Septimius Severus, 193-211. Aureus (Gold, 21 mm, 7.08 g, 12 h), Rome, 193. IMP CAE•L•SEP•SEV•PERT AVG Laureate head of Septimius Severus to right. Rev. LIBERAL•AVG COS Liberalitas standing facing, head to left, holding counting-board in her right hand and cornucopiae with her left. BMC 1, pl. 5, 16 ( same dies ). Calicó 2475 ( this coin ). Cohen 280. RIC 18. Extremely rare and with an extensive and most impressive pedigree. A superb example, lustrous and with an exceptionally fine portrait of great beauty. Undoubtedly among the best, if not the best known. Virtually as struck.
Ex G. Kastner 8, 25 November 1975, 219, from the L. Biaggi Collection and that of H. Platt Hall, Glendining & Co., Part II, 16-21 November 1950, 1676, ex E. Merzbacher, 15 November 1910, 1880 ('Römische Münzen aus dem Besitze des Generals S. F. H. und des verstorbenen Herrn A. St. van Muyden in Genf), and from the collections of E. Bizot, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, 19 November 1902, 199, M.H. Montagu, Rollin & Feuardent, 20-28 April 1896, 468 and Du Chastel, Rollin & Feuardent, 27-29 May 1889, 452.
Septimius Severus was the second son of P. Septimius Geta, an eques from Leptis Magna in the remote province of Tripolitania. Born in 146, the young but ambitious North African made a successful career under Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, serving in various civil and military positions before becoming legatus augusti pro praetore provinciae pannoniae superioris, the governor of the important province of Pannonia Superior, in 191-193. As such, he had no less than three legions under his command and was close to several others up and down the Danube river, a position that would soon prove to be a crucial in the civil war to come. After the downfall of both Commodus and his short-term successor Pertinax in 192-193, and following the news of the selling of the throne to Didius Iulianus by the Praetorian Guard, Septimius was acclaimed emperor by the Danube legions on 9 April 193 and marched on Rome. His quick and resolute move met little resistance and Didius Iulianus was killed on 1 June, just days before Septimius entered the city. In response to the scandalous role it had played in the enthronement of Didius Julianus, the new emperor dissolved the Praetorian Guard and replaced it with loyal soldiers from his Danube legions. This was an unprecedented move, for only Italians had hitherto been allowed to serve in the Imperial Guard. The shifting political power, away from the civic center in Italy and towards the regional field armies on the frontiers of the empire, is reflected in Septimius' early coinage: the reverses of his first emission in Rome give us the names of his legions and praise their loyalty. The new emperor made it abundantly clear to whom he owed his throne and he rewarded his legionaries with a pay raise and donations. Our aureus commemorates such a donativum, granted to the loyal troops after winning the war against Didius Julianus. The exceptionally beautiful portrait shows the incredible care that was put into Septimus' first gold emission: we are looking at a vigorous man in his prime years of life, with curly hair and beard, thoughtful forehead wrinkles and a distinctly hooked nose - an individuality that is remarkably different from later, more idealized portraits. The fact that this extremely rare coin has been part of so many of the most famous Roman coin collections of the 19th and 20th centuries is hardly surprising, but still, of course, very exciting!