From Art to Artifact:  Making Sense of Roman Coins

Denarius of Vespasian

Establishing a Dynasty

The silver denarius issued by Vespasian in 70 CE is a statement of imperial power. Struck in the first year after the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Vespasian draws on this historical reverse type used by Sextus Pompey in the late 40s BCE and Augustus in 4-5 CE in order to solidify his new rule. By depicting his sons, Titus and Domitian, and naming them Caesar, heirs to the throne, Vespasian asserts his intentions to follow the example of Augustus and begin a new dynasty.

As one of the first coins minted during the reign of Vespasian, the dynastic imagery paralleling the Augustan Gaius and Lucius denarius makes a clear statement for future succession. Like Augustus, Vespasian left no doubt to whom their power will be left their death. By comparing the reverse type with the type of Vitellius, brief predecessor and rival to Vespasian, we can conclude that establishment of a new dynasty was a top priority for any emperor immediately following the collapsed Julio-Claudian dynasty. The new emperor Vespasian was faced with an unprecedented succession and, keeping with the Roman tradition, dealt with this new concern by reaching back to the old.