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Lovely Aureus of Severus Alexander

We continue our ancient coin previews for our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money with the Roman Empire but a decidedly tamer coin than last week’s Erotic Tessera. For our highlight this week we offer a highly attractive gold piece from the last emperor of the Severan dynasty, Severus Alexander. The reign of Severus Alexander was much anticipated after the debauched rule of his cousin, Elagabalus. Widely regarded in the modern age to be the Roman Emperor with the worst reputation, to his contemporaries Elagabalus was a teenage emperor who engaged in extreme sexual depravity and generated severe religious controversy. When he was assassinated at age 18, his 13-year-old cousin Severus Alexander was ushered into the position of emperor by his politically savvy and domineering mother, Julia Mamaea, who acted as regent until he came of age. Unfortunately for Severus and the Roman people, Julia never truly relinquished power, and the military resented her. The Roman military also felt that Severus avoided conflict and was far too peaceful to truly lead. While attempting to suppress the frequent Germanic incursions into Roman territory Severus tried to negotiate peace with his enemy. His troops revolted, murdering Severus (then 26), while he was clutched by his mother (they murdered her as well). This marked the beginning of the dark age of the Roman Empire, the Third Century Crisis, a period of near collapse, full of plague, foreign invasions, economic depression and splinter empires. This epoch also marks the divide between classical antiquity and late antiquity.

This Aureus proudly displays military themes that Severus did not live up to. The obverse depicts the youthful draped bust of Severus Alexander facing right crowned with laurel. His Imperial title: “IMP C M AVR SEV ALEXAND AVG” states: Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander Augustus.” The reverse displays the interesting duality that the emperor encompassed. The inscription: “MARTI PACIFERO” and the image of Mars in full military regalia holding a spear and olive branch send the message of a restrained or “pacified” military. This reverse type eloquently illuminates the emperor’s desire for peaceful negotiation instead of warfare for territorial or political gain. Unfortunately this policy alienated the military, which led to the conspiracy to assassinate and replace Severus as emperor. A planchet flaw is evident on the reverse field, however the whole of the piece remains well rounded and attractive.

Look for this and other ancient and world numismatic rarities in our upcoming August ANA World’s Fair of Money Auction. Preview this coin along with the rest of our auction this July at the Stack’s Bowers and Ponterio office located in Irvine, California. For details please refer to the Events Calendar on our website. To schedule an appointment, please call 800.458.4646. While our Stack’s Bowers Galleries August ANA World’s Fair of Money Auction is closed for further consignments, we are currently taking consignments of ancient and world coins for our 2014 November sale in conjunction with the Whitman Coin & Collectibles Baltimore Expo and 2015 January New York International auction. Time is running short, so if you are interested in consigning your coins and paper currency (whether a whole collection or a single rarity) be sure to contact one of our consignment directors.

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