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Syrian denarii and aurei of Septimius Severus

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ROMA asked about the mint attribution of these coins; Mauseus suggested considering Kevin Butcher's arguments in his Coinage in Roman Syria (RNS, London, 2004).

It's a problem that still needs to be solved by careful examination of the types and legends, style, die links, and perhaps also findspots of the coins.  My preliminary ideas are as follows.  I leave out the mint of Alexandria, which struck for Commodus, Pertinax, Pescennius Niger, and Septimius Severus, J. Domna, and Clodius Albinus, because the Alexandrian coinage is quite separate from the Syrian coinage.

Niger struck denarii and aurei at two mints in Syria/Asia Minor, namely at Antioch in Syria and at Caesarea in Cappadocia. 

The coins assigned to Antioch have the identical portrait style that appears on Niger's Syrian tetradrachms, whence the attribution to Antioch.  Obv. legends are either undated, or call Niger COS II.  There are a great many rev. types.

The Caesarean coins are attributed to that mint because one of their Latin obv. dies also appears muled with typical Greek-legend rev. types of drachms of Caesarea.  The obv. legend is undated, and there are a comparatively small number of rev. types, all different from the types of the Antioch denarii and aurei.

Septimius' "Syrian" denarii and aurei fall into four main groups, three that copied the rev. types and style of Niger's Antioch denarii and lasted from 193 or 194 until mid 197, and a fourth group that finally introduced a new style and new rev. types, lasting from mid 197 until mid 202.  Each of the four groups has a characteristic obv. legend or legends, the only cases of overlapping being Septimius' legend with IMP VIII which occurs both in the third old-style group and on his earliest new-style coins, and Julia's IVLIA DOMNA AVG which was used in all three of the old-style issues.

The COS II group is by far the largest of Septimius' three "old-style" groups.  As we have seen in other threads, this group starts with an undated obv. legend of Septimius copied from Roman coins of 193, though sometimes with II COS on the rev., quickly followed by rare obv. legends ending CO, II COS, II CO, or II C.  There is also, confusingly, a somewhat larger issue with COS I at the end of the obv. legend; is that just a mistake, since the coins with II COS on obv. or reverse would appear to be EARLIER than those with COS I? Anyway, these early variants soon disappeared, and the great bulk of the issue was struck with the standard obv. legend IMP CAE L SEP SEV PERT AVG COS II.

COS II means after 1 Jan. 194.  It is uncertain whether any of the earliest undated coins, or those with CO or COS I on the obv., were actually struck before that date, late in 193, or are mere errors belonging to 194.

The flans of the denarii get smaller and thicker as time progresses, and the style changes. Some of the coins apparently belonging very near the end of the issue call Septimius TR P III IMP V, titles valid during approximately the first half of 195. So it appears that the issue ended in the course of 195, which is precisely when Septimius broke off his campaign in Mesopotamia and began his march to the west to confront Clodius Albinus.

The rev. types of this issue, at the beginning, copy almost all of the rev. types of Niger's denarii of Antioch, including such unusual types as INVICTO IMP TROPAEA, trophy; SAECVLI FELICITAS, crescent and 7 stars; even the type naming Niger, VICTOR IVST AVG, Victory, which was soon corrected to VICTOR SEVER AVG.  In style and lettering too Septimius' COS II coins closely resemble Niger's coins of Antioch.

Septimius' IMP II group, perhaps one-tenth the size of the COS II group, has the obv. legend L SEPT SEV PERT (or PERTE or PERET) AVG IMP II.  Septimius held that title IMP II for maybe a month c. Nov. 193, between his victories over Niger at Cyzicus (IMP II) and Nicaea (IMP III) in NW Asia Minor.  Like the early COS II coins, the IMP II group too mainly copied the rev. types of Pescennius Niger's Antioch mint, and also shared its style and lettering.  Sometimes one or both strokes of the numeral II after IMP are under the bust, separated IMP I - I or IMP - II, which has led to the erroneous readings IMP I and IMP; Mattingly, and Butcher too, are not aware, unfortunately, that these readings are phantoms and that all coins actually show IMP II.

Many of the same rev. types, and similar style, also characterize Septimius' third group of eastern denarii, which have the obv. legend L SEPT SEV (or SEVER) PERT AVG IMP VIII.  This issue is comparatively small, about the size of the IMP II issue.  Septimius was IMP VIII between his defeat of Clodius Albinus near Lugdunum on 19 Feb. 196 (not 197, as all the books say), and his acceptance of IMP VIIII towards the middle of 197.  Again, legend divisions IMP VII - I and IMP VI - II have led to the misreadings IMP VII and IMP VI of some IMP VIII coins, and Mattingly and Butcher unnecessarily complicate their accounts by accepting these misreadings as correct.

The three groups so far described are all "old style", using rev. types and style similar to those of Niger's Antioch mint.  The fourth group is the new-style eastern coinage of Septimius Severus, struck for him, Caracalla, Geta, Julia Domna, and (briefly) Plautilla between c. spring 197 and mid 202, of different, finer style and improved fabric compared to the old-style coins, and finally replacing the old rev. types of Niger with new ones, often copied from the contemporaneous coinage struck at Rome.  The starting date of spring 197 is fixed by the facts that Septimius is still IMP VIII on his earliest new-style coins, just as on his latest old-style denarii, but Caracalla Caesar is already PONTIF, a title he accepted c. April-May 197.  The end date of mid 202 is proved by new-style coins naming Septimius COS III and Caracalla COS, recording their joint consulship of 1 Jan. 202, and by new-style coins of Plautilla as Augusta, but none of these issues is very common, and there is no sign that the coinage lasted into 203.  202 is the year during which the imperial family returned from the east to Rome, for Roman coins dated to that year commemorate their arrival in Rome and the third largesse and decennalian games that we know they held there after their return.

I would like to thank Curtis for what I consider to be an excellent summary of this coinage. I would like to add a couple of minor points.

There is also a lot of mis-reading of COS II coins as COS or COS I. Sometimes this is due to a tight flan or slightly off-centre strike leading to a mis-read of COS I-I or COS - II and sometimes it is due to sloppy engraving where there was insufficient room left for the Is and they were either squeezed in of sometimes merge with the tip of the neck of the bust. This is a pitfall that I have raced headlong into many a time.

There is also a notable shortening of the legends on types throughout the production with legends such as FORTVNAE REDVCI being shortened to FORT REDVC (even RDVC) over time on the COS II types.


Another well done summary on the coinage of Septimius Severus. So should it be considered that some of the coins that were copies of Niger's in Severus reign be attributed to Antioch instead of Emesa? Or am i reading that all wrong?

So far I have only described the coinage.

The attempts to attribute it by Mattingly and Butcher, plus a hypothesis of my own, are still to follow!


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