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Coins of Rome about Parthia:
Domitian (A.D. 81-96)

Titus Flavius Domitianus was born in Rome on 24 October A.D. 51, the youngest son of Vespasian, Roman emperor (A.D. 69-79) and Domitilla. In A.D. 69 he presented himself to the invading Flavian forces, was hailed as Caesar, and moved into the imperial residence. While he led reinforcements to Germany where the Batavian auxiliaries of the Rhine legions had revolted, Domitian never campaigned in the East, and certainly not to Parthia. Upon his brother Titus' death in September, A.D. 81, Domitian received imperium, the title Augustus, and tribunician power along with the office of pontifex maximus and the title pater patriae, father of his country. He was assassinated 18 September A.D. 96, and succeeded immediately by M. Cocceius Nerva, a senator.

There is one issue of Domitian that appears with a Parthian reference. (See the RIC 240 reference below). It is accepted that the kneeling figure on the reverse of this coin can be identified as a Parthian from the costume, particularly the long trousers he wears. The reverse type is copied from the coins of Augustus by the moneyers Turpilianus, Florus, and Durmius struck to celebrate the return in 20 B.C. of the standards captured by the Parthians from Crassus after the disaster of Carrhae in 53 B.C., from L. Decidius Saxa in Syria in 40 B.C., and from Marc Antony in 36 B.C.

The supplicant Parthian on Domitian's coin certainly refers to some form of submission to the Romans. However, the reality is somewhat more complex: the Parthian king, Vologases I (c. A.D. 51 - 78), sent an embassy to Vespasian requesting aid against the barbarian Alani who were invading from the north. Domitian, who felt himself sidelined by his father and older brother, urged that an expedition be sent which he would lead, but Vespasian refused to sanction one. Thus, Domitian's plans came to naught and left no trace save for this issue of 'commemorative' coins.1 But Curtis Clay points out that a Parthian surrendering a standard and a vexillum seems a poor choice to commemorate a refused Parthian request for military aid, as Mattingly would have it;2 such a type would certainly belong on the coinage of Vespasian himself, to whom the request was addressed, not Domitian Caesar.3

But if there were no contemporary events to commemorate, why the issue of such a coin? Clay finds it preferable to assume that Vespasian was actively withdrawing and recoining the pre-64 gold and silver coinage in order to profit from Nero's debasement of the standards in that year, and that he copied such old types simply so that they would not be lost from the circulating coinage. (Similar restored coins, but also with old obverses and legends naming the emperor who restored them, were issued on the occasion of recoinages by Titus and Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, and Marcus and Verus.) Indeed, Vespasian omitted the explicit restoration legend because he was restoring reverses only, not the original obverses. A number of other Flavian aureus or denarius reverse types of the same year are also clearly copied from earlier coins: Mars standing, grain stalk growing behind him; pair of oxen; and prow with star above.4

We are thus left with a most interesting Roman issue with a Parthian reference, but no conclusive evidence as to its purpose.

See the biography of Domitian at De Imperatoribus Romanis, an online encyclopedia of Roman emperors.

1. Leu Numismatik auktion 87, lot 16
2. Mattingly, BMC Vespasian, 231
3. Curtis Clay, Harlan J. Berk, Ltd., personal correspondence, 7 Jul 2004
4. Ibid.

Coins in the Name of Domitian

Click on coin catalog links to view images:

Catalog Denom Inscription Reverse Type

Domitian as Caesar under Vespasian, A.D. 72-79

RIC 240
Cohen 48
BMC 231
Biaggi 396
aureus CAESAR AVG F DOMITIANVS Parthian kneeling right, left hand extended in supplication offering signum with vexillum in right; in exergue, COS V

The images are used by permission of their copyright owners. See the Coins of Rome about Parthia index page for a listing of these generous individuals, dealers and institutions.

This page last updated 22 Apr 2008

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