This article first appeared in The Celator, Vol. 11, No. 12, December 1997, p. 20.
The coins of the Severans are often ignored as being common,
cheap, and uninteresting. But nothing could be further from the truth: nose
around a little and you will find a coinage that, in my opinion, is as interesting as
any series in Imperial history!
I began collecting ancient
coins about seven years ago, and like most beginning collectors, I bought a
little of this and a little of that. My collecting had no real focus, but I was
learning my way, and since I was buying mostly first century coins, they
were historically interesting and that kept me busy.
However, about two years ago, I felt the need to do a bit more with
this wonderful hobby. I had learned that it was possible for an amateur to
make a contribution to the study of ancient numismatics. In order to do so,
it would be best to specialize in a certain coin type, geographic area,
or time period. Since the field of ancient numismatics is so vast, it is
possible for both professionals and collectors to find their own nooks and
crannies, swap information, and contribute, in however small a way, to the
general pool of knowledge.
Convinced that specialization
was for me, I had only to decide on what coinage to specialize in. The
Imperial coins of Augustus, my first love, were and are very expensive to a
collector on a limited budget. I wanted to study denarii and I wanted
affordable coins: What were my choices?
After searching around for a
while I finally took a look at the coins of Septimius Severus, (AD 193-211)
and I was amazed at what I found.
First of all, there is a
fascinating historical record of the period; the
historian Dio Cassius was a senator during Septimius' reign. Reading
Dio's account of the Civil War that put Severus in power was very exciting.
And that was another reason to consider studying this coinage;
Civil War! During this period, there were two Civil Wars fought over the
Imperial Purple, and each of the claimants, Pescennius Niger and
Clodius Albinus, as well as Septimius, struck coins. But there were other
reasons for me to consider specializing in this period:
1. Septimius himself was a
provincial. Because of this, he introduced several interesting coin types.
2. Once he consolidated power,
he fought the Persians, debased the coinage, and declared a dynasty (He
had two sons, Caracalla, and Geta, who later became co-emperors). All
of these events inspired coin types.
3. His wife, Julia Domna, was incredibly shrewd and had perhaps
more power than any empress since Livia, wife of Augustus. Extensive
coinage was also issue in Domna's name.
4. As if that weren't enough,
there was an extremely interesting series of coins from eastern mints struck
for Septimius Severus at the beginning of his reign.
5. Upon the death of Severus, Caracalla became emperor and
eventually murdered his brother, Geta. Once again, coin types to study.
When Caracalla himself was finally murdered in 217, and Julia Domna
starved herself to death, the head of the Praetorian Guard, Macrinus, was
acclaimed emperor. It didn't take long for Julia Domna's sister,
Julia Soaemias, to launch a conspiracy that would leave her son Emperor of Rome.
Elagabalus ruled from AD 218 to 222, and because of excesses and cruelty he and his powerful mother
were thrown into the Tiber. Another series of coins to study! But
waitthe Severan dynasty continues!)
6. Severus Alexander was immediately declared Emperor
after Elagabalus' murderbut the real power behind the throne was
his mother, Julia Mamaea, whose auntie was Julia Domna! And once again,
a whole series of coins to study!
7. The entire coin series of
the Severans is perfect for the study of chronology. With die links and
commemorative typology one can often unravel the sequence of events.
So the possibilities for
specialization in the Dynasty of the Severans are
vast! And one of the best parts of
the equation for this collector is the fact that there was (and still is) a
great quantity of material available for purchase. Since the competition is
relatively low for this coinage, the prices are reasonable! Of course, there
are some rarities that command a premium into the hundreds of dollars,
but there are also rare coins that can be purchased in the $100 range.
Common , but interesting , coins can be bought for as little as $35 to $75.
And so, I decided to specialize
in and study the coins of Septimius Severus. I have never regretted it.
I have found rare coins, published articles, spoken with true scholars,
made some friends, and formed a great collection..
I encourage you to consider
studying these coins; with hoards coming out of Eastern Europe every day,
there has never been a better time to collect the Severan Dynasty.
(Photos courtesy Classical
Numismatic Group, Lancaster, PA. Persons wishing to contact the author
may send Email to SEPTSEV@aol.com, or write to: T.E. Bray, Box
82082, Portland, OR, 97282.)