The Romans had a long history of interfering with Judaean affairs, as they did with other peoples throughout their sphere of influence. These actions often were reflected on Roman coins. Two such issues were Roman silver denarii that deal with historic events involving Hasmonean kings.

The first denarius was issued in 58 BCE by Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, the governor of the Roman province of Syria. The province included all of the Judaean coast towns from Raphia to Dora, and also all of the non-Jewish towns east of the Jordan River. This distinctive coin commemorates Scaurus' victory in 65 BCE over the Nabataean King Aretas III. (#21) Aretas had allied himself with John Hyrcanus, while the Romans favored Hyrcanus' brother Aristobulus. The obverse shows the Arabian King Aretas kneeling in submission besides his camel. The Latin inscription reads "REX ARETAS" and gives Scaurus' title "AED. CVR." (Curile Aedile - a magistrate regulating trade in the market); "EX S.C." indicates that it was issued with the consent of the Roman Senate. (#22)

A cataloguer for Goldberg Auctions has written: “Scaurus had invaded Nabataea, laying much of its territory to waste. Although he was unable to conquer King Aretas’ stronghold, through an intermediary he was able to convince Aretas to pay a substantial bribe of 300 talents for him to desist. As the event is presented on the coin one would think that the Nabataeans were soundly defeated and that Aretas had begged for mercy, but this is more propagandist opportunism on the part of Scaurus.”

#21 - Nabataean coin of King Aretas III (QEDEM Pl.1, 5)

#22 - Roman denarius of Scaurus (H-1441)

In 54 BCE, a denarius that was similar in concept to the Rex Aretas coin was issued by the Roman curule aedile Aulus Plautius. The reverse design features a kneeling figure offering an olive branch and holding a camel by the bridle; the enigmatic inscription is "BACCHIVS IVDAEVS" (Bacchius the Jew), whose actual identity is still unknown. (#23)

#23 - Roman denarius of Plautius (H-1443)

© 2020-Mel Wacks