Roman Coins Tell an Intriguing Story


I’ve been finishing up rewrites on my next book, Pompeii: City on Fire, which takes place in 79 AD. The prologue, however, is a snapshot of a terrible day in history – August 9, 70 AD, the day Jerusalem fell and the Temple burned. The descriptions are truly horrific and the prologue was difficult to write.

Recently I read an intriguing article* about the Roman coins that were minted in that year, to commemorate this great victory on Rome’s part.

Keep in mind that Judea was a tiny sliver of land compared to the vast Roman Empire at this time, and yet the historian Josephus tells us that Rome brought several legions of soldiers – more than 60,000 men, against the small country. Even then, it took five years, from 66 to 70, to completely defeat this tenacious people.

When the Jews were defeated and their Temple a smoldering ruin, the Roman general Titus (who was then the son of emperor Vespasian, and later became emperor himself) returned to Rome. The minting of “Judea Capta” coins began.

The coins were produced in gold, silver and bronze and were stamped with the words IUDAEA CAPTA, “Judah captured,” and IUDAEA DEVICTA, “Judea defeated.” One of the images on the coins show us a Jewish woman sitting beneath a palm tree, head bowed and hands tied behind her back.

But it’s the quantity of coins minted that is the most interesting part of this story.

In A Treasury of Jewish Coins, Israeli numismatist Yaakov Meshorer writes,

The Judaea Capta [coins] were minted in a quantity that is surprising for Roman coins in general, and for those celebrating victories over other peoples in particular, as if the victory over Judaea was the most important of them all. No other victory was commemorated by such a large number of coins.

I traveled to Rome while researching for Pompeii, and I can personally attest to the grandeur of the commemorative arch built in Rome, called the Arch of Titus, to celebrate the victory over the Jews.

Left: photo of the Arch behind me on the left. On the right you can see the Colosseum. Right: interior of the arch, note the lampstand

Arch of Titus & Colosseum Arch of Titus & Colosseum

So what’s going on here, do you think? Why so much celebrating over the conquering of one small nation?

Could it be that this “sliver of land” has always been, and still is, at the center of a battle waged more in an unseen realm than on the ground?

If so, what do you think are the weapons in this battle?

*Deutch, Robert. “Roman Coins Boast ‘Judaea Capta’” Biblical Archaeology Review January/February 2010: 51-53.

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