A Denarius of Pescennius Niger

Before 193 AD, the careers of Lucius Septimius Severus and Gaius Pescennius Niger followed remarkably similar paths. Both were Consuls, both governed major provinces and commanded large numbers of troops. Following the murder of Pertinax and the auction of the Empire to Didius Julianus, both were proclaimed Emperor by their troops. The scene was set for Civil War.

Both contestants in the Civil War issued coins from at least three mints in the Eastern Mediterranean. Both are available in a wide range of types that show an even greater number of minor varieties to interest the collector. Numismatically speaking, Septimius Severus is one of the most commonly available of the Roman Emperors. Pescennius Niger is one of the scarcest. Why? Septimius won. Pescennius was killed after less than two years; Septimius reigned for just under two decades. Judging from the number of dies used, coins of Pescennius Niger should be considerably more common than they are. The catalog of Pescennius issues in Roman Imperial Coins covers eighteen pages. By comparison, Pertinax takes six pages and included the bronze coinage which was not issued for Pescennius. It appears that, following his defeat, the coins of Pescennius Niger were called in and destroyed. Numismatic vengence of this type was rarely practiced. What caused it in this case is not certain. Coins of Septimius Severus are occasionally found overstruck on Pescennius and there is no way of knowing how many were melted down.

Pescennius Niger denarius, 193 AD, Antioch Mint
Bonus Eventus (Good Luck) standing left

To an even greater degree than the Eastern issues of Septimius Severus, coins of Pescennius Niger show a wide variety of spellings and abbreviations. This week's Featured Coin reads BONI EVINTV for the expected BONI EVENTVS. The final 'S' may have been on the die but was lost on this poor specimen. Misspellings are so common on coins of Pescennius that collectors should not be concerned when unlisted varieties are discovered. While fakes of these rare coins exist, the presence of a spelling error is not, in itself, a matter for concern. Neither does such a variety add to the commercial value of the coin.

Most coins of Pescennius Niger are poorly struck in low grade silver. The scarcity and low quality of many of these coins led the Seaby price guides to quote values for Pescennius in 'F' condition rather than the 'VF' used for other rulers. Well struck, sound specimens do exist but the average coin of Pescennius Niger will not be up to the condition desires of many collectors.

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(c) 1997 Doug Smith