Image: Laureate, draped bust of Severus Alexander looking right
Inscription: IMP C M AVR SEV ALEXAND AVG
Image: Pax standing left, holding branch and sceptre
Inscription: PM TR P III COS PP
RIC IVb, Severus Alexander, no. 40, p. 73.
This denarius, probably minted in 224 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Severus Alexander, and on the reverse Pax, the personification or goddess of peace. The inscription, which spans from the obverse to the reverse, refers to the emperor as imperator, Caesar, Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander, Augustus, pontifex maximus, or high priest of the Roman state religion, holder of the tribunicia potestas for the third time, consul, and pater patriae, or father of the fatherland.
The reverse depicts Pax, the goddess of peace, standing, dressed in a tunic, and draped in a stola, holding a sceptre in her right hand and a branch in her left hand. Pax, identified with Eirēnē in the Greek East, was the daughter of Jupiter and Iustitia. There was a festival in her honor on January 3. Pax, or peace, was one of the most important benefits that a ruler could bestow on his subjects. Indeed together with Victoria, or victory, and Felicitas, or good fortune, Pax was the most important benefit depicted on issues minted for the Roman West. Carlos Noreña emphasizes that Pax had for the Romans a dual meaning. Pax could stand for the absence of civil wars as well as for the Pax Romana, or the peace imposed by the Romans on conquered peoples, both the provincials and the subjects of client kings who were allies of Rome (Noreña, Imperial Ideals in the Roman West, p. 127-128). The image of peace depicted on the reverse is slightly different from that generally present in Roman iconography. The cornucopia, a symbol of plenteousness and one of the most important attributes of Pax (as one of the most important consequences of peace), is lacking here. Besides, on the reverse, the inscription Pax Augusti, which emphasizes that the granting of Pax to the empire’s citizens and subjects was the result of the personal power of the emperor, is also missing. This issue was minted at the beginning of Severus Alexander’s reign, two years after Elagabalus was overthrown. Scholars are aware that the first years of the young emperor’s reign were quite difficult. Although the situation on the frontiers was relatively peaceful, Rome was in a situation of disadvantage vis-à-vis Sassanid Persia, the new rising power, which was stronger than Arsacid Parthia. In the West, the situation was probably no better, and Rome could not afford to wage offensive campaigns against the German tribes on its northern borders. Moreover, at the beginning of his rule the emperor devaluated the denarius, reducing the purity of the silver by adding base metal.
This denarius, a denomination used to pay the army, therefore forwarded a challenging message to the soldiers. On the one hand, the Roman empire was relatively at peace with its neighbors, and the soldiers would not risk their lives. Yet on the other hand, they would not benefit from looting or taking slaves from the enemy. Moreover, they were aware that their wages could purchase less. The Roman empire was starting to face one of the main problems that would characterize the third century, namely inflation.
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