The denarii of Domitian's first year as Augustus
IMP CAESAR DOMITIANVS AVG (Group 1)
A)IMP CAES DOMITIANVS AVG PONT (Groups 2,3,& 4)
B)IMP CAES DOMITIAN AVG PONT (Groups 2,3,& 4)
C)IMP CAESAR DOMITIANVS AVG PM (Groups 2,3,& 4)
D)IMP CAES DIVI VESP F DOMIT AVG PONT (Groups 2,3,& 4)
E)IMP CAES DIVI VESP F DOMITIAN AVG PM (Groups 2,3,& 4)
1)TR P COS VII (Group 1)
2)P P COS VII DES VIII (Group 2)
3)COS VII DES VIII P P (Group 3)
4)TR P COS VII DES VIII P P (Group 4)
1)Curule chair with wreath
2)Dolphin coiled around anchor
3) draped seat with winged thunderbolt
4a)Seat with semi-circular frame and 3 crescents
4b) draped seat triangular or semicircular frame with corn ears (the triangular option only applies to RIC 14 in Group 2)
5) Triangular frame with palmettes
6a) Tripod with fillets and dolphin
6b) Tripod with fillets, dolphin, wreath and ravens.
7) The lighted altar
8a) Minerva advancing right with spear and shield
8b)Minerva standing left with Victory and sceptre with shield at feet.
NB: All of the information above with the exception of the list of reverse types comes from Carradice & Buttrey, RIC II Part 1 (2007)
I was looking over my first year denarii for Domitian as Augustus, and was surprised to find that I had collected 14 of these coins. While there are some common coins in this first year, my examples are either R R2 or R3. (R3 is the highest level of rarity and means one example was known to the authors of RIC at the time of publication).
I am very interested in the denarii of the first year because there are a few mysteries to be solved. First is the order of the groups. The order of the 4 groups of denarii in 81 CE discussed here comes from RIC II Part 1 (2007). RIC comments that the order of the groups is for convenience only. The denarii of Group 1 provide the titles that Domitian would have started with immediately after his accession. These are AVG, IMP, and TR P. So here is the mystery. If group 1 denarii were struck first then why do the denarii of groups 2 and 3 omit TR P from the list of titles in the legend only to have it reappear in group 4 ? However, this is not the only interesting feature of these denarii. For example, when you look at groups 2 and 3 what separates them is where the P P is placed. On group 2 denarii the P P appears before the rest of the reverse legend. On group 3 denarii the P P appears after the rest of the reverse legend. Why change the position of P P in the reverse legend? Also, since groups 2 and 3 both use the same obverse legends, is it possible that group 3 was actually struck before group 2? Group one includes another mystery. RIC 3 is a very interesting coin. It is a group 1 denarius so it was supposedly issued before the PONT denarii that occur in Groups 2-4. However, this coin has Litvvs on the reverse. On coins with Pontifical implements such as the famous Caesar elephant denarius, the inclusion of a device such as a Litvvs represents the priestly responsibilities of the leader. If Domitian had not yet added PONT or PONTIFEX MAXIMVS, why would he have included a Litvvs signifying pontifical power? The answer might be as simple as Domitian copying the reverses for Titus. Denarii are known for Titus that include the triangular frame both with and without the Litvvs (RIC 124). If Domitian copied the other denarii for his Group 1 denarii, then I suppose that this one too was copied.
There is yet another mystery. How did the mints manage to produce coins so quickly after the death of Titus? Titus died September 13th81 CE. All of the denarii from the 4 groups were struck between the death of Titus and the end of the year. So how did the mint manage the turn around so quickly? There is a clue in the Group 1 denarii. RIC 6 is a mule. It has an obverse for Domitian but uses a Titus reverse with TR P IX. This is very interesting because at first glance this would seem to be impossible. The TR P IX coins (RIC 100-132) were all supposedly struck before June 30 of 80 CE, because Titus assumed TR P X on July 1 of 80 CE. How then could TR P IX be used on a Domitian denarius from over one year later? Carradice & Buttrey suggest that for some reason TR P IX dies continued to be used after Titus assumed TR P X ( p. 185). They also state that "Mules usually combine dies in parallel or at least in closely contemporaneous use." ( p. 185). So the mints were possibly already turning out a large output of coinage near the time that Titus died. The mint then used their resources to strike the coins of Domitian using many of the same reverse types struck for Titus. This is all speculation of course. The actual explanation for how the coins of Domitian were produced so quickly is still a mystery. The other mystery as to why coins with TR P IX were used after Titus assumed TR P X may be solved one day but more work is to be done.
Another interesting feature of these denarii is the use of PONT in the obverse legends in groups 2, 3, and 4. If group 1 denarii were struck before the addition of the title PONT it makes sense that group 1 denarii do not include this title. However, groups 2,3, and 4 all contain denarii that have both PONT and denarii that use PM in the obverse legends. The speculation is that PONT was used as a placeholder of sorts until Domitian was formally granted the title of PONTIFEX MAXIMVS or PM. If this is the case the why do denarii in each group use both PONT and PM? Remember that these groups are ordered by the reverse legends and not the obverse legends. Group 2 contains only denarii and is comprised of 12 types. Of these types 9 of them contain PONT in the obverse legend. All of the coins in Group 2 are R2 or R3. (In other words Group 2 denarii are either very rare or extremely rare). In 2 years I have seen 1 come to market for sale. Unfortunately, I missed it and so I have no Group 2 Domitian denarii.
I have 6 of the PONT denarii: RIC 21(2), RIC 29, RIC 34, RIC 40, and RIC 68. RIC 21, RIC 29 and RIC 34 are in Group 3; RIC 40 and RIC 68 are in Group 4. On 4 of my PONT denarii (RIC 21(2), RIC 29 and RIC 40) the legend reads IMP CAES DOMITIANVS AVG PONT (Obverse A). On RIC 34 and RIC 68 the legend reads IMP CAES DOMITIAN AVG PONT (Obverse B). There are 10 types of Domitian denarii using DOMITIAN and 18 for DOMITIANVS. These PONT denarii use one other legend: IMP CAES DIVI VESP F DOMIT AVG PONT (Obverse D). I do not have an example using this legend. There are only 3 types with this legend and they all R2 (very few examples known). Of the group 2 PONT denarii 5 are obverse A, 3 are obverse B, and 1 is obverse D. Within the Group 3 PONT denarii 7 are Obverse A, 3 are Obverse B, and 0 examples for Obverse D. In the group 4 denarii, 6 are obverse A, 4 are Obverse B and 2 for Obverse D. So within each group Obverse A examples are always more prevalent than Obverse B. Also, Obverse B examples are always more plentiful than Obverse D examples.
The reverse types for these first year Domitian denarii re-use many of the reverses for Titus as Augustus. These reverse types include: 1)Curule chair with wreath, 2)Dolphin coiled around anchor, 3) draped seat with winged thunderbolt, 4a)Seat with semi-circular frame and 3 crescents, 4b) draped seat triangular or semicircular frame with corn ears 5)Triangular frame with palmettes, 6a)Tripod with fillets and dolphin and 6b) Tripod with fillets, dolphin, wreath and ravens. In Group 1 there is 1 example of reverse type 1, 1 example of reverse type 2, 1 example of reverse type 3 and 2 examples of reverse type 6b (one is a mule with a reverse legend for Titus). In group 2 a new reverse type appears for Domitian and a variation of a previous reverse type is also added. Type 7 has a lighted and garlanded altar. This and All other reverse types in Group 2 are carry overs from the reign of Titus with the exception of a modification to reverse type 4 which I am calling reverse type 4b. Group 2 has one example of Type 7, it is a PONT denarius obverse A. Type 7, the lighted altar, also occurs in groups 3 and 4. In group 2 there are 4 examples of reverse type 1. Three of these are PONT denarii. There is one each for Obverses A, B, C, D. Only the Obverse C example is not a PONT type. There are 2 examples of the type 2 Obverse (dolphin and anchor) and both are PONT denarii. One is Obverse A, and one is Obverse B. There are 2 examples of reverse type 4b (draped seat triangular or semicircular frame with corn ears). One is a PONT denarius with Obverse A, and one uses Obverse C. There are 2 examples of reverse type 4a (Seat with semi-circular frame and 3 crescents). One is a PONT denarius with Obverse A, and 1 uses Obverse E. The use of obverse legend C which includes PM, while prominent in Groups 3 & 4 and used on both common and rare coins, is present on only 2 examples in Group 2 and both are R2. In Contrast, Obverse legend E, which also uses PM is only used on rare coins in groups 2, 3, and 4.
Group 3 introduces us to a new type for Domitian as Augustus, the Minerva reverse. The Minerva reverse was used earlier for Domitian as Caesar. The Minerva reverse comes in 2 varieties. Reverse Type 8a) has Minerva advancing right with spear and shield. Reverse type 8b) has Minerva standing left with Victory and sceptre with shield at feet. It is worth noting that while 8a) becomes the M1 type Minerva when the Minerva reverses dominate the denarii of Domitian, type 8b) does not become a standard type. I think is a shame as I quite like the Minerva with Victory reverse. In Group three RIC records only one example for each of 8a) and 8b). In both cases they are Obverse A Pont denarii. The altar type (Type 7) seen first in Group 2 is shown in 2 examples in group 3. One is obverse A (a PONT denarius) and one is obverse C, and both are R2. Type 1 (Curule chair and wreath) has 3 denarii. There is one each from obverse groups A, B, (both are PONT denarii) and C. All are at least R2 regarding rarity. There are 2 denarii for type 2 (dolphin and anchor). One is Obverse A (a PONT denarius) and one is Obverse C. There are 2 examples of reverse type 4a denarii. One is obverse A (a PONT denarius) and the other is Obverse C. There are 2 more types that appear in Group 3: One is reverse type 3 with the Thunderbolt, and the other is 6a the type with the seat semi-circular frame and 3 crescents. For type 3 there are 3 obverse legends used, A, B, and C. The first 2 are PONT denarii. For type 6a obverse types A, C, and E are used. A is a PONT denarius. All of these denarii are very rare to extremely rare. What is interesting here is that in 2 cases (obverses C and E) use PM in the legend.
Group 4 introduces only one new type. It is 8b) Minerva standing left with Victory and sceptre with shield at feet. There are 3 types of denarii, RIC 60, 62 and 63. There is 1 for Obverse A (a PONT denarius) 1 for Obverse C and 1 for Obverse E. Both Obverse C and E use PM in the obverse legend. However, RIC 62 with Obverse C is a much more common coin than RIC 63 with Obverse E. What is interesting is that the coins in Groups 2 and 3 that use Obverse C are all rare coins. In Group 2 Obverse C is sparsely used. In group 3 Obverse C is used for 8 types of denarii and all of these are rare to very rare. In Group 4 Obverse C is used for 7 types (RIC 43, 48, 54, 58, 62, 70, and 74). All of these coins are rated common. So what can we say here? The evidence supports the assumption that regardless of Obverse legend, it is the reverse legend that seems to control the relative rarity of the denarii. While true that PONT denarii are rare to extremely rare, it is telling that these rare coins appear in groups like 2 and 3 which are generally dominated by rare coins. In general it is possible to say that Coins in Groups 1, 2, and 3, are generally rarer than coins in Group 4. Or perhaps we should say that Group 4 contains a higher percentage of common coins that the other 3 groups. Therefore, we can get a general idea of rarity by using the reverse legends.
RIC 64 and 65 are interesting because of the reverse types they use in combination with 2 different Obverse legends. RIC 64 uses 4b) draped seat, semicircular frame with corn ears while RIC 65 uses reverse type 4a) Seat with semi-circular frame and 3 crescents. Note that only in the case of RIC 14 in Group 2 does RIC offer the option of triangular or semi-circular frame. RIC 64 uses Obverse legend C) IMP CAESAR DOMITIANVS AVG PM. This legend occurs 12 times on the denarii of group 4. Note that all of the common coins in group 4 use Obverse C. RIC 65 uses Obverse legend A) IMP CAES DOMITIANVS AVG PONT. Note that RIC 64 is R while RIC 65 is R2. This is not surprising as all PONT denarii are at least R2. However, just because all common coins use Obverse legend C does not mean that all coins using this obverse legend are common. RIC 64 uses Obverse legend C and is given a rarity designation of R for rare. Another interesting piece of information about these reverses is that while Groups 2 and 4 have both reverse types (4a and 4b), group 3 only has examples of 4a (Seat with semi-circular frame and 3 crescents). RIC 31 is a PONT denarius using Obverse legend A (IMP CAES DOMITIANVS AVG PONT), and RIC 32 which uses Obverse legend C (IMP CAESAR DOMITIANVS AVG PM). Both are rare coins with RIC 31 rated as R2 (as one should expect with PONT denarii), and RIC 32 rated as R for rare.
The other reverse types in Group 4 are all carried over from the reign of Titus. Perhaps this solidifies the notion that Group 1 had to be first because it used already existing types while all subsequent groups, regardless of the order, added types under Domitian such as Minerva with Victory which was not used by Titus and therefore not used in group 1. In other words perhaps Groups 2, 3, 4 show the beginnings of some experimentation with the coinage under a new emperor.
I find the coins of Domitian's first year as Augustus fascinating. There are mysteries here including the use of or omission of titles, the ordering of the 4 groups of denarii, and the appearance that coins with PONT and those with PM instead were struck near the same time (if the groupings in RIC are correct). According to one Flavian expert, a possible explanation for this is that many of the groups were struck contemporaneously, probably due to different workshops using separate dies. Another possible explanation comes from RIC. Perhaps PONT and PM denarii were struck at the same time because "of the survival of unused PONT dies after PM was introduced" (Carradice and Buttrey, 2007 p. 239). Coins with reverse legend 2)P P COS VII DES VIII (Group 2) are generally rarer than coins in groups 1, 3, and 4. Coins with reverse legend 3)COS VII DES VIII P P (Group 3) are generally rarer than coins in groups 1 and 4. All coins with PONT in the obverse legend are rare. In fact, in groups 2, 3, and 4 where PONT denarii occur they are always at least as rare as the rarest coins of other Obverse legends. In Many cases the PONT denarii are the rarest coins in the group.
The first coin is surprisingly rare. It is one of the carry over Pulvinar types used earlier by Titus. However instead of the 3 crescents above the semi-circular frame this coin has corn ears (as is also seen on the triangular framed pulvinar type-RIC 3). This is a group 4 denarius from Domitian's first year as Augustus (81 CE). Group 4 coins tend to be overall more common than group 2 or 3 coins. However, there are some rarities in group 4. This includes some PONT denarii. This denarius, however, has the obverse legend used on many of the more common coins in the group (IMP CAES DOMITIANVS AVG PM).
Domitian AR Denarius 81 CE (Group 4) Rome
Obv: Laureate head right, IMP CAES DOMITIANVS AVG P M
Rev: Seat draped, above semi-circular frame decorated with corn ears; TR P COS VII DES VIII PP
RIC 64 (R), BMC --, RSC--
Savoca Auctions 6th Blue Auction October 5, 2019
The second coin is the rarer of the 2. It is a PONT denarius. this makes my fourth PONT denarius. I was lucky to get this before some other eagle eyed Flavian collector saw it. I know of 3 other examples of this coin. One is owned by a Flavian specialist on Forum Ancient Coins, one is owned by another Forum Ancient Coins member, and the 3rd is the RIC reference coin which is owned by Curtis Clay.
This coin is RIC 29. I also happen to own RIC 28. RIC 28 uses the obverse legend used on more common coins: IMP CAES DOMITIANVS AVG P M. RIC 28 is another rare coin (R2) and it features a different Minerva than RIC 29. RIC 29 has the Minerva holding Victory and with spear while RIC 28 does not have the Minerva with Victory. There are only 3 coin types for Domitian that include Minerva with Victory and spear (RIC 29, 30, & 99). It so happens that I now have RIC 29 and RIC 99. Of these 3 types RIC 99 is the most common, but it is still designated as rare. I quite like the Minerva with Victory type and wish they would have used it more often. The coin is a bit rough, but I think the portrait has a lot of charm.
Domitian AR Denarius 81 CE (Group 3) Rome
(20 mm )
Obv: Head laureate right; IMP CAES DOMITIANVS AVG PONT
Rev: Minerva standing left with victory and spear, shield at feet; COS VII DES VIII P P
RIC 29 (R3) Not in the RIC plates
Purchased from ebay October 3, 2019.