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Domitian RIC-251
∆ Quadrans, 3.32g
Rome Mint, 84-85 AD
RIC 251 (R). BMC - .
Obv: (No legend) Rhinoceros stg. l.
Rev: IMP DOMIT AVG GERM; S C in centre
Acquired from Marc Breitsprecher, February 2019.

A few years into Domitian's reign an extraordinary issue of quadrantes were struck featuring a rhinoceros. Although the coins are undated, their production can be narrowed down between late 83 when he assumed the title Germanicus and 85 when the consular date XI appeared on the quadrantes. The type is highly unusual and breaks with the standard obverses that were normally featured on the quadrans. One may ask, why a rhinoceros? Certainly the animal was rare in Rome and most difficult to obtain. The rhinoceros depicted on the coin is the African species, identified by the two horns. Martial in his book 'On Spectacles' tells of such a rhinoceros in the Colosseum. Presumably, these coins were struck with that very 'star performer' in mind. Ted Buttrey wrote about this coin type in his article Domitian, the Rhinoceros, and the Date of Martial's "Liber De Spectaculis": "it is wrong to write off the rhinoceros of Domitian's coin casually, as if the coin were a picture postcard from the zoo: 'This is a rhinoceros'. No, coin types are pointed. Everything has to do with imperial advertisement and with its importance at the moment of issue: 'This is my rhinoceros'. Domitian's rhinoceros, in its supremacy in the arena might well stand as a metaphor for the invincible success of the emperor conquering general who had recently assumed the historically-weighted title of Germanicus." Coming back to Martial, he also speaks of tokens being showered upon the cheering crowds - could these quadrantes struck cheaply and in massive quantities have been gifts to the cheering mob at the arena? In essence, can this coin double as currency and a souvenir from a long ago day at the games in the Colosseum?

This variant of the famous rhinoceros quadrans is somewhat rare (no examples in the BM) because of the obverse legend beginning in the upper right, more commonly it begins in the lower left. Artistically, most of the rhinos depicted on these coins have a lot to be desired. Some look like wild boars with horns added for effect. Happily, the animal depicted on this coin's obverse indeed looks every part the powerful and fearsome beast which awestruck Roman audiences - as a matter of fact, it appears to be charging with its head down. Perhaps the engraver was a witness to the very games martial describes?

As mentioned above, the rhino depicted on the coin is the two-horned African species. In contrast, the Indian rhino has one horn. Pliny in his Natural Histories describes the rhinoceros as a one horned creature (although confusingly he confirms its Ethiopian origins), Martial said it had two. The rhino was so rare in Rome, Pliny had to go all the way back to the games of Pompey the Great in 55 BC to find a reference for the animal on display in the city, apparently it was a one-horned Indian rhino. At any rate, both the numismatic evidence and Martial's description coincide rather nicely to confirm that Domitian, at great expense no doubt, brought to Rome an African rhinoceros for his shows in the new Colosseum. The surviving coins featuring this fantastic beast prove how important a feat this was to the emperor.

Well centred with a lovely green patina and fine style.
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Filename:D251.jpg
Album name:David Atherton / Imperial Coinage of Domitian
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Date added:Feb 19, 2019
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Jay GT4  [Feb 19, 2019 at 12:00 PM]
Cool addition
quadrans  [Feb 19, 2019 at 02:32 PM]
Nice piece..
*Alex  [Feb 19, 2019 at 02:46 PM]
Excellent.