Mediterranean peoples: Roman coins [part 3] on kneeling in supplication or adoration (first century BCE on)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Mediterranean peoples: Roman coins [part 3] on kneeling in supplication or adoration (first century BCE on),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 16, 2023,

Sulla and Maurians / Moors (56 BCE)

Silver denarius coin (RRC 426/1; 56 BCE) depicting the Roman general Sulla seated as king Bocchos of Mauretania (in northern Africa) kneels while holding out an olive branch as a symbol of peace with a bound captive (perhaps the defeated Numidian king Jugurtha) to the right (and a bust of Diana on the other side):

Pompey and Judeans (commemorating 63 BCE)

Silver denarius coin (RRC 431/1; 55 BCE) depicting a kneeling Judean figure – perhaps a man named Bacchios or perhaps Aristoboulos II (see Scott 2015) – holding out an olive branch alongside a camel with the (mysterious) caption: “Bacchius Judaeus,” perhaps “Bacchios the Judean” (and the goddess Great Mother on the other side with likely allusion to Plautius’ overseeing her festival as aedile):

M. Aemilius Scaurus and Nabateans (ca. 58 BCE)

Silver denarius coin (RRC 422/1b; ca. 58 BCE) alluding to M . Aemilius Scaurus’ command on behalf of Pompey and depicting a camel with king Aretas of Nabatea kneeling with a olive branch in his outstretched hand with the caption “King Aretas” (and Jupiter riding chariot on the other side):

Pompey and Iberians (46-45 BCE)

Silver denarius coin (RRC 470/1b; Münzkabinett Berlin; 46-45 BCE) depicting a crowned Spanish city to the viewer’s left greeting Pompey in military gear, as well as another crowned Spanish city kneeling to the viewer’s right and offering a gift of a shield (and head of Pompey on the other side):

Augustus and Parthians (commemorating ca. 20 BCE)

Two denarius coins (RIC I Augustus 288 and RIC I Augustus 315; 18 BCE) depicting bare-headed Parthians wearing pants and kneeling on the right knee with right hand returning a Roman legionary standard or flag (vexillum) (and the goddess Feronia or Honos on the other side):

Augustus and Armenians (18 BCE)

Silver denarius coin (RIC I 306; British Museum; 18 BCE) depicting a kneeling Armenian man wearing tiara and long robe and reaching out both hands in submission including the caption “Armenia captured” (and bust of Virtus on the other side):

Augustus and a “barbarian” people (12 BCE)

Silver denarius coin (RIC I Augustus 416; minted by L. Caninius Gallus; 12 BCE) depicting a figure with long wild hair, beard and cloak, kneeling and holding up a legionary standard (vexillum) in his right hand (and bust of Augustus on the other side):

Tiberius and Parthians (Domitian commemorating incidents in the time of Tiberius)

Gold aureus coin (RIC II.1 Vespasian 959; ca. 77-78 CE; by Domitian under Vespasian) commemorating the Parthians’ return of standards in which Tiberius had been involved (and bust of Domitian on the other side):

Domitian and Germanic peoples (86 CE)

Bronze sestertius coin (RIC II.1 Domitian 469; British Museum; 86 CE) depicting a diminutive Germanic woman kneeling and offering a shield to Domitian, who holds a spear and wears military garb (and bust of Domitian on the other side):

Hadrian and Phrygians, Africans, Celts, and Iberians (130-133 CE)

Orichalcum sestertius coin (RIC II, part 3 Hadrian 1891; British Museum) depicting a kneeling woman as Phrygia (with Phrygian cap, short tunic and shepherd’s crook) who is being raised up by the right hand of Hadrian with the caption “restoration of Phrygia (restitutori Phyrgiae)” (and bust of Hadrian on the other side):

Gold aureus coin (RIC II, part 2 Hadrian 1568; British Museum) depicting a kneeling woman as Africa (with wearing an elephant-skin head-dress and holding ears of corn) who is being raised by the right hand of Hadrian with the caption “restoration of Africa (restitutori Africae)” (and Hadrian’s bust on the other side):

Silver denarius coin (RIC II, part 3 Hadrian 1573; American Numismatic Society) depicting a kneeling woman as Gaul who is being raised by the right hand of Hadrian with the caption “Gaul restored (restitutori Galliae)”:

Silver denarius coin (RIC II, Part 3 Hadrian 1582; British Museum) depicting a kneeling woman as Spain / Iberia (holding a branch while a rabbit sits between the two figures) who is being raised by the right hand of Hadrian with the caption “Spain restored (restitutori Hispaniae)”:

Comments: These coins dealing with particular peoples’ relations with the Roman power are less focussed on a people’s dejection or humiliation after conquest, as in other coins that picture peoples as mourning women (link) or as humiliated captives (link). (See Cody 2002 for an overview of the types of coins.) Instead the images in this post picture a defeated people interacting in some way with Roman power in the form of kneeling in submision, supplication or adoration, in some cases offering a symbol of collaboration (such as a shield). This is an adaptation of the eastern practice (e.g. Persians) of kneeling before kings as a sign of subordination, which had also been appropriated by Alexander of Macedon and his successors early on and now by Roman authorities. Even more particular are the restitution or restoration coins that picture the imperial figure responding positively to the request by raising up a personified people or province from the kneeling position. These are particularly characteristic of Hadrian’s principate.

The Parthians on coins under Augustus and Tiberius specifically commemorate the return of the Roman military standards (via diplomatic relations) that had been captured by the Parthians in earlier wars (in the campaigns of Crassus and Antony against the Parthians in 53 and 36 BCE, for instance). Augustus himself made a considerable deal out of this situation in his list of his own achievements, in part because Parthia was a chief rival when it came to imperial aims at the time: “I forced the Parthians to restore to me the spoils and standards of three Roman armies, and to seek as suppliants the friendship of the Roman people” (Res gestae 29, on which see the full post at this link). The image of the bearded Parthian on the Augustan era coins features the wearing of pants, which would be immediately associated with something foreign and eastern (from a Roman perspective).

Complete series on representations of peoples on Roman coins:

  • Part 1 (link): Personifying the conquered as a mourning woman
  • Part 2 (link): Depicting the conquered as humiliated or subservient (kneeling) captives
  • Part 3 (current post): 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; R.M. Schneider, Bunte Barbaren: Orientalenstatuen aus farbigem Marmor in der römischen Repräsentationskunst (Worms: Wernersche, 1986), 22-25; J.M. Scott, Bacchius Iudaeus: A Denarius Commemorating Pompey’s Victory over Judea (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015).

Source of images: All images from, except those identified as from the American Numismatic Society (shareable for non-commercial purposes), from the Münzkabinett Berlin (public domain) and from the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

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