Denarius depicting the head of Septimius Severus and a captive seated under a trophy (195 CE)



195 CE




Name of Ruler: 

Septimius Severus

Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Laureate head of Septimius Severus looking right


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Captive seated right; weapons in background

Inscription: TR P IIII IMP V COS II

(RIC IVa, Septimius Severus, no. 433, p. 149)
This denarius, minted in 195 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Septimius Severus, and on the reverse a captive, with his hands bound behind his back, seated under a trophy. The inscription refers to the emperor as imperator, Caesar, Lucius Septimius Severus, Pertinax, Augustus, consul for the second time on the obverse, and holder of tribunicia potestas for the fourth time, imperator for the fifth time, and consul for the second time on the reverse, highlighting the most important titles of power assumed by Septimius Severus. Thus, he appears as imperator on both the obverse and the reverse, acknowledging the military power conferred upon him by the army as commander in chief. Moreover, both the obverse and the reverse also emphasise the fact that Septimius Severus had been appointed consul for the second time; the first instance as consul suffectus was under Commodus, probably in 190 CE, and the second in 194 CE, together with his rival Clodius Albinus. Last but not least, Septimius Severus had assumed also the name Pertinax, to highlight his association with the murdered successor of Commodus, in order to enhance his legitimacy.
The depiction of a barbarian standing under a trophy on the reverse originated in coins minted by Julius Caesar, which celebrated the conquest of Gaul. In this case, the bracae, or trousers, of the barbarian figure, along with his Phrygian cap, indicate his eastern origin. In 194 CE, Septimius Severus moved against Pescennius Niger, who had been proclaimed emperor by the eastern legions, in the wake of the murder of Pertinax. By the end of 195 CE, his rival had been defeated and executed. However, Pescennius Niger could count on the support of eastern potentates, such as the buffer kingdom of Adiabene as well as the Nabataeans, living in the province of Arabia. It seems that the neighbouring Parthian kingdom supported his rival. According to the Historia Augusta, Septimius Severus easily defeated the rebels (SHA, Life of Septimius Severus 18). Therefore, the iconography of the scene depicted on the reverse, refers to these campaigns, waged in the wake of the civil war against Pescennius Niger.
The scene clearly mirrors that of the previously minted series Iudaea capta by Vespasian and Titus, and of Germania capta, minted by Domitian and by Trajan, in the wake of their respective German campaigns, and by Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus in the wake of their victories in the Parthian War and in the campaigns against the Marcomanni. Trophies, made of the spoils seized from the enemy and which were attached to a tree trunk, were set up as public monuments from at least the mid third century CE, and became regular features of numismatic issues to celebrate the conclusion of wars or conquests, often with an accompanying figure of Victoria or of bound captives (Stevenson, Dictionary of Roman Coins, p. 819). The trophy and the two prisoners depicted on this reverse emphasised Marcus Aurelius’s victorious campaign, but in an abstract sense rather than a specific moment or battle. As Charles Parisot-Sillon and Arnauld Suspène rightly argue, in reference to the coinage minted under Julius Caesar that depicted a Gaul bound under a trophy, the image of the defeated barbarian corresponds to a constructed stereotype, rather than to a particular reality. It is possible to argue the same for this coin as well.
Roman warlords never celebrated their victories in civil wars against fellow Romans. Indeed, Augustus had celebrated his triumph against Cleopatra through the erection of a huge triumphal arch in the Roman forum, the Actian Arch, without mentioning his defeated rival Antony. Thus while on the one hand, Septimius Severus apparently celebrates his victorious campaigns against rebellious provincials and client kings, on the other hand, the coins also quietly celebrate his triumph of his rival Pescennius Niger.

Keywords in the original language: 

Bibliographical references: 

"Le stéréotype du barbare dans la communication monétaire a la fin de la République romaine"

Parisot-Sillon, Charles, Suspène, ArnaudContacts de cultures, constructions identitaires et stéréotypes dans l' espace méditerranéen antiqueMénard, Hélène , Plana-Mallart, Rosa49-61"Le stéréotype du barbare dans la communication monétaire a la fin de la République romaine"MontpellierPresses universitaires de la Méditerranée et Maison des Sciences de l'Homme de Montpellier2013
Realized by: