Jump to content

A numismatic snippet of the regime change in March 222 at Nicaea


Recommended Posts

This coin is exactly why I love numismatics and why I am certain that historians in general need to be more aware of numismatic research.

The coin:


AE19mm 3.17g copper assarion, minted at Nicaea, ca. March 222(?)
[M] ΑΥΡ CEVH Α[Λ]Є[Ξ]ΑΝΔΡΟϹ K; radiate, draped cuirassed bust r. seen from back
NI - K - AI - E - ON; three legionary standards
REF: cf. RPC VI 3250


This is a very interesting obverse legend, naming Alexander with the Imperial addition of Severus, while giving his title as just Caesar instead of Augustus. RPC has one similar but with a fragmentary legend that does not give the actual title (RPC VI 3250). The reign of Severus Alexander sees the most copious amounts of such small currency being minted at Nicaea, employing the early phase obverse legends translated from the Imperial coinage (likely the denarii with M AVR (SEV) ALEXANDER CAES/AVG obverse).

The special design of the reverse was probably intended, initially during Caracalla's reign, as a 'military type' and its spread towards Europe, especially the issues by Severus Alexander, could be related to the movement of troops from East to West around 231, from Alexander's eastern campaign to his western campaign on the Rhine. The coinage started reaching the Danubian provinces of Moesia Superior, Dacia and Pannonia and up to Raetia in large numbers, very likely as the area of the Western Balkans and up to the mid Danube suffered from lack of base metal coinage as a result of the closure of the Stobi mint in Macedonia -- Dario Calomino mentions this possibility in 'Bilingual Coins of Severus Alexander in the Eastern Provinces' (American Journal of Numismatics 26 2014 pp. 210-11). This is probably the same time that sees the beginning of the 'cast copies' of the city coinages of Moesia Inferior on the Lower Danube. It could also be the beginning of the period when 'limes falsa' denarii become common on the Rhine frontier.

But this specimen is a very particular and likely brief issue that ties probably with the period around the assassination of Elagabal. Alexander is given the junior titulature of Caesar while the effigy is not bare-headed as usual for a Caesar but radiate, and he is awarded the full Imperial name of Severus Alexander. The radiate bust here does not have the common implications of the Imperial coinage in terms of value. But, together with the 'Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander' form instead of the usual 'Marcus Aurelius Alexander' reserved for him as Caesar, it does suggest a senior emperor.

The radiate crown could be explained with a bit of history tho: following the first attempt by Elagabal to rid himself of Alexander, an attempt foiled by the Praetorian Guard who took upon themselves to protect the young Caesar, the emperor was forced to bestow his cousin and Caesar with the title of Imperator (Autokrator on Greek coinages, but unused at Nicaea), a title that Alexander is using since at least January 222 (see the military diploma at Planinica dated January 7 222) and which could explain a more direct authority and as a result, an Imperial effigy on his (provincial) coinage. There are analogies for a bust type with adjuncts -- at Antioch and Edessa for instance there are known diademed/laureate busts of Alexander as Caesar, probably dating also to the first months of 222.

The legend form, together with the lower weight and diameter might mean a transition coinage minted shortly before Elagabal is killed in March 222 or shortly after. This hypothesis, if true, also offers a very narrow dating window to the month of March of 222. The presence of 'CEVH' (for Severus) on the obverse legend could also indicate a later issue, but with 'K' for Caesar as titulature it is unlikely that it would have been much later than around mid March 222.

It is also worth noting that the singular example of a similar coin in RPC (VI #3250) has a fragmentary legend that is interpreted as lacking any titulature. This possibility also fits with the changing of regime, as the mint transitioned from a reign to the next. These coins with 'transitional' features are to be expected in the context of a continuous minting, which is likely the general condition of the 'military type' coinage at Nicaea in the early 220s.

Could this unusual legend be just an error by the die cutter, who (sometime after March 222) mistakenly added Alexander's previous title of Caesar instead of Augustus, or a hint that possibly the period between January 222 (when Alexander shares both Imperator and Consul titles with Elagabal) and March 222 (when Elagabal is disposed of) is when Alexander becomes Severus Alexander, thus an official and undisputed member of the Imperial dynasty, consolidating his position and his future as Augustus, while Elagabal was still alive and the official emperor?

All of this from a 15EUR coin, Fedex factored in.

Edited by seth77
  • Like 12
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Here is two other earlier specimens for Alexander as Caesar in Nicaea:


AE23mm 6.18g orichalcum (brass) assaria multiple, minted at Nicaea, ca. 221.
Μ˙ ΑΥ˙Ρ˙ ΑΛЄΞΑΝΔΡΟϹ ΚAI; bare-headed draped and cuirassed bust right, seen from back
NI - KA - IE - ON; three legionary standards
cf. RPC VI 3096 (temporary), cf. RecGen 580a

This variation is not recorded in the regular references but the general type is well known. Similar spec here.

The obverse die was also used for different reverse types, as seen here and here. The coinage for Alexander as Caesar is usually scarce to rare and dies used for different types with the same obverse are regular within colonial coinage.

The alloy used is also interesting, as orichalcum is evocative of imperial sestertii, possibly this issue was tariffed at 4 colonial assaria, the equivalent in official terms to the imperial sestertius of four asi. The assaria from Nicaea in Bithynia was used extensively, as finds confirm, as currency in Moesia Superior, Pannonia, Raetia and Dacia Traiana around the second quarter of the 3rd century, as limes provinces were not very well provided with Imperial coinage. Colonial assaria such as this specimen were of paramount importance to the local economy on the Roman Danube, which is probably how this specimen ended up in a Czech collection, possibly a find from Pannonia or Raetia or Moesia Superior.

Very nice specimen, which only adds to the rarity and interest. With a higher diameter and weight, this specimen is likely early in the series.



AE24mm 5.10g copper assaria multiple, minted at Nicaea, ca. late 221 or very early 222(?)
Μ ΑΥΡ ΑΛЄΞΑΝΔΡΟϹ K; bare-head right
NI - KA - IE - ON; three legionary standards
cf. RecGen 580a (for general type)


A different variation from the one above, with the bare head only in truncation. This effigy variation is not regular for Imperial issues either, although it becomes common after 222 during his reign as Augustus.

Also, this specimen seems to be of red copper rather than brass orichalcum.

This one comes from an Austrian collection.

The difference in modules and weights between 221 to early 222 and March 222 is rather clear.

Edited by seth77
  • Like 5
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 months later...

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...