An Overview of the Coinage for Orbiana

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Roman Collector, Aug 20, 2019.

  1. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Post your Orbiana coins, comments, or anything you feel is relevant.

    Orbiana Louvre.jpg
    Bust of Empress Sallustia Orbiana, wife of Alexander Severus. Marble, 3rd century. H 23 cm (9 in.). Artist unknown. Musée du Louvre, Paris. Accession number: Ma 1054 (MR 538).


    We know very little about Orbiana, such as when she was born or any details about her early life. She was a daughter of a senator Lucius Seius Herennius Sallustius, and following Roman customs of naming children, she was named Gnaea Seia Herennia Sallustia Barbia Orbiana after her father's lineage. Although we don't know in what year she was born, she was probably in her teens when she entered into a marriage with the then sixteen-year-old Severus Alexander in AD 225, an arrangement orchestrated by Julia Mamaea, the emperor's mother.

    Oddly enough, although the history of Severus Alexander is recorded by Cassius Dio, Herodian, Zosimus, and Lampridius, and all of them mention at least one wife (Zosimus says Severus Alexander had three of them), none of them mention Orbiana by name. The Historia at one point gives his wife's name as Memmia, at another, citing Dexippus, it calls her simply Macrini filia (the daughter of Macrinus). Herodian does not name Alexander's wife at all.[1]

    It is only through numismatic evidence that we know her name and that she was married to Severus Alexander.

    Supposedly, early historians and numismatists thought Orbiana was the wife of Trajan Decius until coins were discovered depicting Severus and Orbiana together.[2, 3] We know her full name from Alexandrian Tetradrachms bearing her complete name on the obverse inscription (e.g. Dattari 4452).

    Severus Alexander's marriage to Orbiana lasted but a few years, however. Historians report that Julia Mamaea grew jealous of Orbiana's increasing influence over her son and she had progressively less influence over him herself. To make matters worse for the hapless young empress, her father approached the praetorian guards to further his own designs on the throne. Mamaea dissolved the marriage in AD 227, and Orbiana and her father took refuge among the praetorians. Since this was a clear act of rebellion, Sallustius was executed on charges of high treason and Orbiana was banished to Libya.[1, 4] She becomes at this point lost to history and her subsequent fate is unknown.


    Official imperial issues for circulation:

    All of the Roman Imperial coins appear to have been minted in Rome as a special marriage issue in AD 225, and pieces depicting Orbiana on the obverse and Concordia seated left on the reverse are found in all metals and denominations ranging from the aureus on down to the as, including the silver quinarius.[5]

    I have two such coins in my collection.

    Orbiana Denarius.jpg
    Orbiana, AD 225-227.
    Roman AR Denarius, 3.47 gm, 19.1 mm,
    Rome, AD 225.
    Obv: SALL BARBIA ORBIANA AVG, diademed and draped bust, r.
    Rev: CONCORDIA AVGG, Concordia enthroned l., holding patera and double cornucopiae.
    Refs: RIC 319; BMCRE 287-290; Cohen 1; RCV 8191.

    Orbiana, AD 225-227.
    Roman Æ as, 11.43 gm, 24.5 mm.
    Rome, AD 225.
    Obv: SALL BARBIA ORBIANA AVG, diademed and draped bust, r.
    Rev: CONCORDIA AVGVSTORVM SC, Concordia enthroned l., holding patera and double cornucopiae.
    Refs: RIC 656; BMCRE 297-298; Cohen 5; RCV 8195.

    In addition, a sestertius and a bronze medallion[6] were issued with the reverse type of the emperor and empress standing facing each other and clasping hands. A variety of this coin depicts Severus Alexander holding a scroll in his left hand.

    An example from my own collection:

    Orbiana, AD 225-227.
    Roman orichalcum sestertius, 20.02 g, 28.6 mm, 12 h.
    Rome, AD 225.
    Obv: SALL BARBIA ORBIANA AVG, diademed and draped bust, right.
    Rev: CONCORDIA AVGVSTORVM S C, Severus Alexander, togate, standing right, holding scroll in left hand and clasping right hands with Orbiana, veiled and draped, standing left.
    Refs: RIC 657; BMCRE 301; Cohen 6; RCV 8194; Banti 3.

    Imperial commemorative medallions:

    In addition to these regular issues, rare medallions are described in silver and bronze depicting Severus Alexander and Orbiana, or the Imperial couple along with Julia Mamaea.[7] The existence of some of these coins is doubtful. Mattingly and Sydenham unequivocally state there are "no genuine coins known" depicting Severus Alexander and Orbiana without Mamaea.[8]

    A silver medallion of antoninianus size depicting Julia Mamaea on the obverse and the confronted busts of Severus Alexander and Orbiana on the reverse is known from two examples. As noted above, medallions such as this formed the first historical evidence that Orbiana was the name of Severus Alexander's wife. This was sold at auction by Tkalec.[9]

    Capture 3.JPG
    Julia Mamaea, AD 222-235.
    Roman AR Medallion, 5.39 g, 12h.
    Rome, AD 225.
    Obv: IVLIA MAMAEA AVG MAT AVGVSTI, diademed and draped bust left.
    Rev: IMP SEV ALEXANDER SALL BARBIA ORBIANA AVG, laureate and draped bust of Severus Alexander right; laureate and diademed bust of Orbiana left.
    Refs: Gnecchi p 47, 1, pl. 23, 5 (these dies).

    Unofficial and counterfeit issues:

    In addition, a number of hybrids and fourrées are cited by Cohen and listed in BMCRE6.[10] A variety of reverse types appear on these unofficial and/or counterfeit issues: FECVND AVGVSTAE (reverse of Mamaea), MINERVA VICTRIX (reverse of Caracalla), PROPAGO IMPERI (reverse of Plautilla), PVDICITIA (reverse of Maesa), SAECVLI FELICITAS (reverse of Maesa), and VENVS GENETRIX, both seated and standing (reverses of Mamaea).

    Here is a fourrée from my collection, which bears the FECVND AVGVSTAE reverse type of Julia Mamaea.

    Orbiana, AD 225-227.
    Roman fourrée denarius, 2.45 gm, 18.7 mm.
    AD 232??
    Obv: SALL BARBIA ORBIANA AVG, diademed and draped bust, r.
    Rev: FECVND AVGVSTAE, Fecunditas seated l., reaching out to child.
    Ref: Reverse of a denarius of Julia Mamaea, RIC 332, issued in AD 232.

    This is a hybrid denarius in the British Museum Collection, BMCRE 987. It bears the Felicitas standing left reverse of Julia Maesa (Cohen 45).

    Orbiana Hybrid BMC.jpg

    Provincial bronze coinage:

    In addition to these official coins and medallions and hybrids and fourrées of the imperial series, a number of provincial mints issued coins depicting Orbiana. Carson[11] notes issues from the following provincial mints: Trapezus, Creteia (Flaviopolis), Prusa ad Olympum, Cyme, Ephesus, Apollonis, Hierocaesareia, Stectorium, Side, Carallia, Colybrassus, and Flaviopolis (Cilicia). Several coins were issued by the mint in Alexandria. This coin, for example (Paul-Francis Jacquier auction 38, lot 257, Sept. 13, 2013) bears Orbiana's complete name. As noted above, it is only from such coins that we know Orbiana's full name.

    Orbiana, AD 225-227.
    Roman provincial billon tetradrachm, 13.17 g.
    Egypt, Alexandria, AD 226/7.
    Obv: ΓN CЄ ЄPЄN CAΛΛ BAP OPBIANH CЄB, diademed and draped bust, right.
    Rev: Eagle standing left, head right, wings closed, holding wreath in beak, L before; S behind.
    Refs: Dattari 4452; Milne 3008; Geissen 2499.



    1. Carson, Robert A. G.. Coins of the Roman Empire in the British Museum. Vol. VI: Severus Alexander to Balbinus and Pupienus, British Museum, 1962, p. 62.

    2. Akerman, John Yonge. A Numismatic Manual. Effingham Wilson, 1832, p. 188, n. 2.

    3. Vagi, David L. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire, c. 82 B.C.- A.D. 480. Vol. 1, Coin World, 1999, p. 309.

    4. Hopkins, R. V. Nind. The Life of Alexander Severus. The University Press, 1907, pp. 57-58.

    5. Carson, op. cit., p. 61.

    6. Cohen 7 (Paris).

    7. Carson, op. cit., pp. 143-44, citing Gnecchi and Cohen.

    8. Mattingly, Harold and Sydenham, Edward A. The Roman imperial coinage, vol. 4, Part 1: Pertinax to Geta. London, Spink, 1936, p. 96.

    9. Ancient Art & Numismatics. “R551 An Excessively Rare and Important Roman Silver Medallion of Julia Mamaea, Mother of Severus Alexander (222-235 C.E.), with Confronted Busts of Her Son and Daughter-in-Law Orbiana on the Reverse, One of Two Known.” Flickr, 26 Dec. 2011,

    10. Carson, op. cit. p. 211.

    11. Ibid, pp. 10-15.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2019
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  3. Mat

    Mat Ancient Coincoholic

    Nice writeup, love the medallion and tetradrachm.

    Orbiana (225 - 227 A.D.)
    AR Denarius
    O: SALL BARBIA ORBIANA AVG, draped bust right.
    R: CONCORDIA AVGG,Concordia seated left holding double cornucopia and patera.
    RIC IV 319, RSC III 1, BMCRE VI 287, SRCV II 8191
  4. Nicholas Molinari

    Nicholas Molinari Well-Known Member

    Thanks for posting.

    Here is my Orbiana:

    Orbiana, AE sestertius (18.27g). AD 225-227. SALL BARBIA ORBIANA AVG, diademed and draped bust right / CONCORDIA AVGVSTORVM S-C, Concord seated left holding patera and double cornucopiae. RIC 655, Cohen 4, Sear 8193, BMC 293.
  5. Ocatarinetabellatchitchix

    Ocatarinetabellatchitchix Supporter! Supporter

    It was my case 5 minutes ago. I feel like my knowledge of her just increase of 100% ! Thanks for the research @Roman Collector .
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2019
  6. lrbguy

    lrbguy Supporter! Supporter

    It is always impressive to me that you are able to get so much info on these, RC. You've been working on Mamaea for a while so it should not be a surprise that Orbiana got some attention along the way. But surprise or not it is very pleasant. Thanks for the words and especially for citing the references.


    This one has been up before. She looks so young.
  7. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    Great write up! ....I've learnt alot today! Thank you RC !...Paul
    Roman Collector likes this.
  8. Ryro

    Ryro You'll never be lovelier than you are now... Supporter

    I knew that she was mysterious but wow! Wonderful coins and write-up on a very enigmatic Augusta.
    Sorry to ugly things up (sad how many times a day that I saY that), but here is my only Orbiana... Or should I say foureebiana?!
    Silver Plated Denarius (3.11 g), Augusta, AD 225-227. Rome, under Severus Alexander, AD 225. SALL BARBIA ORBIANA AVG, diademed and draped bust of Orbiana right. Reverse: CONCORDI-A AVGG, Concordia seated left, holding patera and double cornucopiae. RIC 319; BMC 287-90; RSC 1
  9. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    Denarius of Orbiana Rv. Concordia seated left. RIC 319 2.57 grms 18mm orbiana3.JPG
  10. Multatuli

    Multatuli Homo numismaticus Supporter

    Great coins, and excellent post.
    Here goes my Orbie:
    RIC IV 319
  11. zumbly

    zumbly Ha'ina 'ia mai ana ka puana Supporter

    Thanks for the excellent writeup, RC. I don’t recall coming across a post about Orbiana before that ever made me want to buy a coin of hers. Now, thanks to you, she’s on The List.
    Roman Collector and ominus1 like this.
  12. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    ..i'm wif ya z..:)
    Roman Collector likes this.
  13. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Nice writeup! I've often imagined SA trying to slip off to Africa in later years only to be foiled, yet again, by his mother.

    I haven't yet found the charming portrait on a denarius in decent metal that I'm looking for, but I do have this (smoothed & slightly tooled) as:

    Screen Shot 2019-08-22 at 8.23.15 AM.jpg
    Johndakerftw, Multatuli and Orfew like this.
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