Denarius of Domitian

Titus Flavius Vespasianus ("Vespasian") survived the civil wars of 68-69 AD as undisputed ruler of the Roman world. He had two sons: The elder (with the same name) is known to history as "Titus" succeeded his father and ruled for two years before his death in 81 AD. The younger brother, Titus Flavius Domitianus, then became emperor ruling until 96 AD.

Titus played a major role in the elevation and reign of his father. He had Vespasian's complete faith and trust and was given all titles and honors except for "Augustus" while Vespasian was still alive. Domitian, however, was apparently seen as the black sheep of the family. His part in the reigns of his father and brother were relatively minor. Titus, in a comment on his deathbed that he had done only one thing wrong in his life, is sometimes interpreted as regretting not preventing Domitian's succession. Fair interpretation of the reign of Domitian is difficult since he was much hated and maligned by all Senators including the historians Suetonius and Tacitus whose works are the major surviving records of the period.

Domitian - Silver denarius - 81 A.D. Rome mint - 3.4g - Cohen 63

This week's featured coin is among the first struck for Domitian as Augustus datings after the death of Titus (13 September 81). It is notable for its lack of the Tribunican Power (TRP) which was a major office held every year by Emperors. The title evolved from the Republican tribuni plebis whose duties were to protect the common man from abuse by the ruling class and had the power to veto acts by other officials. Titus had been awarded TRP beginning in 71 AD during the reign of his father. Domitian, however, had not been awarded this honor even during the reign of Titus as Augustus (79-81 AD). Its omission from this coin could certainly have been an oversite at the mint but the error could seem a serious snub to an emperor who had been pushed into the background by both father and brother. It was soon corrected and later dies of this type bear the reverse legend TRP COSVII DESVIII PP.

Domitian had been allowed to share in the Consulship seven times during the reigns of Vespasian and Titus. Last Consul in 80 AD, Domitian announced that he would assume an eighth Consulship on January 1, 82. The coin, therefore, shows this 'designated' office on the reverse. Pontifex Maximus (PM on the obverse) and Pater Patriae (PP on the reverse) were considered appropriate only for the senior ruler so this die must have been made after the death of Titus made these honors available to Domitian. The reverse type of dolphin and anchor was part of a series by Titus honoring various deities (here, Neptune) following the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii.

Domitian - 92-93 AD
Minerva on prow
Vespasian - 70 AD
Pax seated

The later coin of Domitian (left above) shows TRP followed by the numeral XII placing the coin in the twelth year of his reign. Since Domitian incremented TRP on the anniversary of his becoming Augustus (13 September) this coin dates to the last four months of 92 or the first eight months of 93 AD. The coin also shows reference to the 16th Consulship (held in 92) and the 22nd award of a triumph (awarded irregularly on the occasion of a military victory, this also in 92). Neither of these numbers help us date this particular coin more closely since Domitian did not assume COS XVII until 95 AD and never was awarded another IMP. Some coins, however, can be dated to a period of a few months (or days) by combinations of these various numerals. The reverse type shows Minerva, certainly the favorite goddess of the later period of Domitian's coinage. Allowed no part of the military affairs of the reigns of Vespasian and Titus, Domitian took special interest in military matters and the warlike goddess. The obverse also lists CENSor Perpetuus pointing out that Domitian exercised control over the membership roles of the Senate. This title would have been offensive to the Senate which would prefer to consider itself to be more independent. It was not used on coins by later Emperors but the fact of imperial control of the Senate did not lessen after this time.

Since we are discussing titles: The denarius of Vespasian (right above) dates from early part of 70 AD since it shows his assumption of a second Consulship ('COS ITER' = Consul again). Tribunican Power is abbreviated in a slightly expanded form TR POT rather than the more standard TRP. This coin shows a very mild and generic portrait of Vespasian. Other coins show a harsh scowl with furrowed brow, hooked nose and bull neck. It is interesting to compare portraits of Domitian with those of his father and brother. Early issues of Domitian show a strong family resemblance but later show him more dignified, less harsh and much less like the other members of the family. This is probably more a political statement than evidence that the actual appearance of the emperor had changed. Note that this Vespasian specimen was struck on a thick chunky flan. Although smaller in diameter, it actually weighs slightly more than the wider, thinner Domitian to the left.

Titus - mid/late 79 AD
Titus - early 80 AD

Two coins of Titus provide us practice in combining dating devices. Both list the ninth TRP but, most interestingly, the elephant denarius uses the optional subtractive IX form rather than the usual VIIII found on most Roman coins including the chariot coin. This dates both coins to July 79 to July 80. COS VII places the chariot before January 80 when Titus assumed an eighth Consulship. The chariot coin is further narrowed by the IMP XIIII since IMP XV was awarded before the end of 79. This assigns the coin to a smaller span of months in mid/late 79 AD. IMP XV on the elephant is of no help since the IMP XVI award came after end of TRP IX in July 80. On both of these coins, as well as the Featured Coin, the obverse legend reads counter-clockwise. The Flavians were the last rulers to use this optional First Century style.

Persons who have followed this series may recall when we previously visited the Flavians and saw Eastern mint denarii of Vespasian, Titus and Domitian. The coins on this page are all from the mint of Rome. The relatively soft silver alloy (about 90%) used by the Flavians results in many coins offered to collectors showing more wear than later, more base issues of the next century. That reason added to the beauty and popularity of the coins makes really choice Flavian denarii hard to find. I hope you agree that these lower grade specimens are still capable of illustrating the points made.

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith