∆ Sestertius, 26.69g
Rome mint, 71 AD
Obv: IMP CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M TR P P P COS III; Head of Vespasian, laureate, r.
Rev: IVDAEA CAPTA; S C in exergue; Palm tree; to l. Captive stg. r.; to r., Judaea std. r. on cuirass; both figures surrounded by arms
RIC 159 (C3). BMC 532. BNC 490, pl. XLIV (same dies).
Acquired from Witter Coins, eBay, October 2019. Ex Triton V, 16 January 2002, lot 1913 (From the Robert Schonwalter Collection). Ex Worner List 1, January 1951, no. 394. Formerly in NGC holder #4683650-005, with grade 'F', strike 5/5, surface 3/5.
Ambition sighed: she found it vain to trust
The faithless column and the crumbling bust;
Huge moles, whose shadow stretched from shore to shore,
Their ruins perished, and their place no more!
Convinced, she now contracts her vast design,
And all her triumphs shrink into a coin.
A narrow orb each crowded conquest keeps,
Beneath her palm here sad Judea weeps. -
Alexander Pope, To Mr. Addison, Occasioned by his Dialogues on Medals II. 19-26
For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen ... Thy men shall fall by the sword and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn, and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground - Isaiah III.25-26.
In 70 AD Jerusalem was besieged and sacked and the Temple razed by the Roman forces commanded by Titus Caesar. The following year a massive joint Triumph was held in Rome for Vespasian and Titus to celebrate their successful conclusion of the Jewish Rebellion. Coins were also issued to commemorate their victory. These so called 'Judaea Capta' coins first appeared in late 70 just after the fall of Jerusalem in August, both in the precious metals and at first sparingly in bronze. It wasn't until 71, the year of the triumph, that the bronze coinage came into its own with a whole host of 'Judaea Capta' types. Probably the most famous of these depicts the ubiquitous date palm with a standing bound captive to the left and a seated Judaea to the right, both surrounded by arms. The second bronze issue of 71 saw these produced in massive quantities (Colin Kraay knew of 23 reverse dies paired with this obverse). Although the overall allegorical meaning of the reverse is readily apparent, what each individual device specifically symbolises is open to debate. We are on firm ground to assume the date palm represents the land of Judaea as H. Mattingly proposed in BMCRE II (although J. M. Cody speculated the palm possibly represents the Roman victory). The motif of the standing captive is copied from earlier Republican coin issues, reminiscent of the Gaulish and Spanish captives on those Republican types. His dress indicates he is a barbarian from outside the boundaries of Roman civilisation. In the spirit of the 'Vercingetorix' denarius, H. St. J. Hart proposed the captive is actually either Simon Bar Giora or John of Gischala(!), the two defeated Jewish commanders. The seated female figure is the personification of Judaea, the daughter of Zion. This figure is frequently seen on the various designs of the series, often paired with the palm tree. Her attitude of mourning and dejection leaves little doubt she is lamenting the defeat of her people.
Modern viewers see this as a forlorn scene of defeat, however, to the Roman coin designers the images are meant to convey victory over a worthy foe. The Jewish War was an important event for the fledgling Flavian dynasty - in essence it gave them the legitimacy to rule. The ensuing propaganda onslaught after the 'Gotterdammerung' fall of Jerusalem is awe inspiring. The slight of hand the Flavian regime pulled off which transformed defeated rebel provincials into a foreign menace is truly amazing. The coins were a major part of the regime's propaganda commemorating Vespasian's defeat of the Jews and saving the empire. Their efforts paid off, for even today this 'Judaea Capta' type is one of the most iconic and recognised reverses in the whole of Roman coinage.
Fantastic surfaces in good metal. A beauty in hand.