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Silvered follis, RIC 20, choice VF, 7.4g, 26.1mm, 0o, Alexandria mint, 295-296 A.D.; >obverse IMP C L DOMITIVS DOMITIANVS AVG, laureate head right; reverse GENIO POPVLI ROMANI, Genius standing left, modius on head, holding patera and cornucopia, eagle at feet; A left, ALE in exergue, very rare
Also see ERIC - Domitius Domitianus.
Cohen, H. Description historique des monnaies frappées sous l'Empire Romain, Vol. 6: Macrianus to Diocletian & Maximianus. (Paris, 1886).
Sear, D.R. Roman Coins and Their Values, Vol. IV: The Tetrarchies and the Rise of the House of Constantine...Diocletian To Constantine I, AD 284 - 337. (London, 211).
Sutherland, R.A.C. & C.H.V. Carson. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol VI, From Diocletian's reform to the death of Maximinus. (London, 1967).
By Kenneth R. Kline Jr.
Lucius Domitius Domitianus was, in some scholars’ opinions, one of the most effective and steadfast Augusti to ever rule over a Roman domain, even if the rule was simply for a period of months. Unfortunately, other than several small references to him in papyri and contemporary writings of the day, much of our knowledge of his existence is limited to the small amount of coinage he produced. In the end, due to this lack of historical certainty, Domitianus, and his role in the final days of the Egyptian revolt of 297-298, has become somewhat of the enigma that scholars can only hope to someday understand.
Stationed in Egypt during the early years of Diocletian’s tetrarchy, Domitius Domitianus may very well be one of the most under appreciated and historically ignored emperors of the late Imperial time period. Rising to power in a time when Egypt direly needed leadership the most, Domitian, as he preferred himself to be called, held an eight month vigil against the entirety of the Roman Empire in an attempt to correct many of the atrocities that had been inflicted upon Egypt.
Heavily taxed and overburdened with political corruption, Egypt was but an empty shell of its once former glory by the late third century. By 296 CE, irrigation channels had been so ignored and had fallen into such disarray, that Egypt’s agriculture was literally being strangled into oblivion. Domitianus, well known for his keen ability to use logic in matters concerning Egypt, understood that Rome had no plans to remedy the situation. After several small uprisings in upper and lower Egypt, and an outright open rebellion at Coptos, the knowledgeable leader saw his window of opportunity open. Several references state that with such a keen knowledge of Egypt’s troubles, Domitianus offered the disgruntled citizenship a plan of systematic remedies. The remedies were so well conceived and convincing that the people of the area offered him up as their leader.
Upon entering Alexandria, Domitianus took the title of Augustus and reportedly swayed the Roman troops there to his cause as well. One can only imagine the refined speaking and rhetorical skills this man must have possessed to tame the normally fickle and unruly Alexandrian crowds of the period. Here Domitius Domitianus would stay for the duration of eight months. Issuing edicts concerning taxation reform, Domitius became more and more loved by his followers, and more and more despised by Diocletian who had to order neutralizing counter-edicts. Within that short period of time, the de facto ruler would stabilize agricultural projects, initialize impressive military fronts, and, of most importance to the classical numismatist, attempt to reform the outdated Alexandrian system of coinage.
Of dire importance in maintaining his base of power, Domitianus comprehended the necessity for coinage reforms in Egypt. Allowed basically only the tetradrachm as a common form of exchange, there was an absolute breakdown in Egypt’s monetary system. To simplify the problem to its basic root, Egypt literally had no system for “making change.” All matters of monetary importance had to be waged with the tetradrachm, a denomination far too large for most small, daily transactions. Noting this inadequacy, Domitianus commissioned the creation of several new denominations in the Egyptian economy.
By late 296, the new octadrachm and didrachm were introduced to the Alexandrian public. The octadrachm, set upon a value standard similar to the early Roman antoninianus, averaged approximately 23-24 millimeters in diameter; the tetradrachm remained its well-known 19-20 millimeter size; and the didrachm was slightly smaller at a 17-18 millimeter diameter. Designs for each of the coins were kept at a portrait obverse, but, ingeniously used as another attempt to keep the people and legions happy, reverses featuring Serapis and Nike were utilized. A final coinage reform would take place in the production of a gold aureus featuring Victory and a bronze follis featuring the Roman Genius. These two highly known Roman denominations were most likely used as a source of payment for external trade, thus supporting the argument that Domitianus had very long term plans in mind for Egypt. In the end, these monetary reforms must have struck a chord with the populace because Domitianus’ popularity was solidified even more resoundingly.
Meanwhile, as Domitianus stabilized himself more within the Egyptian culture, the full wrath and fury of Rome was bearing down on him. Diocletian, who had earlier sent Domitianus to Egypt in an attempt to stop the troublesome rebellions, now found his former confidant leading the rebellion against him. Showing his resolve in the affairs of Domitianus, Diocletian sent Galerius, his Caesar, to deal with the Persian conflict in Syria, as he personally took charge of the expedition into Egypt. However, victory would not come easily for Diocletian. In a drawn out series of quick skirmishes and forceful tactics, and with limited military resources, Domitianus was actually able to withstand Diocletian’s relentless advances for months on end. This infuriated the tetrarch to even greater resolve. Finally, by late December 297 CE, Diocletian had regained control of almost every area of Egypt. Alexandria, itself, had yet to capitulate.
It is here, at this point, where the numismatic, papyrological, and literary histories become muddled and contradictory. In some literary references, it is believed that Domitianus raised his “corrector” and head official of Alexandria’s defense, Aurelius Achilleus, to the status of co-Augustus in an attempt to divide between them much of the work that was still required in Egypt. A second, more whimsical belief, as suggested by the papyrological record, is that “Achilleus” was simply a nickname given to Domitianus by the Alexandrians, much like the nickname “Caracalla” being given to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus a century earlier. Currently, however, most historians, in an attempt to unify the contradicting records, believe that Domitianus died, or was killed, in December of 297 or January of 298 CE, and that he was simply succeeded by Achilleus as ruler.
By any measure, it is well known that Diocletian, at last, succeeded in putting down the revolt by March of 298 CE. It is also very well understood that Diocletian was so infuriated with the resistance of Domitianus, or Achilleus, or both, that he uncharacteristically permitted general proscription and massacre in Alexandria once it had fallen. As a result, Egypt would plummet even more harshly into the darkness of an Empire that would soon crumble itself.
In several texts concerning ancient coinage, the name Domitius Domitianus is synonymous with the title of usurper and rebel… very little else is written or known about him. To say the very least, perhaps more attention should be placed squarely upon what Domitianus was able to accomplish in his short span of power. In eight months time, Domitianus miraculously outmaneuvered the most powerful military force the world had ever known, while also invoking positive reforms in the government, agriculture, and finance of Egypt. As authoritatively written by James W. Curtis, “…Domitianus emerges as one of the few potentially great men, who might, under other conditions, have arrested indefinitely the gradual decay of the erstwhile granary of the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt.” In accomplishing so much for Egypt in a matter of months, had his usurpation gone unchecked, one wonders what he or his officials may have been able to do if given the span of years.
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Domitius Domitianus - These names appear only on coins, and are supposed to be those of one of Diocletian's generals who declared himself emperor at Alexandria, while in command of the imperial legions in Egypt. The year is unknown but is supposed to be about the time of Diocletian's abdication. The subjoined engraving is from one of the only coins with Latin legends ascribed to this usuper: and although no doubt whatever exists as to its authenticity, yet the subject itself presents difficulties which are far from being resolved satisfactorily, by either preceding or present numismatists.