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A corroded copper-alloy coin with a Roman emperor's profile on one side and the goddess Victoria standing on a ship's prow on the other

A coin of Vespasian with the legend VICTORIA NAVALIS S C, courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Electronic Auction 340, Lot 333, via coinarchives.com

In my recent Ancient Warfare article I mentioned that scholars are divided on how to interpret the legend VICTORIA NAVALIS on Roman coins. Some link it with a battle between Romans and Jews in the Sea of Galilee, some with the centenary of Augustus’ victory over the fleet of Antony and Cleopatra, and some with the Roman civil wars of 69 CE. Since I am not an expert on numismatics or Roman Judaea I wanted to get a wide range of opinions. Search engines make it easier to find brief mentions in footnotes and sidebars than it once was, but finding and sorting still takes effort. Here are some scholars who have stated what they think the legend refers to:

Harold Mattingley, Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum Vol. II Vespasian to Domitian (London: British Museum, 1930, reprinted 1966): Coins celebrate Vespasian’s blockade of Italy from Egypt and recall Augustus who was also victorious in the east.

H St J. Hart, “Judaea and Rome: The Official Commentary,” Journal of Theological Studies New Series Vol. III Issue 2 1952: Thinks that Tarichaeae theory is out of fashion and cites Mattingley for the current consensus.

C.G. Starr, The Roman Imperial Navy (1960) (non vidi!): Coins commemorate the fleet in the civil war

Michael Grant, The Jews in the Roman World (Michael Grant Publications, 1973) pp. 195, 311 n. 16: Coins commemorate the battle off Tarichaeae despite what Mattingley and H St J Hart say.

E. Conrad, Numismatic Circular (Spink and Sons) May 1973 pp. 187, 188: “The inevitable conclusion is that the Victoria Navalis series must have referred predominantly to the great Roman naval battle against the Jews on the Sea of Galilee!”

Mary E. Smallwood, The Jews under Roman Rule: from Pompey to Diocletian: a Study in Political Relations, 2nd ed. (E.J. Brill: 1981) p. 309 n. 65: Coins are too numerous to commemorate the battle off Tarichaeae as Conrad says.

Slobodan Dusanic, „Loci Constitutionum Fixarum,“ Epigraphica 46 (1984): Coins thank the fleet at Ravenna for defecting to Vespasian.

Si Shepherd, The Jewish Revolt AD 66-74 (Osprey 2013) p. 41: Coins “can only” commemorate the battle off Tarichaeae.

Both Hart and Mattingley say that the “battle of Tarichaeae” theory was or had been common, but tracing this theory further back would be a great deal of work for uncertain results. Before the late 20th century, scholarly ideas often circulated orally long before they were ever printed. Similarly, it would be interesting to compare literature in French and German, but, if one cares more about the history of Rome than the history of scholarship, it is the arguments which count. At least in English, the arguments linking these coins to the Jewish War are not terribly strong.

The article which inspired this post is published in issue VIII-5 of Ancient Warfare Magazine.