Marcus Opellius Severus Macrinus was declared Emperor by the army on the death of Caracalla in 217 AD. The possibility that he arranged the death of his predecessor is often accepted as fact but the truth of the matter is not certain and is never likely to be proven one way or the other. The fact remains that Caracalla had done nothing to arrange for a successor and the Praetorian Prefect Macrinus was an obvious choice under the circumstances. It seems odd that the Senate so quietly accepted the elevation of a non-Senator (the first time this had happened). Perhaps the poor fiscal state of the Empire after the rule of Caracalla made this a time in history when it was better not to be Emperor. Macrinus attempted to rule well and made some effort to reduce expenses. This was always dangerous when dealing with soldiers and after a short reign of a little more than a year, Macrinus was killed by the army that had elevated him. The coup that defeated him was led by Julia Maesa, sister of Julia Domna, in the name of her fourteen year old grandson known to history as Elagabalus. This restored the Severan Dynasty which ruled Rome from 193 to 235 AD except for the brief reign of Macrinus .

Macrinus - 217-218 AD - Bronze AE 29 - Laodicea ad Mare, Syria
Head with short beard / Wolf suckling Romulus & Remus

As Emperor, Macrinus never traveled to Rome; the entire reign was spent in the East campaigning against the Parthians and, finally, against the forces of Maesa. His coins include a good variety of Greek Imperial issues from cities in the East. Our Featured coin is a rather unusual Greek Imperial issue attributed to Laodicea ad Mare (a denarius mint during the early years of Septimius Severus). The coin bears no city name and the legends are in Latin rather than Greek. It is interesting that this Latin included the Greek spelling of Macrinos. The same obverse is used with other reverses inscribed with the name of the city allowing us to assign this coin to Laodicea. In size (29mm) and weight (17.8g) it would seem to be a local variety of the Roman sestertius. The flan is particularly square edged and die work is in rather low relief. Neither of these characteristics is particularly common among Greek Imperial issues but became standard at this mint during the reign of Caracalla. It is interesting that several other cities in the Eastern Mediterranean issued their silver coins with Greek legends but bronzes in Latin.

Macrinus - Silver denarius - Rome c.217 AD
Short beard portrait / Securitas seated
Macrinus - Silver denarius - Rome c.218 AD
Long beard portrait / Salus seated

Roman denominations for Macrinus show two distinctly different portraits distinguished by the length of the Emperor's beard. Over the years there has been a great deal of discussion on the reasons for this variety. Respected earlier scholars attributed all of the long beard coins to an Eastern mint and the short ones to Rome. Later studies placed both at Rome with the explanation that the earlier, short bearded portraits were the result of Rome being unaware of the true appearance of Macrinus. Another camp theorized that Macrinus had a short (military) beard but later ordered the mint to make him look like the long (philosopher) bearded Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Septimius Severus. The obvious, but overlooked, possibility is that Macrinus let his beard grow longer after becoming Emperor. That Macrinus had a short beard at the beginning of the reign is suggested by short bearded portraits used in Eastern Greek Imperial mints where his appearance certainly would be known. The few dated Greek Imperial portraits from late in the reign (218 AD) show the long beard so, if this was not the actual appearance of Macrinus by that time, the word that he was to be shown in that manner was quite effectively spread.

What do we learn from all this? First, it is not safe to study only the Roman issues without being aware of evidence contributed buy the colonial coins. Second, it is best to keep an open mind to the possibility that evidence can be interpreted in more than one way and the words of even the most respected scholars are subject to revision in the light of new evidence. Are there, then, any Eastern mint denarii of Macrinus? If there are, they are to be distinguished only by style. There are some coins that look a bit Eastern (especially if we want them to look Eastern?) but none that I have seen strike me as obviously with the styles of the Syrian mints of Septimius Severus (closed fifteen years previously) or of mints that struck during the reigns of Elagabalus and Severus Alexander. This is a question of great interest to me and I would appreciate hearing from persons with coins that they believe to be certainly Eastern mint denarii of Macrinus.

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith