A Denarius Commemorating Pompey’s Victory over Judea
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James M. Scott examines a denarius minted in Rome in 55 bce which is visually fascinating but conceptually enigmatic. On its obverse, around the head of a female figure with turreted crown, appears the name A. Plautius, who held the office of aedilis curulis in that year; on its reverse is a camel, in front of which a male figure kneels on his right leg, holding the camel’s reins in his left hand and extending a branch in his right hand; the legend reads: BACCHIVS IVDAEVS.Scott’s study argues that the oft-suggested connection between Aristobulus’ gift of the golden vine (from the Temple) and the Bacchius Iudaeus denarius does seem to merit further investigation. To that end,he examines, first, Pompey’s own agenda in having the coin minted. It is shown that the year the denarius appeared, 55 bce, was the same year in which Pompey dedicated his spectacular theater-temple in Rome, and, furthermore, that these very public displays are related as expressions of Pompey’s Dionysian pretensions. Second, Scott examines each element of the denarius in question, looking for clues as to the meaning of Bacchius Iudaeus. It is shown that the Latin inscription refers first and foremost to the god Bacchus/Dionysus via an interpretatio Romana. Finally, he explores the possible implications of his investigation for the precise date of the fall of Jerusalem in 63 bce. Scott’s study delves deeply into Judaism at the beginning of the Roman era, using the Roman coin to highlight the complex interface between Greco-Roman and Jewish religiocultural institutions of the period.