Mediterranean peoples: Roman coins [part 1] on defeat, capture, and subjugation (first century BCE on)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Mediterranean peoples: Roman coins [part 1] on defeat, capture, and subjugation (first century BCE on),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 19, 2023,

Julius Caesar (46-45 BCE)

Silver denarius coin (RRC 468/2) depicting a trophy (consisting of helmet, breastplate, and shield) with two seated captive Celts / Gauls, a dejected female (left) and a naked bearded man with hands tied behind his back (right) (Venus on the other side):

Silver denarius coin (RRC 468/1; American Numismatic Society; 46-45 BCE) depicting a trophy with two shields and two captives below – a female captive Celt on the left (resting head in hand) and bearded captive on the right with hands tied (head of Venus on the other side):

Brutus (43-42 BCE)

Silver denarius coin (RRC 503/1; American Numismatic Society; 43-42 BCE) depicting a trophy (with two shields) with a female and a male captive (unidentified ethnicity) below, each resting head in right hand in mourning (head of Apollo on other side):

Octavian / Augustus (28 BCE-14 CE)

Silver denarius coin (RIC I Augustus 275a; ca. 28 BC) depicting Egyptians as a crocodile with the caption “Egypt captured” (and Octavian as triumvir on the other side):

Gold aureus coin (RIC I Augustus 514; Pergamon mint; ca. 19-18 BCE) depicting Victory subduing the bull (taurus) representing the Taurus mountain range and Armenians, with the caption “Armenia captured” (and Augustus on the other side):

Vespasian (69-79 CE)

Silver denarius coin (RIC II Vespasian 12; late 69-early 70 CE) depicting Judea personified as a mourning woman under a tree with her head resting on her hand and a trophy behind her (and Vespasian on the other side):

Bronze sestertius coin (69-70 CE) depicting Judea personified as a mourning woman seated under palm tree and a male Judean (Jewish) captive standing behind her with hands bound behind his back (and Vespasian on the other side):

Bronze sestertius coin (RIC II Vespasian 167; 71 CE) depicting Vespasian holding a spear and standing with his foot on a helmet behind Judea as a personified mourning woman (and Vespasian on the other side):

Silver denarius coin (RIC II.1 Vespasian 1120; after 71 CE; Lugdunum mint) depicting Judea personified as a woman standing with her head hanging down and hands bound in front of her with a palm tree to the right and the caption “Judea subdued”:

Domitian (81-96 CE)

Bronze sestertius coin (RIC II.1 Domitian 351; 85 CE) depicting a mourning Germanic woman seated on the left and a Germanic captive standing with hands bound and the caption “Germania captured”:

Gold aureus coin (RIC II.1 Domitian 513; after 83 CE) commemorating the conquest of Germania by depicting a mourning Germanic woman naked to the waist but wearing pants and seated on an oblong shield with a broken spear nearby:

Trajan (98-117 CE)

Silver denarius coin (RIC II Trajan 96; 107/108 CE) depicting 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 with the caption “Dacia captured” (and Trajan on the other side):

Bronze sestertius coin (RIC II Trajan 564; Rome mint; ca. 108-110) depicting 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, breastplate, and shields) and her head resting in her right hand in sadness (and Trajan on the other side):

Gold aureus coin (RIC II Trajan 324; Rome mint; 116 CE) depicting two mourning Parthian prisoners seated on shields on the ground with a trophy between them with caption “Parthia captured”:

Numerous Dacia captured coins involving Trajan as etched by Pietro Santo Bartoli (1672, 116 – click to enlarge):

Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE)

Numerous Sarmatia and Germania subdued coins involving Marcus Aurelius as etched by Pietro Santo Bartoli (1672, 76 – click to enlarge):

Constantine I (306-337 CE)

Bronze coin (RIC VII Londinium 289; ca. 324 CE) depicting Victory holding a trophy and palm branch while trampling a seated Sarmatian prisoner:

Comments: Roman authorities used coins, in part, to express a Roman understanding of the relationship between Romans and specific peoples (on which see Cody on the main types of such coins). And of course this was another venue for Roman propaganda as coins would be widely distributed and visible to many inhabitants of the empire. This is the first of three posts that deal with the depiction of peoples who were conquered or in some other way interacting with the Roman empire.

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 (on which also see the discussion of the Arch for Titus at this link) 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 “Judea 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.

Complete series on representations of peoples on Roman coins:

  • Part 1 (current post): Personifying the conquered as a mourning woman
  • Part 2 (link): Depicting the conquered as humiliated or subservient (kneeling) captives
  • Part 3 (link): Depicting subordinate peoples kneeling in supplication or adoration of Roman authorities.

Works consulted: J.M. Cody, “Conquerors and Conquered on Flavian Coins,” in Flavian Rome: Culture, Image, Text, ed. A. Boyle and W.J. Dominik (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 103–123.

Source of images: All images courtesy of, except those identified as from the American Numismatic Society (useable for non-commercial purposes). Bartoli etchings from Pietro Santo Bartoli, Colonna Traiana eretta dal Senato, e popolo romano all’imperatore Traiano Augusto nel suo foro in Roma (Rome: Giacomo de Rossi, 1672) (link).

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