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Severus Alexander as Caesar at Odessos and the continuation of his coinage as Caesar after 222


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Before I get to the actual point, two things:

1. If you are after a coinage to check the box of Alexander as Caesar under Elagabal, then the tetrassaria of Odessos in Moesia Inferior is likely your best bet to find a cheap decent specimen -- and a large one to boot.

2. What I have learned this summer once I decided to follow through with my interest in 'provincial' coinage is that the learning curve is especially steep at the start of any new endeavor, so even with less time to devote to numismatics and less disposable income allotted to auctions, the kick you can get from learning new things is very high, directly related to the fact that even a tiny fraction of time spent researching brings high returns knowledge-wise. I knew that when I started my interest in the Crusader period, when I ventured into french feudal and when I tried my wits around the coinage of the Latin Empire and the Palaiologai. But it's always nice to be reminded how good and healthy for your mind it is to learn new and consequential things every single day, even if you devote just half and hour to research. And that can only happen when you approach a new domain, that sense of intense discovery has a very short life span, and the more 'proficient' you become in one field, the less it feels like you are progressing every single day. In fact, almost the opposite is true.

This spring I was almost certain that I'd go through with a paper regarding the likelihood of deniers tournois and parisii being minted for Louis X and Philippe V of France. The paper would have been in two parts, one for Koinon and the other for OMNI. This research is probably 3-4 years in the making, with some revealing cherry-picked material et al. Eventually the more I dwelled on my initial hypothesis, the less I trusted my own judgement and knowledge. The more I went into researching french periodicals for the analogies and arguments, the less I felt like I was learning or pushing forward with my research and knowledge. Eventually I put everything on hold and put it on stress, children, day job. Then, getting into 'provincial' Roman coinage suddenly felt like the surge of energy and knowledge that I had been missing before in my regular fields of interest.

Now sorry for the exposition, and here is a specimen from the issue that I mention at point 1:


AE25mm 8.85g orichalcum tetrassaria(?) minted at Odessos in Moesia Inferior ca. 221-222 (and possibly later)
M AYP AΛΕ - ΖΑΝΔΡΟϹ; bare-headed draped and cuirassed bust r, seen from rear
ΟΔΗϹϹ - ΕΙΤΩΝ; Theos Megas standing facing, head l. holding cornucopia and patera over fiery altar
AMNG 2309, RPC VI 1713 temp


The effigy is certainly coherent with Alexander as Caesar, the obverse legend gives him no title and I think there is no doubt that the series started while Alexander was Elagabal's Caesar. But when did it stop?

Well, RPC has for this type 44specs. That's a great deal of recorded material for just one variation of the 'standing Theos Megas' type while the figurehead wasn't even Augustus. In what RPC records as '2nd Group' -- an issue that records Elagabal with 45 specs (RPC 1729) and Alexander as KAIC with 22 (RPC 1730), likely spanning at least 221, if not perhaps 220 too for Elagabal -- things seem to be clearer, although even there Alexander is overrepresented if we compare to any and all other mints, both 'provincial' and Imperial. But for the '1st Group' -- that certainly starts with the elevation of Alexander as Caesar in 221 -- the disparity is almost impossible: 9 types (or variations) for Alexander Caesar vs 1 type for Elagabal, 77 vs 2 specs for Alexander Caesar vs Elagabal. So at Odessos, Elagabal is an absolute rarity while he was Augustus. Why?

Well, I think that the most likely possibility is that the obverses did not change for Alexander after the change of regime in 222. Odessos had been minting coins for both Elagabal and Alexander since 221 and when Elagabal expired, the series continued for Alexander in this denomination. What is rather extraordinary is why new issues in other denominations kept this obverse representation for Alexander as Caesar, even though he had become Augustus. I don't know of any Alexander as Augustus issues from this mint, perhaps other more experienced numismatists in 'provincial' coinage know some?

Is it possible that the mint stopped issuing after 222 -- if this is true, then it would just as suddenly start minting again for Gordian III as early as 238, this hiatus is not historically justified. It's true that this hiatus also means no coinage for Maximinus Thrax, possibly hinting to a conflict in Moesia Inferior at that time.

Then again, the coinage for Gordian III includes the Theos Megas reverse in a similar posture as seen on the coinage of Elagabal and Alexander Caesar, so could this be an indication that the massive coinage for Alexander Caesar functioned as some sort of 'immobilized' coinage for the period of 221-238? Theos Megas was used as a reverse device extensively at only three mints in Moesia Inferior: Odessos, Dionysopolis and Istros; in its different forms and representations he has been associated with local 'heros' (or the emperor) and even Mithras.

Edited by seth77
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Not having a printed copy of the relevant RPC to consult, I'm having trouble following your argument.

How does RPC separate Elagabalus' first and second  groups of coinage at Odessus? Apparently both groups included coins of Alexander as Caesar, so confined to the short period c. June 221-March 222?

I may be overlooking your key argument, but the specimen counts you quote fall short of persuading me that Odessus continued to strike coins for Alexander as Caesar even after Elagabalus was slain and Alexander became Augustus in 222.



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Posted (edited)

Hello Mr. Clay,

RPC online has 3 separate groups for the coinage of Odessos under Elagabal and Alexander, which distinguish themselves by obverse legend:

Group 1 - ΑΥΤ Κ ΜΑΡ ΑΥΡΗ ΑΝΤΩΝΕΙΝΟϹ for Elagabal and Μ ΑΥΡΗ ΑΛΕΖΑΝΔΡΟϹ for Alexander (with the very rare Μ ΑΥΡ ΑΛΕΖΑΝΔΡΟϹ Κ RPC VI 1712)

Group 1b - ΑΥΤ Κ Μ ΑΥΡ(Η) ΑΝΤΩΝΕΙΝΟϹ for Elagabal and coinage for Soaemias, Aqulia Severa and Maesa

Group 2 - ΑΥΤ Κ Μ ΑΥΡΗΛΙ ΑΝΤΩΝΕΙΝΟϹ for Elagabal and Μ ΑΥΡΗ ΑΛΕΖΑΝΔΡΟϹ ΚΑΙϹ for Alexander

Of them only Group 1 shows Alexander without any title and Elagabal is very rare in comparison (2 to 77), while Group 1b has no Alexander (although with issues for Aquilia Severa, it probably goes through Elagabal's whole reign). Group 2 has coins for both Elagabal and Alexander, with a ratio of more than 2 to 1 for Elagabal.

Perhaps the numbers and the ratios are not enough to convince you of the possibility of the continued minting for Alexander as Caesar post March 222 (I am not convinced either, I have just noticed this fact and started to ask some questions), but the RPC grouping and the numbers could indicate a possible chronology: Group 1 spanning the reign of Elagabal 218-222, Group 2 marking the elevation of Alexander (it is the only group that gives Alexander the title of Caesar) and Group 1 with no title for Alexander, basically the two emperors are addressed to in the same manner, with the differences being the bare-headed effigy of Alexander and Autokrator for Elagabal. If you add to this the numbers and the ratio of Elagabal to Alexander, I wonder if it wouldn't be possible that they just continued this coinage for Alexander even after 222.

Edited by seth77
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