus Princeps (Bloomington: Indiana University Press)

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)

December 13, 2013

Roman Numismatic Memory Part 2: Gaius and Lucius as principes iuventutis

Aureus showing Gaius and Lucius

The second in our Augustan bimillenium series continues the theme of Roman numismatic memory. One of the key themes of Augustus' principate was the problem of succession, and initially Gaius and Lucius Caesar were advertised on the imperial coinage as Augustus' heirs, as principes iuventutis. Between 2 BC and AD 4 (or perhaps later), the mint at Lugdunum (modern day Lyon) struck aurei and denarii showing the two brothers veiled and accompanied by shields, spears, and priestly symbols (Lactor J58, RIC Augustus 205ff).

That these coins, and the images on them, were viewed by the Romans as 'monuments in miniature' as well as currency, is demonstrated by the later use of this image. During the reign of Trajan a series of coins were struck that modern scholars call the 'restitution' coinage. This was a series of coins that bore the imagery of a much earlier coin type, either from the Republican or early imperial period. These coins celebrated the earlier coinage of the Romans, and Trajan himself is named and honoured as the 'restitutor' (just as an emperor may have been honoured for restoring a building or other monument in Rome). Why these coins were struck, and why particular coins were chosen to be celebrated over others, still remains a mystery to scholars. One of the current ideas is that these coins were struck as the older coinage in circulation was being recalled and melted down. Given the Roman conception of coinage this was a destruction of a monument in miniature, so the 'restitution' series was struck to counter this. Another idea is that the coins may have formed a gift for noble families at the time.

Restitution coin struck under Trajan (?)

In this context we should note a 'restitution' coin issue that honours the earlier coin of Augustus showing Gaius and Lucius. The coin in question reproduces Augustus' earlier issue exactly; unlike the other restitution coins of Trajan, he is not named on the coin as restitutor. But Augustus' portrait on the obverse of the coin is of Trajanic or Hadrianic style; this is not an Augustan period coin. Because of Trajan's restoration of other earlier coinages, most scholars place this piece in the reign of Trajan (AD 98-117). What this coin reveals is that Augustus' numismatic imagery was more than just decoration of the currency. The Romans observed, recorded and recalled Augustus' imagery at a later date. Why this particular type was restruck under Trajan remains a mystery, but this, along with the other restitution coinages, would have served to connect the emperor with Rome's past, and its first emperor.

(Coin images reproduced courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.,

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