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A Mysterious 'Eastern' Titus As

David Atherton

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Hello all!

I would like to share my most recent purchase - a Titus Caesar as from a very mysterious Eastern flavoured issue struck during Vespasian's reign at Rome. It's also quite a handsome piece to boot!



Titus as Caesar [Vespasian]

Æ As, 4.84g
Rome mint, 74 AD
Obv: T•CAES•IMP•TR•POT; Head of Titus, laureate, bearded, r.
Rev: S • C in laurel wreath
RIC 1572 (C). BMC -. BNC 897. RPC 1996 (6 spec.).
Acquired from Sebastian Sänn, September 2022

In 74 AD the Rome mint produced an extraordinary issue of bronze coinage of dupondii, asses, semisses, and quadrantes with a somewhat Eastern theme. Previously, these coins had been attributed to either Commagene (BMCRE) or Syria (RPC, and doubtfully so in RIC), but more recent scholarship has shown they actually were struck in Rome. The circulation pattern confirms this - out of a total of 112 of the smaller denominations cited by RPC, all but 4 were found in Western Europe. Ted Buttrey confirms 'The Eastern finds appear to be simply the débris of Mediterranean circulation.' But why was this series produced in such a fashion? Buttrey proffers a plausible theory - 'Previously the series had been attributed to Commagene (BMCRE II, pp.217-222), then as a likelihood to Antioch (e.g. RPC II 1982-2005). The correct attribution to Rome is proved by mules of the dupondii with regular issues (Buttrey, “Vespasian’s Roman Orichalcum: An Unrecognized Celebratory Coinage” in David M. Jacobson and Nikos Kokkinos, Judaea and Rome in Coins, 65 CBE – 135 CE (2012). The series had nothing to do with Syria or with the East at all, yet it was purposefully designed to appear non-Roman: the suppression of the traditional reverse sub-inscription S C throughout; the suppression of the radiate crown of the Dupondius; the shifting of the consular dating from the obv. to the rev.; the striking of all four denominations in orichalcum; and most obviously the selection of rev. dies which reek of the East. There is nothing like this series in the whole of Roman imperial coinage. It is a deliberate act of Orientalism, imposing the flavour of the East on a Western coinage. The key to its understanding is the reverse type of the dupondius, two crossed cornuacopiae with a winged caduceus between. It replicates the type of an obscure issue of the Galilean city of Sepphoris, an issue which had been, astonishingly, signed by Vespasian himself (ΕΠΙ ΟΥΕCΠΑCΙΑΝΟΥ, “on the authority of…”) when on duty there in the last days of Nero. The dupondius-sized bronze was accompanied by a half-unit with the type of a large, central S C – again signed by Vespasian, and now imitated on the As of the orichalcum series with the wreath of the As of Antioch (RPC I 4849-50). The whole of this series memorializes not Vespasian the conquering general (IVDAEA CAPTA, VICTORIA AVGVSTI), but the man. His re-use of earlier coin types is well-known; here he re-uses his own, harking back to his career just prior to his final success in seizing the empire. And the series was struck in 74 A.D., co-terminous with the celebration of Vespasian’s first quinquennium.' So, in essence, a very personally important issue for Vespasian.

Curtis Clay has a few objections to Buttrey's theory. 'As far as I am aware, there is nothing "astonishing" about Vespasian's "signing" of the two coins of Sepphoris. EΠI followed by the governor's name appeared frequently on Roman provincial coins, meaning simply, "Struck while the man named was governor". So there was no evident reason for Vespasian to consider it extraordinary that he had been named as governor of Syria on coins of Sepphoris struck for Nero near the end of his reign (Year 14), and no evident reason why he should have referred to the Sepphoris coins in his orichalcum issue struck at Rome five years later. It seems quite probable that Vespasian never even noticed his name on the coins of Sepphoris, and certainly very few Romans in the West will ever have seen such a coin, though Buttrey thinks the orichalcum coins were struck for circulation in the West in 74 in order to recall precisely those Sepphoris coins with their reference to Vespasian some months before his accession. Why waste coin types on references that were inconsequential, and that nobody was likely to comprehend?

If the orichalcum issue was meant to recall those two coins of Sepphoris, shouldn't it have been struck for Vespasian only, and using only those two rev. types, caduceus between crossed cornucopias and large SC? But that was not the case. Both the caduceus between crossed cornucopias type and the large SC type were struck not only for Vespasian, but also for Titus and Domitian as Caesars. Moreover those were not the only two rev. types of the issue: other coins showed a bust of Antioch with legend ANTIOCHIA , and (on small coins only) the same winged caduceus as on the crossed cornucopias dupondii, but without the cornucopias (see images below). It seems to me highly unlikely that the three main types of this issue, all struck for Titus and Domitian as well as Vespasian, were inspired by and meant to recall the far simpler issue of Sepphoris, using just two changing types (obv. types in this case) and of course naming Vespasian only.'

If Buttrey's argument is wrong it brings us back to the original question - why was an Eastern flavoured coinage struck for circulation in the West? Perhaps the issue may be nothing more than Vespasian paying homage to the part of the world that elevated him.

This as is a fine example of the smaller denomination - nicely centred, darkly toned, and sporting a stylish portrait of the young prince.

NB: The asses from this issue are quite small, this one only measuring 23mm and weighing 4.84g!

Edited by David Atherton
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