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Septimius Severus, 9 April 193 - 4 February 211 A.D.

Septimius Severus, a native of Leptis Magna, Africa was proclaimed emperor by his troops after the murder of Pertinax. He is at the same time credited for strengthening and reviving an empire facing imminent decline and, through the same policies that saved it, causing its eventual fall. Severus eliminated the dangerous praetorians, unified the empire after turmoil and civil war, strengthened the army, defeated Rome's most powerful enemy, and founded a successful dynasty. His pay increases for the army, however, established a severe burden on Rome. Future emperor's were expected increase pay as well. These raises resulted in ever increasing taxes that damaged the economy. Some historians believe high taxes, initiated by Severus policies, played a significant role in Rome's long-term decline. In 208 A.D., he travelled to Britain to embarked on revitalisation after a disastrous barbarian invasion. He died in York in 211 A.D and was succeeded by his sons, Caracalla and Geta.


Lucius Septimius Severus

by Alexandru Marian


1023. Silver denarius, RIC 265, C 205, S 1753, Choice gVF, 3.50g, 18.2mm, 180, Rome mint, 201-210 A.D.; obverse SEVERVS PIVS AVG, laureate head right; reverse FVNDATOR PACIS, Severus standing left holding olive branch.

Septimius Severus is at the same time credited for strengthening and reviving an empire facing imminent decline and, through the same policies that saved it, causing its eventual fall.  Severus eliminated the dangerous praetorians, unified the empire after a period of turmoil and civil war, strengthened the army, defeated Rome's most powerful enemy, and founded a successful dynasty.  His pay increases for the army, however, established a trend that placed a severe burden on the Roman state.  Future emperor's were expected to follow suite and increase pay as well.  The cost of these pay raises resulted in ever increasing taxation that damaged the economy.  Some historians believe the high taxes, initiated by Severus policies, played a significant role in Rome's long-term decline. 


Silver denarius, RIC 207a, RSC 493b, BMC 530, VF, 3.96g, 19.5mm,180, Rome mint, 207 A.D.; obverse SEVERS PIVS AVG, laureate head right; reverse P M TR P XV COS III P P, Africa standing tight, wearing elephant skin headdress, holding out drapery with fruits in the fold, lion at her feet; rare.  Severus was born in Leptis Magna, Africa in 146 A.D.

Lucius Septimius Severus was born in 146 A.D. in the African city Leptis Magna.  He came from a distinguished family and helped by his talent and good connections had a very successful career in the Roman army and government.  After receiving a good education, finished in Athens, he moved on to Rome where he served as a treasury lawyer. Later he joined the army, where he first served as legion commander.  He was a senator under Marcus Aurelius and consul under Commodus in 190.  In 191 he was appointed as Governor of Pannonia Superior and, as such, commander of the Pannonian legions.

In 193 the emperor Pertinax was assassinated by the praetorian guard, who then auctioned of the empire to the highest bidder, Didius Julianus.  Didius had offered 25,000 sestertii per guard.  Incensed by the praetorian's activities, Severus legions hailed him as Augustus at Carnuntum on 9 April 193.  Severus, who had been a supporter of Pertinax, posed as the avenger of the late Emperor and marched on Rome with the support of no less than 15 legions.  At the same time he secured the aid of Clodius Albinus, the governor of Britannia, by appointing him as Caesar.  The praetorians betrayed Didius Julianus as quickly as they supported him and he was executed.  The Senate and praetorians had little option but to accept Severus as Emperor.  Severus quickly replaced the untrustworthy praetorians with his own men.

Meanwhile another commander, Pescennius Niger, had also been declared Augustus by his troops.  Severus left Rome to challenge Niger and solidify his rule.  In several battles he defeated Niger and then pursued and executed Niger's followers.  He used their wealth to strengthen his finances.


3693. Silver denarius, RIC 64, RSC 50, VF, 3.46g, 17.2mm, 180, Rome mint, 195-196 A.D.; obverse L SEPT SEV PERT AVG IMP VII, laureate head right; reverse ARAB ADIAB COS II P P, Victory advancing left holding wreath and trophy.  This coin refers to victory over Niger - to obscure the fact that this was a civil war, phrased as victory over Arabs and Adiabenians, who aided Niger's cause.

In 195, Severus betrayed his ally Clodius Albinus.  Severus appointed his elder son Caesar under the name of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, later known as Caracalla, and declared Albinus a public enemy. In 197 Severus engaged in civil war with Albinus. A final battle at Lugdunum was a bloodbath after which Severus was the uncontested ruler of Rome. 

Upon returning to the capitol, Severus executed many of Albinus' supporters and a number of senators.  He shocked the Senate by proclaiming himself the son of Marcus Aurelius and by restoring the memory of Commodus, now his brother.  On his coins, Severus is depicted with a long beard to resemble the popular emperor Marcus Aurelius.  This was, however, only propaganda.  Ancient sources report he actually wore his beard neatly trimmed.  


2204. Silver denarius, RIC 240, RSC 539, aVF, frosty surfaces, 2.6g, 19mm, 0, 210-211 A.D.; obverse SEVERVS PIVS AVG, laureate head right; reverse P M TR P XVIII COS III P P, Jupiter standing between Caracalla and Geta, naked except for cloak on left shoulder, holding thunderbolt and scepter.

In 196 Severus raised Caracalla to the rank of Augustus, and his younger son Geta to the rank of Caesar.  The two boys, according to ancient writers (Cassius Dio, Herodian) were no good. Caracalla being the worst.  Besides doing all sort of shameful deeds, the two hated each other and were competing in everything.  In 205 and 208 he made them joint consuls, hoping they would learn to get along.  Geta was raised to Augustus in 209. 

Severus wished to pass the Empire to his two sons, for them to jointly rule.  Shortly before his death on 4 February 211, Severus advised his sons, "Agree with each other, give money to the soldiers and scorn all other men."  His dream never came true.  Upon his death, the rivalry between Caracalla and Geta became public. The two Emperors lived in separate palaces and each had their own guard.  In December 211, Caracalla convinced their mother, Julia Domna, to call Geta for a reconciliation meeting in her residence.   It was a trick.  In his mother's house Caracalla's soldiers attacked Geta and Geta died in their mother's arms.  She was not allowed to mourn for her killed son. A massacre of Geta's supporters followed, and Cassius Dio tells us that 20,000 people were killed.


Dictionary of Roman Coins








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SEVERVS (Septimius), whose talents, judgment, prudence, and courage qualified him, before all other men of his age, for the arduous task of



restoring the empire to that stability which it had lost under the baneful sway of Commodus - was born at Leptis, in Africa, year of Rome, 899 (A.D. 146.) His father, Septimius Geta, was of a senatorial family; his mother's name was Fulvia Pia. Before his attainment of sovereingty, he held a command in Gallia Lugdunensis; administered affairs in Sicily with proconsular authority; was honoured with the consulship in the year V.C. 938; became governor of Pannonia and Illyria under Commodus, after whose death he was equally faithful to Pertinax.
That virtuous prince having been basely slain, the legions of the above-named provinces revolted against the venal election of Didius Julianus, and proclaimed Severus Emperor at Carnuntum (now Altenburg on the Danube), he effected a rapid march upon Rome, caused himself to be acknowledged by the senate, who put Julianus to death, in the year of the city 946 (A.D. 193.) Having first disgraced the Praetorian guards for their baseness in selling the empire, he entered Rome with a magnificient retinue, amidst the favouring acclamations of the people; on which occasion he added to his other names that of Pertinax. Then proceeding without delay to the East, he defeated Pescennius Niger; returning with equal celerity to the West, he vanquished Albinus at Lyons; and thus by the successive fall and death of his rivals he remained sole and undisputed master of millions (A.D. 197). No less victorious over foreign foes than succesful against domestic enemies, Severus, as emperor, subdued the Parthians, the Adiabenians, and the Britons, adding the several names of those regions to his own titles, in memory of his conquests. He formed three new legions; celebrated (A.D. 204) the secular games with a magnificence that astonished the Romans; adorned Rome itself with many edifices, to which architecturial embellishments he added the restoration of the pantheon; above all he made a constant and liberal distribution of corn and provisions to the people. He founded several colonies in the Asiatic theatre of his military glory; among others Helvia Ricina in Picenum, Laodicea in Syria, Nisibis in Mesopotamia, Tyre in Phoenicia. Moreover, Heliopolis in Phoenicia, Carthage, Leptis Magna, and Utica in Africa were included by him in the privileges of the jus Italicum. In the year of our Lord 209, he set out from Rome with his wife and his two sons, for the purpose of conquering Caledonia; that expedition is recorded to have cost the Romans above fifty thousand men. The next year, under his orders, commenced the construction or reparation of the fortified wall, which, crossing from sea to sea, separated the barbarians of the North from that part of the island forming the Roman province of Britain, and of which the vestiges still remain. It was after fighting with his usual success in many battles, and whilst preparing a war of extermination to punish the renewed invasion of the Caledonians that this emperor terminated his mortal carreer. He died of a disease (it is said) in the joints, on the 4th of February, 211, aged 65, at the city of York (Eboracum), not without suspicion of having been poisoned by his execrable son Caracalla, who, impatient to reign, had already tried, though in vain, to seduce the troops from their allegiance, and was even on the point of making an attempt on his father's life, whilst the latter was at the head of his army.
Severus had great qualities, but their glory was tarnished and their utility impaired by atrocious crimes. In his character there was no mediocrity; his vices were enormous, whilst even his virtues carried to excess, approximated the most odious faults. Simple in his habits, patient under laborious exertion, content with the coarsest fare, and temperate amidst luxurious abundance, persevering, intrepid, self-possessed in danger, and unsubdued by adverse circumstances; skillful in war, indefatigable in state affairs, he had early cultivated eloquence, philosophy, and other liberal acts congenial to peace; an able statesman, a victorious commander, a prosperous ruler; on the other hand his sanguinary disposition and vindictive temper revelled in the destruction of Roman competitors and their families, whilst his cruelty no less frightfully displayed itself in the brutal fury with which he persecuted the Christians. Wise and just in his general policy, a friend to order and the public good, he oppressed a defenseless senate whom he hated, and relaxed the discipline of soldiers whom he both hated and feared. Craft and dissimulation equally with force and bloodshed ministered to his remorseless ambition and to his insatiative avarice.
"He promised, only to betray; he flattered, only to ruin," as in the instances of Niger and Albinus. And though he left the empire in a state of glory, peace and plenty, yet the consequence of his system and conduct, especially as regarded his licentious children, was destructive to the permanence of its power; and of this sovereign of the Roman world, as of Augustus, it was said, "that he ought never to have been born, or that he should have lived for ever" - so bloodstained was the path of his ascent to supremacy - with so firm a hand did he hold the reins - with so sagacious a mind did he direct the course of government - so ruinous an example of military despotism, and so fatal a legacy of calamities in his immediate successor did he bequeath to his subjects and their posterity. - He had two wives, namely Martia, who died before he became emperor, and Julia Domna, by whom he had Caracalla and Geta. - His coins are very numerous; those of Roman die are rare in gold, common in silver, first and second brass; his bronze medallions are very rare.  There are no third brass of his.
     Severus is styled IMP CAES L SEPTIMIVS PERTINAX AVG; also SEVERVS PIVS AVG BRITannicus. - On reverse his additional titles are often ARABicus, ADIABenicus, PARThicus, PARThicus MAXimus, DIVI Marcia PII Filius, Pater Patriae. - [This last reverse, observes M. Mionnet, confirms the statement of historians who have recorded that in the year v.c. 948 (A.D. 195), Septimius Severus declared himself the adopted son of Marcus Aurelius although that prince had then been dead fifteen years.] - On other reverses we see him further distinguished by the appellation of FVNDATOR PACIS, or of PACATOR ORBIS, or of RECTOR ORBIS, or of RESTITVTOR VRBIS. His style in association with his son Caracalla is IMP INVICTI PII AVG. Some pieces of this Emperor represent him with Julia Domna, Caracalla, and Geta.
     It was during the reign of Septimius Severus that the silver money of Roman die began to be adulterated.  Coins of that metal are mentioned in the following reigns, as far as that of Gallienus inclusive, as being of silver, although the standard of them was successively debased, insomuch as to render them no longer anything but billon of the lowest alloy.
     The coins of this Emperor are exceedingly numerous, and present a great variety of reverses, many of which are historically interesting.  The denarii are particularly common, but include many rare reverses, and a legionary series of at least fourteen legions.  the gold coins are somewhat rare, with several rare reverses, from which that of the Circus Maximus is here given.  Quinarii in gold are still rarer.  Silver and brass medallions are rare.  The large brass and the second also may be termed scarce; the third brass rare.  For a list of the rarer coins of Severus, see Akerman's "Descriptive Catalogue."


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