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527941

Julia Titi – Tragic Flavian Empress

527941.

Julia Titi. Augusta, AD 79-90/1. AR Denarius (20mm, 3.34 g, 6h). Rome mint. Struck under Titus, AD 80-81. Draped bust right, wearing stephane, hair in long plait down back / Venus, drapery hanging loosely below waist, standing right, seen from behind, leaning back on column, cradling long scepter in left arm and holding crested helmet in extended right hand. RIC II.1 388 (Titus); RSC 14; BMCRE 141-143 (Titus); BN 106-107 (Titus). Sharply struck and lustrous. Choice EF.


Ex Nomos 2 (18 May 2010), lot 180; Triton XVIII (6 January 2015), lot 1054.

Flavia Julia Titi was born in AD 65 as the daughter of Titus Flavius Vespasianus, an up-and-coming junior officer in the Roman Army. Titus was soon forced to divorce Julia’s mother, whose family was implicated in a plot against the Emperor Nero. Three years later, Vespasian seized the throne and Titus, his eldest son, was named Caesar and heir-apparent. Julia was Titus’s only child and grew up in the imperial palace, with all the indulgence and pampering that implies. But she also became a pawn in the deadly game of dynastic politics. In her teens, Julia evidently developed an attachment to Titus’s younger brother Domitian. When she came of age, Titus (reluctantly?) proposed that she marry Domitian. But Domitian was enamored with another lady and refused the match. We don’t know how she felt about this rejection, but a short time later Julia was betrothed to a cousin, Flavius Sabinus, who was just starting on his political career. In AD 79, Vespasian died and Titus became sole emperor. One of his first official acts was to raise Julia to the rank of Augusta, or Empress, the first woman in more than a decade to hold that exalted position. He struck this lovely coin for the occasion, pairing Julia’s obverse portrait with a charming image of Venus with her half-covered derriere turned coyly to the viewer. Julia thus became the first reigning Roman empress to be honored with a regular issue of Roman coins struck solely in her own name.
As Titus remained unmarried, Julia was “First Lady” of Rome and became a fashion trendsetter. Sculptors created busts of her in the elaborately curled, piled-up hairstyles popular in Flavian Rome. But her time as prima femina was short: Only 42, Titus contracted a mysterious illness and died in AD 81, leaving her position perilous.