Two Heads: Better than One

Previously we featured Macrinus who became emperor following the death of Caracalla. Unlike his predecessor, Macrinus immediately made provisions for his successor by appointing his young son Diadumenian to the rank of Caesar. While the Rome mint issued coins in the name of Diadumenian, the most commonly seen of his coins were issued by the Greek Imperial mints of the East where the Imperial pair spent their entire reign.

Macrinus & Diadumenian - 217-218 AD - AE 27 (5 assaria) - Marcianopolis, Moesia Inferior
Vpi piONTIANO - MAPKIANOpiO /// lambdaITAN
Busts face to face / Apollo (?) sacrificing

A favored format used in the Black Sea region was the two busts facing each other; senior on the left and junior on the right. Our Featured Coin is a bronze of Marcianopolis in Moesia Inferior. Aside from the interest added by having two portraits, the coin has several characteristics that deserve mention. The portraits are surrounded by an extensive legend naming both men. The two halves of the legend are joined by a single 'K' for the Greek KAI. Macrinus includes CEV (Severus) in his name as a claim of continuity with the dynasty of Septimius. Unusually, the name 'Diadumenian' does not appear on this coin. The Caesar is called 'Antoninus', again a reference to his predecessors. While the letters on this coin seem small enough, there are other types which add the missing name and require the legend be continued in as many as three rows under the portraits. Most Greek Imperial coins of Diadumenian bear only an abbreviation of Antoninus and a full spelling of his personal name.

Collectors call this coin 'AE 27' signifying a bronze 27mm in diameter. In this case, however, we have a clue as to the denomination. In the reverse field, to the left of the standing figure (Apollo?), is the Greek numeral 'E' for 5 assaria. The assarion was valued at 1/2 a silver obol. The surrounding reverse legend names not only the city but Pontianus, the Roman governor of the province. The city name is broken in the middle with the last part being place in exergue rather than continuing around the edge.

Marcianopolis and several neighboring cities produced a long series of twin portrait coins in this format. Pairings of many different combinations were made for the Severans. Gordian III, before his marriage to Tranquillina, was paired with the god Serapis. Recent hoards have made many of these interesting coins easily available to collectors.

An opposite view is presented on this AE 26 bronze of Nemausus in Gaul. Caesar Augustus is shown on the right with his naval commander and intended heir Agrippa on the left. Agrippa wears a 'rostral crown' modeled after the prow of a ship. The occasion of the coin was to commemorate the defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BC. The reverse shows a crocodile (Egypt) chained to a palm tree. The back to back pose does not indicate a split between the two but calls to mind the common Roman as design (an example is shown on my beginner's page) with the head of Janus. There are a few coins that bear a joined 'Janiform' portrait including a Roman issue with Janus bearing the features of Pompey the Great.

When portraits look the same direction and overlap, they are termed 'jugate'. Our example here shows the Thracian King Rometalkles I (11 BC - 12 AD) and his Queen Pythodoris jugate to the right. The single head of Caesar Augustus is a bit of a disappointment since another variety in this series shows Augustus and his wife Livia jugate with a small capricorn and adds a small bust of the infant Kotys IV to his parents' side of the coin. This totals five human heads and a goat. There are a few coins with three same sized heads jugate on one side of the coin but these are rather rare.

Last we have an example of the simple 'two headed' design with a single head on each side. This AE 18 of Nicopolis ad Istrum, Moesia Inferior, shows Septimius Severus with his wife Julia Domna. The reverse legend on this small coin combines the name Domna and the city name to fill the rather limited space. There are thousands of different Greek Imperial coins with the two headed design but finding examples with clear strikes on both sides can require some effort. High relief portraits on both sides of a coin require a strong strike on a thick, well prepared flan if full detail is to be transferred.

Regular Roman denomination coins are known with jugate heads, two heads and multiple portraits (up to three on one) side but most of these are quite scarce. Previously our Featured Coin page showed a two headed denarius of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. Still, there are enough varieties available that a collector could specialize in coins with more than one head.

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith