Featured Early (and Rare!) Caracalla Sestertius

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Blake Davis, Feb 17, 2021.

  1. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member

    Rarity is an odd concept in ancient coins, where, as I have mentioned elsewhere, even collectors of modest means can own coins that are unique. Not that rarity is meaningless, with popular coins and types rarity does mean higher prices. But, to put the issue in more focus, consider the sestertii of Caracalla, in fact, the sestertii of the direct family of Septimius Severus generally. Sometime on or near 200AD, the Rome mint all but ceased the production of imperial bronzes, not striking these types, except in extremely small numbers, until 207AD or so. There were some imperial bronzes struck during this period of inactivity, but sestertii are extremely rare - despite close to 15 years of diligent searching I have not been able to buy a single example of a Caracalla sestertius struck from 200AD to 207AD - not one - and have all of one example as an As (RIC 415(c) - INDULGENTIA AVGG IN CARTH - to be posted).

    The early sestertii of Geta as Caesar, are all extremely rare, since he rose to the purple during the "no bronzes" period at the Rome mint. - I posted my one example in an earlier article. However, the Rome mint began striking sestertii of Caracalla (as Caesar) in 196 AD.

    The circumstances under which Septimius struck coins for Caracalla are quite interesting: After the death of Pertinax in 192AD, and the purchase by auction of the loyalty of the Praetorians by Didius Julianus, Septimius decided to make the play for empire. One of his early acts was to enter into an agreement with Clodius Albinus, leader of the legions in Britain under which Albinus was granted the secondary title of Caesar in return for staying put while Septimius dealt with Julianus, which he did. After Pesceinnius Niger, leader of the eastern legions, declared himself emperor, Septimius went east, and defeated Niger in 194AD. Septimius then stayed in the east, battling Parthia, and then taking Byzantium after a two year siege, in 196AD. (I really hope this chronology is correct - all from memory).

    From Wikkepedia: "In autumn 196, Albinus received word that Severus had appointed his elder son Caracalla as his successor with the title of Caesar and convinced the Senate to declare Albinus himself an official enemy of Rome. Now with nothing to lose, Albinus mobilized his legions in Britannia, proclaimed himself Emperor and crossed from Britain to Gaul bringing a large part of the British garrison with him. He defeated Severus' legate , and was able to lay claim to the military resources of Gaul.

    On 19 February 197 Albinus met Severus' army, After a hard-fought battle, Albinus was defeated and killed himself, or was captured and executed on the orders of Severus. Severus had his naked body laid out on the ground before him, so that he could ride his horse over it, in a final act of humiliation. Albinus' wife and sons were initially pardoned by Severus, he appeared to change his mind almost immediately afterwards, for as the dead Albinus was beheaded, so were they."

    Now to the coin - Caracalla sestertius, RIC 397, 14.36 grams, 28mm. Inscribed, MARTI VLTORI. RIC has this as the first sestertius struck for Caracalla, and I most certainly agree. The ancient sources indicate that the Roman Senate was not entirely happy about the appointment of Caracalla as Caesar given that it meant civil war. Septimius would and probably did claim that he forced to do so since Albinus, along with certain members of the Senate, were plotting his demise.

    I have seen several denarii of the same type as this sestertii, and all are underweight, and poorly made as to the flan, as is this. Continued below: DSCN8309 (2).JPG DSCN8311 (2).JPG

    The earliest sestertii of Caracalla, while not common, are at least available, excepting this type, the first one. Most likely this is an accident relating to the means by which coins survive - I noted in an earlier article that one sestertius type for Septimius could be considered common because, according to acsearch.info all of 50 some odd coins had been sold by major auction houses the last 20 or so years. Listed as "Rare" in RIC, I have only been able to find one other example of the above coin, in the British Museum. The obverse is, however, a die match to the same type I have for RIC 399, SECURITAS PERPETVA.

    So what does all this indicate? Perhaps not much - the Senate, maybe the people of Rome may have preferred not to have a civil war, maybe even preferred Clodius Albinus over Septimius, but it does not mean that the Rome mint was making a political statement when it struck undersized coins of Caracalla. There could be many other reasons why some of the earliest coins are underweight - additionally, I have several sestertii of Caracalla as Caesar that are in the 25 grams range - although not of PRINCIPI IVVENTUTIS, which with this type might be the first sestertii struck at the Rome mint. After all, heads would certainly (and literally) roll should Septimius discover that the mint was making its own political statements. But, then again, according to an unreliable source, the mint revolted in the reign of Aurelian...

    One other question - if you could have any ancient coin to add to your collection what would it be? I mean something relevant to what you collect. For me? it would be a sestertius of Caracalla, TRP XX - Pluto and Cerberus, dies made by the Master. Or Geta as Caesar sestertius, DI Patri. RIC 112. dream on....
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  3. thejewk

    thejewk Well-Known Member

    Cracking coin, and an excellent write up, thanks.

    At the moment, the coin I would love to own but I am very unlikely to is one of the issues of Carausius with the jugate busts of Carausius, Maximian and Diocletian. It's such a wonderful design, and historically fascinating to me.
    DonnaML likes this.
  4. ro1974

    ro1974 Well-Known Member

    i am in love:couchpotato:
  5. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I have showed my Caracalla Caesar RIC 399 sestertius here several times but this seems like a time to repeat it. I fail to see how your 397 could be a die link to your 399 since the two types use different legends according to RIC. Mine is clearly as listed in RIC without PONTIF. I did not read the order of RIC listing to suggest an order of issue but just alphabetical order ahead of the PRINCIPI IVVENTVTIS type that shares the first legend.

    Since the denarius was mentioned, I should show mine. He is a bit sad to hear he is "underweight, and poorly made". At 3.1g, he is right at home with my other Caracalla as Caesar denarii (2.6-3.2g).
    The 2.6g one is a bit of a trasher but it is the (later) PONTIF free legend with Minerva reverse.

    I could list a dozen that vie for the top spot. Perhaps the top today would be a Provincial coin of Pescennius Niger, preferably from a city that also issued denarii but I'm being too picky.

    If allowed, there is a fake coin I would really like to own. Back in the early 1970's some sent me B&W photos of a fake as of Pescennius Niger (who has no Roman AE). I have misplaced those prints but, twenty years ago I copied the obverse one and posted on my website as poster coin for 'Fraudulently Tooled'. I would love to own that fake just for the sake of nostalgia.
    http://www.forumancientcoins.com/dougsmith/grade3.html (way down the page)

    There is a category that would be special to me also in the nostalgia sense. In 1974, I sold 150 coins to Joel Malter (for $500). I have NEVER seen a single one of those coins reentering the market. I have foil pressings of many of the better ones and am sure I would recognize several of them on the spot! These are the Didius and Caligula sestertii. If you have them, please write me. I paid fifty cents for the Didius. It may be worth more now???
    foildidius147.jpg foilcaligula.jpg

    I most certainly would like either of the coins you mentioned. I have not seen a TRP XX Pluto of any denomination but do have an as with Sol.
  6. curtislclay

    curtislclay Well-Known Member


    You are right, MARTI VLTORI is the rarest sestertius rev. type of Caracalla as Caesar. By 1972 I knew only five specimens, two in Vienna, one in Paris, one in the Mazzini catalogue, and one in my collection, that I sold to the BM in 1992 and that you have seen in their online catalogue. These five examples were from just one obv. and three rev. dies.

    However, new specimens do turn up at a rate of maybe one or two a decade. Since 1972 I have acquired three additional specimens for my collection, two from the same obv. die as the original five coins, and one from a different obv. die. Your new example too is from that second obv. die, and is among the nicest surviving because of the sharp portrait and rev. type, despite the missing legend due to undersize flan. Could you show us your SECVRITAS PERPETVA sestertius from the same obv. die?

    The weights of sestertii of these years vary a lot, and I don't think those of Caracalla as Caesar were deliberately lighter than the contemporary pieces of Septimius and Domna. For Caracalla's MARTI VLTORI type, my three new coins weigh 20.71, 21.42, and 25.78 g., while the Mazzini spec., a fairly broad piece in VF condition, easily the finest known, weighs 29.67 g.! Yours at 14.36 g. is certainly underweight, but I think not deliberately.

    The RIC listing of Caracalla's bronze coins as Caesar is somewhat misleading, because it doesn't separate the obviously earlier obv. legend, without PONTIF, from the clearly later obv. legend, with that priestly title. The following is the correct order of the rev. types according to my 1972 thesis:

    Caracalla proclaimed Caesar, Dec. 195. Rev. types without PONTIF:

    SEVERI AVG PII FIL, Sacrificial implements
    SECVRITAS PERPETVA, Minerva standing
    PRINCIPI IVVENTVTIS, Prince standing beside trophy (a mule with this obv. legend)

    Caracalla proclaimed Pontifex, Princeps Iuventutis and Imperator Destinatus, c. late spring 197. Rev. types with PONTIF:

    SECVRITAS PERPETVA, Minerva standing as earlier
    PRINCIPI IVVENTVTIS, Prince standing beside trophy

    The MARTI VLTORI type must have lasted until early in 198, alongside the latest IMP X sestertii of Septimius. On 28 Jan. 198 Septimius captured Ctesiphon and was saluted IMP XI PART MAX, while Caracalla was proclaimed Augustus and Geta Caesar. When this news reached Rome, the period of minimal bronze coinage began: all middle bronzes and especially all sestertii bearing the new titles are very rare, a situation which persisted until a reasonably substantial production of bronze coins was resumed late in 209. Note that this period of scanty bronze production lasted from fairly early in 198 until near the end of 209, a few years longer than you state above.

    My want list would certainly include the two sestertii you name, but I wouldn't specify rev. types: any TR P XX sestertius of Caracalla, since I have none so far, and any middle-period sestertius of Septimius and family that I do not already have. I acquired my first middle-period Severan sestertius, a TR P X Galley coin of Caracalla, c. 1971 from Seaby, and have since been able to raise the total to 38: 14 Septimius, 5 Domna, 10 Caracalla, and 9 Geta Caesar. If I could reach 43, I would tie Paris for the highest number of middle-period Severan sestertii in any collection! They wouldn't all be able to lie in my trays, however, since I sold my first 11 pieces to the BM in 1992.
    tibor, philologus_1, Ryro and 10 others like this.
  7. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    A not-so-great Caracalla sestertius, as caesar:
    Caracalla. As Caesar, 196-198 AD. Æ Sestertius (30 mm, 20.44 gm, 12h).Struck under Septimius Severus, 196-197 AD. Obv: Bare-headed and draped bust right. Rev: Pontifical and augural implements: lituus, knife, patera, capix, simpulum, and aspergillum; S C in exergue. RIC IV 400; Banti 124.
    tibor, Ryro, Johndakerftw and 5 others like this.
  8. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    I have always been taken by the extreme variation on these coins. The PeteB sestertius may have suffered a lot over the years but it was well struck from good dies showing care in manufacture better than some of the sestertii including the OP coin.

    This variation also seems greater than average when we look at the silver coins. There are some Caesar coins that are exceptionally well made compared to other coins of the period. It is like the mint had two teams of which only one cared about what they were doing. There is a similar spread for Geta's first coins.
    rm6500xx0293.jpg rm7020bb0827.jpg
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  9. gogili1977

    gogili1977 Well-Known Member

    I have some Caracalla denarii as Caesar:
    IMPERII FELICITAS, 3.0 g, A.D. 197
    FIDES PVBLICA, 3.5 g, A.D. 198
    SECVRITAS PERPETVA, 3.6 g, A.D. 198
    MARTI VLTORI, 3.6 g, A.D. 196-198
  10. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    The OP’s nice coin has a wedge cut out on the reverse, which doesn’t seem to appear on the obverse picture. Strange. Same coin?
  11. PeteB

    PeteB Well-Known Member

    Scratch the above. I enlarged and lightened the "wedge" and indeed it does not extend to the obverse.
  12. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member

    Thank you Doug - You are right about the die link - I had it confused with two other examples - I am so pressed for time lately but that is a poor excuse for not being more careful. I am also clearly wrong about making conclusions about the underweight examples that I have seen.

    What you say about not seeing any of the coins you had sold in 1974 coming up for sale again is interesting. I have often wondered what happened to the large numbers of coins that were sold in the early to mid 2000's. And - again - it is dangerous to make conclusions on scant evidence. As I have mentioned, I keep loose leaf notebooks of sestertii - something about seeing them on something other than a screen - and I have noticed is how few of them ever reappear for sale. Of course that is not true in all cases - it is too generalized a statement and acsearch.info shows the same coins appearing and reappearing.

    Perhaps it is wishful thinking, as if the market will somehow get saturated and prices will moderate. Maybe once in a lifetime - ca. 2004, is all that something like that happens.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2021
    gogili1977 likes this.
  13. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member

    Thank you again Curtis for a wonderfully interesting and informative response. I was wrong about the die match for the Caracalla - I had mixed it up with another type -but in any event here is the Caracalla Securitas sestertius (purchased from an elderly gentlemen from Italy at the local monthly Parsippany NJ coin show in 2002) I referenced and it is clearly NOT a die match for the one photographed above - I also apologize for the poor photograph - the patina is actually a beautiful light green: DSCN8313 (2).JPG DSCN8314 (2).JPG

    Caracalla Sestertius RIC 399 SECURITAS 18.98 GRAMS, 28MM - I have seen this obverse die elsewhere as well.

    This is an interesting, overly smoothed example of RIC 400:

    DSCN8315 (2).JPG DSCN8316 (2).JPG
    Caracalla Sestertius RIC 400 Priestly Objects - 24.13 grams, 32mm - very difficult to photograph because it is so shiny:

    And, because I really like this one, here is an example of RIC 499(b), purchased from Heritage a few years ago: DSCN8317 (2).JPG DSCN8318 (2) (2).JPG
    Caracalla Sestertius RIC 499(b) 24.21 grams, 32mm former CNA XVIII Lot 785
    12/3/91 Caracalla in Quadriga crowned by Victory

    One of the more beautiful types for Caracalla
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2021
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  14. curtislclay

    curtislclay Well-Known Member


    Yes, there is considerable variation in the portraits of Caracalla as Caesar, making it difficult to divide them into a sequence of portrait types, or to separate out what may be the work of different engravers. Questions I tend to avoid in my research, because they are usually so dependent on speculation and lead to answers that cannot be either confirmed or refuted.


    Your SECVRITAS PERPETVA sestertius is interesting, because in my thesis I only knew that obv. die in muled combinations with three PRINCIPI IVVENTVTIS rev. dies, for example BM 608, pl. 26.4.

    Where did you see a TR P XX Serapis seated sestertius of Caracalla? That type seems to be new to me on a sestertius, and no such coin is listed in the unpublished Handbook of Caracalla's coins drawn up by the Hungarian collector C. Spiller in 2017.
    Claudius_Gothicus likes this.
  15. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member

    Curtis - I just reread this - how do you identify a sestertius of Julia Donna from the middle period? It never even occurred to me that coins were struck for her during that time!
  16. RedStallions

    RedStallions Member

    I do not have much to add, but this is a very beautiful coin!
  17. curtislclay

    curtislclay Well-Known Member

    Rarity is one main criterion. I know the following types, in roughly chronological order. Obv. legend always IVLIA AVGVSTA.
    HILARITAS stg. l., scepter not cornucopia in l. hand
    SAECVLI FELICITAS Isis and Horus
    PIETATI AVGVSTAE Julia, Caracalla, Geta
    PIETAS AVGG sacrificing l.
    FELICITAS stg. l.
    MATER AVGG Cybele in lion quadriga
    VESTA MATER temple
    FECVNDITAS Terra recl.
    MATER CASTRORVM Julia sacr. to standards
    Three types known so far only on rare middle bronzes, perhaps corresponding sestertii will eventually turn up:
    IVNO stg.
    PVDICITIA std.
    MATER DEVM Cybele std. l. hlg. branch and scepter (without scepter is earlier and common)
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