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Vespasian: Action Hero

David Atherton

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It's not often when surfing the web I come across a coin in trade and simply say "wow". This is one of those coins. Beyond doubt one of the biggest surprise purchases of the year.




Æ Sestertius, 24.67g
Rome mint, 72-73 AD
Obv: IMP CAES VESPAS AVG P M TR P P P COS IIII; Head of Vespasian, laureate, r.
Rev: S C in exergue; Vespasian riding r., spearing fallen foe
RIC 386 (R). BMC 622. BNC 610. Hendin 1518.
Acquired from Aegean, September 2022.

This extremely rare reverse type featuring a rider spearing a fallen enemy combatant most likely alludes to the Jewish War (per Hendin), although H. Mattingly in BMCRE II conjectures it refers to the contemporary campaigns in Dacia or Germany. It was sparingly struck for Vespasian in just one issue and slightly more frequently for Titus Caesar through several issues. Only one die pair is known for the Vespasian variant - a testament to its great rarity! I could locate only one heavily tooled example in trade on asearch. OCRE and RIC cites two examples, one in the BM and the other in Paris. IMHO, the RIC frequency rating of 'rare' seems a bit understated. Did the RIC authors know of any other specimens?

NB: Because of its extreme rarity, this type for Vespasian could possibly be a mule with a reverse intended exclusively for Titus Caesar.

Although heavily worn, this is one of those coins I will treasure and consider myself lucky for having obtained it.

Do you have a similar story or any coins showing an emperor as an "action hero"?

As always, thanks for looking!

Edited by David Atherton
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Neat addition to your collection! It reminds me of a dupondius of Trajan I no longer have, with a similar reverse. Do you think this reverse was based on the reverse of Vespasian? Or was it some sort of general image of propogandic nature, whenever an emperor needed to be shown as a strong military man? 


I mostly have static reverses showing buildings or referring to certain conquests, or events, rather than action scenes. One coin with a bit of emperor - on - horse action, is the worn denarius below of Galba, but it lacks the spearing of someone. More as if he is rallying the troops. 


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9 hours ago, Limes said:

Do you think this reverse was based on the reverse of Vespasian? Or was it some sort of general image of propogandic nature, whenever an emperor needed to be shown as a strong military man?

Trajan most likely was copying the Domitianic version, which in turn was based on this Vespasianic one. I do believe it was a generic motif designed to advertise the emperor's military prowess.

Here's Domitian's version for comparison.




Æ Sestertius, 26.14g
Rome mint, 85 AD
Obv: IMP CAES DOMITIAN AVG GERM COS XI; Bust of Domitian, laureate, bearded, r., with aegis
Rev: S C in exergue; Domitian riding r. with shield, striking with spear at falling German
RIC 280 (C). BMC 300A. BNC 317.
Ex Roma Numismatics E-Sale 88, 9 September 2021, lot 843.

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4 hours ago, LONGINUS said:

Seeing your coin gives me pause to reevaluate what I thought I knew about Vespasian.

Hendin believes this reverse design for Titus is based on an actual event retold in by Josephus in The Jewish War (5.2). Was there a similar incident for Vespasian? Gamala? I don't think so. The type is very generic and likely does not commemorate one event retold in a contemporary history.

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