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Mark Lehman's NJCL Lecture
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Septimius Severus, who came out on top of the heap of contenders and pretenders to the throne after January 1st 193 AD and Commodus' demise -I suppose you all saw "Gladiator"? Well, Forget "Gladiator" and Commodus dying in the arena! I know, the picture that movie paints of the Roman Empire is vivid and compelling and is total fantasy, historically speaking- Even though he eventually became crazy enough to fight animals in the arena and think he was Hercules' reincarnation, Commodus was actually stabbed to death by a bath-attendent while "on the commode" - Isn't it too bad that pun only makes sense in English? -  Septimius Severus, who won the imperium during the ensuing period of chaos, had risen to power through the military ranks although born of humble African Provincial stock - He became profoundly self-conscious about his origins once he reached snobbish Rome - so much so that he had himself proclaimed to be officially adopted by Antoninus Pius - posthumously, of course - Antoninus had been dead for 32 years at the time, so he wasn't in any position to object, you understand - Septimius evidently wanted to have a nice influential brother, like Marcus Aurelius, who of course had been dead for 13 years, and so the scions of the Severan Dynasty all wound up with official names like "Antoninus Pius" and "Marcus Aurelius" and "Marcus Aurelius Antoninus" - a tradition, incidentally, that was carried on by most emperors for another hundred years - just about all of them - all except for Caracalla's younger brother Geta - quite a story there, maybe he would have done better if he'd HAD an Antonine-sounding name - 

Now I've told you how coins were the newspapers of the age - let's imagine for a moment what it might have been like if there had been supermarket tabloids in the Roman empire, this is what you might have read at the time.


13. Plug for Scott's Uhrick's website and "The Imperial Tattler" -  (www.joviel.com)

Tabloid Numismatics
Tabloid Numismatics!!
 

I'm reading here from a wonderful website by ACE member Scott Uhrick

"Emperor Stabs Brother in Mother's Arms - Gains Support of Elder Brothers Everywhere."

"He kept looking at me funny", says Caracalla. "And Mom always liked him better".

14. Group of Severan portraits

Severan Family
Severan Family
 

"Dateline Rome - February, 212 - Anyone with children knows that they just can't seem to share their toys. So why did our late Emperor Septimius think his sons could share the world? It probably wasn't his fault. There are few indications that he intended to share the Empire he had won between his two sons. The eldest, Caracalla, was raised to Caesar in 193 when he was seven years old. Raising the younger son, Geta, seems to have come as an afterthought - although only one year younger, Geta wasn't raised to Caesar for five more years - in the same ceremony in which Caracalla was raised to Augustus. Geta finally gained the title of Augustus in 209 - eleven years after Caracalla. So why promote Geta at all? One word - "Mom". Julia Domna, wife of Septimius, has been consistently protective of the interests of her youngest son. While Geta proved far more personable than Caracalla, this enforced equality seems to have been his undoing. Since Septimius passed to Hades, er, Eleysium, last summer the two brothers have been plotting against each other. Plans to divide the empire between them broke down when Julia asked them how they planned on dividing Her. (It is lucky for her she didn't have Nero for a son - he might have taken her literally!). Caracalla won the contest last week when he lured his brother to a conciliation meeting at their mother's house. Conciliation was indeed achieved, as Geta was attacked by Caracalla's hired thugs. The murder wasn't a clean one; Geta staggered into his Mother's house followed by the assassins where he was finished off in his mother's arms. This publication publicly deplores the actions of our Emperor and demands a Senatorial inquiry into the mur... URK!   Note from new editor; This paper fully supports our Augustus Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (occasionally referred to by his military nickname of Caracalla) and rejects as spurious any allegations that our Emperor ever had a brother.

15. Run of Silver - Caracalla through Gallienus

Ants.
Antoninianus: Carracala thru Gallienus
 

Caracalla followed in father Septimius' footsteps and continued debasing the silver coinage until in about 212 AD he made a "minor adjustment" that would cause a tremendous change in the coinage that would actually dictate the sort of coins the empire used for the next century.  He introduced the antoninianus - now we don't really know whether or not the Romans called this coin by that name, but that's what we numismatists call them - the most prevalent coin of the 3rd century.  It contained only 1 and ½ times the silver of the current denarius. It was distinguished as a "double unit" by the radiate crown on the emperor's head, and was tariffed as the equivalent of two denarii. Neat trick, eh?  We can see what sort of trouble it got the Romans into - You know, It's something that has always struck me - there's a real irony here - what was arguably the pinnacle of portraiture on Roman coins occurred just as Rome came to the brink of the fiscal cliff.

And indeed, only 50 years later, the "noble" Antoninianus, once the "3rd century flagship" of Roman coinage, now thoroughly and repeatedly debased, was a smallish bronze coin, about the size of a US cent, perhaps issued with a thin, silvery wash, or maybe, depending on the mint, just bronze.

Now you'll remember I said the Parthian empire had remained politically independent of Rome and kept on with their own "Regal" coinage back when everyone else had "gone Roman" right?  Well, just when things were getting dicey in the Roman Empire, this eastern empire, a continuous antagonist of Rome, got an infusion of "new blood" when its moribund Parthian dynasty was replaced by the Sassanid dynasty and then, they started becoming really troublesome to the Romans - this is what the tabloids of the time might have recorded:

Emperor Captured by Sassinian Foe, made into Footstool.

"Keep sending me Emperors", says Shaipur, "I need the furniture. It's a shame I missed Nero, I could have made a whole bedroom suite"

-Dateline Rome, 263 A.D.-

Rumor has come to Rome that our former Emperor Valerian has passed away while a prisoner of the Sassanians. We say, good riddance. The source of Rome's greatest shame has passed from human vision and perhaps we can now begin to repair our reputation and our empire. Ever since Valerian was treacherously captured during negotiations three years ago Shaipur has used him as a means to humiliate and demean the Roman people. Keeping him in a cage, parading him in front of foreign ambassadors like a paid dancing boy - never was Rome's pride brought so low. Hopefully now Rome's shame can be properly buried. 

Dateline Antioch, 264 A.D. -

Well, it looks as though you can't keep a mediocre man down. Reports from friendly envoys to Ctesiphon report that Valerian hasn't completely dropped from sight. It seems that Shapur has decided to prolong Rome's humiliation by preserving the body of our deceased Emperor. Conflicting reports have Valerian either skinned and hanging on a wall or stuffed and turned into a footstool to assist Shapur in mounting his horse. No official report has come from the palace but insiders have relayed that Rome has warned Ctesiphon that when it comes to interior decorating, in their humble opinion, purple clashes with everything.