The Domitianus Coin

c. AD 271

Gallery 36 Coins and Medals


Focus on the Object

In the turmoil of the third-century crisis, power in the Roman Empire was fragmented. Domitianus briefly laid claim to what we call the Gallic Empire, which included modern France, the Rhineland, Britain, and initially Spain. He clearly gained control of a mint. This was the ancient equivalent of staging a coup and seizing the television station. Domitianus’ bid for power is unlikely to have lasted more than a few days.

The coin portrays the emperor wearing a radiate crown suggestive of the rays of the Sun. The inscription names him as the Emperor Caesar Domitianus, the Pious, the Fortunate, the Augustus. The other side of the coin depicts a standing figure of Concord, described as Concord of the Troops. The figure personifies the claim that the army is united behind Domitianus. Not for long, if at all, one suspects.

A certain Domitianus is mentioned in sources written centuries later as a high-ranking army officer punished for treason, but they do not state that he claimed to be emperor. A second, identical, coin of Domitianus was said to have been found in a hoard in central France a hundred years ago, but had been rejected by some as a hoax. The new coin, with its unimpeachable context, dispels any doubt about authenticity.