Over the past couple of weeks, I was presented with one of the most unusual challenges in my time in the Coin Industry. One of my customers told me that she was trying to interest her daughter of 25 years in coin collecting. The customer said, “I told her collecting is all about the story behind the coins. My daughter told me, ‘It had better be a pretty darn good story to interest me.’ So that’s why I’m calling you. I need a coin collection with a great story.”
“What kind of a story do you want?” I asked.
“I’m afraid it’ll have to be a soap opera,” she replied.
Almost immediately the story of the ancient Roman Septimius family came to mind. I knew part of the story because I had collected some of the coins, but little did I know just how convoluted this clan was. The more I researched it, the more intrigued I became. The story behind the coins involves power, murder, politics and sexual deviation, and many historians believe this family, and their interactions, was just one of the signs of the fall of the great Roman Empire.
The coins in this collection are all silver denarii (singular is denarius). The coins are slightly smaller then a dime, and were circulating legal tender in the Roman Empire from the mid-190s to the mid-220s A.D. When one of the family member’s name appears in all capital letters, that will indicate a coin in the collection. This group of coins is also a great example of how to create a collection utilizing your creativity. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the story.
The story starts with a young Senator who held a praetorship by the name of SEPTIMIUS SEVERUS. He hailed from a wealthy and distinguished equestrian family from the African city of Lepcis Magna, located about 130 miles east of present day Tripoli. Upon the death of his first wife, he sought the hand of a woman he knew only by name. She was from a prominent family in Syria from the City of Emesa. Her name was JULIA DOMNA, and was only 16 year old when she and Septimius Severus wed.
Julia Domna knew she was destine to marry this prestigious Senator, because a fortune teller told her the man she married would be an Emperor and she would become a Queen. Upon the death of the Roman Emperor Commodus, civil war erupted. Septimius Severus rose to power by gaining both control, and support of the military through increasing the pay and benefits for soldiers. Although he increased the size and financial holdings of the empire, his reputation was sullied by the carnage used to maintain control.
Septimius Severus and Julia Domna had two sons. The oldest is known in historic accounts as CARACALLA, and the youngest son, by only eleven months was GETA. To say there was sibling rivalry between the two sons would be an understatement. Caracalla attempted to kill his brother by the age of 10. The older brother even planned and attempted to do away with both his father and brother on several occasions. In 208 A.D., there was an uprising in Britain. Septimius Severus and his armies were needed to quell the insurrection. In order to protect his youngest son Geta, Severus took the whole family with him to England. In 211 A.D., Severus died of illness near the present day York. His final instruction, to his two sons, was to rule together as brothers. Upon their father’s death, the aggression between the two brothers only escalated.
Finally Caracalla went to his mother Julia Domna, and convinced her that her and his father’s efforts to create peace between the two brothers had worked. He wanted her to arrange a reconciliation meeting, and to make Geta feel safe; he wanted their mother present. The meeting was set, and as Julia Domna and Geta entered the meeting place, when centurions attacked Geta. Wounded and bleeding, Geta ran to his mother and died clinging to her. Caracalla forbade Julia Domna to grieve the loss of her youngest under penalty of death. Caracalla was now sole ruler of the Roman Empire, and to insure there would not be any retaliation against him, Caracalla ordered the execution of all of Geta’s associates. It is believed thousands died by this order. Julia Domna moved to Antioch, and it was reported she committed suicide through starvation.
JULIA MAESA, the sister of Julia Domna, was very upset over the Domna’s suicide, and held Caracalla responsible. Taking advantage of a military campaign Caracalla led to the region of Edessa, Syria, it has been conjectured that one of his praetorian perfects, Macrinus, (personal bodyguards) was paid to ambush him. Macrinus briefly took control of Rome until Julia Maesa had him assassinated.
Julia Maesa was the mother of two daughters, JULIA SOAEMIAS and JULIA MAMAEA. Maesa and her daughters were not about to let the Roman Empire out of their grasp. Soaemias claimed that her son, ELAGABALUS, was the son of Caracalla, and Julia Maesa persuaded the Roman armies to swear allegiance to this youth.
Elagabalus proved to be a most unsuitable Emperor of Rome. He became involved in a series of homosexual crushes. The most notable of these was with the high profile charioteer Hierocles. These lovers were given appointments to high government positions, which offended the aristocrats, bureaucrats and the military. His overly effeminate ways, and his wandering the streets in the evenings pretending to be a female prostitute created many enemies. At the urging of his grandmother, Julia Maesa, he married JULIA PAULA in an effort to appear normal. He soon divorced her as being “Bodily Unsuitable,” and further offended the Roman people and their religion by marrying a Vestal virgin. Again, Julia Maesa plotted behind the scene against Elagabalus and his mother when an attempt was made on the life of SEPTIMIUS ALEXANDER. Septimius Alexander was the son of Maesa’s other daughter Julia Mamaea. Elagabalus and his mother, Julia Soaemias, were murdered one evening in March of 222 A.D. Their bodies were defiled and dumped in the Tiber River, and their memories condemned.
Septimius Alexander was a very young Emperor of Rome and was heavily influenced in his decisions by his mother and grandmother. He too was finally assassinated in order to rid Rome of the influence of the Julia women.
This ten-coin collection hit the mark not only with my customer but also with her daughter. The collection only celebrates the main members within the Septimius family and leaves plenty of room for expansion to other relations if the customer so desires. This is what coin collecting is all about. It is the creation of a collection around a story. It is fun and challenging. Pick you favorite era, pick your story within that era, and collect the coins associated with it.