A Preplexing 'PONT' Denarius

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by David Atherton, Sep 14, 2017.

  1. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    Sometimes eBay turns up a worthy coin. When a scarce Domitian denarius was listed with the 'buy it now' option, I didn't hesitate.

    AR Denarius, 3.22g
    Rome mint, 81 AD
    RIC 56 (R2), BMC p. 299 ‡, RSC 560a
    Obv: IMP CAES DOMITIANVS AVG PONT; Head of Domitian, laureate, bearded, r.
    Rev: TR P COS VII DES VIII P P; Minerva adv r., with spear and shield (M1)
    Acquired from eBay, September 2017.

    This is a rare Domitian 'PONT' denarius with the legend variant of DOMITIANVS fully spelled out. Denarii with 'PONT' instead of PM in the obverse legend come very early in the reign. Historically, PONT did not stand for Pontifex Maximus under Augustus, but did so under Nero. It is possible Domitian followed Nero's example and used PONT as an abbreviation for Pontifex Maximus. Conversely, it is also possible he followed in Augustus' footsteps and used the temporary title 'PONT' until the ceremony electing him to the position was completed. We simply do not know. The records of the Arval brothers do not show Domitian as Pontifex Maximus by 30 October, so presumably he acquired the title in either November or December. The office seems to have had no fixed date of appointment. Knowing how much of a stickler Domitian was to keeping to the proper forms, the mint likely waited until his election as Pontifex Maximus before the title was displayed on the coinage. Whether or not that title on the coinage after the election was abbreviated as 'PONT' for a brief time remains a mystery.

    'PONT' denarii don't often show up in trade and are considered highly desirable by Flavian collectors.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2017
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  3. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    How does this coin with PM but no TRP fall into the sequence? If it were a product of a ruler who was not a 'stickler' I would say it was a new obverse die mated with a left over reverse which was intended to be used with a PONT obverse. I also find interest in the rapid progression of portraits from a face matching Vespasian and Titus to the later Domitian features. Compare the noses and jaw line on your coin and mine.
  4. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    The sequence of titles in 81 developed like this:


    Group 1 - TR P COS VII
    Group 2 -PP COS VII DES VIII
    Group 3 - COS VII DES VIII P P
    Group 4 - TR P COS VII DES VIII P P

    Obviously Domitian was IMP, AVG, and TRP upon his accession. So, the DES VIII legend came after TR P COS VII. There is no explanation as to why TRP was not part of the Group 2 and 3 reverse legends. Regardless, it was a temporary development because the TRP title is resumed on the Group 4 denarii.

    I think the various different styles of the portraits comes down to the individual engraver creating the die. Keep in mind even under Titus, Domitian as Caesar had varying styles of portraiture too - some Titus-like, others not so much.

    Regarding the title PM: If Domitian was not Pontifex Maximus by 30 October it is likely the 'PONT' denarii were struck before that date, therefore, he did indeed follow Augustus' precedent of using the temporary title 'PONT' on the coinage before his election to Ponifex Maximus. This would mean that the much more plentiful denarii without 'PONT' were all struck in the last two months of 81, a massive effort on the mint's part to say the least.

    In any case, as you can see there is much that needs to be sorted out!
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2017
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  5. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum

    Congratulations on another addition to your collection David. Your Flaven collection must be getting rather large.
    David Atherton likes this.
  6. Orfew

    Orfew Supporter! Supporter

    Great coin and an interesting discussion. I love the process of trying to track down details like this. I find it builds upon my knowledge base. Btw, I love the portrait. It is nice to have one with the beard apparent.
    David Atherton likes this.
  7. Jwt708

    Jwt708 Well-Known Member

    Another cool score! Appreciate the extra info also about the progression of legends.
    David Atherton likes this.
  8. randygeki

    randygeki Coin Collector

    Nice find
    David Atherton likes this.
  9. David Atherton

    David Atherton Flavian Fanatic

    To my mind it is always needing 'that' next coin. Fourteen years of Flavian collecting and I'm still excited by a Domitian Minerva. That should say something about where I'm coming from!
    Ajax, zumbly, Bing and 2 others like this.
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