Featured Fortuna did Not Favor This Woman

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by kevin McGonigal, Jul 25, 2021.

  1. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    We all hope that "Fortuna" or good karma or heaven, smiles upon us and bring us good things. In the case of historians they often show us why historical characters were so favored (or not) in this life. Today, I'd like us to take a look at the life of a person most numismatists of ancient coins recognize, the Roman empress, Julia Domna.

    Julia Domna's coins are among the better known coins of Ancient Rome but her biographers are not, as they are not numerous or as well known. For the empress we have the Fourth century Historia Augusta, which mentions her, but the author(s) who put together that compilation of stories is not considered reliable by later historians. We do have, however, two historians, both writing in Greek, Herodian and Cassius Dio, who actually lived during her lifetime and both are today considered to be fairly accurate recorders (if possibly melodramatic) of what they saw. Herodian was at one time dismissed as too anecdotal but recent finds and discoveries bolster his reported observations. Cassius Dio also has a reputation of trying to get the story right and he often does. it is probably this historian that most moderns writers cite when writing about our empress, Julia Domna.

    Julia was born between 160 and 170 AD in the Roman East, possibly Syria. Her family included religious leaders and Roman officials and was both wealthy and influential in that part of the world. She attracted the attention of the Emperor, Septimius Severus who actually traveled to Syria to see about a possible marriage which took place shortly thereafter and this would provide the emperor with a consort much like the later Justinian-Theodora match most are familiar with. She was no mere adornment but like Theodora, or the earlier Livia for Augustus, a definite asset to the rule of Septimius. According to Dio Cassius she was entrusted with real power and used it judiciously and wisely. So valued was her counsel that Septimius took her with him on his campaigns and travels for which she acquired the not commonly awarded title, "Mater Castrorum", Mother of the Camp.

    But Julia Domna was not just the wife of Septimius but also the mother of his successor, actually both of them, her sons Geta and Caracalla, and this brought her great sadness and heartbreak as she watched her two sons fight over the throne they refused to share. Julia did everything she could to reconcile the two and get them to share power. It was her attempt to reconcile them that brought about the death of the younger Geta, as when the two showed up at a conference brokered by Julia to arrange some kind of power sharing, Caracalla attacked Geta and, according to Dio Cassius had him stabbed to death in his mother's arms, splattering her with Geta's blood. It's pretty difficult to imagine a more traumatic experience than this.

    For whatever reason she accepted what she could not change and now took upon herself the role of almost a modern prime minister for her son and again assumed great administrative powers which she again handled adroitly. Unfortunately, she lost her second son when Caracalla was murdered by his own troops ( a hardly uncommon happening) and succeeded by an army commander, Macrinus, with whom she had no relationship or attachment. Here the record is somewhat murky. According to some, Macrinus was willing to take on Julia in some capacity but also that Julia was trying to undermine Macrinus herself. Macrinus supposedly found out, ordered her out of Syria and when she realized she had no future anywhere she is alleged to have starved herself, to death. Cassius Dio completed his book on Julia by saying, and I am paraphrasing here, something like, anyone envisioning her life could see that exercising vast powers would not see Fortuna being kind. I think such an assessment sadly true in her case.

    Now for the coins. Coins of Septimius and Julia are fairly common and often in very nice condition. From the left on top, a chunky sestertius of Septimius Severus weighing 23 grams with Felicitas on the reverse. RIC 692a. a denarius of Julia Domna weighing 3.3 grams with Pudicitia on the reverse, Sear 1848. Next another chunky. greenish hard patina sestertius of Julia herself with Cyble on the well worn reverse. It weighs in at 21.6 grams and is Sear 6628. On the second row a denarius of the unlucky Geta weighing 3.4 grams with Pontifex and consul on the reverse. it is sear1913. Next to it a denarius of Caracalla with a promotional image of his liberality (for the 9th time) on the reverse. it weighs 2.8 grams and is Sear 6814, Then two of the earliest coins of the double denarius denomination. First is of Julia with a seated Venus on the reverse and weighing 4.8 grams. it is Sear 7098. The next double denarius is of Caracalla with a slew of titles on the reverse and weighing in a 5.1 grams, Sear 6772. Following that is a silver tetradrachma of a grimacing Caracalla , one of many thousands issued to pay for his ongoing Parthian War, from the mint of Sidon (cart of Astarte). it is from Sear's Greek Imperial as number 2679. And last is a 13 gram multiple assarion from Nicopolis with Macrinus on it and what I think is "homonoia", harmony or concord on the reverse. By the way I am not that good on Roman provincials. I think the obverse is Sears Greek imperial 2913 but if any reader can provide more information on this coin I would appreciate it. I hope you like the write up and share some of your coins of these people. IMG_2074Severans rev..jpg coins. Any that you have on these characters, please comment and share. Thanks. IMG_2072Severans obv.jpg
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2021
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  3. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter 3rd Century Usurper

    Interesting and detailed write-up - thank you. Nice coins as well.
  4. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Lovely coins and informative write-up, @kevin McGonigal!

    Coins with Fortuna reverse types were issued at various times for Julia Domna. She's one of the more interesting figures -- both historically and numismatically -- to collect!

    Domna FORTVNAE FELICI seated child before denarius.jpg
    Domna FORTVNAE FELICI seated denarius.jpg
    Domna FORTVNAE FELICI standing denarius.jpg
  5. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the kind remarks.
  6. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Roman Collector likes this.
  7. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    ..great writeup and coins! ... i'd reckon we know why on her later coins she's wearing a scowl on her face..who wouldn't... IMG_0517.JPG IMG_0518.JPG
    Spaniard, Ryro, singig and 6 others like this.
  8. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    Yes, I should have noted that, too. In the early denarius she looks quite happy with the way things are going, maybe even a bit hubristic, and the gods took notice. The double denarius where she is pictured was probably minted around 215 AD and by that time reality had set in, hence the scowl. Thanks for pointing that out.
    ominus1 likes this.
  9. happy_collector

    happy_collector Well-Known Member

    Great writeup, @kevin McGonigal

    Always good to know more about Julia Domna coins, and their various designs. :)
    Spaniard, Ryro, singig and 6 others like this.
  10. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    That picture of the coin on the left looks like a very unhappy, unfortunate person.
  11. Marsyas Mike

    Marsyas Mike Well-Known Member

    Interesting write up and a very handsome array of Severans.

    This Julia Domna denarius features Fortnuna and is one of the nicest ancients I own (which means it's probably a fake :():

    Julia Domna - Den. FORTVNA FELICI RIC 552 May 2017 (0a).jpg
    Julia Domna Denarius
    (c. 210 A.D.)
    Rome Mint

    IVLIA AVGVSTA, bare head right (late hair style) / FORTVNAE FELICI, Fortuna
    standing left, holding cornucopiae and leaning on reversed rudder.
    RIC 552; RSC 55; BMC 24
    (3.13 grams / 18 mm)
    eBay May 2017
  12. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    The weight is right and the coins issued from Eastern mints and those from Rome have noticeable differences in appearance. i am not well versed enough to determine the differences but some collectors are real experts in this. You might try posting your coin and asking about that.
    Marsyas Mike likes this.
  13. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    ..well, i'm no expert...and i gave up gambling, but i'd bet money it's legit Charles...:)
  14. DonnaML

    DonnaML Well-Known Member

    My favorite Julia Domna, portraying her on the reverse as Isis with the infant Horus (Harpocrates):

    New Julia Domna - Isis COMBINED.jpg

    Another Julia Domna as non-Roman goddess, this one as Cybele with a lion at her feet. In other words, a bit closer to her actual origin!

    Julia Domna - Mater Devm - Cybele - jpg version.jpg
  15. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    Looks fine to me.
    ominus1 likes this.
  16. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member

    Unfortunate? Perhaps I have met too many minor league politicians but I suspect there are thousands of politically attuned people who would give anything, including a spare child, to be queen of the world for half their adult life and go down in history of one of the most influential women of history. How may Roman women do you consider more fortunate than Domna? Septimius married her because an omen foretold that she would marry a king.

    These people were not Mother Teresa grade saints. In the real-history version of 'Game of Thrones' pretty much anything goes. Some will say Maesa was as fortunate as Domna since she was able to engineer the change of puppet grandsons when the first was not living up to expectations. How does this compare to having one of your kids kill another? When Domna married Septimius Severus she bought the lottery ticket that paid big returns. If you want to feel sorry for someone, consider the girl who married Pescennius Niger.

    Here are a couple Fortuna denarii from 'Emesa':
    rk5365fd3372.jpg rk5367fd1640.jpg

    ...and one 'LORTVN REDVC'?

    From Rome, we get FORTVNAE FELICI recognizing the fact that, toward the end of the life of Septimius, she was the most fortunate and happy of all.
    rl6010bb2152.jpg rl6170bb0301.jpg
  17. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    I guess we see matters differently, as they, perhaps did. if I had one of my children kill the other in front of me I don't think any other thing that happened to me in life afterwards would have me deem my life to have been a fortunate one.
    Magnus87, ominus1 and Marsyas Mike like this.
  18. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    ..i think most would agree ...and i've considered maybe the celators of that day were of the same mind....i'd think it rare to find a Julia Domna coin hammered during Caracallas reign to have a smile on it.
  19. Spaniard

    Spaniard Well-Known Member

    @Kevin McGonical......Nice coins!
    Here's my happy family..
  20. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    It would be interesting to compare her images on coins issued as the wife of Septimius as opposed to those issued later under her son, Caracalla. I don't have enough of her coins to do that. The coins that Caracalla issued himself, as sole emperor, don't often look like those of a person liking anybody. I have often thought that in comparing emperors, that Caracalla belongs close to the top of any list of cruel rulers along with the likes of Caligula or Domitian. Readers might want to, as a an illustration of this, take a look at what Caligula did on a visit to Alexandria when he was annoyed at the behavior of some boisterous youth. Perhaps Julia was numbed by her son's behavior by this point, or maybe, like Agrippina, she would countenance murder, in advancing the career of her son, as Agrippina did for her son, Nero. Maybe most Roman parents would countenance anything to advance their children's careers but the story of Cornelia and her two jewels, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, seems to show Roman parenting in a more favorable light, at least by our standards.
    DonnaML and ominus1 like this.
  21. ominus1

    ominus1 Supporter! Supporter

    ...right..and now you mention it, Caracalla doesn't seem to be smilin' too much on his later coins either...:)
    kevin McGonigal likes this.
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