World Coins

Year of Five Emperors: Septimius Severus

Editor's note: this is the third part of a series by Coin World Senior Editor Jeff Starck about the ancient coins from the Year of Five Emperors. This story appeared in the December issue of Coin World.

Upon arriving in Rome, Septimius Severus took command, quickly replacing the entire praetorian guard with a force of men loyal to him, numbering twice as many as the old guard. 

Severus began to issue coins in his own name and that of his wife, the Syrian noblewoman Julia Domna. Severus even struck very rare coins in memory of Pertinax, whom he had forced the Senate to deify. 

Severus spent part of his early reign addressing other would-be emperors who also came to answer the public’s call. 

One general, Clodius Albinus, was based in Britain; another, Pescennius Niger, was at the other end of the Roman world, in Syria. Both were hailed emperor by their legions and seemed eager to stick to their claims. Severus put Albinus at bay by granting him the subordinate title of Caesar, allowing Severus respite to deal with Niger. 

Severus issued many coins at the Rome Mint on behalf of Albinus as Caesar. 

Severus issued legions of coins for himself and his wife as they led an army east. In a series of engagements in Thrace and Asia Minor, they defeated Pescennius Niger. 

Severus’ rule continued until 211, so his coins are the most obtainable of all rulers during the Year of Five Emperors. The inscription TRP without any Roman numerals following the inscription identifies the coins issued between June 1, 193, and the end of that year, according to Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum, Vol. V (Pertinax to Elagabalus)

For building a set simply representing the year’s five emperors, it is far easier to obtain a random-dated example than to pinpoint one from the first seven months of his reign. 

An encapsulated Choice Very Fine silver denarius of Severus sold for $56 in a Nov. 5, 2015, auction by Heritage. Dealers in ancient coins sometimes have unslabbed examples for as low as $25 (this author has found them on occasion for that price). 

Heritage on Jan. 5, 2015, sold a common gold aureus of Septimius Severus for $3,290 — the piece was graded by NGC as 2/5 for surface (strike was 5/5). Nicer examples, or with rare design types, will command more.

Severus’ sons Caracalla and Geta assured the continuance of the Severan Dynasty, which eventually lasted until 235. 

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