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222 in the East: two types of portraits for Severus Alexander


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These are both new arrivals, picked because I think they compliment each other nicely.

One is an Imperial denarius, continuing a series of denarii started at Antioch under Elagabal as early as he entered the city triumphantly after the defeat of Macrinus in June 218. After March 222 the mint introduced the new Augustus as IMP C M AVR SEV ALEXAND AVG, with the Augustus bust: laureate, draped and cuirassed. And since it was a departure from the bare-headed busts that had been used by the die cutters who were working on the Alexander as Caesar coinage, and since the two minting operations were probably separate, the new emissions relied pretty heavily on the portraiture of Elagabal for inspiration, in essence drawing Alexander Augustus as a younger and thinner Elagabal:


Severus Alexander as Augustus (222-235)
AR19mm 3.02g denarius minted at Antioch, ca. April 222.
IMP C M AVR SEV ALEXAND AVG; laureate and draped bust of Severus Alexander to right, seen from behind
P M TR P COS P P; Libertas standing front, head to left, holding scales in her right hand and cornucopiae in her left.
cf. RIC IV-2 11 (Rome)

This is certainly the 1st issue as Augustus from Antioch with an interesting choice of reverse, Libertas. Alexander presents his rule as liberating after the infamous rule of Elagabal. The coinage also pairs Libertas with his attributes as had from January 222, adding the definitive attribute of the Augustus as Pater Patriae and likely his first tribunicia potestas.

In very late 221, pressed by a failed attempt on Alexander's life and the popularity of the young Caesar, Elagabal tried to placate the hostility of the military by bestowing Alexander with the title of Imperator (before January 7 - the Planinica military diploma and the Mount Argaios coinage in Caeasarea Cappadocia) and sharing the consulship with him, Elagabal's forth and Alexander's first. Other 'provincial' coinages, like the 'military standards' coinage of Nicaea in Bithynia, seem to indicate that between January and March 222, Alexander might also have taken the name of Severus, possibly prior to the assassination of Elagabal.

So the Antioch subsidiary of the Imperial mint starts striking probably as early as April 222 this coinage for Alexander Augustus. For this phase, other deities were employed too, paired with the same legend -- Mars, Fortuna, etc. This phase did not last very long though, as the types from later on in 222 moved to match the deity with its corresponding legend naming it, and in our case Libertas moves from the P M TR P COS P P legend to LIBERTAS AVG, perhaps no later than May-June 222.


On the other hand, from the neighboring East in Edessa, Mesopotamia, here is a coinage of equal if not more interest -- an intermediary type from the changing of the regime in March 222. Here Alexander is portrayed as a young emperor with the full Imperial attire, laurel, drapery, cuirass beneath, without the die cutters resorting to inspiration from the effigies of the previous regime:


Severus Alexander (221-222) and (222-235)
AE25mm 8.55g brass (orichalcum) (multiple) assarion, minted at Edessa ca. 222.
[AYT K] M A CE AΛƐΞΑΝΔΡΟϹ [...]; laureate draped cuirassed youthful bust seen from back
ΜΗΤ ΚΟΛ ƐΔ[ƐϹϹΗΝⲰΝ]; Tyche of the City seated on basis, l., holding grains; at her feet, lighted altar; on either side, star; below, river god swimming, r.
cf. RPC VI 7820 / cf. RPC VI 7763; cf. BMC 103-5

With the obverse effigy reminiscing of the portraiture of Alexander as Caesar and the reverse common to his later emissions after 222 as Augustus, this coin is a bit of a mystery, especially since the obverse legend is fragmentary. It is likely the early legend for Alexander as Augustus naming him Autokrator (emperor) and possibly Sebastos (Augustus) too, but both these attributes are missing. The name is given as in the early Imperial issue at Antioch (and on provincials too): Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander.

The bust shows a very young, almost child-like emperor, which is similar to his coinage as Caesar, although adding the symbolic laurel crown. The reverse names the issuing city as 'colonia metropolitana'. The name was probably given around the time this coin was issued as the earlier issues under Elagabal and most of the ones for Alexander Caesar have a different titulature for the city: KOΛ MAP [EΔƐϹϹΗΝⲰΝ] or KOΛ ΑΥ ΑΝΤⲰ [ƐΔƐϹϹΑ] ΜΑΡ. Probably around late March 222 the city turns to ΜΗΤ ΚΟΛ [ƐΔƐϹϹΗΝⲰΝ].

Another thing to take into consideration is the definite similitude in subject matter and craftsmanship between the 'provincial' coinages of Antioch and (amongst others) Edessa too at this time, for an interesting Marcus Aurelius Alexander Caesar of the 'provincial' 'Tyche seated series see here. There is a distinct possibility that coinages for multiple cities/towns in Syria and further East in Mesopotamia were either struck directly at Antioch or had Antioch-related minting services working for them. All this while in Antioch proper also worked at least one officina for Imperial denarii.

I find this complexity extremely interesting.

Edited by seth77
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  • seth77 changed the title to 222 in the East: two types of portraits for Severus Alexander

This is interesting.  Thank you for sharing the knowledge and the coins @seth77

Here is what I think is an Antioch early portrait of Severus Alexander - I posted it on CT a few years ago and the consensus was "Eastern" rather than "Rome." This is the third or fourth ancient I ever purchased, long ago:


Severus Alexander      Denarius (222-223 A.D.) Antioch or Eastern Mint IMP C M AVR S[EV AL]EXAND AVG, laureate, draped bust right / PIETAS AVG Pietas standing left, holding right hand over altar, incense box in left arm. RIC IV 292; BMCRE 1057. (2.75 grams / 19 x 16 mm) Columbus, Ohio c. 1987   $23.00


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Very nice examples and great write-up.  Very interesting comparison with your provincial coin.  I always enjoy seeing early and “transitional” portrait styles. On your denarius, he definitely has a resemblance to Elagabalus (though to be fair, they were cousins, so young Sev may actually have looked a bit like a younger, thinner Elagabalus).

I also have an early Antioch denarius of Sev. Alexander, though I think yours was certainly struck before mine.  Also, if you look closely, I think my coin is actually slightly double struck, so it looks like he has two noses.


Severus Alexander, Denarius (Silver, 18 mm, 3.65 g), Antioch, 222 A.D., IMP SEV ALEXAND AVG Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Severus Alexander to right. Rev. VICTORIA AVG Victory advancing right, holding wreath in extended right hand and palm over far shoulder in left. RIC 302.

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At a closer look though, the device held by the figure on the reverse of the denarius of Antioch does not look like scales. On the later types of 222 which have LIBERTAS AVG legend the device is given as pileus and the figure is shown conversely holding either a sceptre or cornucopiae. But an exact figure as on this early 222 denarius holding the small device and cornucopiae is later on in 249 given to Uberitas and the device is identified as a pouch or purse or marsupium. 6271836.jpg.626d7217be0770a512a3d8fad4fb4532.jpg




7963214.jpg.07ca60606f70dcaa178bf767c88f1c79.jpgTo make matters even more confused (or perhaps to show that the confusion Libertas-Ubertas is not singular, the mint workers at the Imperial mint of Antioch are known to have also confused Libertas with Liberalitas:



So now I wonder who is the deity on the early Alexander Augustus P M TR P COS P P -- is that Libertas with the devices usually assigned to Uberitas, is it a syncretic Libertas or an early numismatic representation of Uberitas?

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