Domitian. Cilicia, Tarsus.
AR Tetradrachm, 26mm (14.00 gm). Struck AD 93-95.
Laureate head right, AYTO KAI ΘE YI ΔOMITIANOΣ ΣE ΓEP / Tyche seated right, holding palm branch, river-god (Kydnos?) swimming beneath, TAP in right field. RPC II 1727; Sear GIC 865.
Let me begin by giving proper credit where credit is due. The photograph above was taken by Merrill Gibson of Apollo Numismatics. When I purchased the coin from Merrill, I asked if I could use his photo on my collection website and in this blog... I knew I could never top his photo!
I love this coin! It's big! It's silver! It's gorgeous! And, it's Domitian!!! This is definitely the jewel of my Domitian collection. Merrill's photo is stunning, but so is the coin. The details on the face of the swimming river-god are well intact, as are those on Tyche and the palm branch she holds. Click on the image above and you'll be taken to a larger image... and there you'll see what I mean!
The portrait reveals an emperor weary from insecurity and suspicion of conspiracy in the later years of his reign. His gaze bears witness to the demons that incited his paranoia. Domitian's reign of terror began at around AD 93 and lasted until his death in AD 96... about the same time that this coin was struck.
Domitian was murdered by his own servants who feared that they themselves were slated for a similar fate. The empress Domitia, also fearing for her life during these, Domitian's unstable years, provided encouragement to his murderers.
The cruelty and executions during his reign of terror were so odius that he earned the nickname "the Beast" amongst Romans, Greeks, Christians and Jews, according to Ethelbert Stauffer in Coniectanea Neotestamentica XI in honorem Antonii Fridrichsen sexagenarii. Ethelbert Stauffer was a German Protestant theologian who held that gematria, the numerology of the Hebrew language and alphabet, could be used to explain the Biblical number 666. Stauffer computed this "Number of the Beast" using the short form of Domitian's names and titles: Imperator Caesar Domitianus Augustus Germanicus... which in Greek is: Autokrator Kaisar Dometianos Sebastos Germanikos. The latter abbreviates to A KAI ΔOMET ΣEB ΓE and the gematrical formula reads:
A. K A I. Δ O M E T. Σ E B. Γ E.
1+ 20+1+10+4+70+40+5+300+200+5+2+ 3+5 = 666
Stauffer further contended that "the Beast" could only refer to Domitian because he reigned during the time that the Book of Revelation was written... the Book in which the number 666 was introduced. To further the idea that the number 666 related to Domitian, Robert Graves wrote, in The White Goddess, that DCLXVI, 666 in Roman numerals, is an abbreviation for the Latin sentence “Domitianus Caesar Legatos Xti Violenter Interfecit”, or “The Emperor Domitian violently killed the envoys of Christ".
Another interesting correlation comes from The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity, by James Jeffers. In that book, Jeffers writes, "A number of New Testament commentators have seen a connection between Rome and its cult of emperor worship and the Book of Revelation. The reference in Revelation 17:9 to seven heads of the "beast", which are "seven hills on which the woman [the great harlot] sits", has been taken as a reference to the famed seven hills on which Rome was founded. The woman is identified later as "the great city that rules over the kings of the earth" (Revelations 17:18). The connection to emperor worship is seen in Revelation 13:4, 8, where this same beast is worshipped by all the people of the earth. As the emperor of Rome (eg. Nero and Domitian) had persecuted Christians, Revelation predicts that this beast will war on the people of God. In this interpretation, Revelation 14:9-10 is warning Christians not to engage in emperor worship."
Others, including Nero, have been identified with the number 666 via Hebrew gematria. However, we're not talking about a coin of Nero, now are we? If you're interested in an interesting explanation of gematria, take a look at the following webpage on Wikipedia:
Apologies for the long tangent about the theory that the number 666 refers to Domitian... I just found it interesting and thought you might too. This coin isn't without its own Biblical reference. Tarsus, the city in which this coin was minted, was the birthplace of the Apostle Paul. Isn't it ironic then, that a coin of the purported Biblical "Beast" was struck in the very city that brought us the most notable of early Christian missionaries.