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Domitius Diomitianus

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This spectacular and rare Romano-Egyptian coin forced me to review the history of the little-know usurper of the late third century, Domitius Domitianus who revolted in Egypt in AD 297.






During the third century, Ancient Rome was plagued by numerous barbarian invasions and internal rebellions. The Roman Emperor Diocletian had created the Tetrarchy in AD 293 to better manage and secure the vast Roman Empire. This Tetrarchy included Maximian as Diocletian's co-equal Augustus, as well as the two subordinate Caesars of Galerius in the East and Constantius in the West.




In AD 297, the Roman Empire under the Tetrarchy was still facing many challenges, but was slowly regaining control of the Empire.


By AD 296 Constantius had eventually reclaimed the breakaway Britannic Empire initially formed by Carausius and later ruled by Allectus,Diocletian's finance minister and later assassin.


In the East the belligerent Sassanian King Narses had seized control of Armenia from the Roman client-king and was threatening Roman Syria. After an initial humiliating defeat, Galerius began to mount an effective campaign against the Persians.


Adding to these pressures, the Berber tribes in North Africa had formed a coalition known as the Quinquegentiani or "five peoples." This coalition of Berbers invaded the Roman borders, forcing Augustus Maximian to regain control of that region.


In the background of this turmoil and confusion, a poorly documented usurper around AD 297 named Domitius Domitianus declared himself emperor in Egypt. This required Diocletian to march to Egypt to suppress the rebellion. Domitianus was quickly defeated by December AD 297. It is possible that Domitianus' corrector Aurelius Achilleus succeeded Domitianus as usurper. Despite the usurper Domitianus's death, the Emperor Diocletian later required a several month siege of Alexandria, resulting in Achilleus's death in March 298, to achieve the final suppression of the rebellion in Egypt.


Along with the scant numismatic documentation, one of the few pieces of evidence of this tumultuous period is Pompey's pillar in Alexandria. Pompey's pillar had been erroneously dated to Pompey.


It was, in fact, originally built around AD 298. It's thought to have been built to celebrate Diocletian's retaking Alexandria. It was possibly a tribute from the city of Alexandria, which had been devastated by a long siege, for Diocletian's generosity of supplying grain to relieve the famine and his making the city exempt from taxes to help with its reconstruction.




Pompey's pillar is a monolith of red granite on a pedestal with a total height is 98 feet 9 inches. The shaft is 73 feet tall and its circumference is 29 feet 8 inches. Pompey's pillar is the largest Roman triumphal column outside of Rome and Constantinople.


On the western side of the column is an inscription in Greek which reads:

"To the most just Emperor, protector of Alexandria, Diocletian, the invincible. Postumus, the Prefect of Egypt [has erected this monument]".


This video clip is long, but gives one the sense of grandeur that once surrounded this column.




After these and other threats were resolved, Diocletian was then able to focus his efforts on administrative reforms, as well as domestic planning and control (such as the unsuccessful Edict of Maximum Prices in AD 301 or the futile persecution of Christians AD 303-311).


There are few literary records concerning many of the unsuccessful reigns of the usurpers of the third century. Fortunately, however, numismatic evidence has helped to pull back the veils of time that have obscured their little-known but fascinating history. Even though most of us at this site are not coin collectors, we can appreciate the contributions from numismatists toward the understanding of Ancient Roman history.


The great British art historian and numismatist Harold Mattingly described coins as "almost our only chance of penetrating the thick darkness that still envelops so much of the history of the third century."


Here is a nice (although possibly hagiographical) summary of Domitius Domitianus's rule, along with a discussion of the numismatic evidence:




guy also known as gaius



(I want to thank Dionysos from cointalk.com for his help in decifering this coin.)


Edited by guy

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Thanks for this great article Guy. I am fascinated by this era of Roman history, especially the breakaway British empire of Carausius and Allectus. It seems Roman history is filled with these 'little emperor' usurpers,  and generals with delusions of grandeur. Even before Domitius Diomitianus rebelled the Empire had already suffered so much in the 'age of anarchy' with mutiny, invasions, rebels and seccesionists. Diocletian may have been despised by the Christians but he certainly brought some semblance of order to the Empire, even if the empire erupted into another civil war after his death.


I actually own some coins from third century usurper emperors Victorinus and Tetricus of the Gallic empire. Although obscure, they are certainly better known than poor old Domitius.

Edited by DecimusCaesar

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