The Roman Empire

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Roman Empire, Page 8 = CRISIS I



This new “Journal Entry” provides an update on the 8th Page of my NGC Ancient Custom Set entitled “The Roman Empire.”

This Page is 73% complete (11 coins out of 15 slots).

Here is a link to the Collection…


Here is the synopsis for the Page, entitled "CRISIS I”…


The Empire heads into turnoil, marked by the tumultuous Year of Five Emperors (193 AD) and the subsequent rise of the Severan-Emesan Dynasty.


The follow are comments on the coins I choose for this Page and why…


  • Didius Julianus.  This Emperor learned the hard way that purchasing the purple does not come with a money back guarantee. This slot needs to be filled.
  • Manlia Scantilla, wife of Didius Julianus.  This slot needs to be filled.

NOTE: I also thought about adding a slot for Didius’ and Manlia’s daughter, Didia Clara – but that would mean I would have to eliminate another coin from the Page, and the best candidate to remove would be the denarius featuring the youthful looking Geta.  However, I love the opportunity to present coins featuring both young and old looking versions of his Geta, and his brother Caracalla.  So…I am a bit constrained here since I am trying to fit into using the “15 coins per Page” format for this collection.  This is my list for this Page, at least for now.  Since this is a custom collection, I reserve the right to change my mind later (indeed, having full choice over content is a great pleasure of an NGC Custom Set!)

  • Pescennius Niger. This slot needs to be filled.
  • Clodius Albinus. This slot needs to be filled.
  • Septimus Severus.  Besides having one of the all-time coolest names for an Emperor, Severus represents one of Rome’s most fascinating, if rather brutal, Emperors.  In many ways his reign set the mold for an Augustus’ reign during the great Crisis of the Third Century.  This coin is special to me since it is one that I purchased at a shop among several choices, rather than at auction (and I can’t explain but it seems so satisfying to see and hold the coin in your hand before buying it rather than from a picture).  I was thrilled to see this coin graded by NGC as Ch AU*, strike = 5/5 and surface = 5/5.  Appropriately for Severus, the reverse of this denarius features Virtus, the Roman deity of bravery and military strength, holding Victory, and decked out with a shield and a spear.  Interestingly, NGC notes that an alternative interpretation is that the figure on the reverse is not Virtus but instead Roma. Take a close look at the uploaded image - a wonderful engraving regardless of the actual identity - and you can decide for yourself.
  • Julia Domna.  No doubt about it, ancient Rome was a male-dominated society.  Even so, the history of the Roman Empire comprises numerous examples of powerful and/or otherwise remarkable women.  Of particular note are the women of the Emesean clan, several of whom were very powerful in their own right, and among them first to be Roman Empress was Julia Domna - even the name tells you something, she re-invented herself employing the feminine form of <i>dominus</i>, or Latin for Lord, when she married Septimus Severus. She arguably became the most honored and influential Empress in the history of the Roman Empire.  Highly intelligent, she earned the nickname “the Philospher,” and socialized with the best minds of her time.  Not to mention she traveled with the troops to the point she earned another nickname of Mater Castrorum (Mother of the Camp).  This coin of Julia Domna’s is a denarius that graded MS, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 5/5.  I choose this coin for its interesting reverse - Pudicitia, the Goddess personifying modesty and sexual virtue. Julia Domna’s enemies accused Domna her sexual impropriety, and this coin represented a response to such accusations. Notably, Pudicitia’s right hand is on her breast and she faces frontward, directly towards the coin's viewer. These were unusual numismatic conventions at the time, reinforcing the legend’s message with a direct and unflinching gaze.

  • Caracalla, Reign as Caesar.  This is a spectacular denarius, graded Ch MS, Strike =5/5, Surface = 5/5.  I choose this coin as an example to depict the “boyish” visage of Caracalla. In contrast…

  • Caracalla, Reign as Augustus.  This denarius is one of a few coins in this collection that graded Gem MS, the highest possible NGC ancients grade, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5.  Coins like this one that earn such a graded are truly breathtaking to behold, especially considering their age.  Besides the grade, I choose this coin as an example to depict the mean-looking adult Caracalla after he “turned to the darkside”.  Seriously, Caracalla by all accounts turned out to be a cruel ruler; after all, he murdered his own brother Geta. This coin features Apollo on the reverse (read my Owner’s comments for an interesting discussion of Caracalla’s visit to the shrine of Grannus, a Celtic deity identified with Apollo who was associated with spas, healing, and hot springs).

  • The next slot is a denarius featuring Plautilla, wife of Caracalla.  It graded MS*, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5.  I choose this coin as (one of many) examples of Roman propaganda.  The reverse features Concordia, the Roman goddess personifying related concepts such as concord, agreement, and harmony. You can probably guess about Plautilla’s story…for details, see my Owner’s Comments.

  • Geta, as Caesar -  this denarius graded Ch AU, Strike =5/5, Surface = 5/5.  I choose as an example of the boyish Geta.

  • Geta, as Augustus - this denarius graded MS, Strike =5/5, Surface = 5/5.  It earned a Fine Style designation, tough to achieve for Roman coinage.  I choose as an example of the “adult” Geta.  I find it very interesting to compare the two Geta coins and the two Caracalla coins.  The brothers’ saga echoes the fable of Romulus and Remus.

  • This slot is a denarius struck for Julia Maesa, one of the powerful Julias.  It graded MS, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 4/5.  I found the reverse a fascinating choice for the Emesean matriarch – once again, Pudicitia. Probably, the design meant to distance Julia Maesa from her grandson Elagabalus.

  • Next up is a denarius featuring Emperor Macrinus, graded Ch AU, Strike = 4/5, Surface = 5/5.  Macrinus hailed from the Equestrian class (not a patrician) and he made some sweeping changes in Roman politics, or at least he tried to…evidently, he went too far…see my Owner’s Comments for his interesting personal history.  I happened to like the reverse image of Roman goddess Salus, daughter of Asclepius, god of healing. The particular engraving suggests comfort and confidence, nether of which, alas, was characteristic of Macrinus’ reign. 

  • The next coin is a Syrian bronze featuring Macrinus and his son, Diadumenian. While in far lower condition than others on this page (graded Ch VF*, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5), this coin is nonetheless cherished by me.  In particular it is a “plate coin,” i.e., the exact coin featured in a plate, or illustration, in an ancient coin reference book. Having your very own coin featured in such a fashion, besides the obvious confirmation of attribution and authenticity, also provides a certain thrill and satisfaction. For more details about the coin and Diadumenia, see my Owner’s Comments.
  • Last coin for this page is a denarius featuring Julia Soaemias.  It graded Ch MS, Strike = 5/5, Surface = 5/5.  Of all the Emesean Julias, history is least kind to Soaemias.  No wonder, since she was mother of Elagabalus.  For some of the juicy details, see my Owner’s Comments.  



Recommended Comments

MC: Thanks for your comments, I appreciate it.


The coins on this particular Page are relatively high grades for ancients.  In my opinion, I find it comparatively more accessible to obtain high-grade coins from 3rd vs earlier centuries of the Roman Empire's history. It is also my opinion that this reflects, at least in part, the rapid debasement of silver coins and the large quantity of them that were struck during the great "Crisis of the Third Century."  It follows that there are more coins in high grades available, not to mention the increased tendency to start to hoard coins (i.e., remove them from circulation) around this time.  It is astonishing to think that as a ballpark number about 100 million denarii were needed annually during this period to maintain Rome's military machine. Just to put in perspective, I don't think the US produced that many dollar coins annually until late 20th century?! 

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