Numismatica Ars Classica, Zurich   |   Auction 105   |   9 May 2018 Sort by Lot-NumberSort by Estimate
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Lot 63

Estimate: 35'000 CHF   |   Starting price: 28'000 CHF Price realized: 50'000 CHF
Caracalla, 198 – 217. Aureus 208, AV 7.43 g. ANTONINVS – PIVS AVG Laureate head r. Rev. PONTIF TR P XI COS III Septimius Severus, togate, standing facing, between the seated figures of Caracalla, togate and laureate, on his r., and Geta, togate, on his l. C 455. BMC p. 271, §. RIC 106. Calicó 2786 (these dies).
Extremely rare and in exceptional condition, undoubtedly among the finest specimens
known. A superb portrait of fine style and a fascinating reverse type.
Virtually as struck and almost Fdc

This coin published:

J. de Foville, RN 1903, pl. 17, 10.


From the Karnak Hoard of 1901, and immediately acquired for the collection of the Cabinet des Médailles et Antiques de la Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, inv. FG 1163. This and other aurei were deaccessioned between December 1960 and April 1962, and acquired by Herbert Cahn (against 400 Lagid silver coins from the collection of Giovanni Dattari).

Sold by Münzen und Medaillen, Basel, auction XXV, 17 November 1962, lot 624, to Bank Leu.

Claude Vaudecrane (1915-2002) Collection, sold by Bank Leu Zürich auction 87 (”A Perfectionist Collection”), 6 May 2003, lot 62.

Sold by Numismatica Genevensis SA, Geneva, auction 4, 11 December 2006, lot 202.

This stunning aureus was struck to celebrate the third consulship of Caracalla, which he assumed in A.D. 208 with his brother Geta as his colleague. Upon taking up this position, they departed for campaigns in Britannia together with their father, Septimius Severus, the senior Augustus. The coin was almost certainly distributed as a donative to the army at the Roman New Year festival, when consuls normally inaugurated their magistracies.

The obverse features a beautifully executed portrait of Caracalla as junior Augustus, a position he had held under his father since A.D. 198. The legend gives his proper name, Antoninus Pius, which his father gave him to further emphasize the supposed connection between the Severan dynasty and the early Antonine dynasty of ”good emperors.” Severus himself falsely claimed to be a son of Marcus Aurelius. Caracalla, the name commonly used by modern historians to refer to the emperor, was actually a nickname given to him in antiquity and refers to a form of hooded Gallic cloak that he was accustomed to wear.

The wonderful reverse depicts Septimius Severus seated between his two sons upon a dais. The extended open hands of Caracalla and Geta may perhaps suggest that they are in the act of making a distribution of largesse. If this is the correct reading of the gesture then it seems possible that they are actually giving out the donative for which the aureus was produced. On the other hand it may only serve to identify them as the consuls of 208. The level of detail visible on the three figures is absolutely exquisite and a sign that a great engraver of the Severan age worked on the die. The distinctive legs of curule chairs — a form of seat traditionally used by Roman magistrates with the power of imperium and emperors as a sign of their authority — are clearly visible and each figure is easily identifiable by details of iconography. While one might guess that the senior Augustus, Septimius Severus, would sit in the middle, there is no question of identity here. The trademark ”Serapis curls” of his beard are unmistakable. The figure seated at Severus’ right side is unquestionably Caracalla, since he wears a laurel wreath as a sign of his status as junior Augustus. The right side was also the traditional position for favored individuals in Roman custom. The detail here is remarkable — even the bow and tie ends of the wreath are visible, mimicking the form of the same features on the obverse portrait. Geta sits on Severus’ left and can be distinguished by his lack of imperial insignia (he was still only named as Caesar at the time this coin was struck) as well as by his hairstyle, which matches that found on his portrait coins.

While celebrating the consulship, the figure of Severus in the middle also serves to connect the coin to the dynastic propaganda of Septimius Severus, which tried to project the image of a happy family that would lead to a smooth succession. It was always a great fear that civil war would resume when the emperor died, but here it is made clear that there were two sons willing and able to take up the mantle of power after Severus. Indeed, Caracalla and Geta both look at each other on the reverse as if to indicate their oneness of mind with each other, and with the father between them. Unfortunately, the favor of Caracalla and the hierarchy of authority indicated by the details of the reverse undermined this image. Geta and Caracalla were deeply divided by jealousy in life, and once Severus died in A.D. 211 it was not long before this jealousy broke out into violence. Before the end of the year Caracalla had Geta murdered and ordered his damnatio memoriae. The collegial consuls and the united family implied by the reverse of this aureus was a lie.

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