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A Brief Overview of the Flavian Dynasty

Original Article By Lucas Harsh

A denarius celebrating the success of Vespasian, and his son Titus, in the First Jewish Revolt.  Perhaps the most iconic coin of the Flavian 's Dynasty.
Silver denarius, Hendin 759, RIC 15, BMCRE II 35, RSC II 226, SRCV I 2296, VF, rainbow toning, weight 3.202 g, maximum diameter 17.5 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 69 - 70 A.D.; obverse IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate head right; reverse IVDAEA, Jewess seated right, mourning, veiled, supporting chin with left hand, trophy of arms behind her; well centered and struck.  Forum Ancient Coins.

Judaea Capta coinage, minted to commemorate Vespasian and Titus ' victories against the Jews during the First Jewish Revolt, are iconic and popular issues for both the collector of Roman coins and Biblical coin collectors alike.   Here, Judea is represented by a female Jew seated on the ground representing Judaea 's defeat, beneath a Roman trophy, representing the Roman victory, which resulted in the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple.



Above, a series of coins showing each of the Flavians.  First, a classic portrait of Vespasian with the furrowed brow and Flavian nose.  Author 's collection, RIC II 774.  Second, a bearded Titus.  Author 's collection, RIC II 15.  Finally, Domitian who 's coinage developed something of a stylized portrait during its progression as depicted in this fairly rare denarius from the end of Domitian 's reign.  Author 's collection, RIC II 784.

The Flavian Dynasty refers to the dynasty ushered in by Vespasian, the last of the 4 emperors in the Year of Four Emperors.  After becoming Emperor in 69 A.D., Vespasian quickly moved to secure his sons, Titus, and Domitian, as his heirs.  Following his death in 79 A.D., Vespasian 's oldest son, Titus, assumed the throne.  Titus met an untimely death in 81 A.D., and his brother, Domitian, then ascended the throne and ruled from 81 A.D. until his murder in 96 A.D, ending the dynasty.

The Flavian Dynasty is important in the history of the Roman Empire, as it marked the end of the Julio-Claudian emperors.  It also proved that an emperor could come to power while outside of Rome, and that even legions could become an Emperor.  The Flavians made economic reforms to save the flagging Roman economy.  They also embarked on an ambitious building campaign including the iconic Flavian Amphitheater, better known today as the Colosseum.

Numismatically, the Flavian Dynasty was one of great diversity.  The Flavians took the conventions established under the Julio-Claudians, and with a few changes and further solidified the numismatic conventions for centuries to come in Roman currency.  Due to the length of the dynasty (69-96 A.D.), the coin types are quite varied, and provide a great and diverse collection area for any budget.  The Flavian Dynasty saw many new types, as well as resurrections of older types minted under the Julio-Claudians and even a number of earlier republican types.

A series of aurei depicting Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian.

Gold aureus, RIC II part 1, 842; BMCRE I 178; SRCV I -, aVF, weight 7.033 g, maximum diameter 19.5 mm, die axis 225o, Rome mint, 76 A.D.; obverse IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate head left; reverse COS VII, heifer right.  Forum Ancient Coins.  Gold aureus, RIC II part 1 785; BMCRE II 173; BN 151; Hunter 232, 14; Calicó 750; Cohen 163; SRCV I 2421, F, weight 6.778 g, maximum diameter 20.0 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, as caesar, 75 A.D.; obverse T CAESAR IMP VESPASIAN, laureate head right; reverse PONTIF TR P COS IIII, Victoria standing left Cista Mystica, wreath extended in right, flanked by two snakes.  Forum Ancient Coins.   Gold aureus, RIC II part 1, Vesp. 679; Paris 100; SRCV I 2627, VF, weight 7.019 g, maximum diameter 20.0 mm, die axis 0o, Rome mint, as caesar, 73 - 75 A.D.; obverse CAES AVG F DOMIT COS II, laureate head right; reverse Domitian on horseback prancing left, wearing military dress, raising right, scepter in left topped with a helmet.  Forum Ancient Coins.

The Flavian dynasty also represented the last three leaders mentioned in "The Twelve Caesars," a biography of Julius Caesar and the first eleven emperors of Rome, written by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, or, more commonly, Suetonius.  These "Twelve Caesars" form a popular coin collecting theme, but due to scarcity, many of the coins of these emperors are quite pricey.  The Flavian Dynasty 's prolific coinage provides an affordable beginning for any collection, including the Twelve Caesars.

The Flavian Dynasty is also a popular collection area for any interested in Roman history, the Holy Land, or Biblical history.  Vespasian was sent by Nero to quell a rebellion in Judaea which became known as the First Jewish Revolt. He effectively bottled up all Jewish resistance to Roman rule in Jerusalem, which his son Titus, then besieged and destroyed in 70 A.D., after his father became emperor.  This victory became a hallmark of the reigns of Vespasian and Titus, and was immortalized in their coinage, the Arch of Titus, and the writings of Josephus.  The conquest of Judea, the siege of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the Second Temple, had profound effects on the future course of both Christianity and the Jewish faith.

The Death of Nero and the end of the Julio-Claudians

Silver denarius, RIC I 67, SRCV I 1945, BMCRE I 90, VF, Rome mint, weight 3.508g, maximum diameter 18.4mm, die axis 180o, 66 - 67 A.D.; obverse NERO CAESAR AVGVSTVS, laureate head right; reverse SALVS, Salus enthroned left, patera in extended right, left elbow on throne.  Forum Ancient Coins.

The Flavians ' rise to power began with the death of Nero in 68 A.D. The actions and policies of Nero were becoming ever more unpopular and prompted a revolt by Gaius Julius Vindex, the governor of Gallia Lugdunenis. Vindex was unlikely to garner widespread support in Rome, so he wisely called upon Servius Sulpicius Galba, the governor of Hispania Tarraconensis to join the rebellion and declare himself governor. Faced with this rebellion in the provinces, the Praetorian Guard, also turned on Nero forcing him to ultimately attempt to commit suicide. Without the nerve to fulfill the act himself, he had his personal secretary to perform the task, and on June 9, 68 A.D., Nero was dead. With Nero, so died the Julio-Claudian line of emperors who had ruled since Augustus. In many ways, this was the dawn of a new era for the Roman Empire.

69 A.D. and The Year of Four Emperors

The death of Nero in 68 A.D. caused a vacuum of power, as he had no heirs.  The Julio-Claudians had reigned since Octavian took the title Augustus, but with the death of Nero, so died the Julio-Claudian line.  Galba quickly assumed the throne in 68 A.D., but was murdered in early 69 A.D. and was followed by Otho, Vitellius, and then Vespasian, all within a single year.  The "Year of Four Emperors," as 69 A.D. came to be called, forms an interesting niche for collection in its own right.  As this article is about the Flavian Dynasty, this is but a brief overview of the Year of Four Emperors, and volumes of information is available on this topic in its own right.

Galba: June, 68 A.D. to January, 69 A.D.


Galba. 8 June 68-15 Jan. 69 A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint. (3.22g, 19.3mm, 6 h). Obv: IMP SER GALBA CAESAR AVG, bust, laureate draped right. Rev: ROMA RENASCES, Roma standing left, holding Victory on globe and transverse eagle tipped scepter. RIC 204.  Author 's Collection.

Galba, quickly came to the forefront as emperor upon the death of Nero.  An aristocrat from a noble family with wealth, he was unconnected by birth or adoption to the Julio-Claudian emperors.  Upon the death of Nero, he marched on Rome to secure his place as Emperor.   Galba 's reign was brief, and during that time, he attempted to restore state finances which had been severely depleted by Nero 's extravagance.  Many of the measures were unpopular, including his refusal to pay the Praetorian Guard donatives promised in his name. 

Otho: January to April, 69 A.D.

Otho. 15 Jan. to April 69 A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint. 69 A.D. (3.23, 18.5mm, 6h). Obv: IMP M OTHO CAESAR AVG TR P, bare head left. SECVRITAS P R, Securitas standing left, wreath in right, scepter in left. RIC I 12, RSC 19. Author 's collection from Forum Ancient Coins. Author 's Collection from Forum Ancient Coins.

In addition to Galba 's unpopular financial policies, he spurned one of his supporters in his choice of an adopted heir.  Otho was a senator, a young man, and was the governor of Lusitiania when he threw his support in behind GalbaGalba ultimately named Piso as his heir, and Otho, who had cultivated connections in the Praetorian Guard, organized Galba and Piso 's murders in January, 69 A.D., and became emperor in his own right.  Otho was described by ancient sources as effeminate, and was so concerned with his appearance, he wore a wig. 

Vitellius: April to September, 69 A.D.

Gold aureus, RIC I 94, BMCRE I 23, F, Rome mint, weight 7.029g, maximum diameter 18.8mm, die axis 180o, 69 A.D.; obverse A VITELLIVS GERM IMP AVG TR P, laureate head right; reverse L VITELLIVS COS III CENSOR, Lucius Vitellius (emperor 's father) togate, seated left on curule chair, extending right, in left eagle-tipped scepter, feet on stool; (RIC R2).  Forum Ancient Coins.

Vitellius was proclaimed emperor by his legions stationed on the Rhine while Galba was still emperor.  The Rhine legions were some of the most feared and battle hardened of the Roman legions.  Vitellius may have been a reluctant candidate for emperor, but faced with proclamation by his troops, he may have had little choice but to go along.  Already starting their march towards Rome, and in the winter when legions usually did not campaign, Vitellius and his troops were not inclined to abandon their endeavor upon learning of Galba 's death.  Once installed as emperor, Vitellius, already a glutton, reportedly spent more time attending banquets than he dedicated to affairs of state.  Like Otho, he was largely unpopular.

The Flavian Dynasty and Vespasian 's Rise to Power

Vespasian was born in the Sabine country, and was from a largely unremarkable family.  Under the Julio-Claudian emperors, he worked his way through various offices.  Under Claudius, Vespasian was appointed legate of Legio II Augusta and served with distinction during Claudius ' invasion of Britannia.  He was later appointed governor of Africa, but instead of making a fortune as many governors did, he reportedly was forced to mortgage his estates because of his financial difficulties.  Upon his return, he turned to the mule trade to earn money earning derision from some in the senatorial class. Under Nero, Vespasian fell out of favor, reportedly for falling asleep during one of Nero 's performances during that emperor 's tour of Greece, but in 66 A.D., the Jews revolted, and Nero appointed Vespasian to suppress the revolt. 

Vespasian arrived with two legions, X Fretensis and V Macedonica at Ptolemais in 67 A.D.  His eldest son, Titus, joined him from Alexandria with Legio XV Apollinaris.  Vespasian and Titus then, set about subduing Galilee taking a number of towns by siege.  By 68 A.D., Vespasian had the north under control and subdued the coast of Judaea from his base at Caesarea Maritima.  Many of the fighters from the north fled to Jerusalem, and the city swelled with refugees.


An As of Vespasian with the Legio X countermark.    Vespasian 69-79 A.D. AE As. Rome Mint. 74 A.D. (8.45g, 25.5mm, 6h). Obv: IMP CAESAR VESP AVG COS V CENS, laureate head right. Rev: SC in field, Spes standing let with flower. RIC II 730, RCV 2361.  Author 's collection.

In 68 A.D., Nero committed suicide and thus began the Year of Four Emperors in 69 A.D. as discussed above.  At first, Vespasian and Titus put their offensive on hold.  On July 1, 69 A.D. the legions in Alexandria proclaimed Vespasian emperor, and his own legions quickly followed suit. 
While Vespasian left Judea to secure his bid for Emperor against Vitellius, Titus awaited the outcome before sieging the city of Jerusalem.  Instead of marching on Rome himself, Vespasian actually went to Egypt to secure Rome 's grain supply while the governor of Syria, Mucianus, marched on Rome with Vespasian 's legions.  Vespasian 's forces defeated those of Vitellius, and took the city of Rome where Vespasian was declared Emperor by the Senate in December of 69 A.D. 


Before he was able to mint coins in his name, it is thought Vespasian used countermarks on coins such as "IMPVES" shown on the reverse of this coin.  Author 's collection

Titus ' legions surrounded the city of Jerusalem blocking any movement of people or supplies out of the city.  Inside the city, conditions were cramped, food was running low, and there was significant infighting among the Jewish factions for leadership of the revolt.  Jerusalem, unlike the northern cities sieged thus far, was large and well fortified.  Once Vespasian 's bid for emperor was secure, Titus began the siege of Jerusalem, and despite it 's fortifications, the city fell in the Summer of 70 A.D.  The city was sacked, and Herod 's Temple, the Temple at which Jesus reportedly preached, was entirely destroyed.  The Temple treasures were carried off, and The Arch of Titus, still standing in Rome today, depicts this significant event. 

Above, a series of coins from the Flavian Dynasty depicting or celebrating the end of the Jewish Revolt.    First, Vespasian with Judaea captured beneath a Palm, symbol of Judaea, Author 's collection, RIC II 4.  Second, a denarius of Vespasian minted in Antioch celebrating the Jewish defeat, Author 's collection, CNG 's photograph, RIC II 1558.  Third, Titus as Caesar under Vespasian from the Collection of David Atherton, dealer photograph, RIC II 369.

Vespasian and Titus ' successful suppression of the Jewish revolt, and the destruction Jerusalem figured prominently in their coinage, and was the crowing jewel in their military operations.  The destruction of Jerusalem also had profound effects on both the Jewish and Christian religions.  Some Christian scholars posit that it was the sack of Jerusalem that prompted early Christians to reduce their traditions to writing in what would become the New Testament.  The Jewish religion would never center around Temple worship again. 

Removal of the Menorah from the Temple in Jerusalem depicted on the Arch of Titus.  (Wikimedia Commons released into the public domain for any use by the author).  The treasure from the Temple no doubt helped fund the early reign of Vespasian, and some of the silver from there may have made its way into the denarii of the time.

Orichalcum sestertius, Hendin 775, SRCV I 2327, BMCRE II 546, RIC II 427, aVF, pleasant brown surfaces, weight 24.377 g, maximum diameter 32.5 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 71 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M TR P P P COS III, laureate bust right; reverse IVDAEA CAPTA, Jewess mourning sits right on right beneath palm tree, behind Vespasian stands right in military dress with spear and parazonium, foot on helmet, S C in exForum Ancient Coins.

Vespasian 's Reign

Gold aureus, RIC II part 1, 1131; Giard, Lyon 21; BMCRE II 401; BN 304; Hunter -; Calicó 674; Cohen 524 var, aVF, some edge filing, weight 7.199 g, maximum diameter 18.3 mm, die axis 225o, Lugdunum (Lyon) mint, 71 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M TR P P P CO[S III], laureate head right; reverse S P Q R / P • P / OB C S in three lines within wreathForum Ancient Coins.

Vespasian was declared emperor in December of 69 A.D. while he was still in Egypt.  For several months, Mucianus, the former governor of Syria, and supporter of Vespasian, ruled in Vespasian 's absence with Domitian assisting.  The finances of the Empire were in shambles, and one of Mucianus first acts was tax reform.  Under Vespasian, old taxes were renewed, and new ones instituted.  Notably, Vespasian instituted a tax on public toilets. 

Militarily, Titus completed the suppression of the Jewish rebellion by taking Jerusalem and destroying the Jewish temple in 70 A.D.  There were also uprisings in Gaul and Germany, and these were also suppressed in 70 A.D.  Under Vespasian, Agricola consolidated previous gains in Britain, and pushed into the north as well. 

Historical sources tend to be favorable to Vespasian.  While he may have been a good emperor, and fostered stability after the civil war, he also paid financial rewards to writers of his time.  Tacitus states he was elevated by VespasianVespasian was Josephus ' patron and savior, and Pliny dedicated his Natural Histories to Titus.

Orichalcum dupondius, RIC II 279, VF, weight 12.674 g, maximum diameter 28.3 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 71 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES VESPASIAN AVG COS III, radiate head right; reverse Roma seated left on cuirass, raising wreath in right, parazonium in left, two shields behind, S - C across fields, ROMA in exForum Ancient Coins.

Defining a Dynasty

Upon donning the purple, Vespasian acted early and often to establish, not only his reign, but his two sons as his heirs.  It was his intention to establish a dynasty, and his coins quickly and frequently depicted his two sons.  The fact that he had two sons was part of the appeal for many for Vespasian as Emperor.  Below are early examples of these dynastic types from three separate mints.

Vespasian 69-79 A.D. AR Denarius. Lugdunum (Lyons) mint 71 AD. (3.13g 17mm.). Obv: IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG TR P, laureate head right. Rev: TITVS ET DOMITIAN CAESARES PRIN IVEN, Titus and Domitian seated left, side by side, holding branches. RIC II 1124.* BMC 393, Sear 2403, RSC 541(b). *Less likely RIC II 1126, with DOMITIANVS on the reverse, but with the pertinent portion off the flan, it would take a die match to establish either conclusively.

In the example below, the reverse inscription roughly translates as "the children of the Emperor Augustus Vespasian." Initially attributed to Philipi, this series, characterized by the sideways ɸ, has been attributed to Ephesus by recent scholarship.

Vespasian. 69-79 A.D. Ephesus Mint, 69-70 A.D. (2.97g, 17.4m, 6h). Obv: IMP CAES VESPAS AVG, laureate head right. Rev: LIBERI IMP AVG VESPAS, Titus and Domitian veiled, togate, standing front, heads left, each with patera, sideways ɸ in exergue. RIC II 1404. RIC R.

Vespasian 69-79 A.D.  AR DenariusRome Mint 69-70 A.D. Obv: IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate head right. Rev: CAESAR AVG COS CAESAR AVG F PR, bare head of Titus and Domitian confrontingRIC II 16, BMC 2, RSC 5. Collection of David Atherton with dealer photograph.

Flavian Coins "Consciously Antiquarian in Origin"

The Flavians minted a number of reverse designs with consciously antiquarian designs, harkening back to earlier emperors and even the Republic.  These coins for another interesting subset of collection within the Flavian reign, and a few examples are shown below. 

This type, with Mars, is one of the most common of the period copying earlier types.  Here, the reverse copies a Republican denarii of L. Valerius Flaccus.  Here again, Vespasian sports his furrowed brow and distinct nose.

Vespasian 69-79 A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint 77-78 A.D. (3.14g, 17.8mm, 6h). Obv: IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate head right. Rev: COS VIII, Mars standing left with spear and trophy, corn ear to right. RIC II 939.

This example is an exact copy of a reverse from Augustus. Two laurel trees were planted outside Augustus ' door during his reign. Despite the wear on this coin, both the obverse and reverse legends are complete.

Vespasian 69-79 A.D. AR Denarius, Rome Mint, 74 A.D. (2.90g, 21.1m, 6h). Obv: IMP CAESAR VESP AVG, laureate head right. Rev: COS V across field between two laurel trees. RIC II 681, BMC 133, RSC 110.

Here is another example of Vespasian using a reverse of a denarius minted under Claudius.

Vespasian. 69-79 A.D.  AR DenariusRome Mint 73 A.D.  Obv: IMP CAES VESP AVG CENS, laureate head right. Rev: PONTIF MAXIM, Nemesis advancing right, holding caduceus over snake.  RIC II 544, BMC 97, RSC 385.  Collection of David Atherton with Dealer photograph.

This reverse, also used by Vespasian, harkens back to a reverse used by Augustus.

Silver denarius, RIC II 19, RSC II 294, BMCRE, Choice EF, weight 3.38 g, maximum diameter 18.1 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 79 A.D.; obverse IMP TITVS CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M, laureate head right; reverse TR P VIIII IMP XV COS VII P P, Capricorn left, globe below.  Forum Ancient Coins

The Deified Vespasian

Upon his death, Vespasian was deified, and Titus issued an interesting series of coins to commemorate the event.  The last words of Romans were thought to be very important, and Vespasian reportedly said, "Oh, I think I 'm becoming a god," as he lay dying in June, 79 A.D.

Vespasian, memorial under Titus. Rome Mint 80-81 A.D. (3.43 g., 17.4 mm). Obv: DIVVS AVGVSTVS VESPASIANUS, laureate head right. Rev: SC inscribed on shield supported by two capricorns, orb with crosshatching below. RIC T357, Sear RCV 2569.  Author 's collection. 

Vespasian memorial under Titus. AR Denarius. Rome Mint 80-81 A.D. (3.2 g./17mm. 5 h). Obv: DIVVS AVGVSTVS VESPASIANVS, laureate head right. Obv: Column mounted with shield and topped by urn, flanked by two laurels, in field EX, on shield SC. RIC II T359a. Author 's collection.  

Vespasian memorial under Titus. AR Denarius. Rome mint 80-81 A.D. (2.1 g. 19mm). Obv: DIVVS AVGVSTVS VESPASIANVS, laureate head right. Rev: EX SC in exergue, quadriga l. with temple as car (tensa) surmounted by two victories, figure within. RIC T361.  Author 's collection. 

Vespasian memorial under Titus. AR denarius. Rome Mint, 80-81 A.D. (3.45 g, 21.7mm, 6h). Obv: DIVVS AVGVSTVS VESPASIANVS, laureate head right. Rev: EX SC in fields, Victory, draped, stepping l., placing shield on trophy, mourning captive Jewess seated beneath. RIC T364, BMCRE 112, RSC 144.  Author 's collection.

Titus ' Reign

Titus 79-81A.D. AR Denarius. Rome mint. 3.36 g. Jan.-July 80 A.D. Obv: IMP TITVS CɅES VESPɅSIɅN ɅVG PM, laureate head r. Rev: TRP IX IMP XV COS VIII P P, trophy with female seated r. in attitude of morning, and male captive seated l., hands bound behind back. RIC 102, RSC 306, BMC 37.  

With the dual captives, this could serve as both a reminder of the Jewish victory, and a celebration of Titus ' victory in Britain.  During his short reign, Titus issued a number of captive/trophy types.

Titus, and Domitian for that matter, were quickly put forward as Vespasian 's heirs, and both took the title CaesarTitus, being the elder son, was given the powerful position of prefect of the Praetorian Guard.   As prefect during his father 's reign, Titus developed a reputation for ruthless violence in pursuing the perceived enemies of his father 's reign.   He also carried on a relationship with Berenice, daughter of Jewish King Herod Agrippa I, which was looked on with disfavor by the Roman public.  Perhaps the relationship harkened back to Antony 's dalliance with Cleopatra.  Caving to popular pressure, he eventually sent Bernice away after she had openly lived with him in the palace.

With this backdrop, there was some apprehension about his succession upon his father 's death in 79 A.D.  Quite the opposite, during his relatively short reign, a mere two years, he turned out to be an effective emperor fondly remembered by the ancient sources with his virtues outshining his vices.  One of his first acts as Emperor was to halt the practice of conducting trials and executions based on treason.  An old practice, expanded by Tiberius, Caligula, and Nero, resulted in the execution of a number of senators, and resulted in a widespread network of informants.  Titus ended this practice, banished the informants, and it was reported that no senators were put to death during his reign.

While short and with no major military campaigns, Titus ' reign was marked by two major disasters.    First, mere months after his accession, Mount Vesuvius erupted destroying the area around the Bay of Naples.  The famous cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely buried.  Second, in the spring of 80 A.D., there was a great fire in Rome itself destroying much of the city. 

The Flavian Amphitheater

The Flavian Amphitheater, better known today as the Colosseum, as photographed in 2007 (Released to Wikimedia commons by the author for any and all uses). 

Despite the disasters, Titus did complete the Flavian Amphitheater (or Colosseum) in Rome.  This was a monument to the Flavian victory in the Jewish Revolt, and a magnificent place to entertain the public.  To commemorate the completion of the Flavian Amphitheater, Titus issued a series of denarii.

Titus 79-81 A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint, 1 Jan. –June 80 A.D. (2.93g, 18mm, 6h). Obv: IMP TITUS CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M, laureate head right. Rev: TR P IX IMP XV COS VIII P P, elephant, cuirassed, standing left. RIC 115, RSC 303. Author 's collection. 

Titus 79-81 A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint 1 Jan. –June 80 A.D..   Obv: IMP TITUS CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M, laureate head left. Rev: TR P IX IMP XV COS VIII P P, elephant, cuirassed, standing left. RIC 116.  Author 's collection.

The elephant reverses on the coins above, helps to tie the series below to the opening of the Flavian Amphitheater.  The coins below are a new type to the Roman series, and termed pulvinaria, or sacred couches of the gods.  While Mattingly attributed these to the eruption of Vesuvius, recent scholarship tends to place these commemorating the opening of the Colosseum, at which there may have been seats for honored guests. 


Titus. 79-81 A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint. 80 A.D. 1 Jan- 30 June. (3.46 g, 18.87 mm, 6h). Obv: r. to l, out-IMP TITVS CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M. Rev: l. to r., in-TRP IX IMP XV COS VIII PP, dolphin coiled around anchor. RIC 112, RSC 309, BMC 72, Sear 2517.  Author 's collection. 

Titus. 79-81 A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint, 80, 1 Jan.-30 June A.D. (3.3 g, 18.07 mm, 6 o) Obv: IMP TITVS CɅES VESPɅSIɅN ɅVG PM, laureate head right. Rev: TRP IX IMP XV COS VIII PP, winged thunderbolt on draped table or chair. RIC II 119, Sear 2513, BMC 51, RSC 316.  Author 's collection. 

Titus 79-81 A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint. Jan. 1-June 30, 80 A.D. (3.20g, 18.4mm, 5h). Obv: IMP TITVS CɅES VESPɅSIɅN ɅVG PM, laureate head right. Rev: [TR P] IX IMP XV COS VIII P P, seat draped; above, semicircular frame with three crescents. RIC II 122, RSC 313.  Author 's collection. 

Titus 79-81 A.D.  AR DenariusRome Mint. 80 A.D.  Obv: IMP TITVS CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M, laureate head right.  Rev: TR P IX IMP XV COS VIII P P, Curule chair, above, wreathRIC II 108.  Collection of David Atherton.

Orichalcum sestertius, Hendin 777, RIC II 640, Cohen 383, gF, weight 25.82 g, maximum diameter 35.2 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 72 A.D.; obverse T CAESAR VESPASIAN IMP IIII PON TR POT II COS II, laureate head right; reverse VICTORIA AVGVSTI S C, Victory standing right, foot on helmet, inscribing shield hung on palm tree.  Forum Ancient Coins.

On 13 September 81 A.D., Titus died of a fever while traveling in the Sabine country.  There was some later speculation by at least one author that he was poisoned by his younger brother, Domitian, but other, more reliable ancient sources, as well as most modern scholars, discount this proposition.

Domitian ' Reign

Gold aureus, RIC II part 1, 508; Calicó 884; BMCRE II -; BN -; Hunter -; Cohen -, VF, weight 7.392 g, maximum diameter 20.3 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, 87 A.D.; obverse IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM P M TR•P VI, laureate head right; reverse IMP•XIIII COS XIIICENS P•P•P•, Minerva standing half left, helmeted, thunderbolt in right, spear vertical in left, shield at feet behind; ex Lanz auction 144 lot 457.  Forum Ancient Coins.

Orichalcum sestertius, RIC II, part 1, (Titus) 297, gVF, Rome mint, weight 24.777g, maximum diameter 34.0mm, die axis 225o, as caesar, 80 AD; obverse CAES DIVI AVG VESP F DOMITIAN COS VII, laureate head left; reverse Minerva standing right, brandishing spear in right, shield in left, S - C; rare (R2).  Forum Ancient Coins.

Domitian lived in the large shadows of his father and brother until Titus ' death in 81 A.D.  Domitian was to reign 15 years, longer than his father and brother combined, but his reign was to be remembered as that of a tyrant.  As Emperor, Domitian quickly moved to dispense any façade of the Senate 's power, and took control of most aspects of government for himself.  In addition to dramatically altering the monetary system as described below, Domitian also undertook an extensive building campaign in Rome itself in the wake of the great fire under Titus.  A number of new structures went up around the city, and many others were restored.  Militarily, Domitian had lived in the shadow of Vespasian and Titus and took no part in the suppression of the Jewish Revolt.  During his reign, he undertook a number of military endeavors including the fortification of the Limes Germanicus.  This included a defensive network of forts and towers along the Rhine river.  Some offensive actions were initiated in Gual, across the Danube, and in Britain during Domitian 's reign as well. 

Domitian 's Reform Increasing the Fineness of Denarii in 82 A.D.

One of the aspects of the government wholly taken over by Domitian was the State 's economy.  One of the numismatic points of interest during Domitian 's reign was his coinage reform in 82 A.D.  In that year, he improved the standards of silver coinage and weight of the gold coinage.  The actual weight of silver in denarii may have increased form 2.87 grams to 3.26 grams.  By 85 A.D. the finer standard of silver was abandoned, and the coins were again debased.  As the fineness was increased during this period, RIC points out that the survival rate of coins from this era is significantly lower than at other times of his reign. 

Domitian 81-96 A.D. A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint 82-83 A.D. (3.31g, 18.3mm, 6h). Obv: IMP CASES DOMITIANVS AVG PM, laureate head right. Rev: IVPPITER CONSERVATOR, eagle standing front on thunderbolt, wings outspread, head left. RIC II 144.  Author 's Collection

Domitian 's Patron Goddess Minerva

Domitian 's coinage as Caesar under Vespasian and Titus quickly changed when he became Emperor.  His patron goddess was Minerva, and his coinage quickly reflected that fact.  By 83 A.D., Domitian 's Minerva reverses fell into four standard types designated M1-M4 by RIC.  The first is Minerva advancing, facing right, brandishing a spear.  The second has Minerva advancing right, brandishing a spear, on the capital of a rostral column accompanied by an owl.  The third entailed Minerva standing, facing left, with a thunderbolt and spear with a shield at her feet.  The final version had Minerva standing left with a spear.  These four types were to dominate the reverses of Domitian 's silver coinage until his assignation, more than a decade later, in 96 A.D. 


Domitian 81-96 A.D.  AR DenariusRome Mint, 85 A.D.  Obv: IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM P M TR P IIII, laureate head right.  Rev: IMP VIIII COS XI CENS POT P P, Minerva advancing right, with spear and shield. (M1) RIC II 322.  Collection of David Atherton.


Domitian 81-96A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint. 90-91 A.D. Obv: IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM P M TR P X, laureate head right. Rev: IMP XXI COS XV CENS P P P, Minerva standing right on rostral capital column M2, holding spear and shield, owl at feet. RIC 720, RSC 266.  Author 's collection.


Domitian 81-96 A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint, Jan. 1-Sept. 13 88 A.D.. (3.11g, 19.1mm, 6h). Obv: IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM PM TR P VII, laureate head right. Rev: IMP XIIII COS XIIII CENS P P P, Minerva standing left with thunderbolt and spear, shield at her left side (M3). RIC II 580. Author 's collection.


Domitian. 81-96 A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint. Sept 14, 90- Sept. 13,91 A.D. (3.70g, 19.6mm, 6h). Obv: IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM P M TR P M TR P X, laureate head right. Rev: IMP XX COS XV CENS PPP, Minerva standing left with spear (M4). RIC II 722, RSC 263.  Author 's collection.

The Murder of Domitian and the end of a Dynasty

Unlike his father and brother, Domitian did not die a natural death.  On 18 September 96 A.D., the last of the 12 Caesars met his end as the result of a place conspiracy.  In his own chamber in the palace, Domitian was overpowered and fatally stabbed just shy of his 45th birthday.  The same day, the Senate proclaimed Nerva emperor.  According to the ancient sources, while the populace met his death with indifference, the army was upset and called for both Domitian 's deification and the execution of his assassins.

Due to his poor treatment of the Senate, that body also passed damnatio memoriae on Domitian 's memory which should have resulted in the recall and recycling of much of his coinage and the destruction of his statues.  Fortunately for collectors, due in part to his long reign, large numbers of his coins survived, and are some of the most affordable in the Flavian dynasty.  

A denarius of Domitian 's successor, Nerva, Domitian 's sucessor.

Silver denarius, RIC II 31, RSC II 117, BMC 61, SRCV II 3034 variety, superb EF, weight 3.33 g, maximum diameter 18.3 mm, die axis 180o, Rome mint, Jan - Sep 97 A.D.; obverse IMP NERVA CAES AVG P M TR P II COS III P P, laureate head right; reverse LIBERTAS PVBLICA, Libertas standing left, pileus in right, rod in left.  Forum Ancient Coins.

Coins of the East in the Flavian Dynasty

For collectors of American coins who have migrated to ancients but are missing their beloved mint marks, the Flavians have a series for you.  With production thought to be concentrated in 70-71 A.D., and number of denarii were minted in the East with a series of issue marks.  Mattingly and other sources once attributed these to differing mints, but recent scholarship has identified internal die and stylistic links, and they are now thought to have all been minted in Ephesus.   While likely all minted at Ephesus, the meaning of these issues marks remains elusive.

Vespasian 69-79 A.D.  Ephesus Mint 69-70 A.D.  Obv: IMP CAES VESPS, laureate head right.  Rev: CONCORDIA AVG, Ceres standing left, on ornate highbacked chair, with corn ears and cornucopia, in exergue, sideways Φ.  RIC II 1400.  From the collection of David Atherton.

Vespasian 69-79 A.D. AR Denarius. Ephesus Mint, 69-70 A.D.. (3.16g, 17.7m, 7h). Obv: IMP CAES VESPAS AVG, laureate head right. Rev: PACI AVGVSTAE, Victory advancing left with wreath and palm, sideways ɸ in lower left filed. RIC II 1406, RPC 812, RSC 280. RIC II R.

Vespasian 69-69 A.D.  Ephesus Mint, 71 A.D.  Obv: IMP CAESAR VESPAS AVG COS III TR P P P, laureate head right.  Rev: PACI ORB TERR AVG, turreted and draped female bust right.  Below BY.  Collection of David Atherton.

Vespasian 69-79 A.D. AR Denarius. Ephesus Mint 71 A.D. (3.13g, 16.4mm, 6h). Obv: IMP CAESAR VESPAS AVG COS III TR P P P, laureate head right. Rev: AVG and EPHE in oak wreath. RIC II 1427, RPC II 8129, RSC 40.


Titus as Caesar. 69-79 A.D. AR Denarius. Ephesus Mint, 74 A.D. (3.18g, 18.6m, 6h). Obv: IMP T CAESAR COS III, bearded, laureate head r. Rev: PACI AVGVSTAE (from high r.), Victory advancing r., with wreath and palm, at lower r., star, below annulet. RIC II 1470, RPC 857, RSC 123.

The "O" Mint

One of the most curious series in the Flavian denarii are those minted with a small "O" below the obverse bust.  An unknown mint produced these coins, probably in Asia Minor, and maybe Ephesus. Only denarii were produced in this manner. The coins were limited to 76 A.D. Many in this series copy earlier Roman reverses, but the quality of the engraving is lacking, even from earlier issues of Ephesus.  Both location of the mint and the purpose of these coins remains mysterious. 

Vespasian 69-79 A.D.  Unknown Mint, 76 A.D.  Obv: IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate head right, small "o" beneath.  Rev: FIDES PVBL, clasped hands over caduceus, two poppies and corn ears.  RIC II 1475.  Collection of David Atherton, dealer photograph. 

Vespasian 69-79 A.D. AR Denarius, Uncertain Mint, possibly Ephesus 76 A.D. (3.35g, 18.6m, 12h). Obv: IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG, laureate head right, "o" under neck. Rev: PON MAX TR P COS VII, winged caduceus. RIC II 1477. RPC 1453.  Author 's collection. 

Cistophoric Tetradrachms (3 denarii)

Perhaps more common during Augustus 's reign, cistophoric tetradrachms for use in the East continued to be minted during Flavian times.  Some attribute the cistophorii of the Flavians to an eastern mint, but the style emulates that of Rome including the portrait, legends, and die axis leading many to believe they were minted in Rome for use in Asia. Valued at 3 denarii, cistophori, named for the cista mystica, the basket of snakes used during the initiation rites for the cult of Dionysus, were the denomination of the kingdom of Pergamum in Asia Minor.

Domitian as Caesar under Titus. AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm. Rome Mint for Asia. 80-81 A.D. (10.64 g, 23,3m, 6h). Obv: CAES DIVI F DOMITIANVS COS VII, laureate head right. Rev: PRINC IVVENTVT, Domitian riding left, right hand raised, holding scepter. RIC II (Titus 518).

Domitian. 81-96 A.D. RIC 843. AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm. Rome Mint for Asia. 82 A.D. (10.71 g, 25.78mm, 6o). Obv: IMP CAES DOMITIAN AVG [P M COS], VIII, laureate head right. Rev: no legend, Aquila between two standards, one surmounted by banner, the other by a hand. RPC 865, RSC 667, Sear 2718.

Domitian. 81-96 A.D. AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm. Rome Mint for Asia. 82 A.D. (10.73g, 25.2m, 6h). Obv: IMP CAES DOMITIAN AVG P M COS VIII, laureate head r. Rev: DOMITIA AVGVSTA, bust of Domitia, draped, right, hair massed in front and long plait behind. RIC II 845. RPC 866.

Domitia. AR Cistophoric Tetradrachm. Rome Mint for Asia. 82 A.D. (10.66g, 26.6m, 6h). Obv: DOMITIA AVGVSTA, bust of Domitia, draped, right, hair massed in front and long plait behind, [pellet under bust.] Rev: VENVS AVG, Venus stg. r. leaning on column, with helmet and spear. RIC II 847.

Mint Errors in the Flavian Dynasty

Roman coins, like any produced by hand, are rife with mint errors.  Common errors include coins that are double struck, brockages, and overstruck coins.  The Flavian dynasty is no exception to such errors, and can provide an interesting area of collection in its own right. Brockages.  Brockages occur when a coin sticks in one die after striking, and the next coin receives and impression from the stuck coin as opposed to the die.  By far, the most common is an obverse brockage as a coin stuck in the anvil die was much more likely to be seen by mint workers.  These types of errors are common enough it is supposed the defect was not serious enough for the coin to be remelted, but they were put into circulation. 

The coin below is a obverse brockage of a coin of Vespasian from the Ephesus mint.

Vespasian. 69-79 A.D. AR Denarius. Obverse Brockage Ephesus Mint. 70 A.D. (2.33 g. 17.2 mm, 0 h.). Obv: IMP CAESAR VESPAS AVG CO[S II] TR P P P. Rev: brockage. Incuse, mirror-image reproduction of the obverse portrait and legend. cf. RIC II 1408-1422. Author 's Collection.

Overstrikes.  At times, coins of the Roman empire were overstruck on existing coins.  Overstriking occurred when an existing coin was struck using new dies to make a new coin.  Often, enough detail from the underlying coin appears to help identify the overstrike.  In the Domitian below, enough example of the underlying coin is left, not only to identify this example as an overstruck coin, but the underlying type can actually be identified as a contemporaneous issue of Vespasian, although my picture may not show it.  Like the brockage coin above, this is also an example from the Ephesus mint.

Overstrike on identifiable under type of Vespasian RIC II 1433. Obv: IMP CAESAR VEPAS AVG COS III TR PPP, laureate head r. Rev: PACI AVGVSTAE, Victory adv. L. with wreath and palm, lower l. EPE. It is unusual to have an overstrike of an emperor still in life, and of a coin as a part of the same series at the same mint.

Domitian as Caesar under Vespasian. AR Denarius. Ephesus Mint, 71 A.D. (2.59g, 20.6m, 7h). Obv: DOMITIAN[VS CAES]AR AVG F, bare bust right, draped and cuirassed with aegis. Rev: PACI AVGUSTAE, Victory adv. R. with wreath and palm, lower r. [EPE]. RIC V1447. Overstruck on RIC II V1433.

Double Strikes.  Double strikes are, perhaps, one of the most common mint errors seen on Roman coins, and coins often have to be examined closely for evidence of a double strike.  When a coin shifted slightly between strikes of the hammer, the image can often appear slightly double on all or part of a particular coin.  On this worn denarius, Vespasian 's forehead and nose appear doubled giving away the double strike on this example.

Vespasian 69-79 A.D. AR Denarius. Rome Mint 74 A.D. Obv: IMP CAESAR VESP AVG, laureate head right. Rev: PONTIF MAXIM, Vespasian seated right on curule chair, holding branch and sceptre. RIC II 685, RSC 386. Author 's collection.

Imitations, Fourees, and Limines Denarii

Ancient Imitations.  Unofficial coins intended, amount other things, to skirt the system and bring ill gotten gains to those producing them, are as old as coins themselves.  Ancient imitations were typically made with actual silver, but in outlying provinces where official coinage may not have been as plentiful.  Ancient imitations often mimic actual coins, but in a much more crude style.  The Flavian reign was no exception for the production of ancient imitations.

The coin of Domitian below was made of good silver, but at an illegal mint.  The lettering and portrait are below the standards of the mint at Rome, but he inept rendition of Domitian 's patron goddess, Minerva, immediately gives this example away as an ancient imitation.

Domitian. 81-96 A.D. AR Denarius. Unofficial Mint. (3.19g, 19.9m, 6h). Obv: IMP . . . DOMIT AVG GERM PM TR P IIII, laureate head right. Rev: TR P? . . . CENS PPP, Minerva standing right on capital of rostral column, with spear and shield; to right owl. (M2). Author 's Collection.

Fourees.  Fourees tend to be common during the Republic and era of the 12 Caesars. Ancient forgeries with a bronze core and silver coating, they were meant to pass as full silver pieces. This example has irregular lettering showing it was not made from official mint dies as some fourees appear to be, but an outright forgery copying a common type of Domitian.  Additionally, the silvering has worn through in many places revealing the bronze core.

Domitian. 81-96 A.D. Fouree Denarius. Unknown Mint. (2.43g, 19.4m, 6h). Obv: IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM TP (no "R") XI, laureate head right. Rev: IMP XXII COS XVII CENS PPP, Minerva standing left with spear (M4). Author 's Collection.  

This Fouree is in much better condition than the first and didn 't see extensive circulation. This example shows slight bubbling in the silvering and only a slight peek of the copper core beneath at the top of the alter 's flame. The portrait is also slightly off for this period of Domitian as Caesar under Titus.  Overall, it 's a nice coin and easy to see how it could pass for real silver.

Domitian as Caesar under Titus, 79-81 A.D. Unofficial Mint. (2.77g, 19.2m, 5h). Obv: CAESAR DIVI F DOMITIANVS COS VI, laureate head right. Rev: PRINCEPTS [IVVE]NTVTIS, alter, garlanded and lighted. Cf. RIC II T266

Limes Denarii.  There is a large degree of uncertainty about so called, limes denarii, found primarily on the frontiers of the empire. They might have been official products made in areas where silver was in short supply or areas that were too unstable to transport large amounts of silver to, or, they could be unofficial productions, and/or barbarous imitations. While many were struck, some, like this example of Domitian, were actually cast. Some have evidence of a silver wash, but this specimen does not.  More common during the Severan era, this is the only example I 've seen from Flavian times. 

Domitian 81-96 A.D. AE Cast Limes Denarius. Uncertain Mint (2.54g, 20.5m, 6h). Obv: IMP CAES DOMIT AVG GERM P M TR P V, laureate head right. Rev: IMP VIII COS XI CENS P P P, Minerva standing right on capital of rostral column, with spear and shield; to right owl. (M2). Copies RIC 343. Author 's collection.

MulesMules combined the obverse of one issue with the reverse of another. 


Titus. 79-81 A.D.  Rome Mint, 79-80 A.D. Obv: IMP TITVS CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M, laureate head right.  Rev: EX SC across field, Victory advancing left, placing shield on trophy, below Judaea standing left.  From the Collection of David Atherton.

A very interesting mule featuring an obverse of Titus as Augustus and a reverse intended for the deified Vespasian. Until this specimen surfaced only one other was known, it belonging to Curtis Clay, which is an obverse and reverse die match to this example. Per Curtis Clay, "this denarius is without doubt a mint mule, combining an obverse of Titus as Augustus with a reverse meant for Divus Vespasian. A normal denarius of Divus Vespasian with reverse struck from this same die was in Rauch 67, part I, 26 Feb. 2001, 368."


Sources for the Coins:

The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol II, Part 1. Second Revised Edition.  Carradice and Buttrey.  (RIC).  Hands down, the best catalog for the Flavian period with a comprehensive listing of types.  RIC also contains a great deal of background information about the Flavian coinage types. 

Coins of the Roman Empire In the British Museum, II Vespasian to DomitianMattingly.  Another outstanding catalog, but somewhat more out of date than the RIC.

The Member Collection of David Atherton is quickly approaching a full catalog of the Denarii of the Flavians, and I frequently use his gallery as a reference.  https://www.forumancientcoins.com/gallery/index.php?cat=11162

History of the Flavians:

Vespasian.  Barbara Levick.  An excellent historic biography of Vespaian.

69 A.D., Gwyn Morgan.  An excellent history of guess what, 69 A.D., and the year of Four Emperors, including Vespaisan 's rise to power. 

Jerusalem 's Traitor.  Desmond Seward.  Another excellent biography, but this one of Josephus.

Domitian. Tragic Tyrant.  A biography of Domitian.

Internet Sources:

Forum Ancient Coinshttps://www.forumancientcoins.com/  Numiswiki contains valuable information on the terms herein, and as always, the Forum has coins to fit any budget from the Flavian Dynasty.

Wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page.  The information is not in depth if you already know something about it.  However, if you want a starting place for an emperor, era (Year of Four Emperors for example), or event, Wikipedia is a good starting place. 

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