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Author Topic: An important new aureus of Septimius Severus  (Read 4102 times)
curtislclay
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« on: June 16, 2008, 01:37:02 am »

This coin recently emerged from India, in a lot of Roman gold offered by an Indian dealer, which was eventually consigned to CNG's Electronic Auction 180, 23 Jan. 2008.  I acquired the new Severan piece as lot 264 in that sale.

SEVERVS - PIVS AVG, head laureate r.

VESTA in exergue, P M TR [P X]VII COS III P P around.  The imperial family and two attendants sacrificing at a tripod altar before the temple of Vesta in Rome.  Left of the altar, Caracalla and Geta standing r., Caracalla, togate and laureate, extending his right hand over the altar, behind him Geta, also togate, laurel wreath on head not distinguishable.  Right of the altar, Septimius, Julia Domna, and two attendants standing l.; from l. to r., a boy who is apparently helping with the sacrifice; Domna, her head and shoulders only visible above the boy; Septimius, togate, possibly wearing long beard, laurel wreath unclear; and, apparently, a flamen wearing a pointed cap.  In the background, above the heads of Caracalla, Julia, and Septimius, the cupola-like roof of the round temple of Vesta, with one column also visible between Caracalla and Julia, and a narrow band of grillwork at the top of the space between that column and Julia's head.

Rome, 210 AD.  Aureus, 6.83g, upright die axis (0h), two ancient holes.

From the style of the obverse, I have no doubt that this is a mint issue rather than an Indian imitation, though I have not yet found the same obverse die used with another, published, reverse type

The reverse legend, though damaged by the two holes, can I think be reconstructed with certainty: the first hole must have removed a P and X, the second hole a I and half of the C of COS.  The tribunician number cannot have been just XVII, for that reading would leave blank space before the C of COS, and the legend was clearly meant to be continuous and without gaps.  The reading [X]VII[II] may also be excluded, (a) because that number was written XIX not XVIIII on Severan coins (except one middle-bronze die on which XVIII was altered to XVIIII), and (b) because Severus is not called BRIT on the obverse, a title that he accepted in the course of his TR P XVIII = 210, and that should therefore be present on his coins dated TR P XIX (although one old dupondius die and several old sestertius dies omitting BRIT did remain in use for him early in 211).

In the sacrificial group on the reverse, the three togate figures must surely be Septimius, Caracalla, and Geta; hopefully a better specimen will someday confirm that Septimius and Geta too wear laurel wreaths, as Caracalla certainly does, and that Septimius has his normal long beard.  The figure behind Septimius seems to be wearing a cap, so will probably be a flamen wearing a pointed cap, as on the similar aureus struck by Caracalla in 214 (see below).  Since the boy cannot be a member of the imperial family, presumably he is an attendant helping with the sacrifice, a camillus holding patera, pitcher, and the like, as on Antonine medallions (Dressel, Berlin Medallions, nos. 25 and 63 with commentary) and on the sestertius of Commodus from CoinArchives shown below.  The head and shoulders in the background above the boy might belong to Julia Domna; perhaps a better specimen will one day show details that confirm this identification or suggest another.
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curtislclay
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« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2008, 02:41:37 am »

Now from 208 until his death at York on 4 February 211, Septimius was conducting a military campaign in Britain, accompanied by Julia, Caracalla, and Geta; but the reverse type of the new aureus would seem to attest an otherwise unknown return of the imperial family to Rome early in 210. 

The scene, labeled VESTA, is obviously set before the round temple of Vesta at the foot of the Palatine Hill in Rome, as it is shown to us on a number of other Roman coins from the Republic to the Severan era, and the actual foundations of which were excavated in 1883-4.  The sacrifice before the temple might be one performed by the imperial family upon their arrival in Rome or upon their departure from the city for Britain after their visit, for we know from Tacitus and Suetonius that Nero, in preparation for a proposed trip to the East in 64 AD, carried out sacrifices on the Capitol and then visited the Temple of Vesta, and Caracalla too apparently performed a similar sacrifice before the Temple of Vesta when he returned to Rome from Raetia early in 214, as we will see below.  The elaborate sacrificial type on Septimius' new aureus of 210 would certainly seem to depict an event which had just taken place in that year, rather than merely being a recollection of the departure ceremonies of 208, two years before, or a depiction of the hoped-for future return of the imperial family to Rome after completion of the British campaign!

Yet it is difficult to fit a return of the imperial family to Rome early in 210 into what we otherwise know about Septimius' British campaign.  Profectio types on the coins of Septimius as TR P XVI and Caracalla as TR P XI date their departure from Rome to early in the year 208.  According to Dio Cassius, Septimius advanced with his army almost to the northernmost reaches of Scotland, then withdrew to Roman territory, "having forced the Britons to come to terms, on the condition that they should abandon a large part of their territory."  The invasion of Scotland ought to fall in the year 209, and it seems likely that the advantageous treaty mentioned by Dio was the occasion for the assumption of the title Britannicus by all three emperors in the course of 210.  How could they have found time for a return to Rome in the course of this campaign, and would they really have dared to leave a strong expeditionary army behind in Britain for several months, without an imperial commander?  After this the Maeatae revolted again, and Septimius sent a punitive expedition against them; then the Caledonians joined  the revolt of the Maeatae, and Septimius began preparing to make war against them in person, when his sickness carried him off at York on 4 February 211.

Another conundrum: the new aureus type seems to attest a return of the imperial family to Rome early in 210, but the historical circumstances seem to argue strongly against such a visit! 
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« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2008, 03:53:28 am »

Curtis, wonderfull aquisition and an even more wonderfull post!

With regards to a possible return of the Severans to Rome in 210AD, is it not possible that time was found during winter, while Severus's legions could have been wintering south of the frontier? One can assume that a trusted commander of consualr rank was left in control of the inactive legions during this time, while Severus made a 'flying' visit in Rome.
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« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2008, 03:28:30 pm »

Is it possible that Septimius and family returned to Rome in, say, late 209, and their absence them emboldened the Maeatae to revolt? This would then have necessitated a hasty return to a deteriorating situation.
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curtislclay
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« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2008, 12:21:21 am »

Responding to Gaius and Robert, yes, it must have been a "flying" visit, planned and announced as just a temporary absence from the British campaign.  Only such a visit could leave so little trace in the coinage, and be passed over by the literary sources. 

If, in contrast, Septimius had withdrawn his expeditionary force from Britain and returned to Rome in 210 as though the war was over, that would surely have been reflected in the coinage with Adventus and Fortuna Redux types, a new largesse might have been distributed, and Dio Cassius would surely have informed us that Septimius had broken off the war too soon and had then been obliged to return to Britain and resume the conflict when the revolt broke out!

Maybe we should associate the assumption of the title Britannicus in mid-210 with successes in suppressing the revolt of the Maeatae; Septimius could have modestly refused it at the time of the successful treaty.  Then we could date the Scottish invasion and the treaty to 209, after which Septimius could have returned to Rome for the winter months.  He then traveled back to Britain in the spring to organize the new territories, in reaction to which the Maeatae might have had second thoughts and revolted.
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« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2008, 01:08:55 am »

I've been trying to check: I was taught that Julia Domna is known to have carried out restorations on the Temple of Vesta, and Amanda Claridge, the latest general book at hand, still says so and illustrates a coin with reverse type VESTA MATER and six Vestals.  Seems to be RIC p. 171, no. 586, an aureus, pl. 9, 10.  But I can't find a source dating its rededication (in the style in which it stands, reconstructed of course, today).  On p. 74 Mattingly is quite general.  That's assuming that the Family could, and would, have come for its rededication.  But there's the medallion, too, RIC 587A, the very famous one, which Max Hirmer photographed (Kent & Hirmer, no. 384, pl. 111;  Kent just calls it a 10-denarius; he says she's performing a sacrifice, but the scene is not like that on the new aureus, since all the figures are dressed as females).
Well, this is probably unimportant, since Curtis is the last person that needs me to talk about it, and I can't confirm that it isn't simply the coins that lie behind "is known to have carried out restorations".
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curtislclay
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« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2008, 01:57:00 am »

After murdering Geta c. 25 December 211, Caracalla departed c. summer 212 on a military expedition to Raetia and Upper Germany.  The Acts of the Arval Brethren record that he crossed the border of Raetia into enemy territory about a year later, c. 1 August 213; early in October 213 his victory over the barbarians was announced and he was voted the title Germanicus.

Several months later, early in 214, Caracalla evidently returned to Rome for a short visit.  Halfmann, in his important book on imperial travels (Itinera Principum, Stuttgart 1986), rejected this visit, suggesting that Caracalla proceded from Raetia directly to Thrace and northern Asia Minor, where we know he spent the winter of 214-5 at Nicomedia.  Earlier scholars, however, had accepted that Caracalla visited Rome in 214, and two coin types prove that they were right:

1.  LIB AVG VIIII P M TR P XVII IMP III COS IIII P P S C, Caracalla on platform presiding at his ninth largesse; sestertius, illustrated below (CoinArchives).  Caracalla had distributed a largesse in 212 after Geta's assassination, and there would have been no reason for him to distribute this new one in 214 (his TR P XVII), UNLESS HE HAD PERSONALLY RETURNED TO ROME.  So Marcus Aurelius distributed no largesses during his lengthy absence for the Marcomannic Wars from 169 to 177, except one in 175 for Commodus' assumption of the toga virilis, at which Commodus himself presided.  Dio informs us that when Marcus finally returned to Rome in 177 and said in his first speech to the people that he had been away for many years, the people shouted "Eight!" and held up eight fingers, indicating that the emperor's absence had lasted eight years, and hoping for a record distribution of eight aurei per person at the largesse that they knew he would soon be distributing!

2.  P M TR P XVII COS IIII P P, sacrifice scene before the temple of Vesta, very like that on the new aureus of Septimius; aureus, also illustrated below (CoinArchives).  On the right, Caracalla, laureate and in military dress, stands left, holding a patera over the altar in front of the temple.  Behind him, a flamen wearing a pointed cap (apex); between Caracalla and the flamen, a child standing left in the foreground, and the facing head of an adult in the background.  To the left of the altar, Julia Domna standing right, veiled, holding a ladle over the altar, accompanied by a priestess standing behind her; or maybe these ladies are the Chief Vestal Virgin (who might have a brooch fastening her veil, on which see below) and another Vestal.  Between them, as on the right, a child standing r. in the foreground and the facing head of an adult in the background.

This scene evidently depicts Caracalla's sacrifice to Vesta either immediately after returning to Rome from Raetia, or immediately before departing again from Rome for Thrace and Asia Minor, both events taking place towards the beginning of 214, say in January and March 214 respectively.

The temple of Vesta was destroyed by fire under Commodus in 191, but was apparently restored by Septimius, for it was shown on two occasions on coins of Julia Domna, first in 207 under Septimius and then c. 214 under Caracalla; see the aureus of 207 and an As of c. 214 below, both from CoinArchives.  Here it is not the imperial family who are shown sacrificing before the temple, but the six Vestal Virgins; for on the Berlin silver medallion of 207 four of them wear brooches on their chests that fasten their veils, a detail characteristic of depictions of Vestals in other media, as Heinrich Dressel observed in his excellent book on the Roman medallions in Berlin.  Such brooches also seem to be visible on the chests of the two frontal veiled heads shown in the background on the VESTA MATER aureus illustrated below.  This personal connection to the Temple of Vesta, which they had rebuilt, may be the reason why it was only Septimius and Caracalla who chose to symbolize their departures from Rome or their arrivals in the city by depicting their sacrifices before that temple, although other emperors too doubtless performed similar arrival or departure rites at the same temple, as is specifically attested for Nero (see above).

I think Pat Lawrence is right that these coins of Julia Domna are the only evidence for the widespread assumption that it was Domna herself, rather than her husband, who restored the Temple of Vesta.  R. Lanciani, generally an excellent and reliable scholar, even asserts that Julia restored the temple "at her private expense"!  Richardson repeats the assertion that Julia restored the temple, but the passages in Herodian and the Historia Augusta that he cites merely recount the destruction of the temple in the fire of 191!
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« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2008, 02:52:42 am »

Referring to the original post, I'd raise two possibilities:
1. Is it possible the coin was struck in anticipation of a ceremony, and when it actually took place the Augusti, who had planned to be there, had been unable to make it?
2. Is it not possible that they could be portrayed in absentia as it were?  It wouldn't seem to be beyond the bounds of possibility that members of the Imperial family could be depicted at an event as if they were there, even if they were actually detained elsewhere.

Steve
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curtislclay
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« Reply #8 on: June 19, 2008, 05:42:37 pm »

Indeed, the coins could depict the emperor carrying out an expected action which he never in fact accomplished, or presiding at an imperial function in Rome that he did not in fact attend!

Thus, when it was learned early in 211 that Septimius was seriously ill and would have to return from Britain to Rome, the mint struck an ADVENTVS AVGVSTI type for all three emperors, including Septimius, showing them arriving on horseback and raising their right arms in greeting.  But in fact Septimius died in York and only his cremated remains were carried back to Rome!

In spring 218, Macrinus distributed his delayed accession liberality at Rome, though he and Diadumenian could not attend and remained in Antioch.  Nevertheless the coins show a largesse scene with Macrinus and Diadumenian presiding at the distribution.  Similarly the coins show Maximinus Thrax presiding at his accession largesse in Rome late in 235 or early in 236, though Maximinus spent his entire reign on the northern frontier and never returned to Rome.

Is it likely, however, that early in 210 the mint knew not only that the imperial family intended to make a short visit to Rome, but that they would lay special stress on an arrival sacrifice before the Temple of Vesta and would like their visit to be announced by a coin type showing that sacrifice? I think that the novelty of this arrival type (if such it was), different from any that had previously appeared on the coinage, makes it more probable that the scene depicted was not anticipatory, but one that Rome had actually witnessed! 

Anyway, Steve's suggestion wouldn't entirely solve the problem: serious plans for a trip to Rome early in 210, even if not carried out, seem almost as unlikely as an actual trip to Rome!
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« Reply #9 on: June 20, 2008, 12:53:45 am »

The following very rare sestertius type of 210 AD, known for both Septimius Severus and Caracalla, may or may not be connected with the imperial visit to Rome in that year, if in fact it took place:

L SEPT SEVE - RVS PIVS AVG, bust of Septimius laureate r., with fold of cloak on front shoulder and behind neck.  This is the only sestertius obverse die of this year, known to me in just this one specimen, which renders Septimius' hair in round curls as on his aurei, denarii, and middle bronzes, instead of in straighter, parallel locks as on all his other sestertius obverse dies of 210.

P M TR P XVIII COS III P P S C, Septimius, togate and veiled, with long beard, standing left, holding patera over tripod altar in r. hand, roll in l. hand, crowned by a half-nude Victory standing behind him, who also holds a palm in her l. hand.  Behind and to the l. of the altar, a dead sacrificial bull, a victimarius swinging an ax, and a fluteplayer.

Unpublished sestertius, in BM from my first collection, illustrated below from a plaster cast.  The reverse slightly doublestruck.

M AVREL ANTONI - NVS PIVS AVG, bust of Caracalla laureate r., with fold of cloak on front shoulder and behind neck.

PONTIF TR P XIII COS III S C, the same reverse type as for Septimius, but the sacrificing emperor is Caracalla, with short or no visible beard.

Sestertius, in ANS, presented in their Annual Report about 25 years ago as unpublished, because not in Cohen, RIC, BMC, or any accessible sale catalogue.  However, there was a specimen of this sestertius in Patin's Thesaurus Numismatum, publishing his own private collection, Amsterdam 1672, p. 186, quoted from there by the standard catalogue of the day, Mediobarbus, Imperatorum Romanorum Numismata, Milan 1683, reissued by Argelati in 1730, p. 291.  My image of the ANS coin below is from Melville Jones, Dictionary of Ancient Roman Coins, London 1990, p. 274.  Two ancient casts of this type are also known, from the same dies as the ANS original, in Vienna and my collection.

The imperial vows for victory before the British campaign were undertaken at temples in Rome, and one would expect the vows to be paid at those same temples in Rome.  However, I would be hesitant to claim that these sestertii prove or even strongly suggest the presence of Septimius and Caracalla in Rome in 210.  The idea that the sacrifice depicted is a taurobolium, "an eastern form of sacrifice in which the blood of a slaughtered bull dripped through slats in a platform upon participants in an initiation ceremony," proposed by the ANS curator and repeated by Melville Jones, is in my opinion quite impossible.  In my eyes the type simply shows the emperors sacrificing a bull to the gods in fulfillment of a vow, because they have achieved victory, presumably in their British campaign.
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