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712a, Domitian, 13 September 81 - 18 September 96 A.D.160 viewsDomitian, as Caesar, AR Denarius. 77-78 AD; RIC 242, VF, 18mm, 3.18grams. Obverse: CAESAR AVG F DOMITIA[NVS], laureate head right ; Reverse: COS V below man with hand raised out behind him on horse prancing right. RSC 49a. Scarce. Ex Zuzim Judaea.

De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Rulers and their Families

Titus Flavius Domitianus(A.D. 81-96)

John Donahue
College of William and Mary

Domitian was born in Rome on 24 October A.D. 51, the youngest son of Vespasian, Roman emperor (A.D. 69-79) and Domitilla I, a treasury clerk's daughter. Little is known about Domitian in the turbulent 18 months of the four (five?) emperors, but in the aftermath of the downfall of Vitellius in A.D. 69 he presented himself to the invading Flavian forces, was hailed as Caesar, and moved into the imperial residence.

As emperor, Domitian was to become one of Rome's foremost micromanagers, especially concerning the economy. Shortly after taking office, he raised the silver content of the denarius by about 12% (to the earlier level of Augustus), only to devaluate it in A.D. 85, when the imperial income must have proved insufficient to meet military and public expenses.

Domitian's reach extended well beyond the economy. Late in A.D. 85 he made himself censor perpetuus, censor for life, with a general supervision of conduct and morals. The move was without precedent and, although largely symbolic, it nevertheless revealed Domitian's obsessive interest in all aspects of Roman life. An ardent supporter of traditional Roman religion, he also closely identified himself with Minerva and Jupiter, publicly linking the latter divinity to his regime through the Ludi Capitolini, the Capitoline Games, begun in A.D.86. Held every four years in the early summer, the Games consisted of chariot races, athletics and gymnastics, and music, oratory and poetry.

Beyond Rome, Domitian taxed provincials rigorously and was not afraid to impose his will on officials of every rank. Consistent with his concern for the details of administration, he also made essential changes in the organization of several provinces and established the office of curator to investigate financial mismanagement in the cities. Other evidence points to a concern with civic improvements of all kinds, from road building in Asia Minor, Sardinia and near the Danube to building and defensive improvements in North Africa.

While the military abilities of Vespasian and Titus were genuine, those of Domitian were not. Partly as an attempt to remedy this deficiency, Domitian frequently became involved in his own military exploits outside of Rome. He claimed a triumph in A.D. 83 for subduing the Chatti in Gaul, but the conquest was illusory. Final victory did not really come until A.D. 89. In Britain, similar propaganda masked the withdrawal of Roman forces from the northern borders to positions farther south, a clear sign of Domitian's rejection of expansionist warfare in the province.

Domitian's autocratic tendencies meant that the real seat of power during his reign resided with his court. The features typically associated with later courts - a small band of favored courtiers, a keen interest in the bizarre and the unusual (e.g., wrestlers, jesters, and dwarves), and a highly mannered, if somewhat artificial atmosphere, characterized Domitian's palace too, whether at Rome or at his Alban villa, some 20 kilometers outside of the capital.

On 18 September, A.D. 96, Domitian was assassinated and was succeeded on the very same day by M. Cocceius Nerva, a senator and one of his amici. The sources are unanimous in stressing that this was a palace plot, yet it is difficult to determine the level of culpability among the various potential conspirators.
In many ways, Domitian is still a mystery - a lazy and licentious ruler by some accounts, an ambitious administrator and keeper of traditional Roman religion by others. As many of his economic, provincial, and military policies reveal, he was efficient and practical in much that he undertook, yet he also did nothing to hide the harsher despotic realities of his rule. This fact, combined with his solitary personality and frequent absences from Rome, guaranteed a harsh portrayal of his rule. The ultimate truths of his reign remain difficult to know.

Copyright (C) 1997, John Donahue.
Published: De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Rulers and their Families Used by permission.

Perhaps the reverse of this Domitian/Horseman specimen depicts Domitian as he rode a white horse behind his father, Vespasian, and his brother, Titus, during their joint triumph celebrating their victory over Judaea (see: Suetonius. The Twelve Caesars. Trans. Robert Graves. London: Penguin, 2003. 304).

Edited by J. P. Fitzgerald, Jr.
Commodus as Hercules694 viewsThis magnificent statue depicts the Emperor Commodus as Hercules. Currently on display at the Musei Capitolini in Rome. Commodus also minted coins with him as Hercules.Titus Pullo
Constantine the Great212 viewsMarble head of Constantine the Great at the Musei Capitolini in RomeTitus Pullo
Eros Stringing his Bow43 viewsThis statue is made by Lysipp. The original ist lost, but several Roman cipies are found. This one is located in the Musei Capitolini in Rom. Depictions of this statue are found on coins of Philippopolis and Nikaia (NIcaea).Jochen
Hercules of the Forum Boarium178 viewsHercules of the Forum Boarium is a gilded 2nd century B.C. slightly over-lifesize bronze statue, which was found in the Forum Boarium in Rome. This statue is probably the one mentioned by Pliny, which originally stood in the Temple of Hercules Victor, by the Tiber. It lacks the lion skin. Perhaps a actual lion skin was once draped on it. The sculpture is now in the Musei Capitolini, Rome.1 commentsJoe Sermarini
Remus and Romulus with the she-wolf542 viewsThe symbol of Rome this is an Etruscan bronze currently on display at the Musei Capitolini in Rome.Titus Pullo
Struck A.D.304 - 305. MAXIMIANUS. Follis of Alexandria. 6 viewsObverse: IMP C M A MAXIMIANVS P F AVG. Laureate head of Maximianus facing right.
Reverse: HERCVLI VICTORI. Hercules standing facing, head left, holding club in his right hand, apple and lionskin in his left. In upper left field, S; in right field, A; in exergue, ALE.
Diameter: 28mm | Weight: 8.2gms | Die Axis: 12 | Traces of silvering
RIC VI : 41.

The gilded bronze statue below is probably the one, mentioned by Pliny, which originally stood in the Temple of Hercules Victor by the Tiber. It lacks the lion skin, perhaps an actual lion skin was once draped on it. The sculpture is now in the Musei Capitolini, Rome.
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