Medallion depicting the head of Severus Alexander and the emperor offering a sacrifice to the goddess Roma (228 CE)



228 CE




Name of Ruler: 

Severus Alexander

Obverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Laureated draped and cuirassed bust of Severus Alexander looking right


Reverse (Image and Inscription): 

Image: Severus Alexander veiled and draped, sacrificing out of a patera over altar in front of temple containing statue of Roma; behind emperor, two veiled figures carrying palm-branch, standing left; facing emperor, two priests standing right and a victimarius leading a bull



Gnecchi, Medaglioni II, p. 82, no. 26 and tav. 100, no. 2; BMCRE VI, Severus Alexander, no. 536, p. 165; plate 18, no. 536.

This bronze medallion, minted around 228 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Severus Alexander, and on the reverse the emperor offering a sacrifice in front of a temple to the dea Roma. The inscription on the obverse refers to the emperor as imperator, Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, Severus Alexander, Pius, Felix, Augustus. The inscription refers to the ruler as imperator, or commander in chief of the Roman army, as Pius, emphasizing the emperor's piety towards the traditional gods, as Felix, or prosperous/lucky, and as Caesar and Augustus, titles which referred the ruling emperor. Besides, Severus Alexander emphasizes his association with the previous Antonine dynasty, assuming the name Marcus Aurelius.
The inscription on the reverse refers to the dea Roma with the words Roma aeterna, or “eternal Rome.” In fact, these words can refer both to the goddess and to the hegemony of the city of Rome, a concept embodied by the goddess. The medallion carefully depicts, in minute details, the emperor offering a sacrifice. Severus Alexander is depicted dressed in a tunic, and draped in a toga, with the head veiled, sacrificing out of a patera, or a bowl, over an altar located in front of a temple. Behind the emperor stand two veiled figures carrying a palm-branch, as well as two priests, and a victimarius, who is leading the bull. The sacrifice is performed in front of the statue of the dea Roma. The dea Roma first appears in the Greek East in the second century BCE. In 12 BCE, Drusus dedicated an altar to Roma and to his stepfather Augustus at the junction of the two rivers at Lugdunum. Thereafter, Roma is well attested in inscriptions and coinage throughout the Western provinces. By the first half of the second century CE, the cult of Roma penetrated the Urbs. Hadrian erected the well-known Temple of Venus and Roma in the forum (Cassius Dio, Roman History 69.4). This was the largest temple in the city. In the temple erected by Hadrian, the statue of Roma was depicted holding the Palladium, which referred to the Trojan origins of the Romans and symbolized the eternity of Rome (see Aureus depicting the head of Antoninus Pius and the goddess Roma holding the Palladium (145-161 CE)). Bronze medallions were often distributed to the soldiers as a token of gratitude, or to materialize the generosity of the emperor. This one forwards the idea that Rome was eternal, and that the continuous effort of the army, which kept enemies at bay – the German tribes in the west, and the Sasanians in the east –, would keep forever the hegemony of the oikoumenè in the hands of Rome. Looking back on this issue, it is legitimate to wonder if by then it was already wishful thinking. Yet, as Cassius Dio and Herodian make clear, the first years of the reign of Severus Alexander were positively perceived as heralding a new era. Indeed, contrary to his predecessor Elagabalus, the young emperor restored and upheld the traditional values and gods of the Roman public cults.

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Medallion depicting the head of Severus Alexander and the emperor offering a sacrifice to the goddess Roma (228 CE)
Author(s) of this publication: Samuele Rocca
Publishing date: Fri, 09/07/2018 - 10:40
Visited: Fri, 04/12/2024 - 16:51

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