Judeans, Armenians, Dacians, Egyptians, and other peoples: Defeat, capture, and subjugation on Roman imperial coinage (first-fourth centuries CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Judeans, Armenians, Dacians, Egyptians, and other peoples: Defeat, capture, and subjugation on Roman imperial coinage (first-fourth centuries CE),' Last modified October 15, 2022, http://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=7745.

Octavian / Augustus (28 BCE-14 CE)

“Egypt captured (capta)”

“Armenia captured (capta)”

Parthian kneeling as he returns the Roman military standards

Parthian kneeling as he returns the Roman military standards

Vespasian (69-79 CE)

“Judea” personified as a mourning woman

“Judea captured (capta)”

“Judea captured (capta)”

“Judea subdued (devicta)”

Domitian (81-96 CE)

“Germania captured (capta)”

Germania

Trajan (98-117 CE)

“Dacia captured (capta)”

Dacians

“Parthia captured (capta)”

Constantine (306-337 CE)

“Sarmatia subdued (devicta)”

Information and descriptions:

Octavian / Augustus (28 BCE-14 CE): Denarius coin (RIC I 275a; 28 BC) depicting Octavian (as one of the triumvirs) and Egyptians as a crocodile with the caption “Egypt captured” below. Gold coin (RIC I 514; Pergamon mint; 19-18 BCE) depicting Augustus and captured Armenia with Victory subduing the bull (taurus), likely representing Armenians as the Taurus mountain range. Two denarius coins (RIC I 215 and 288; 19/18 BCE) depicting Augustus and the goddess Feronia and bare-headed Parthians wearing pants and kneeling on the right knee with right hand holding a military flag or standard (vexillum) with the symbol “X” and the left hand extending out beyond the left knee. This coin type celebrates Augustus’ diplomatic “triumph” in restoring the Roman legionary standards which had been taken in the campaigns of Crassus and Antony against the Parthians in 53 and 36 BCE.

Vespasian (69-79 CE): Denarius coin (RIC II 12; late 69-early 70 CE) depicting Vespasian and “Judea” personified as a mourning woman under a tree with her head resting on her hand with a trophy behind her. Sestertius coin depicting Vespasian and Judea personified as a mourning woman seated under palm tree and a male Judean captive standing behind her with hands bound behind his back. Sestertius coin (RIC II 167; 71 CE Roman mint) depicting Vespasian and Vespasian holding a spear and standing with his foot on a helmet behind Judea as a personified mourning woman. Denarius coin (after 71 CE; Lugdunum mint) depicting Judaea personified as a woman standing with her head hanging down and hands bound in front of her with a palm tree to the right (caption: “Judea subdued (devicta)”).

Domitian (81-96 CE): Gold coin (RIC II.1 513; after 83 CE) commemorating the conquest of Germania and depicting Domitian and a mourning Germanic woman naked to the waist but wearing pants and seated on an oblong shield with a broken spear nearby. Sestertius coin (RIC 351; 85 CE) depicting Domitian and a mourning Germanic woman seated on the left and a Germanic captive standing with hands bound (caption: “Germania captured (capta)”.

Trajan (98-117 CE): Coin (RIC II 96; 107/108 CE) depicting Trajan and a Dacian seated on pile of shields with his arms bound behind him and with one curved sword to left and two spears to right (caption: “Dacia captured (capta)”). Sestertius coin (RIC II 564; Rome mint; ca. 108-110) depicting Trajan and a Dacian woman wearing a cap, shirt with long sleeves, and pants seated on a round shield with a trophy in front of her (consisting of helmet, cuirass, and shields) and her head resting in her right hand to indicate sadness. Gold coin (RIC II 324; Rome mint; 116 CE) depicting Trajan and two mourning Parthian prisoners seated on shields on the ground with a trophy between them.

Constantine (306-337 CE): Coin (RIC VII 289; Londinium mint; ca. 324 CE) depicting Constantine I and Victory holding a trophy and palm branch while trampling a seated Sarmatian prisoner.

Comments: Imperial coinage was one means by which the emperor could advertise supposed contributions to the expansion of the empire and the maintenance of the so-called “Peace of Rome (pax Romana).” As a result there are many commemorations of Roman victories over particular peoples on coins, along with depictions of those peoples in symbolic form. In these examples, certain ostensibly defeated peoples such as the Armenians and the Egyptians are portrayed as animals, with the Taurus (Bull) mountain range (which in some sense separated Roman Asia from Armenia) representing Armenians (here wrestled by Victory) and with the crocodile (both symbol of the Nile and evocative of Egyptian “animal worship”) representing Egyptians. Even more common (and reminiscient of the domination reliefs in the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias, on which go to this link) is the representation of a defeated people as a mourning woman. We see this image not only in the many instances of Judeans’ subjugation but also with Germans, Dacians, and Parthians. On this posture of mourning at defeat or capture, see also the figures on the breastplate of the Augustus of Prima Porta (link). While most of the “Judean captured” coins focus on the woman’s (Judea’s) sadness without direct reference to the conqueror in the same scene, there is the one case where Vespasian himself is pictured proudly standing (with his foot on a helmet) as he looks down on the sad woman. There is also the somewhat different portrayal of Judea (as a woman) standing with hands bound as a prisoner of war.

The other Parthian coins of Octavian’s time (before he was emperor Augustus) are a bit different, since they do not celebrate the subjugation of Parthians but rather the return of the Roman military standards (via diplomatic relations) that had been captured by the Parthians in earlier wars. The image of the bearded Parthian on these coins features the wearing of pants, which would be immediately associated with something foreign or “barbarian” (from a Roman perspective).

Source of images: All images courtesy of www.cngcoins.com.

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