Petillius Capitolinus denarius and the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Limes, Aug 2, 2020.

  1. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter

    Petillius Capitolinus.png

    There are many buildings which speak to mind when thinking of ancient Rome: for example, the Circus Maximus, the Flavian arena and the theatre of Pompey. Another such monument is shown on my latest acquisition: the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, or the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. The most important sanctuary in Rome stood on the Capitoline Hill, and the building and the hill are drenched with interesting history.


    The construction of the temple goes back to the time of the Etruscan kings of Rome in the sixth century BC. It was the fifth king, Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, who laid the foundations of the temple to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, in fulfillment of the vow he had made to these gods in his last battle against the Sabines. The appropriate location would be the Tarpeian ‘mount’. A good omen for the location was the fact that while creating the foundations of the temple, a human head came to light with a perfect face; this appearance unmistakably portended that the spot would be the stronghold of the empire and the head of all of the world. This omen also is how the hill gained its famous name: Capitoline Hill - as the Latin word caput means head. Another good omen was derived from the work of the augurs. At the time of the Roman kings, the hill site was littered with alters of various gods and lesser divinities, some of which went back to the time of Romulus. King Tarquinius Priscus sought to move the alters and had them deconsecrated. The augurs consulted the auspices concerning each one of the altars that were erected there, and if the gods were willing to withdraw, then to move them elsewhere. All but Terminus and Juventas gave permission to be moved, so their alters were incorporated in the temple. From this circumstance, the augurs concluded that no occasion would ever cause the removal of the boundaries of the Romans’ city or impair its vigour.

    The temple itself would not be finished for many years later. It was the seventh and last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus who hurried the building of the temple in memory of his reign. He ordered many workers from Etruria and deployed workers from the lower class as well. The famous sculptor Vulca, from the nearby Veii, made various sculptures in terracotta. The temple was erected in 509 BC, according to the historian Livy, which also happens to be the final year of the reign of the last king of Rome. The dedication of the temple was performed by one of the first consuls, Marcus Horatius Pulvillus.

    There is much uncertainty about the appearance of the temple and it’s size. Based on the surviving portions of the archaic foundation, the podium for the temple probably measured somewhere around 50m x 60m (or 60m x 60m). Despite the various estimates, it is certain that the temple was the most impressive building at its time and an example for other Roman temples for centuries to come. In fact, one cannot underline enough the grandeur of the temple and its influence on the prestige of the the city and the Roman people. Situated on the southern part of Capitoline Hill , the monument was visible for all travelers approaching the city. The temple also became a center of political and military customs. For example, the temple was the final stop of the triumphal processions of successful generals. At the temple, the victorious general would conclude his procession with rituals and sacrifices to Jupiter.

    The temple most likely followed the style of Etruscan temples. Four or six (or more...?) columns stood in the front (araeostyle). A series of columns also stood on both sides of the temple but the rear of the temple was closed (sine postico), which is quite distinctive from Greek temples which were open. Stairs went up to a high platform and let to the interior of the temple. This was comprised of three cellae, in which statues of the three principal deities were placed: Jupiter Optimus, Minerva and Juno. The cellae are another distinctive feature of the Etruscan style. On the roofline of the temple, various terracotta sculptures were places, including Jupiter driving a quadriga. According to several historians, in later times the temple was more elaborately decorated including a marble superstructure and gilded roof tiles.

    The temple was destroyed and/or severely damages several times, until its final and complete destruction in 455 AD, by the Vandals. Being situated on a steep hill and having walls around the complex, it is not difficult to imagine that the temple would be the final stronghold of the Western Roman world, thereby also an imago for the beginning and end of the Roman empire.

    Here’s an interesting video of ancient Rome, including a digital model of the temple:

    My coin shows the temple as it would have looked after being destroyed in 83 BC during the civil wars of Sulla, and rebuild by the consul Q. Lutatius Catulus. The temple would again be destroyed in 69 AD, when soldiers loyal to Vespasianus waged battle in the city of Rome. Unfortunately the temple again was destroyed in 80 AD, this time due to fire and subsequently rebuild by Domitian. In all its glory and might, the temple stood for another 300 years. Several coins exist showing the temple during these phases of destruction and reconstruction, which make it possible to actual follow the reconstruction of the temple and the way it’s appearance changed over the years. For illustrative purposes I will mention and show some examples below.

    The quite available denarius of M. Volteius, struck 78 BC, shows the front side of the temple with four columns. The pediment shows a thunderbolt, the symbol of Jupiter. The three cellae can be seen closed by doors. More detailed examples show a three layered platform, or stairs. The roof is decorated with several ornaments on the ridge and a larger statue in the centre. Since the temple was destroyed in 83 BC, and this coin is struck in 78 BC, this coin most perhaps shows the temple as it might have looked before 83 BC.
    (Source: Bertolami Fine Arts, E-Auction 78, 9 February 2020)

    A change is notable when comparing this temple with the temple shown on the coins of Petillius Capitolinus. My coin shows the temple with six columns. And in stead of a thunderbolt in the pediment, one can clearly see a seated figure between two other figures: Jupiter between Juno and Minerva. Also, the doors are not depicted on the reverse of the coin, but one can see garlands hanging between the columns. On the ridge of the roof, the ornaments seems to have been replaced by figure-like statues. A sharper, better example is shown here:
    (Source: Classical Numismatic Group, Electronic Auction 469, 3 June 2020)

    The third coin shown below, struck in 75 AD, - a very rare and beautiful sestertius of Vespasian - shows the temple in all its glory. Statues can now be clearly seen between the columns, as well as on both sides of the temple. The pediment appears even more decorated, and the epistyle (between the capital and the pediment) is clearly visible (dotted line between the columns and the roof). At both ends of the ridge of the roof, left and right, one can see the statues of eagles.

    (Source: Fritz Rudolf Künker GmbH & Co. KG, Auction 280, 26 September 2016)

    The denarius below by Domitian, struck between 94/96 AD, shows the temple in its final state. It’s appearance is similar to the temple shown on the coin of Vespasian, with some minor adjustments which may also be due to the artistic interpretation of the die-maker and the lack of space compared to a sestertius.

    (Source: Numismatik Naumann, Auction 92, 2 August 2020)

    About the coin:
    This is where my recently purchased book comes in handy: David R. Sear, The History and coinage of the Roman imperators 49 - 27 BC. There are several types issues by the moneyer, Petillius Capitolinus. All coins show the temple on the reverse. The obverse is know for two types: the head of Jupiter and the eagle. The cointype with the eagle on the obverse can be categorized in three groups, based on the letters ‘S’ ‘F’ in the field of the reverse. These letters are, from left to right, ‘S - F’ (Sear 174a), or ‘F - S’ (Sear 174b), or are absent (Sear 174b). Another variation, but without being mentioned by Sear, is the position of the eagle, which on some of the coins is slightly leaning to the right, as if it is flying and tilting the thunderbolt to the right as well.

    According to Sear, the moneyer’s family may have had a connection to the temple, although Crawford considers that his coin types were selected merely to provide punning allusions to his cognomen (citation in Sear, as I dont have Crawford). Horace, in Satirae, relates that there was a man of this name who was accused of having stolen the god’s crown, but because he was a friend of Octavian the charges were dismissed. It seems likely that this person and the moneyer were one and the same person, in which case he certainly possessed some official role in the custodianship of the Capitoline Temple as Horace’s tale also states that he was in charge of the sanctuary at the time of the theft. The letters ‘S - F’ stand for sacris faciundis, meaning appointed to take care of sacred things. This might refer to certain functions undertaken by members of the Petillia gens.

    Thanks for reading, please leave a comment and / or post your coins of the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill.


    David R. Sear, The History and coinage of the Roman imperators 49 - 27 BC. London 1998.

    Appianus, De Burgeroorlogen. Polak & Van Gennep (ed.). Amsterdam, 2017.

    Mario Concordia, Caput Mundi: An Analysis of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus as a Case of Etruscan Influence on Roman Religious Architecture. HPS: The Journal of History & Political Science 5, 2017, pp 1-12.

    N S Gill – Ancient/Classical History. The Capitoline Hill.

    Dionysius of Halicarnassus, III.69. See LacusCurtius, the website by Bill Thayer:

    Titus Livius (Livy), The History of Rome. Rev. Canon Roberts, Ed. Available at:

    Dr. Andrew Findley, Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Rome. Essay available at

    dr. Bernard Frischer and dr. Steven Zucker, Ancient Rome. Available at:

    LacusCurtius, by Bill Thayer. Available at:


    Wikimedia Commons (map of Capitoline Hills)
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  3. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I was in a bad mood a couple years ago and sold some coins that were not duplicates that I have never replaced with better ones. Someone here probably bought this one but I forgot who. It does show the SF and sculptures.
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  4. Ancient Aussie

    Ancient Aussie Supporter! Supporter

    I have one but not as nice as yours Limes. Congrats great pick up. 419.jpg 00933q00.jpg Volteim.jpg
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  5. hotwheelsearl

    hotwheelsearl Well-Known Member

    Glorious writeup! I really like how one can sort of tease an idea of what the temple really looked like by mashing together all the known coin images. Neato
    Limes likes this.
  6. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter


    RR Volteius 78 BCE AR Den Jupiter Temple S 312 Cr 385-1
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  7. Bing

    Bing Illegitimi non carborundum Supporter

  8. Limes

    Limes Supporter! Supporter

    Thanks for the replies!

    Dougsmit, you could always try and find a new one, if your in the good mood again of course :)
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