Flavian portraits, especially Vespasian, can be identified by the prominent nose (Flavian nose), the furrowed brow, and elongated chin. Being the second dynasty of the Roman Empire, family resemblance can easily be seen in a series of Flavian portraiture on coins.
After the death of Nero, four different men, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian, were in a position to become his successor. In an attempt to promote themselves through propaganda, show their power and authority, and gain support of the people, each minted their own coins:
Galba claimed the throne right after the death of Nero and reigned from June, 68 AD to January, 69 AD. His coin above represents his victory in obtaining the throne, depicting his own portrait on the obverse and Roma being crowned by Victory on the reverse. The inscriptions proclaim Galba as emperor and translate to ‘Rome Reborn’ on the reverse.
Galba is murdered by the praetorians, paving the way for Otho to claim the throne. Although only reigning from January to April 69 AD, he minted a series of coins to demonstrate his authority. One such mint promoted a period of peace as a result of his reign. Displaying his portrait on the obverse and the personification of Peace on the reverse, he inscribed ‘peace of the entire world’ to indicate peace for the Roman Empire under his reign.
Unfortunately, Otho ends up committing suicide. As a result, Vitellius is named emperor and reigns from April to September 69 AD. The coin above shows the portrait of Vitellius facing left on the obverse and victory holding a shield, inscribed with SPQR on the reverse. The inscription on the reverse translates to ‘the victory of Augustus’; thus, Vitellius claims his victory in acquiring the throne.
Vespasian, with his army in the west fully supporting him after his campaigns in Judaea, marches into Rome after his army defeated and killed Vitellius. As the new emperor, Vespasian proves to be both successful and well-liked, reigning from 69 – 79 AD. He brought a period of peace and prosperity to the empire, much of which is displayed on his coinage. Almost all of Vespasian’s portraiture on his coinage shows him face right, wearing a laureate to symbolize military glory.
Commemorating both Titus’ and his own triumph in the First Jewish Revolt, Vespasian minted many coins depicting victory over Judaea:
Vespasian Denarius, 69-70 AD, IMP CAESAR VESPASIANVS AVG / IVDAEA
Vespasian Denarius, 71 AD, IMP CAES VESPASIAN AVG P M TR P P P COS III / IVDAEA CAPTA
The first coin depicts Vespasian’s portrait, laureate right, and title on the obverse and an image of a Jewish woman sitting on the ground under a Roman trophy with the words ‘Judaea’ on the reverse. While the seated Jewess with her hands tied represents the defeat of Judaea, the Roman trophy that she sits under represents a Roman victory.
Additionally, the second coin goes on further to state ‘Judaea Capta’ or ‘Captured Judaea’ on the reverse. The portrait of Vespasian on the obverse is virtually the same as the first coin, but the image on the reverse is different. It illustrates a Jewish captive on the left and Judaea sitting defeated on the right under a palm tree, surrounded by arms.
Both ultimately convey the same message, Judaea has been defeated, but they do so in different ways. Similarly in both, Judaea sits on the ground in a defeated stance.
The image of Victory appeared prominently on Vespasian’s coinage to signify his military strength in conquering Judaea, the greatest military accomplishment of the Flavian period. Victory could also be a symbol for his victory over Vitellius in which he claimed the throne.
In his fourth year of consulship, Vespasian minted this coin depicting his typical portrait, laureate right, on the obverse and Victory on the globe on the reverse. The reverse includes the inscription ‘VIC-AUG’ meaning the ‘Victory of Augustus’. This symbol most likely refers to Vespasian’s and Titus’ defeat of Judaea, but it represents the Victory of Vespasian and the Roman Empire over the entire world.
While the obverse of this coin is almost the exact same as the previous coin, the reverse depicts Victory again, but instead of standing on top of the globe, Victory is crowing Vespasian himself as he holds both a spear and a parazonium (long triangular dagger). This coin would have been used to promote both military success and authority over the empire. While this image of victory could again refer to the triumph over Judaea, the inscription ‘COS VIII’ on the reverse leads me to believe that Vespasian minted this coin to commemorate his 8th year of reign. This was an impressive feat considering the last 3 emperors before him, Galba, Otho, and Vitellius, lasted only a combined year. Not only did this show his power and authority, but it solidified his legitimacy as emperor through military success and brought value to his coinage.
Despite all of Vespasian’s images of military success and victory, he brought peace and prosperity to the empire after a period a complete civil unrest. Vespasian included such symbolism of Peace and Prosperity in his coinage to commemorate his success as emperor:
The reverse of this coin shows the personification of Peace, Pax, holding both an olive branch and a cornucopia. While Pax and the olive branch act as symbols of peace, the cornucopia represents prosperity. Thus, Vespasian is claiming that through his reign, he has brought both peace and prosperity to the empire.
As further indications of this theme of peace and prosperity, Vespasian minted several coins depicting Conordia, the Roman goddess of harmony. On this particular coin, the inscription can be translated ‘Majestic harmony’ or ‘harmony of the emperors’, and it shows Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, enthroned, holding both poppies and ears of corn in one hand and a cornucopia in the other. All items depicting are symbols of fertility and prosperity, showing that under Vespasian’s reign, Rome has flourished.
Early and often in his reign, Vespasian made sure to display his two sons, Titus and Domitian, on his coins. This action was an attempt to make it known that Titus and Domitian would be the successors to the throne, thus solidifying the Flavian Dynasty.
Above are a few of the many examples of coins minted by Vespasian that display Titus and Domitian on the reverse. Vespasian was successful in naming them his heirs and the Flavian Dynasty emerged.
After Vespasian’s death, Titus minted several coins to commemorate the success and deification of his father:
Starting top left and moving clockwise:
Divus Vespasian Denarius. Struck by Titus. Obv: DIVVS AVGVSTVS VESPASIANVS, laureate head right / Rev: E-X; SC on round shield set on column, upon which an urn sits, laurel branch to each side.
Divus Vespasian Denarius. Struck by Titus. 80-81 AD. Obv: DIVVS AVGVSTVS VESPASIANVS, laureate head right / Rev: EX-SC, Victory standing left, holding shield on palm; seated captive.
Divus Vespasian Denarius. Struck by Titus. 80-81 AD. Obv: DIVVS AVGVSTVS VESPASIANVS, laureate head right / Rev: EX S C in exergue, empty quadriga advancing left; dash rail surmounted by statuette of quadriga flanked by Victories holding palms & wreaths; car ornamented with figures of Minerva advancing left & brandishing spear, & garlands.
Divus Vespasian Denarius. Struck by Titus 80-81 AD. Obv: DIVVS AVGVSTVS VESPASIANVS, laureate head right / Rev: S C inscribed on shield supported by two capricorns, orb with crosshatching below.
Vespasian worked hard to establish his sons as the heirs to the throne. Even before he was emperor, Titus appeared on Roman Coinage. The front is a bust of Titus with the legend T CAES VESPASIAN IMP PON TR POT COS. This is his formal name and a list of his titles including Caesar, Tribune, and Consul. The reverse is Victory holding a shield, propped up against a palm tree. Titus served as his father’s right hand man and was very loyal to him. He served as the commander of the Praetorian Guard and was able to uncover a plot to overthrow Vespasian in 79 AD. Titus became emperor immediately after Vespasian’s death in 79 AD. Titus was the first Roman emperor to succeed his biological father. This can be seen in the resemblance between the images of Titus and Vespasian on coins.
This is a coin issued in 80 AD to celebrate Titus’s military victories. The obverse of the coin is an image of a trophy, with a female in mourning on the left and a captive male on the right with his hands bound behind him. After Vespasian became emperor, Titus remained in Judea. In 70 AD, Titus laid siege to Jerusalem and sacked the city and destroyed the temple of Jerusalem. Coins celebrating this victory had already been minted under Vespasian. Although it was 10 years after the victory, Titus could have issued this to remind the Roman people of his military triumph or to affirm his capability as a ruler. The coin could also celebrate Agricola’s conquest in Britain from 79-80 AD.
Many coins associated with Titus contained images of captives and trophies. Similar to the previous coin, this one has an image if a captive kneeling beneath a trophy.
This coin was issued by Vespasian to celebrate him becoming emperor. The front is a bust of Vespasian and the reverse is Aequitas, who stood for justice and fairness. The interesting part of the coin is the reddish tint on it. This is known as boscoreale toning, which is the result of being buried under ash in Pompeii for millenia. On 24 August 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted and completely buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. This occurred only two months after he had become emperor in June. Titus responded by donating large amounts of his own money to aid the victims. He also visited the site, but while he was away in 80 AD, a great fire broke out in Rome. This damaged many public buildings and cost Titus even more out of his own treasury.
A coin just like the one pictured above was also discovered at Pompeii. This coin casts doubt on the commonly accepted date of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption. The obverse is a bust of Titus with his usual titles, however one stands out that creates the conflict. The legend on the front includes IMP XV, which means “acclaimed emperor for the 15th time”. Historical sources show that Titus was not awarded imperator for the 15th time until September 79 AD, which is after the date of eruption. Whether or not this disproves the current date of the eruption, it is a mystery as to why this coin was buried there.