Philip the Arab & Family

This page contains more than the usual amount of material presented with reservations. Standard references, including RIC, are weak in this period. Various scholars have presented differing opinions on exact details. My opinions on these details are not firm enough to present here. I certainly am no expert in this area. I present here what I believe to be correct but do not wish to lead visitors astray by repeating material from references (like RIC) that are dated and quite possibly in error. It is an interesting period deserving study by those capable of serious work. I hope visitors to this page will be encouraged toward further study of this period. Photos here are large and will be slow loading for those with dial-up access. I apologize to those inconvenienced by the wait but I hope, at least, Broadband visitors will find this page interesting.

The reign of Marcus Julius Philippus, Philip I, (244-249 AD - sometimes called "the Arab" after the origin of his family) is clouded in history by the way it began. As Praetorian Prefect to Gordian III, Philip may have been instrumental in the murder of the young Emperor. Certainly he did nothing to save him. Already in practical control of the Empire, Philip was the obvious choice to assume the purple. What little history of the period that survives indicates he was a good ruler who faced many challenges successfully. Like Septimius Severus nearly 50 years earlier, Philip was a family man with desires to establish a dynasty. Soon after his own elevation he named his wife (Otacilia Severa) Augusta and his son (Philip II) Caesar. After a very few years, again following the model of Septimius, Philip II was made Augustus and placed even with his father to insure his eventual succession.

Coins of this reign include numerous types for all three members of the family. At Rome a system of six workshops was divided with four for Philip and one each for his wife and son. As a result coins of the elder Philip are somewhat more common than those of the other two. Coins struck early in the reign (almost as a general rule but certainly true for Philip) tend to use longer obverse legends more fully spelling out just exactly who is shown on the coin. Early coins of Philip use the obverse legend IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS PF AVG while later issues use IMP PHILIPPVS AVG. Following the elevation of Philip II to Augustus in 247 AD coins of father and son only can be separated by the younger portrait on coins of Philip II. Portraits of Philip I are regularly shown bearded making this distinction easy in most cases.

The East: Early Period

Gordian III's mint traditionally assigned to Antioch, Syria, continued striking at the beginning of the reign of Philip until his departure for Rome made an Eastern mint unnecessary. The actual location of this mint is unknown. Traditional numismatists seem to assign any minting operation in the East to Antioch until there is evidence to the contrary. Philip placed great importance on establishing himself as Emperor in Rome and left for the City after concluding a hasty peace with the Persians. This event provided the most popular reverse type for coins from this mint: PAX FVNDATA CVM PERSIS or 'Peace founded with Persia' (below left).

SPES FELICITATIS ORBIS and VIRTVS EXERCITVS are the other two types available from this early Eastern mint. Besides being distinguished by their bold style, coins of this mint can be recognized by the obverse legend ending in PM. While PM is usually read as Pontifex Maximus, in this case it was probably intended to be Persicus Maximus in recognition of Philip's claim to having defeated the Persians. A very small fraction of the obverses from this series (all three reverses) show the PM placed under the bust. An example is shown on the bottom row above. Coins of this mint are very distinct in style and fabric from other coins of Philip. Weight varies as does the purity of silver used. The portrait is always bold and regal in appearance. While some workers have assigned issues for Otacilia and Philip II to this mint, I have been unable to convince myself of the correctness of their arguments and will leave the matter here without additional comment.

The East: Late Period

Later in the reign another Eastern mint came into use. Comparing the style of the coins to local tetradrachms, the attribution of these issues to Antioch seems more likely to be correct. Reverses were copied from issues at Rome but the coins are easily distinguished by style. This mint frequently used left facing busts with a variety of styles of drapes and curaiss. Right facing busts (with similar variety) were also used. One dated type (above right) is dated to 247 AD. The early obverse legend IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG was used for both bearded and beardless portraits. Reverses are known with both AVG and AVGG abbreviations suggesting the mint operated around the time that Philip II was named Augustus. It is perhaps not wise to rely on this dating feature too closely. Expecting this mint to follow 'rules' observed at Rome or invented by numismatists might be inviting error. My personal and very limited observation suggests that beardless portraits are more common than bearded. Whether all these were intended to represent Philip II is a difficult question. Note that my illustration of four coins shows one bearded (second from left) which also has the reverse legend AVG suggesting only one Augustus. No coins from this mint are known to me depicting Otacilia or Philip II as Caesar. It seems possible that the mint operated for a short period of time around the time of the elevation and that event resulted in an abnormally high percentage of coins struck in his honor. It is also possible that the coins are later after the Rome mint had changed over to the shorter obverse legend. Another personal observation is that Provincial mints in Moesia Inferior also seemed to prefer Philip II. Perhaps the young man was for some reason popular in the East. This is another matter needing more study.

Coins of the East vary greatly in terms of art quality and workmanship. Whether this indicates more than one mint or a decline over time in a single mint is not clear. While Rome (as discussed below) used a shortened obverse legend toward the end of the reign, the East continued with the full legend IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS AVG. Many (if not most?) of the reverses used at Rome during the last year of the reign were copied by the branch mint. We seem, however, to lack Eastern versions of the Saecular animals or other types with numbered officinae. This suggests the possible closing and reopening of the branch mint as needed rather than a continuous output of coins. Whether the branch mint of the last period should be attributed to the same city as that of the earlier two operations is not clear. Our example of this last coinage is the elephant type found at Rome only with the shortened legend and generally attributed to the last period of the reign. While this reverse is unlisted in standard references with this obverse, the increasing number of once rare or unknown Eastern coins recently appearing on the market suggests that a complete re-evaluation of the coins of this reign is sorely needed.

Viminacium or Not?

The two coins shown in this paragraph illustrate another question not fully resolved. Above is a Philip I with reverse VICTORIA AVGG; Below is Philip II AETERNIT IMPER. Some attribute these coins to a branch mint at Viminacium. Others allow a mint in this city but do not to include these types. Those who removed these from the bulk of the Rome mint issues point to proportionally higher numbers in hoards found in the Balkan region compared to the great Dorchester (England) hoard. The arguments for this attribution like those by which individual types are assigned to an order are interesting in the way they develop from the evidence but care must be taken to avoid logical traps and thinking that their is only one possible explanation to a situation. Is the style or fabric of these coins is sufficiently different from the rest of the Roman types to warrant their separation? It is even possible that the coins were stuck in a branch mint from dies prepared at Rome or by die cutters 'on loan' to the temporary mint. We must keep an open mind pending updated scholarship from those who have studied the subject in more depth.


The bulk of Philip's coins were issued from the mint at Rome. Except for a very few exceedingly rare denarii, the silver was issued as the radiate crowned double denarius or antoninianus. Specialists in the issue have organized these coins into six groups which they attribute to six separate workshops (officinae). The mint changed reverse types with a degree of regularity using a different type for the product of each workshop. These sets of types are referred to as 'Issues'. Therefore, we will see references to coins being 'Third Issue from the Second Officina', for example. Some of these varieties were only minor modifications of previous types while others were completely different from their predecessors. These assignments to issue and officina were based on studies of style and hoard evidence. Part of the evidence requires acceptance as fact of assumptions that might not be concrete. While much of the overall scheme may be correct, I remain uncomfortable with several details and will await later workers' updates on this matter. The corpus of numismatic literature desperately needs an English language update of the coins of the mid-third century. RIC is weak (or erroneous) in this area and other work in the field consists of numerous articles published in a variety of languages. Other than the observation made above that early coins of Philip use the obverse legend IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS PF AVG and later issues use IMP PHILIPPVS AVG, I will leave the relative dating of specific coins uncovered.

Rome: Early Period

The illustration above includes one coin from each member of the Imperial family. On the left we see a typical radiate, bearded portrait of Philip I. Employing 'traditional wisdom', the combination of the early form obverse legend with the reverse plural abbreviation AVGG would suggest the coin was issued after Philip II was named Augustus in 246 AD but before the adoption of the shorter obverse legend (247?). However, coins of Philip with the GG ending are far too common to all come from this short period. Perhaps, contrary to normal practice, the mint counted the Caesar and used the plural form. Recognizing this, traditional arrangements (RIC) place the AVGG legends as early as the second issue and certainly before Philip II became Augustus. This page can not illustrate all of the types let alone place them in order. Here we see Philip on horseback honoring a return (ADVENTVS) to Rome. Which return? I do not know.

Our sample Otacilia Severa coin is even more a mystery. I show it here as an issue of Rome but the type IVNO CONSERVAT is frequently attributed to the early Eastern mint ('Antioch I, discussed above). I am no expert on these coins but simply do not see the necessity of attributing the coin to the same mint that produced the 'PM' obverse Philips. For the purpose of this page, it will simply serve to illustrate the Empress. Note that a crescent under the bust serves as a denomination mark on female portraits equivalent to the radiate crown used for the Emperor.

Finally (right) is a sample antoninianus of Philip II as Caesar. The portrait bears the same radiate crown used for the Augustus. The reverse PRINCIPI IVVENT (Prince of Youths) was issued with several minor variations in different issues. Here we see of the prince holding a globe and spear with a small captive at his feet .

Rome: Late Period

Shortly after the elevation of Philip II to Augustus (c.246 AD) The Roman mint changed to the shorter obverse legend IMP PHILIPPVS AVG. While several common reverses were issued in this series, our example is one of the more scarce and interesting coins of Philip. Rome at this time was engaged in a major war with the barbarian tribe known as the Carpi. The threat to the empire was serious. Detailed history of the war is not available (or, at least, not known to me). At some point during the struggle, Philip issued a very small issue of a coin VICTORIA CARPICA claiming victory over the Carpi. Victory types were common in Roman coinage but naming a specific foe was less common. Usually this was limited to claiming victory in a region (Germanicus, Britannicus etc.); here the Carpi were singled out. It would seem that the victory was short lived since the coin is among the more rare of Philip's types. Perhaps it was issued as a special type in honor of a specific victory and distributed on a single occasion. Perhaps it was intended as a regular issue and deleted as inappropriate when the tide of the war changed. We simply do not know.

The late period of Philip's reign included two issues of very special interest. The mint had long employed a system of workshops or subdivisions within the mint. In some periods, these workshops seemed to share die cutters so their product could not be distinguished by style. A few earlier issues may have been marked secretly but Philip introduced open marking of these workshops. This subject was addressed on my page on officinae. Which of the two series came first is not clear. The photo above shows a set of the more scarce and less popular of the marked series. Officinae were marked using Greek numerals. Philip I used workshops 1, 2, 5 and 6. Philip II used shop 3 and Otacilia shop 4. These numerals were placed in the reverse fields. Note should be taken of the numerals used for workshop 6. Six in the Greek numeral system was represented by the archaic letter digamma or F. The letter disappeared from common use in Greek centuries before our period but was retained in the numeral system. The form of the numeral varied considerably over the years and included several forms that suggest the obsolete digamma was replaced with a variation of the letter S sometimes called stigma. This is not the place for lengthy arguments on the proper name for this numeral. Coins of this issue vary a bit on the strengh and shape of the lower portion of the letter from an S with weak lower curve to the reversed question mark shown on our example. The other numerals are the normal Greek alphabet forms. Our illustration includes (lower left) an additional coin showing the numeral B reversed or retrograde. This was simply an error made on this one die. The entire series is dated to 248 AD by the legend on the A coin showing Mars and PM TRPV COSIII. B shows Tranquilitas holding a capricorn. G (Philip II) shows Mars, D (Otacilia) has Pietas. E is a particularly nice rendition of the two Philips on horseback with legend VIRTVS AVGG. Finally, S (digamma) is Nobilitas. The series was not issued for a very long time and is among the less frequently seen of the types called 'common' by RIC.

Without doubt the most popular of Philips issues were those in conjunction with the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Rome in 248 AD. Like the above series, six officina were enumerated on the reverses but, this time, Roman numerals were used. All six types were animals surrounded by the legend SAECVLARES AVGG referring to the great Saecular Games of 248 AD. Five of the six show animals that would be familiar to the people from their use (slaughter) in the Colosseum The sixth (number II) was also an animal but the wolf feeding Romulus and Remus would have been recognized as the symbol of Rome rather than as a reminder of the arena. Number I shows a lion, II the wolf and twins, III (Philip II) a moose or European elk, IIII (Otacilia) hippopotamus, V deer and VI antelope. The series includes quite a bit of variation within each number. My illustration shows the common varieties. Most are available in rare versions facing the opposite direction. The moose on III is often scrawny looking a bit like a goat. Oddly the animal never has moose-like antlers. The antelope on VI varies from a curly, swept back horned animal to one with straight, long upright spikes. Numerals V and VI are often seen with rounded forms U and UI.


Bronze coins for Philip and family were struck at Rome in the three standard denominations (sestertii, dupondii and asses) paralleling many of the types of the silver issues. The photo above illustrates the obverses of an early period sestertius for each of the three. Later coins were struck using the shorter legends for Philip I and Otacilia and for Philip II as Augustus. Early bronzes are usually well made and attractive. Toward the end on the reign, bronzes were considerably reduced in size and quality of workmanship. Bronze issues with the Saeculares animal reverses are often dumpy and unattractive.

Many cities in the East struck coins under Philip for local circulation. Most produced only bronzes but a few struck silver. This page will do no more than mention their existence. A few others have been shown elsewhere on this site. Our illustration shows a few representatives of the thousands of provincial coins of the Philip I family.:

Top Row:
1. Zeugma issued an interesting AE28 (top) with a perspective view of a grove of trees inside a wall in front of a temple.
2. Antioch, Seleucis and Pieria, issued large (AE30) bronzes with a variety of bust styles. This is Philip II radiate. The reverse is a bust of the city goddess.
3. Another city named Antioch, Antioch ad Maeandrum, Caria, issued this AE30 in the name of Otacilia Severa. The reverse shows Athena.

1. Alexandria, Egypt, issued billon (very base silver) tetradrachms for Philip. This one shows Elpis and is dated year 4.
2. The small coin is a Philip II 1 and 1/2 assarion (AE20) of Tomis. These small fractional denominations (marked >A in the reverse field) are not frequently seen. A larger image may be seen here.

1. Viminacium, Moesia Superior, produced what is probably the most common of all Provincials: an AE28 showing a personification of the province flanked by the mascots of the legions which were stationed there.
2. One of the few cities to issue provincial silver, Antioch, Seleucis and Pieria, produced this base silver tetradrachm for Philip II.
3. Philip I and Otacilia are shown face to face on this AE26 of Messembria, Thrace. The reverse is Demeter.

The thousands of types from hundreds of cities make a specialized collection of the coins of Philip and family an interesting pursuit. This page was produced rather early in my study of the coins of Philip. It claims no serious scholarship but is intended to show a few images that might spur your interest in these coins. Beyond RIC, I recommend students read :

Eddy, Samuel K., The Minting of Antoniniani A.D. 238-249 and the Smyrna Hoard, ANS NNM No.156, 1967
Muona, Jyrki, "The Antoniniani of Philip the Arab", The Celator, Vol. 16 No. 2 February 2002 pp6ff.

The additional readings suggested in these works will provide those with appropriate language skills many further opportunities to study this interesting period.

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(c) 2002 Doug Smith