Caracalla or Elagabalus ?

Two Emperors Named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius

Many beginning students of Roman coins have trouble separating the issues of several emperors with similar names. Among the most commonly confused are two emperors both named Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius - known today as Caracalla (198-217 AD) and Elagabalus (218-222 AD). The emperor known today as Antoninus Pius was age 52 when he became emperor so is hard to confuse with the much younger Caracalla and Elagabalus.

Both emperors used several different obverse legends on coins. Fortunately, only one legend ANTONINVS PIVS FEL AVG was used by both. These are separated by portrait and style.

This legend in common was used by Caracalla (left above) only in 213 AD at age 25. Caracalla is shown fully bearded. Elagabalus (right above), however, used this legend only at the mint of Antioch in 218 AD at age 13. With this legend, he is never bearded and the style is distinctively Eastern.

Other issues may be separated easily by applying a few rules. Following the list are photos of six coins from each ruler. Apply the rules to the photos until you see why each coin belongs to the correct Antoninus.

  1. Caracalla was named Augustus at age 10 after first being Caesar for two years. He died at age 29. Elagabalus served as Augustus from age 13 to 17 without previously being named 'Caesar'. Therefore if the portrait shows someone certainly under 13 or over 17 the coin is of Caracalla. Since Elagabalus was emperor for only five years the highest numeral following TRP (the annual award of Tribunican Power) would be V. Reverse legends of Caracalla coins show up to TRP XX.
  2. Portraits of Elagabalus from late in the reign SOMETIMES show the emperor wearing a 'horn' on his head. Very late coins of Elagabalus may have a light beard but never the full beard of the older Caracalla.
  3. Except for the legend (discussed above) used in common with Caracalla, all obverse legends for Elagabalus began with IMP (Imperator).
  4. Elagabalus always spelled out ANTONINVS completely while SOME issues of Caracalla abbreviated the name.
  5. Caracalla often did not begin legends with IMP but when he did either ANTONINVS was abbreviated or Caesar was shortened beyond the standard abbreviation CAES. This could be CAE or simply C. Caracalla never used IMP at the start of the legend without immediately following with some abbreviation for Caesar (C. CAE. or CAES.). All coins of Elagabalus that use the title Caesar use the abbreviation CAES.

Six Coins of Caracalla
Rules 1, 3 Rules 1, 4, 5 Rules 1, 3 Rule 3 Rules 1, 2, 3 Rules 1, 2, 3
Eastern mint Rome mint

Six Coins of Elagabalus
Rules 3, 5 Rule 3 Rules 3, 5 Rules 3, 5 Rule 2, 5 Rules 3, 5
Eastern mint Rome mint

Understand? Take the test. Assign the four coins below to the correct Emperor:

Caracalla and Elagabalus denarii

Answers: Don't click here until you have decided on all four coins.

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