Septimius Severus - Legion III

I'm sure some of the regular visitors to this site have quite had their fill of material on Septimius Severus but in an effort to keep some sort of balance between materials for beginners and more advanced subjects I will, by necessity, return regularly to that subject I know best. This week I had planned to have a Greek subject but discovered how very little I know about that particular coin so I postponed it in favor of a favorite topic of mine: Cohen was right.

There is a tendency among modern scholars to look down on the work of the 19th century French numismatist Henry Cohen. His great catalog of Roman Imperial coins listed types alphabetically by reverse legend and completely avoided dealing with date or mint assignments. This arrangement resulted in a catalog far easier to use than later, more scholarly, efforts which risked placing a coin out of the proper location by failing to identify correctly some minor point. Even Cohen's method ran into problems when dealing with rare coins in less than perfect condition. When a type is known from only one specimen and when a small flan or centering problems cut legends, catalogers often must make a 'best guess' for filling in the blanks. For the Legionary series of Septimius Severus, Cohen listed two varieties: #262 LEG III ITAL TRP COS and #263 LEG III IT AV TRP C. The authors of both the British Museum Catalog (Vol. V note to #10) and and the Roman Imperial Coinage (Vol. IV note to #7) dismiss Cohen 263 as 'very doubtful' and 'a faulty rendering' respectively. Worst of all is the Seaby book Roman Silver Coins Vol. III which copies #263 without the AV and illustrates #262 with a photo of the most perfect specimen (Arnold and Kelly collections) of what I believe to be the type seen by Cohen that led to the separate listing under #263.

Septimius Severus - Silver denarius - Rome Mint - Legion III Italica - Cohen 262

Legionary coins of the Alexandria, Egypt, mint honor the North African Legion III Augusta which 'freed' Egypt from the clutches of Pescennius Niger at the very end of 193 AD. A good percentage of the coins of Septimius issued at Rome by this time were the Legionary standards type with legends honoring each of the legions that supported Septimius from the very beginning of his bid for the Empire. Included in these was a completely different legion named III Italica which was stationed at Regensburg on the Danube. Coins issued (at Rome) for this legion were the type listed as Cohen 262. When the Alexandria mint began to issue denarii for Septimius at the start of 194 AD, types were copied from other coins known to the mint workers. Among these was the Legionary standards type. Since the local legion was number III it made sense to copy the Rome mint coin for LEG III. I have no answer for why the Alexandria mint retained the 'IT' which seems wholly inappropriate for the African Legion III but the name of the local legion (Augusta) was added. It is likely that this error was due to no worker at the mint understanding the Latin language. Coins abbreviated 'Augusti' both AVG (the more rare of the two) and AVI (shown here below). This 'I' ending also suggests a lack of understanding of the Latin conventions. AVI again became common on coins in the Byzantine period when Greek had become the primary language of the Empire. The error was never corrected since the issue of Legionary denarii was stopped soon after it began.

Septimius Severus - Silver denarii - Alexandria Mint - Legion III Augusta - Cohen 263?

The Alexandria mint Legionary denarii are usually found struck on small flans that lose some legend. That Cohen was working with a coin missing legend at the right is suggested by his clipping of the legend in exergue from TRP COS to TRP C. There is no way of proving which of the two varieties shown here was seen by Cohen since his coin was clearly missing the final 'I' or 'G'. It remains likely that C263 was an Alexandria coin that showed the 'V' but was unclear beyond that point. Two other examples of this type are shown on my Legionary page. Of these the coin on the right is missing the entire right legend while the coin on the left is weak enough on that side that it would be possible to miss the 'I' even though the 'V' is clear. This particular die (the same as used on the Arnold specimen mentioned above) aligned the 'I' with the ground line making it even easier to overlook.

Later scholars were unable to confirm the existence of the coin seen by Cohen and assumed that he had listed the variety in error. I believe it most likely that Cohen saw an Alexandria mint coin and recognized it as different. He can not be faulted for not knowing what letters were missing on the single specimen available.

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(c) 1997 Doug Smith