Rome’s top gods, the Capitoline triad, on coinage: Ancients Today

Romans worshiped many gods, but three were most revered
By , Special to Coin World
Published : 06/19/16
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The great temple dedicated to the triad on the Capitoline Hill, which often was referred to simply as the Capitolium, was the center of political and religious life in Rome. As evidence of this, any triumph held in Rome ended at the temple, and the senate traditionally held its first meeting of the year in the temple.

There were four successive versions of the temple, with the first seemingly being built by Etruscans who held sway over Rome in the early years of the Republic. Its location was ideal considering the Capitoline was the most important of Rome’s seven hills, and was the ancient citadel.

Even in its earliest incarnation, the temple had three enclosed chambers (cellae), with each one being dedicated to an individual member of the triad. Jupiter was situated in center, and he was flanked by Juno and Minerva.

Apparently the earliest temple was tetrastyle (meaning the width of its front was adorned four columns), and was of the Tuscan style. It survived several centuries before it burned in the summer of 83 B.C. It soon was replaced with a hexastyle temple (being six columns wide), which was virtually complete within five years and was ready for dedication in 69 B.C.

That second temple was destroyed by fire in A.D. 69, in the final stages of a terrifying Roman civil war. Construction of a new temple — the third — began in the summer of the next year, and its dedication occurred in A.D. 75. In a sad turn of affairs, however, this new temple was struck by lightning, which caused it to be consumed by fire in A.D. 80.

The fourth incarnation was built quickly, being complete enough for dedication in A.D. 82. It was sturdy enough — and fortunate enough — to survive nearly 400 years before it fell into disuse and disrepair after the triumph of Christianity as the state religion. After it was sacked by the Vandals in A.D. 455 the remaining portions of the temple were repurposed in many ways, including to create new statues and to build churches.

Representations on coins

We are fortunate that all four of these temples are represented on Roman coins. Images of the first two appear on silver denarii of the Roman Republic struck in 78 to 75 B.C. and 43 to 41 B.C. In both cases the depictions are simple, with little decoration and no statues in the interior.

The third temple, which stood for just five years, appears on coins of the rulers Vespasian (A.D. 69 to 79), Titus (A.D. 79 to 81) and Domitian (A.D. 81 to 96). Especially ornate and detailed images of the third incarnation appear on brass sestertii of Vespasian and Titus. Excellent depictions also occur on silver cistophori struck for circulation in Asia.

The fourth and final incarnation is presented on cistophori of Domitian, with clear depictions of the three statues within. It also appears on extremely rare silver denarii struck in the final year of Domitian’s reign as emperor. Due to the small format of the denarius, however, little detail was incorporated on those pieces, to the point of the exclusion of the statues of Juno and Minerva. 

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