A Rare and Exceptional Roman Provincial Bronze of Smyrna (Ionia), with a Portrait of and an Inscription for Vespasian the Younger, Adopted Son of Domitian, the Only Issue to Feature this Little Known Figure in Roman History
The Roman Empire
Vespasian the younger, adopted son of Domitian
Bronze, Smyrna 95-95, Æ 3.05 g. OYECPACIANOC NEWTEPOS Bare-headed bust of Vespasian the Younger r. Rev. ZMYPNA – IΩN Nike walking r., holding wreath in right hand and palm branch over l. shoulder. BMC 319. Klose, XLII, 1; plate 31, V1/R1. RPC 1028.
Very rare and in unusually fine condition for the issue. Attractive olive green patina and about extremely fine.
Ex Hauck & Aufhäuser sale 19, 2006, 285.
In the late 90s the principate of Domitian was in crisis on many fronts, not the least of which was dynastic. The emperor had no children of his own, and without an heir the Flavian Dynasty would not survive him. Thus, Domitian looked to close relatives for salvation – unfortunately, the Flavian family tree was tightly knit and not particularly fruitful. Vespasian Junior, the boy depicted on this provincial bronze of Smyrna, was more or less the emperor Domitian's last hope. The family tree had two branches representing the families of Vespasian and his brother, Flavius Sabinus. Not only was Vespasian Junior a great-grandson to both of these men, but he was a great-nephew of Domitian. The boy’s parents were Domitian’s niece Flavia Domitilla III and her husband Flavius Clemens. In addition to having produced seven children, their union was also blessed with strong dynastic qualities: it tied together the two branches of the family tree, for she was the granddaughter of Vespasian, and he was a grandson of Flavius Sabinus.
Flavius Clemens is portrayed as an unsavoury man, with Suetonius describing him as being of ‘despicable idleness’. Even so, he was always a potential rival to Domitian due to his abundance of children and his Flavian blood. Indeed, his descent from Flavius Sabinus, perhaps, was not significantly less noble than Domitian’s decent from Vespasian. After all, when Vespasian was hailed emperor, Sabinus was the city prefect, and he died a violent death in Rome in the final days of Vitellius’ reign. Had he survived, it is difficult to say how prominent a role Sabinus would have played in Vespasian’s regime – perhaps even eclipsing Titus. Perhaps in an effort to lessen the threat of Clemens, Domitian adopted two of Clemens’ sons, seemingly in 94 or 95, and
renamed the elder boy Vespasian and the younger Domitian. After the adoption something went terribly wrong, and Domitian dealt the family a fatal blow in 95, the year Clemens was serving as consul. He levelled a charge of atheism against the couple and Clemens was executed and Flavia Domitilla III was exiled to Pandateria. The fate of Vespasian Junior and Domitian Junior is not recorded and they disappear from the historical record after 96. It is possible they were
executed or were exiled as a result of their parents’ downfall. The portrait on this Smyrnian bronze, which is accompanied by the inscription OYEC P ACIANOC NE W TEPOC (‘the
younger Vespasian’), has been a subject of much debate since at least the time of Eckhel. The more credible suggestions for who it represents include Titus, Domitian and the son of Domitian (who died young and whose name is not recorded) and Vespasian Junior. An accidental mulling of a Vespasian Junior portrait die and a reverse die showing Nemesis
intended for an issue of Domitian’s wife Domitia makes it clear that the subject must be Vespasian Junior. Beyond this single issue, no other coins are known to name or portray Vespasian Junior, and no coinage appears to have been struck for his younger brother, Domitian Junior.