Featured Sestertius of Caracalla Struck When the Rome Mint Began Striking Sestertii in Quantity Again

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Blake Davis, Jun 21, 2019.

  1. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member


    In the year 200 or so the emperor Septimius Severus completed his second trip to the east. His campaign had been against the Parthian Empire, reportedly in retaliation for the support it had given to Pescennius Niger. Septimius' legions sacked the Parthian royal city of Ctesiphon and the northern half of Mesopotamia was annexed to the empire. Right around the same time, for reasons which can only be guessed at, the Rome mint ceased striking bronze coins, in all varieties - sestertius, as and dupondius. This followed a trend that had been going on for a few years with each year progressively less coins were struck in bronze. (Curtis Clay has an article that discusses this on the Forum coin site). By the year 200 AD, such a small number of bronzes were being struck that the conclusion is that those that were struck were presentation pieces given out on special occasions - no doubt to the delight of those who received the coins, along with, a couple of thousand years later, numismatists, and collectors of means. In 205 AD, to our knowledge, not a single bronze coin was struck at the Rome mint.

    Why did the Rome mint stop striking in bronze? Perhaps the needs of the legions were such that the mint had resources only to strike in silver and gold. Or it could be that Septimius Severus believed that the mint of Rome should only strike in precious metals. Fortunately, the loss of bronzes from Rome was more than made up by huge numbers of bronze coins that were struck at provincial mints, again no doubt delighting both those in the provinces, who now (hopefully) had enough coins to satisfy their needs, as well as numismatists and collectors of limited means who are for the most part able to afford these fascinating pieces. In many (20) years of searching I have only been able to find two sestertii from this period that fit within my budget - one of which is the Septimius Severus "DI PATRII" type also discussed in one of the threads, and is my "favorite" coin. (I am, of course, still looking for other examples). The other is the Geta as Caesar, also posted on one of my threads.

    In or about the year 208 AD, again, for reasons unknown, the Rome mint once again began striking coins in bronze - sestertii, dupondii, and as. There were some differences between the bronzes now struck and the earlier coins. First, and this is very much my opinion, the workmanship considerably exceeded that of the earlier period - the flans were on average, larger and more rounded, the artistry far exceeded the earlier period, and the coins were struck in higher relief. This is more pronounced on the sestertii than on the other types. Perhaps by 208 AD the Rome mint had got rid of the celators who were working during the latter part of Commodus' reign, which is noted for poor workmanship in all metals.

    Also, by 209 AD, the Rome mint was striking bronze coins for Caracalla and Geta as Augustus - in fact, Geta appeared together on many coins with his father and brother. This brings us to RIC 652(b) Caracalla, the coin above. The coin was struck in early 210, during Septimius Severus' mission to Britain, which was the means to hopefully bring his sons together and to pacify the northern part of the island. The reverse of the coin shows Geta and Caracalla on either side of Septimius Severus, with all three in priestly garb making a sacrifice in front of an alter. This same type exists with Septimius and Geta on the obverse as well. Some descriptions of this coin mistakenly identify the middle figure as Concordia, but better examples clearly show the middle figure as Septimius Severus. Having this type struck for all three members of the ruling imperial family meant that there was an important message that was being conveyed on the reverse.

    In fact, this is a beautiful example of how coins were used by the Romans both as units of money and to send messages to the masses, in this instance, to illustrate both security in the present through the mutual love between members of the imperial family, and hope for the future once Septimius Severus was gone and the two brothers shared the crown. There are other coins struck at Rome during this time, in bronze, with the same message. In fact, one rare type shows both Caracalla and Geta on the reverse, Geta being crowned by Hercules, and Caracalla being crowned by Liber. See RIC 659 Caracalla. (there is some controversy about the figure crowning Caracalla). The RIC 659 type, Caracalla also exists for Geta, and it does include a type with "CONCORDIA" inscribed on the reverse, as well as dated types.

    The above coin also illustrates the better quality of the bronzes from the Rome mint. Note how it is nicely centered, and how the figures on the reverse are nicely proportioned. A less worn example would better show the beauty of the portraiture, but this coin does illustrate it as well to some extent. The celator for this coin is not the famed "Caracalla master" but is talented nevertheless. Oddly enough I do have a coin that does show the work of the Caracalla master that was from the same flan mold as this coin - the flans match perfectly. The coin was purchased on an ebay sale from an Italian dealer.

    Note: I did much of this article on the fly - comments are appreciated. When it comes to the bronze coins of the Severan age I am never at a loss for words, as I find these coins endlessly fascinating. Despite many attempts I have never been able to shift my focus in ancient coins to anything else. Interest yes - everything about ancient coins is fascinating to me - but focus, no.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2019
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  3. Orfew

    Orfew Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus Supporter

    Thanks for the writeup, and please keep writing passionately about these coins.
  4. furryfrog02

    furryfrog02 Well-Known Member

    That was a great write-up and a very nice coin. Thanks!
  5. ominus1

    ominus1 Well-Known Member

    very nice and uncommon piece. :)
  6. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Blake, that's a great looking coin :jawdrop:. Fine portrait, interesting reverse, round planchet, both sides well centered, & a great patina. What are the dimensions: weight & diameter ?
  7. Shea19

    Shea19 Supporter! Supporter

    Excellent read, thanks for posting.

    Such an interesting coin, especially considering that we know how the story ended for the brothers...definitely a lot less “mutual love” than what they tried to portray on the coin.
  8. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member

    Al - I do not have the coin here and will let you know - if I were to guess 32mm, 23.70 grams - we will see how close I get to it on Monday, when I measure. I just happened to have some photographs of some of my coins, and did the writeup based on the one that I thought was most interesting. Blake
  9. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member

    Yes - one of the additions I am going to make to the post is to include what happens to Geta - I just have to figure out where it fits best.
  10. Roman Collector

    Roman Collector Supporter! Supporter

    That's a lovely example! Here are a couple of bronzes issued under Caracalla for his mama! They have the same reverse type:

    Julia Domna, AD 193-217.
    Roman Æ As, issued under Caracalla, 10.36 g, 25 mm.
    Rome, AD 211-217.
    Obv: IVLIA PIA FELIX AVG, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
    Rev: IVNONEM SC, Juno standing left, holding patera and scepter; peacock at feet.
    Refs: RIC 599b; BMCRE 224; Cohen 89; RCV 7129; Hill 1354.

    Domna IVNONEM Sestertius.jpg
    Julia Domna, AD 193-217.
    Roman Orichalcum sestertius, issued under Caracalla, 21.3 g, 32 mm.
    Rome, AD 211-217.
    Obv: IVLIA PIA FELIX AVG, bare-headed and draped bust, right.
    Rev: IVNONEM SC, Juno standing left, holding patera and scepter; peacock at feet.
    Refs: RIC 585b; BMCRE 210; RCV 7114 var.; Hill 1345.
  11. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    Caracalla Ae Sestertius Rv.Mars stg l. RIC 490a 211 A.D. caracallas2.jpg The apparent lack of aes coinage at this time is a bit of a mystery as there is a similar phenomenon during much of the reign of Claudius and the first part of the reign of Nero. There could be a number of reasons for this and at this time I am simply speculating with little or no evidence to back what I say up. So beware.
    1. The Romans preferred to mint precious metal coins and would only mint aes if they had bills to pay but no readily available precious metal.
    2. Could be evidence for imperial financed building programs within Rome itself.
  12. ancient coin hunter

    ancient coin hunter Amen-Ra-Hotep

    Very nice article and I learned something new about Roman coins. Thank You. Do you think the shortage of Imperial bronze caused the effusion of provincial coinage as a way of substituting for the missing small change coins?
  13. Alegandron

    Alegandron "ΤΩΙ ΚΡΑΤΙΣΤΩΙ..." ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ, June 323 BCE Supporter

    Super write-up and excellent Sestertius, @Blake Davis !
  14. kevin McGonigal

    kevin McGonigal Well-Known Member

    AS for the dearth of subsidiary bronze coinage the reason may not have strange or esoteric. Recall the gap in US silver dollar minting from the early 20th Century until some twenty years later. No need for them. Considering the outpouring of provincial brass there may have been no need for them.
  15. Agricantus

    Agricantus Allium aflatunense

    Excellent post and coin. There was a tooled specimen recently for sale, it mentioned Concordia and it was tooled as such. I do not have Caracalla imperial bronze, so here's my provincial heavy metal from Comana, Pontus. Nike holding palm and wreath, on top of baetyl. 30mm, 15g

  16. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member

    Terrence - I look at that Caracalla sestertius you have posted over and over again. I have not seen one in this condition, and it answers some questions I have thought about concerning how Mars was engraved by the celator who did this type. Also the eye, hair and ear treatment on the portrait is revealing as to how the coin looked when struck - something you sometimes only guess at with more worn specimans - in fact, I believe this is the least worn of this type I have come across. A copy of this will also go into the loose leaf folders I have of Severan sestertii -it has been a terrific research tool.
    Roman Collector and Pellinore like this.
  17. Severus Alexander

    Severus Alexander Blame my mother. Supporter

    Fascinating post, thank you! I would love to hear more about "the Caracalla Master" and how to identify dies by him.

    I have a Sep Sev as from 210-11 and Caracalla sestertius like Terence's from 212:

    Screen Shot 2019-06-23 at 6.18.00 PM.jpg

    Screen Shot 2019-06-23 at 6.18.29 PM.jpg
  18. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    While I have heard the theory that the later style was better, I never saw it personally. There were better and worse all along. I never developed an interest in aes or Rome after 193 so have nothing to add here. Nevertheless, I have a few.
    How many distinct cutters do you recognize? Are they separated or dated other than the 'master'?

    sestertius as Caesar RIC 399
    as earlier Augustus period 204 AD

    as RIC 477 undated middle period

    as 210 AD RIC 479

    later dupondius RIC 501 rm6830bb0128.jpg

    Posthumous but too awful to be of much help - this is a die match to the only other four tier sestertius I have seen but I have no idea how many there are.
  19. Terence Cheesman

    Terence Cheesman Supporter! Supporter

    jdomnas2.jpg I also have a more or less contemporary sestetius of his mom. Sestertius 211-217 A.D. Rv. Juno stg left. 24.59 grms RIC 585a Panrel 321 (This coin)
  20. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    While the coin is low grade and reverse is doubled, I found the eye on this portrait interesting. Was the cutter trying to go back in history or was this just sloppy?
  21. Blake Davis

    Blake Davis Well-Known Member

    I will have to get back to you on the number - I recognize two distinct syles of Caracalla sestertii in his years as Caesar, one with short, "military" style hair, and the other with longer hair. I really like the Caracalla Divv
    I read about the "Caracalla Master" - I believe - in Wayne Sayle book on Roman Imperial Coins. I thoroughly agree that there was someone special at the mint who was doing the imperial sestertii in the later years of Caracalla's reign, but I have not seen the same excellence of style in the coins of Macrinus or early coins of Elalgabalus. Of course I have not made a thorough study either.
    us type, and have read the article on that piece many times.
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