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Vespasian in Alexandria


What an ancient coin costs is always a factor of who sees it. The range of ancient coins is so broad that inevitably there are opportunities to find overlooked items. While a crazy high bid attracts attention, it is always fun to find an underappreciated gem. I put today's coin of interest in this category.


Not a coin that shows up every day

My latest coin only shows up in ACSearch about once a year (9 examples in the database). If I consider Regnal Year (RY Γ = 3 = 70/1 AD) then there is only one example that I can find in ACSearch. RPC II has 9 examples from RY= A and 19 examples from RY B and Roman Provincial Coins (RPC) has 7 examples of the RY 3 coin. Emmett recognizes the type giving it a 3/5 for Rarity (a rating that seems to mean - "at least a few out there, but don't count on finding one any time soon").


Here's the example in Dattari Savio (355):

Nice condition & style for type

Egypt, Alexandria, Vespasian, AD 69-79, BI Tetradrachm (26mm, 12.63g, 12h), dated RY 3 (AD 70/1)

Obv: Laureate head right; Γ (regnal year 3) below chin

Rev: Alexandria standing left, wearing elephant skin headdress, holding wreath and lotus-tipped scepter

Ref: Dattari (Savio) 355; RPC II 2425; Emmett 202.3


A coin that may have almost crossed paths with Vespasian or Titus in Alexandria

70/1 were good years for the Vespasian family - with multiple triumphs for Vespasian and his sons for victories in the First Jewish–Roman War. After Nero's suicide, Vesspasian was proclaimed emperor in July of 69 AD, which he considered the start of his reign, although formally he did not receive confirmation by the senate until December of 69 AD.

"Tiberius Alexander, prefect of Egypt, was the first to compel his legions to take the oath for Vespasian on the Kalends of July, the day which was afterwards celebrated as that of his accession; then the army in Judaea swore allegiance to him personally on the fifth day before the Ides of July."
-Suetonius, Life of Vespasian 6.3 

"The initiative in transferring the Empire to Vespasian was taken at Alexandria under the prompt direction of Tiberius Alexander, who on the 1st of July made the legions swear allegiance to him. That day was ever after celebrated as the first of his reign,though the army of Judæa on July 3rd took the oath to Vespasian in person with such eager alacrity that they would not wait for the return of his son Titus, who was then on his way back from Syria, acting as the medium between Mucianus and his father for the communication of their plans."
-Tacitus, History, II.79

Vespasian was sent by Nero to put down the rebellion, and returned to Rome after Nero's death.

"Vespasian had to leave the siege of the Jewish holy city in AD 69 with the outbreak of civil war. His son Titus finished his father’s campaign, overseeing the sack of the city and, most infamously, the looting and destruction of the Temple itself."
Kieren Johns, Roman Emperor Vespasian Restores Order To The Empire, Jul 19, 2020 

This coin in Alexandria, came close to crossing paths with both Vespasian and Titus. Vespasian was in Alexandria in the Fall of 70 and returned home to Rome ~October. Titus left Judea in the spring of 71 AD and passed through Alexandria on his way home. A great triumph was prepared in Rome when he returned.

".......Titus, now proceeding on his projected march en route for Egypt, traversed the desert with all possible dispatch and reached Alexandria. Here, having determined to sail for Italy, he dismissed to their respective former stations the two legions which had accompanied him, the fifth to Moesia, the fifteenth to Pannonia."
.......Rome gave him (Titus) such a reception and welcome as it had given to his father (Vespasian); but with the added lustre that Titus was met and received by his father himself. The crowd of citizens was thus afforded an ecstasy of joy by the sight of the three princes now united.
.......Previous notice having been given of the day on which the pageant of victory would take place, not a soul among that countless host in the city was left at home: all issued forth and occupied every position where it was but possible to stand, leaving only room for the necessary passage of those upon whom they were to gaze."
-Josephus, The Jewish War Book VII 116-122

Miracles of healing are reported by Tacitus from Vespasian's visit to Alexandria. He restored sight to one man and helped a lame man walk again.

"In the months during which Vespasian was waiting at Alexandria for the periodical return of the summer gales and settled weather at sea, many wonders occurred which seemed to point him out as the object of the favour of heaven and of the partiality of the Gods. One of the common people of Alexandria, well-known for his blindness, threw himself at the Emperor's knees, and implored him with groans to heal his infirmity. This he did by the advice of the God Serapis, whom this nation, devoted as it is to many superstitions, worships more than any other divinity."
-Tacitus, History IV.81 

Several stories from this time make connections between Serapis and Vespasian, as does this later coin from 72/3 with Vespasian and Isis. In another story Vespasian consults Serapis on the stability of the empire, echoing a story of Alexander the Great consulting the oracle of Ammon (for the story of Alexander see Plutarch, Alexander 27, Strabo, Geography 17.1.43). Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC.

Egypt, Alexandria, Vespasian, AD 69-79, Æ Diobol (25mm, 9.96g, 12h). Dated RY 5 (AD 72/3)

Obv: Laureate head right

Rev: Draped bust of Isis right, wearing taenia and crown of solar disk and horns; L E (date) to right

Ref: Köln 296; Dattari (Savio) 384; K&G 20.39; RPC II 2438; Emmett 217.5.

Additional References:

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David Atherton
David Atherton
Nov 15, 2023

This is RPC 2425. https://www.forumancientcoins.com/gallery/displayimage.php?pid=124979

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sulla80
sulla80
Nov 15, 2023
Replying to

Thanks David - appreciate the added reference!

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