A Tale of Two Conquests

by Oliver D. Hoover

Benjamin West, The Death of Wolfe (1771)

When discussing the incompatibility of philosophy with faith, the third-century Christian apologist Tertullian posed the rhetorical question, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” Almost two thousand years later, when faced with a remarkable series of Betts medals (nos. 421 and 429-430), we are prompted to paraphrase Tertullian and ask, “What does Québec have to do with Jerusalem?” The medals, which celebrate the fall of New France to Great Britain, were produced in two varieties in 1760 by the Society for Promoting Arts and Commerce, an English organization that struck medals to commemorate British military victories and which later became the Royal Society of Arts. The types are probably based on designs by Giovanni Battista Cipriani and are notable for their close imitation of Roman coins issued to celebrate the end of the First Jewish Revolt in AD 70. The dies were cut by John Pingo, or possibly John Kirk in the case of Betts 429.

Types and Models

The three medals are described as follows: Betts 421 (Eimer 14; Hawkins 421; Stack’s 43 and 70-80) (Fig. 1) Obv.: a) BRITANNIA. Filleted bust of Britannia l.; below, crossed trident and standard with laurel wreath; to l., SAVNDERS; to r., WOLFE; dotted border. b) O·FAIR·BRITANNIA·HAIL. Filleted bust of Britannia l., trident over shoulder. Rev.: QVEBEC·TAKEN·MDCCLIX. Victory standing l., holding palm branch and crowning trophy of French arms below which sits a bound and nude male captive (New France); in ex., SOC·P·A·C; dotted border. Betts 429 (Eimer 236; Hawkins 447; Stack’s 97-100) (Fig. 2) Obv.: THE CONQUEST OF CANADA COMPLEATED. Laureate and draped male figure (the St. Lawrence River) reclining r. on the prow of a galley and holding oar (canoe paddle?); on knee, beaver advancing l.; behind, British standard with AMHERST in laurel wreath; in ex., bow and quiver, axe (tomahawk?), and oblong shield (scutum) blazoned with two fleurs-de-lis; dotted border. Rev.: MONTREAL TAKEN MDCCLX. Seminude female figure (New France) seated r. below coniferous tree; to l., eagle with wings outstretched standing on rock; to r., behind, oblong shield blazoned with two fleurs-de-lis and a dolphin (?) with a club and axe (tomahawk?); in ex., SOC. PROMOTING ARTS / AND COMMERCE.; dotted border. Betts 430 (Eimer 15; Hawkins 448; Stack’s 101-105) (Fig. 3) Obv.: GEORGE·II·KING. Laureate bust of King George II l.; dotted border. Rev.: CANADA SUBDUED. Seminude female figure (New France) seated r. below coniferous tree; to l., beaver advancing r.; in ex., MDCCLX / S·P·A·C; dotted border.

Fig. 1. Great Britain. Capture of Québec CU commemorative medal, 1759, issued by the Society for Promoting Art and Commerce. Mule of Betts 413 and 421 (ANS 2006.34.3, ex John J. Ford coll.) 40 mm.

Fig. 2. Great Britain. Capture of Montreal CU commemorative medal, 1760, issued by the Society for Promoting Art and Commerce. Betts 429. (ANS 2006.33.11, ex John J. Ford coll.) 40.5 mm.

Fig. 3. Great Britain. Conquest of Canada CU commemorative medal, 1760, issued by the Society for Promoting Art and Commerce. Betts 430. (ANS 2006.33.12, ex John J. Ford coll.) 38.5 mm.

A brief review of the coinage of the Roman Republic and Empire reveals that the image of the seated female or male figure with a trophy or pile of arms, as on the reverse of Betts 421 and 429, was a standard type used to depict conquered peoples and pacified provinces. These run the gamut from a well-known denarius series of Julius Caesar featuring the defeated Gauls (Fig. 4; Crawford, nos. 452/4-5) to issues of Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117) celebrating his conquests in Dacia (Fig. 5; RIC II, no. 98), to coins of the house of Constantine advertising successes against the Germans and Sarmatians (Fig. 6; RIC VII, nos. 138-190 [London], 101-124 [Lyons], 249-302 [Trier], 202-207 [Arles], 114-129 [Ticinum], 39-57A [Aquileia], 109-139 [Siscia], 66-83 [Thessalonica]) with many others in between. However, out of the many possible Roman models to choose from, it is clear that the ultimate source for all three medals is the so-called IVDAEA CAPTA coinage issued by the Emperor Vespasian (AD 69-79) to celebrate the capture of Jerusalem.

Fig. 4. Roman Republic, Julius Caesar. AR denarius, mobile mint, 48-47 BC. Crawford 452/4. Triton IX, January 10, 2006, lot 1331.

Fig. 5. Roman Empire, Trajan. AE sestertius, Rome mint, AD 104-111. RIC II, no. 561 (ANS 1001.1.23047, collection of the Hispanic Society of America) 32 mm.

Fig. 6. Roman Empire, Constantine I. AE nummus, Aquileia mint, AD 320. RIC VII, no. 48. (ANS 1933.999.357) 19 mm.

The reverse of Betts 421 is based on Roman gold aurei and silver denarii of Vespasian depicting a bound Jew seated beneath a trophy of arms (Fig. 7; RIC II, nos. 15-16) and silver denarii and quinarii that display Victory crowning a standard or erecting a trophy (Figs. 8-9; RIC II, no. 52). The reverse of Betts 429 also appears to be a composite type involving elements drawn from denarii struck at Rome and Antioch and bronze asses produced by the mint of Rome. The basic type of the seated female figure in an attitude of mourning with a pile of arms beneath a tree comes directly from Vespasian’s bronze asses (Fig. 10; RIC II, nos. 489-491, 762), although the palm tree of the Roman coin has been transformed into a more appropriate coniferous tree on the medal. The eagle who surveys the scene appears to stand in for the emperor, who also looks over the tree and captive on the denarii and brass sestertii of Rome and Antioch (Fig. 11; RIC II, nos. 41a, 363, 427). On the other hand, the reverse of Betts 430 is somewhat plainer and may be based on the similarly stark image of defeat found on some of Vespasian’s aurei and denarii (Fig. 12; RIC II, nos. 287, 289, 393) from Rome.

Fig. 7. Roman Empire, Vespasian. AR denarius, Rome mint, AD 70-71. RIC II, no. 15. (ANS 1944.100.39904, E.T. Newell bequest) 15.5 mm.

Fig. 8. Roman Empire, Vespasian. AV aureus, Rome mint, AD 79. RIC II, no. 114. (ANS 1001.57.4817, collection of the Hispanic Society of America) 16.75 mm.

Fig. 9. Roman Empire, Vespasian. AR denarius, Rome mint, AD 72-73. RIC II, no. 52 (ANS 1995.11.644, gift of Charlene Schosser and Lisa Loret) 19 mm.

Fig. 10. Roman Empire, Vespasian. AE as, Lugdunum mint, AD 77-78. RIC II, no. 762. (ANS 1944.100.41612, E.T. Newell bequest) 28 mm.

Fig. 11. Roman Empire, Vespasian. AE sestertius, Rome mint, AD 71. RIC II, 427. (ANS 1944.100.39981, E.T. Newell bequest) 33 mm.

Fig. 12. Roman Empire, Vespasian. AV aureus, Lugdunum mint, AD 70-71(?). RIC II, 287. (ANS 1944.100.39957, E.T. Newell bequest) 18 mm.

The very act of modifying the ancient coin models to fit the North American context of the medals also follows Roman custom very closely. On the Roman issues, the palm tree was included as a means of clearly identifying the geographical region that had been conquered. Judaea had long been associated with the palm tree, probably because of its connection with the coastal region of Phoenicia (derived from phoinix [“palm”] in Greek). Palm trees had been featured on earlier issues of the Roman governors of Judaea (Meshorer 2001, nos. 311-315 and 340-341) as well as on coins struck by the Jewish rebels (Fig. 13; Meshorer 2001, nos. 211-212). In a similar vein, Canada, with its harsh winter climate, was naturally associated with coniferous trees.

Fig. 13. Judaea, First Jewish Revolt. AE half, Jerusalem mint, AD 69/70. SNG ANS 6, no. 451. (ANS 1944.100.63001, E.T. Newell bequest) 26 mm.

It was common on Roman triumphal coinage, such as that of Vespasian, to carefully depict the national weaponry of the defeated in order to identify the ethnicity of the seated captive. Thus, on coins related to Julius Caesar’s victories in Gaul, the Celtic shield and carnyx (trumpet) accompanies the captive(s) (Fig. 4), while the distinctive falx (curved sword) and bows in bowcases serve to identify the Dacians and Parthians defeated by Trajan and Lucius Verus (AD 161-169), respectively (Figs. 5 and 14). Betts 429 also follows this custom by including a shield blazoned with the arms of France (and the Dauphin?) with an axe (tomahawk?) and club. The shield, which is based on the oblong type found on the Roman models, clearly identifies the seated figure as a personification of conquered New France, while the weapons represent the Indian allies who had been crucial to earlier French successes in North America. This theme is repeated on the obverse, where the deadly Indian bow and arrow has been added for further clarity.

Fig. 14. Roman Empire, Lucius Verus. AE sestertius, Rome mint, AD 165. RIC III, no. 1432. (ANS 1978.64.445, gift of A.I. Appleton) 33 mm.

While the obverse of Betts 430 follows the model of contemporary British coinage, the obverse of Betts 429 is also based on Roman imperial coin types depicting the personifications of major rivers. Here the ultimate source is probably a coin series struck at Rome under the Emperor Hadrian and featuring Nilus (the Nile) on the reverse. Nilus frequently appears reclining and holding a cornucopia while a crocodile or a hippopotamus advances at his knee (Fig. 15; RIC II, nos. 310, 313, and 861-862). The cornucopia symbolizes the fertility of the great Egyptian river, while the animals are its most distinctive inhabitants. This iconography has been altered to create a personification of the St. Lawrence River on the Betts medal. The replacement of the cornucopia with an oar (canoe paddle?) and the addition of the galley’s prow represent the importance of the St. Lawrence as the primary artery of communication and transportation in New France. The transformation of Nilus’s animals into a beaver—a staple of the fur trade and still a prominent emblem of Canada (Fig. 16)—was almost unavoidable. This animal also appears for symbolic clarity on Betts 430.

Fig. 15. Roman Empire, Hadrian. AV aureus, Rome mint, AD 134-138. RIC II, 308j. (ANS 1967.153.144, A.M. Newell bequest) 21.5mm.

Fig. 16. Canada. Ni 5 cents, Ottawa mint, 1959. (ANS 1961.2.64, gift of Mrs. R. Henry Norweb, Sr.) 21mm.

In order to illustrate that the St. Lawrence was now a conquered river no longer belonging to France, the arms of the French and Indians lie discarded in the exergue and a British standard naming General Jeffrey Amherst (commander-in-chief of British forces in North America from 1758 to 1763) is erected in the background (a similar standard appears on Betts 417 and 421). The use of the standard here also derives from general Roman models (Fig. 17), but the lion finial is a distinctly British touch. Indeed, this may be a notable early depiction of the lion finial (derived from the royal crest) on a British standard. Such finials were not required by British regulations before 1858 and do not appear to have been popular as nonregulation elements of military standards before the beginning of the nineteenth century (Sumner 2001, 11, 53).

Fig. 17. Roman Empire, Trajan. AR denarius, Rome mint, AD 112-114. RIC II, no. 294. (ANS 1944.100.43597, E.T. Newell bequest) 20 mm.

The Two Wars

Having shown the great indebtedness of the two Betts medal reverse types to the coinage of Vespasian’s Jewish triumph, we must return to the original question: Why? The events of the Seven Years’ War, fought in North America as the French and Indian War from 1754-1760 and which resulted in the complete loss of New France to Great Britain, are not very similar to those of the First Jewish Revolt of 66-70, which resulted in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. The French and Indian War broke out in large part as a result of the expansion of Anglo-American colonists into the Ohio Valley, which was also claimed as a possession of the French crown, and animosities among the European states that had been simmering since the conclusion of the War of the Austrian Succession (1741-1748). The Jewish Revolt, on the other hand, was not a struggle of competing sovereign states, but an attempt by several Jewish factions to throw off Roman rule in Judaea, which had become increasingly onerous through a string of inept and frequently inflammatory governors, including the infamous Pontius Pilate.

The Jewish Revolt ended in the complete destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, the devastation of vast areas of the Judaean countryside, the slaughter of thousands, and the exile of many of the Jews who survived the war. The French and Indian War, however, did not encompass such large-scale destruction, nor was the fall of Québec in 1759 occasioned by horrors such as those suffered by Jerusalem in 70. The French inhabitants of the city were mostly left unmolested, and even the Catholic churches and convents—anathema to “papist”-fearing English Protestants—remained unharmed. The capitulation of Montréal in the following year, signifying the end of the French régime in North America, was bloodless. The only real burning was done by the Chevalier de Lévis, who set fire to the French military flags in order to prevent them from becoming British trophies. This is not to underestimate the suffering caused by General James Wolfe’s policy of total war in the countryside around Québec during the 1759 campaign, but to show that the scale of violence was very different in each of the wars.

Only the Great Expulsion (le Grand Dérangement) of 1754, which saw the British deportation of three-quarters of the Acadian French population of Nova Scotia and the destruction or confiscation of their property, has much resemblance to events in the Jewish Revolt. Just as the crushing of the revolt greatly expanded the preexisting Jewish diaspora in Europe and the Near East, the Great Expulsion created a French diaspora in North America that still survives today in the form of the Cajun (corrupted from “Acadian”) populations of present Louisiana and southeastern Texas. In any case, this catastrophic event was actually a precursor to, rather than a result of, the French and Indian War and therefore can have had little to do with the decision to use the triumphal coinage of Vespasian as the iconographic model for Betts 429 and 430.

The Meaning of the Medals

Because there is no obvious historical parallelism that would make logical the pairing of the fall of New France and the fall of Judaea, it seems likely that there is some ideological agenda behind the typology of the medals if they do not merely reflect the general taste for the antique engendered by the neoclassical art movement of the eighteenth century. The latter seems somewhat unlikely since just about any other issue of Roman triumphal coinage featuring captives might have served as well for a model, and yet the IVDAEA CAPTA series seems to have been consciously chosen as the archetype. The stark message of British triumph and total French defeat on Betts 429 and 430 is remarkable in light of another medal struck by the Society for the Promoting of Arts and Commerce in 1759 to commemorate the capitulation of French Guadeloupe to British forces in that year (Betts 417; Eimer 22; Hawkins 427; Stack’s 113-120). For this medal (Fig. 18), the Roman model appears to have been a coin in the RESTITVTOR series of the Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-138), which featured images of the emperor raising up kneeling personifications of Roman provinces (RIC II, nos. 321-329 and 938-966). The most likely source for the reverse of Betts 417 is a particular issue honoring Hadrian as the restorer of Hispania (Fig. 19; RIC II, nos. 326-327, 388, and 952-955). The kneeling personification of Guadeloupe is very similar to the figure of Hispania on the Hadrianic coin but instead of Hispania’s branch, Guadeloupe is identifiable by the sugar cane she holds. The appeal to the RESTITVTOR series gives this medal a much more benevolent tone. The emphasis here is on the restoration (more properly liberation) of Guadeloupe from French rule, rather than on the crushing of French forces on the island.

Fig. 18. Great Britain. Capture of Guadeloupe CU commemorative medal, 1759, issued by the Society for Promoting Art and Commerce. Betts 417. (ANS 2006.34.2, ex John J. Ford coll) 39.8 mm.

Fig. 19. Roman Empire, Hadrian. AE sestertius, Rome mint, AD 134-138. RIC II, 952c. (ANS 1001.1.11994, collection of the Hispanic Society of America) 32 mm.

By following models from Vespasian’s IVDAEA CAPTA series, the designer invites us to recognize Great Britain as a true imperial power (a claim that had been made by English political apologists since the time of Queen Elizabeth I) brooking no rivals. More importantly, the placement of the personification of New France in the role of the defeated Judaea on the Roman coinage serves to invalidate French claims in North America, for the Jews of Judaea had been no foreign enemy to the Romans as were the Gauls, Dacians, and Parthians, but rather the longtime inhabitants of a province that had revolted against the empire. That is, from the Roman perspective, the doom of Judaea was ultimately encompassed by the failure of its people to recognize the legitimate ruling authority. The French, like the ancient Jews, are cast as rebels who have brought disaster upon themselves through their insolence.

The theme of the French rebellion against ostensibly legitimate British rule in North America appears in English literature and documents throughout the eighteenth century and probably lies behind the IVDAEA CAPTA iconography of Betts 429 and 430. For example, the French are succinctly called “Rebels” in an announcement of new scalp bounties in the August 19, 1706, edition of the Boston News-Letter, and “the Rebel French” in The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal of June 28, 1756, and the New-York Mercury of August 16, 1756, as well as in Richard Rolt’s contemporary history of the Seven Years’ War. This view is also expressed on a British medal commemorating the victories of 1758 (Fig. 20; Betts 418; Hawkins 445), which describes the triumphs over French forces in North America and Europe as PERFIDIA EVERSA (“the overthrow of treachery”).

Fig. 20. Great Britain. Victories of 1758 CU commemorative medal. Betts 418. (ANS 0000.999.22542) 43 mm.

The early rebellious character attributed to the French by the English was no doubt heavily colored by the longstanding conflict between Protestants and Catholics. Not only were the Catholic French rebels against true religion from the perspective of many English Protestants (especially those of the Puritan and Presbyterian stripe), but the frequent support of the French crown for Irish uprisings against English rule constantly placed the French in the company of other rebels.

The supposed rebellious nature of the French was further underscored for the British and Anglo-Americans by their behavior in North America, where they seemed to rebel against civilized European military and legal custom at every turn. From the very outset of the struggle for control of North America, English colonists routinely cursed the French for their adoption of the stealthy Indian mode of warfare, which was completely contrary to the European style of fighting in open fields. They also appeared to rebel against the European laws of war during the French and Indian War when in 1756 and 1757, captured British troops and noncombatants were killed by Indians at Forts Oswego and William Henry while officially under the protection of the French general Louis-Joseph de Montcalm. The diaries of Montcalm show that in reality these infamous “massacres” resulted from Indian frustration at the general’s policy of preventing them from pillage and scalping during the sieges of the forts, rather than from disregard for European custom.

On the eve of the French and Indian War, French military officials also gave the impression of rebelling against the rule of (English) law in the Ohio Country. For example, when faced with Pennsylvanian and Virginian settlers and traders who could show that their lands in the region were legally—if not always ethically—obtained through direct purchase from the native inhabitants, in 1749, the French Commandant Pierre-Joseph Céloron de Blainville drove the Anglo-American settlers out and claimed the region for France by affixing bronze plaques to the trees and burying lead plaques in the ground. Later, in 1754, the French also seemed to conform to their rebellious stereotype following the disastrous attempts of Major George Washington to press Virginia’s claims and his defeat at Fort Necessity. Washington was supposedly deceived into signing articles of surrender that included an admission that he had murdered the French Ensign Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. The latter had actually been killed by Washington’s unrestrained Indian allies, and the articles of surrender were signed without dispute because the major could not read French. This piece of supposed French perfidy ultimately became a casus belli for French actions in the North American and European theatres of the Seven Years’ War.

Indeed, the English stereotype of the French rebel was so deeply ingrained that it still retained its potency in the later nineteenth century. It was frighteningly easy for English Canadians to label the entire French Canadian population as rebels when the Red River Rebellion of Francophone Métis (descendants of French fur traders and Indian women) broke out in 1869.

In light of the history of English characterizations of the French as rebels against God, civilization, and British imperial claims, which was already very long and nuanced by 1760, the decision to use Vespasian’s coins celebrating the triumph over Jewish rebels as models for the three Betts medals must have been an easy one. By so doing, the medals created a glorious place for the British conquest of New France within the framework of the ancient and seemingly endless epic of empire and those who would dare to resist its crushing advance. The greatness of imperial Rome had returned in the guise of Britannia, proving once again that there is truly nothing new under the sun—even one incapable of setting on territories as vast and disparate as those of the British Empire.


Although we have seen that the iconographic connection made on these medals between the fall of Judaea and the fall of New France was motivated by ideological concerns rather than history, the sequels to both conquests are worthy of brief mention. In both cases, despite the totality of the victories advertised by Great Britain and Rome, the respective situations in New France (renamed Québec in 1763 and Lower Canada in 1791) and in Judaea remained volatile after the conclusions of the wars. In Judaea, corrupt administration and the appearance of the messianic figure Shim’on Bar Kokhba led to renewed revolt against Rome from 132 to 135. Likewise, political and economic grievances against the English-dominated provincial government, along with the revolutionary rhetoric of Louis-Joseph Papineau and his Patriote party, resulted in armed rebellion among the French Québecois in November 1837, but it was crushed by the end of February in the following year.

It is notable that in both the Bar-Kokhba Revolt and the Rebellion of 1837, the rebels used coinage to define themselves. The Jews under Bar Kokhba issued several series of silver (Fig. 21) and bronze coins depicting religious symbols and slogans (e.g., “of the Freedom of Israel”) written in paleo-Hebrew script, an archaic but politically charged form of writing. The bulk of these coins were produced by overstriking Roman and pagan civic coins, which not only provided the rebels with ready-made planchets, but also effaced symbols of the hated Roman regime. In a similar vein, the supporters of the Patriote movement in Lower Canada refused to accept English money in commerce and instead did their business with the limited supply of coins left over from the time of the French régime and copper tokens with French inscriptions, the most popular of which were the so-called bouquet sous (Fig. 22; Cross 2000, 107). Neither of these coinages survived the respective revolts associated with them. The Bar Kokhba coinage was no longer negotiable once Roman order was restored to Judaea in 135, and even the later Jewish authorities condemned it (Meshorer 2001, 162). In contrast, the politically motivated popularity of the bouquet sous led to its ultimate undoing. Counterfeiting of the series became so widespread that by the end of 1837 there were so many in circulation that the banks began to refuse them.

Fig. 21. Judaea, Bar Kokhba War. AR tetradrachm (sela), uncertain mint, AD 132. SNG ANS 6, no. 501. (ANS 1944.100.63042, E. T. Newell bequest) 27 mm.

Fig. 22. Province of Lower Canada. CU bouquet sou, Montreal mint, 1835-1837. Courteau 24. (ANS 1949.65.25, Alfred Z. Reed bequest) 27 mm.


Special thanks are due to Louis Jordan of the Department of Special Collections at the University of Notre Dame for his generous assistance in locating several of the contemporary sources used in this article.


Anderson, F. 2001. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766. New York.

Betts, C. W. 1894. American Colonial History Illustrated by Contemporary Medals. New York.

Crawford, M. 1974. The Roman Republican Coinage. Cambridge.

Cross, W. K. 2000. The Charlton Standard Catalogue of Canadian Colonial Tokens. 4th ed. Toronto.

Eimer, C. 1998. The Pingo Family and Medal-Making in Eighteenth-Century Britain. London.

Hawkins, E. 1885. Medallic Illustrations of the History of Great Britain and Ireland to the Death of George II. London.

Kidd, S. 2003. “Let Hell and Rome Do Their Worst: World News, Anti-Catholicism, and International Protestantism in Early-Eighteenth-Century Boston,” The New England Quarterly 76, no. 2: 265-290.

Mattingly, H., and E. A. Sydenham. 1926. The Roman Imperial Coinage, vol. 2: Vespasian to Hadrian. London.

Meshorer, Y. 2001. A Treasury of Jewish Coinage. Jerusalem/New York.

Mildenberg, L. 1984. The Coinage of the Bar Kokhba War. Arau.

Parkman, F. 1884. Montcalm and Wolfe. New York.

Parkman, F. 1892. A Half-Century of Conflict. New York.

Rolt, R. 1766. The History of the Late War; from the Commencement of Hostilities after the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, 1748. London.

Stack’s. 2006. John J. Ford Collection: Coins, Medals, and Currency, Part XIV: Betts Medals: Part 2. May 23. New York.

Steele, I. 1990. Betrayals: Fort William Henry and the “Massacre.” New York.

Sumner, I. 2001. British Colours and Standards 1747-1881, vol. 2: Infantry. Oxford.

Sutherland, C. H. V., and R. A. G. Carson. 1966. The Roman Imperial Coinage, vol. 7: Constantine and Licinius, A.D. 313-337. London.

Todish, T. 1988. America’s First World War: The French and Indian War, 1754-1763. Ogden, Utah.