Saturday 27 April 2024

The Lupercal on a coin of Marcus Aurelius


Marcus Aurelius, As, RIC 1247

At the recent Harrogate coin fair I found this “middle bronze” in a pick box. This as, dating to the last three months of Marcus Aurelius’ life, has on the reverse the wolf and twins set within a shrine.

Located at south-western corner of the Palatine was a cave that was traditionally the lair of the wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus. It was made into a shrine containing a statue of the wolf and twins, the Lupercal, and that is the monument depicted on this coin.

The decorated grotto under the Domus Livia

It has been claimed that a grotto, decorated with mosaics and shells, excavated under the Domus Livia, the house of Augustus, is the actual location of the Lupercal. This identification is disputed and an alternative interpretation of the find is either a triclinium or nymphaeum dating from Neronian times.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

The supposed site of the cremation of Septimius Severus

The demise of Septimius Severus in York in February 211 was before the anticipated return to Rome with Caracalla and Geta, his two sons. This return was foretold on the bronze coinage of all three of them, if the FORT(una) RED(ux) reverse is interpreted correctly.

Geta, 209-212, AE As, FORT RED TRP III COS II SC

Rather than transport a corpse back to the eternal city the likelihood is that he was cremated locally.

There is, in Acomb/Holgate, a spot known as Severus Hill. It is in the V between Poppleton Road and York Road and can be spotted by the water tower on top. 

There was 19th century speculation that was the spot of the funeral pyre of the dead emperor, logical given the prominent location of the hill overlooking the fort and vicus. Some even thought that it was artificially created for the occasion, but geological investigation shows it to be a natural feature. 

From the hill York Minster can be seen. In Roman times it was the location of the fort headquarters. It is evident that the prominent location of Severus Hill would have been an appropriate location for the pyre to be seen by the troops and the civilian residents of Eboracum. 

Close by, this is commemorated in street names; Severus Avenue and Severus Street, off York Road. The tile shop located at the end of Severus Street has a wonderful modern bust of the deceased emperor.

Thursday 22 February 2024

Septimius Severus enters Rome (eventually)

Septimius Severus, sestertius, ADVENTVI AVG FELICISSIMO AVG SC (RIC 719c)

Here is a sestertius of Septimius Severus with IMP VIII at the end of the obverse legend (dated by RIC to AD 196). With the ADVENTVI AVG FELICISSIMO SC reverse (RIC 719c) I had always assumed it marked the return to Rome after the Eastern campaign, as indicated by the "Liberalities" table on page 72 of RIC (see below). This was also the explanation of Clive Foss in Roman Historical Coins (1990). Curtis Clay, however, put me right.

Liberalities from RIC IV, page 72

In his unpublished 1972 thesis he established that the traditional chronology of 195-7 was wrong: Byzantium actually fell in summer 195 (reflected as IMP VI or VII in imperial titulature). The previous chronology was based on the assumption that the siege of Byzantium lasted three full years, that is until summer 196, because Dio Cassius says it lasted “an entire three-year period”. Clay suggested what Dio meant was actually “two full years and into the third”. Byzantium fell in summer 195 not 196.

The break with Albinus and elevation of Caracalla to the Caesarship occurred in November 195, by which time Severus was in Viminacium; he then marched directly to Gaul, as noted by the historian Herodian, and defeated Clodius Albinus on 19 February 196 not 197. The adjustment in chronology allows the IMP VIII title to be associated with this victory in Gaul.

Septimius Severus, sestertius, Victory over Clodius Albinus (RIC 725)

Around late summer 196 Severus returned to Rome, resulting in this coin type. The “felicissimus”, or joy, in the reverse legend being rather ironic. The entry of Severus to Rome resulted in the death of ten senators as punishment for the Senate’s support of Albinus.

Septimius Severus, sestertius, PROFECTIO AVG SC (RIC 728)

Late spring-early summer 197 he made Caracalla Pontifex and Imperator Destinatus, gave games (MVNIFICENTIA AVG) and his second largesse (LIBERALITAS AVG II) to the people of Rome, and departed on his second Parthian campaign (PROFECTIO AVG).

Septimius Severus, denarius, PROFECTIO AVG (RIC 91) 

Thursday 14 December 2023

The VSV denarii of Aurelian and Severina

Reading (again) Cathy King’s paper on denarii and quinarii in the late third century in the 1978 Sutherland festschrift she observes that from the reign of Valerian to the end of the century their issue was probably restricted to special occasions with the exception of the denarii of Aurelian and Severina. It is quite noticeable that in King’s 2007 corpus of Roman quinarii there is an apparent hiatus in their issue after Claudius II and their issue resumed under Tacitus.

Although not the sole mint for denarii during the reign of Aurelian the Rome mint is the most prolific, particularly after the commencement of the 10th issue, using the arrangement of Estiot in MER XII.1


Issue, Date (MER online)

Reverse and Issuer


1, Oct – Dec 270

VICTORIA AVG (Victory right) Aurelian


9, summer – autumn 274

ORIENS AVG, Aurelian

Includes a type with left facing martial bust

10, end 274 (MER XII.1 suggests November to December)

VICTORIA AVG (Victory left, with or without captive) Aurelian

VSV mark on reverse


VSV mark on reverse


VSV mark on reverse


VSV mark on reverse

11, early 275 to Sep 275

ORIENS AVG, Aurelian






VICTORIA AVG (Victory left, with or without captive) Aurelian

Right facing consular bust amongst the obverse types





12, Sep to Nov 275


“Interregnum” issue, officina letter in right field

The VSV mark that is present only on the denarius in the series of coins issued by Aurelian and Severina and only on the denarii of the tenth issue has provoked some comment in the past. It does not apparently coincide with the monetary reform of Aurelian that introduced the XXI formula to the radiate base silver coinage (often termed “aureliani” in academic literature to differentiate the reformed coins from the pre-reform antoniniani). The aureliani are believed to have started in issue 8, dating to between spring and summer 274. The usual expansion of VSV is to “vsvalis”, identifying the coin as the usual accounting unit, ie, the denarius. If that is the case why is it not present on the issue 9 denarius, nor perpetuated on later denarii, yet the XXI continued on the radiate coins.

An attractive alternative solution is that the VSV mark can be expanded to Vota Solvta Qvinqvenalia, the discharge of the five year vows. This appears attractive given both the year of issue of the type and also the ephemeral use of the formula on this brief issue.

Recently a new theory was put forwards in Num Chron 2013. The VSV formula is postulated to be a phrase somewhat akin to the RSR (Redeunt Saturnia Regna, the return of the Saturnian age) on the coins of Carausius. VSV becomes, perhaps, Veniens Sol Vicit (Sol came and conquered). It echoes the veni, vidi, vici of Julius Caesar, apt after the defeat of Vabalathus in the east and Tetricus in the west. You have to ask, though, if that’s the case I would again question why it wasn’t perpetuated on subsequent issues.

I would suggest that King’s assertion that the denarii of Aurelian are not ceremonial issues is not wholly true. The paucity of the earlier issues discounts this. Also I would argue that the VSV marked pieces are also a ceremonial issue. Even the last issue of denarii issued during Aurelian’s reign, issue 11, contains a consular obverse bust type and also a dated reverse type amongst the repertoire so a ceremonial series may be plausible.


Estiot, S, (MER) Monnaies de l’Empire romain XII.1 d’Aurelien a Florien (2004)

King, C E, “Denarii and Quinarii, AD 253-295”, in Carson, R A G, and Kraay, C, Scripta Nummaria Romana: Essays presented to H Sutherland, 1978, pp 75-104

King, C E, Roman Quinarii from the Republic to Diocletian and the Tetrarchy (2007)

Woods, D, “Aurelian and the mark VSV: some neglected possibilities “, Numismatic Chronicle 173, 2016, pp 137-49

Thursday 30 November 2023

Gordian III's Adventus coins, Antioch and Rome

Roger Bland’s recent book, The Coinage of Gordian III from Antioch and Caesarea (2023), a revision of his 1991 PhD, presents a catalogue and die study of the coins produced for him in those two cities.

This coin, RIC 174 (corrected), Bland 48 (struck from obverse die 77, reverse die 442) from the first series of Antioch radiates is part of a distinctive group of reverse types that suggest an imperial visit by the young Gordian to Antioch in AD 239.

Coin reverses with the emperor on horseback, accompanied by an Adventus legend, have been used from the first century to proclaim an imperial arrival. No such legend on this Antioch coin, just a series of imperial titles, including TRP II and COS, however, the iconography is very suggestive of a visit by Gordian, the titles pointing to an issue date of AD 239.

Other associated radiates from Antioch pair the same dated reverse legend with an image of the emperor stood in an attitude of greeting in a slow quadriga and also seated in a curule chair. There is an overt imperial presence sugested in the devices used.

Although there are no extant ancient written histories that support the idea of Gordian’s visit to Antioch there is some additional evidence. After all, there is always the danger of isolated over-interpretation of coin reverse types (John Drinkwater, in The Gallic Empire, expresses this concern over numismatic interpretations).

The first of these is a Rescript or public government document:

Imp. GORDIANVS A. Rationalibus

Manifestum est nuptiis contra mandata contractis, dotem, quae data illo tempore, cum traducta est, fuerat, iuxta sententiam Divi Severi fieri caducam, nec si consensu postea coepisse videatur matrimonium, in praeteritum commisso vitio potuit mederi.

Dat. Kal. April, Antiochiae, Gordiano A. Et Aviola coss.

The rescript about dowries, is signed from Antioch on 1 April 239 (‘handed down on 1 April at Antioch, in the consulships of Gordian and Aviola’).

The second piece of supporting evidence is an inscription from Rome. The dating of it notes he was in Rome on 7 January 239 thus fixing a date after which he must have set off.

Furthermore it has been noted that Gordian was not present at the meeting of the Fratres Arvales on 11 May 240, which he normally attended, sending them a letter instead. The Fratres Arvales, or Brothers of the Fields, were a group of priests who offered sacrifices to the gods to guarantee good harvests. A long series of the acta or minutes of their proceedings, drawn up by themselves, and inscribed on stone have been discovered. Excavations in the grove of the Dea Dia have found 96 of these records dating from AD 14 to 241 AD.

Gordian’s return to Rome is also recorded in the coin types, for example on this dated equestrian denarius from Rome. Assuming that Gordian’s first tribunician was on his accession in mid 238, and renewed on December 10th each year his third tribunician would be 10 December 239 – 9 December 240. In combination with the absence of Gordian at the meeting of the Fratres Arvales Gordian’s return to Rome came sometime after the second half of May and before early December 240.

In our world we are used to international travel taking a fraction of a day. We forget that travel across the Roman world was much slower and that the emperor could be away from the capital for several months.

Thursday 21 September 2023

Eastern Severan denarii: mint reattribution

A few years ago, after reading Gitler and Ponting's monograph on chemical analyses of Severan denarii, I began to suspect that the eastern attributed coin attributions weren't wholly correct. They identified that some of the coins assigned to Laodicea had a composition closer to the Rome mint issues.

Reading Bland's work on the Antioch coins of Gordian III, where he summarises the previous output of the Antioch mint, he accepts that Butcher is probably correct in his proposed reattribution of location.

RIC 422 "Emisa" = Antioch
Both RIC and BMC assign a large series of coins of Severus to Emesa, the Antioch mint being closed as part of the degradation in city status for supporting Pescennius Niger. 

RIC - "Laodicea old style" = Antioch

Eventually the Emesa mint is closed and succeeded by a new establishment at Laodicea. This change is thought to occur at the change in the termination of the obverse legend from COS II to IMP followed by a number.

Butcher, however, observed that stylistically there is little or no change through from Niger through Severan Emisa issues and early Laodicea coins. This also includes a consideration of the repertoire of reverse types. It only changes when there is a distinctive alteration in "Laodicea" style at IMP VIII, the so called "new style". It is at this time the metal alloy composition also changes. 

Butcher suggests that, other than some rare Alexandrian coins, the bulk of the eastern coins of Severus are from a continuation of the Antioch mint that Niger used. The new style Laodicea coins he places at an un-named location closer to Rome, perhaps in the Balkans. 

RIC 493 "Laodicea new style" = Balkans? 


Bland, R, The Coinage of Gordian III from the Mints of Antioch and Caesarea (RNS SP 60, 2023)

Butcher, K, Coinage in Roman Syria: 64 BC - AD 253 (RNS SP 34, 2004), abbreviated as CRS above

Gitler, H, and Ponting, M, The Silver Coinage of Septimius Severus and His Family, 193-211 AD (Glaux 16, 2003)

Thursday 10 August 2023

The Romano-British coins in the Thesaurus of Oiselius

I've just put a note on my Carausius and Allectus website (link to the full site left). It's about the Romano-British coins in the Thesaurus Selectorum Numismatum Antiquorum published by Jacobs Oiselius in 1677. 

The Romano-British coins in the Thesaurus of Oiselius