Coin Relief 30 – The Imperial women of Elagabalus

The Imperial Women of Elagabalus 

Elagabalus struck coins for five female members of the imperial family, his grandmother Julia Maesa, his mother Julia Soaemias, and his wives Julia Paula, Julia Aquilia Severa and Annia Faustina.

Julia Maesa, AD 218-222 or later

Julia Maesa was the sister of Julia Domna (Septimius Severus’ wife) and grandmother of Elagabalus. The coins of Julia Maesa are normally assigned to the reign of Elagabalus, AD 218-222. However, she survived the death of Elagabalus and Julia Soaemias, in AD 222, and remained in the imperial court as grandmother of the new emperor Severus Alexander (AD
222-235) until her death in AD 225. It is known that provincial coins were struck for Maesa under Severus Alexander, and given that her coins outnumber (by almost a factor of three) those of Julia Soaemias (see Table 1) it is entirely plausible that imperial coins continued to be struck for her after AD 222. This larger number of coins might also reflect the fact that Julia Maesa was probably the most important of the imperial women in Elagabalus’ court.

For PAS purposes, coins are dated to AD 218-222 which places them in Reece Period 10. Future research and editing could change and narrow down some of the dates.

Mint of Rome
The bulk of Julia Maesa’s coinage was struck at Rome, in gold, silver, and base-metal. It appears that all the coins of Julia Maesa on the PAS Database are from the mint at Rome, although future editing might identify a few from the Eastern Mint / Antioch.

Silver ‘Radiates’
We saw in a previous blog that Elagabalus continued to strike radiates, which had been introduced by Caracalla in AD 215, for a short time in AD 218-219. Whereas the emperors were shown with the radiate crown of Sol on the obverse, the empresses were to be shown with their bust on the crescent moon of Luna. There is only one radiate of Julia Maesa on the PAS Database.

The only radiate of Julia Maesa on the PAS database: WAW-432771 (Birmingham Museums Trust, license CC-BY).

Silver denarii
Silver denarii make up the vast majority of coins of Julia Maesa found in Britain. There are 147 (excluding the 17 IARCW Welsh pieces), although a number of these are contemporary copies. As for Elagabalus, the silver was debased and this means that many coins are either darker in colour or have surface verdigris. Below are listed the different types recorded on the PAS Database, most of the known issues being represented. The most common are PVDICITIA and SAECVLI FELICITAS, types which also predominate in the Shapwick Hoard.

Silver denarius of Julia Maesa, AD 281-222. Record ID GLO-10D842 (Bristol City Council, licence CC-BY).

Base-metal coinage
There are only four base metal coins of Julia Maesa on the PAS Database. Given the rarity of base metal coins of Elagabalus (see Daily Coin Relief Edition 68), this comes as no surprise.
Two are sestertii and one a dupondius or as. The other is a contemporary copy (limesfalsum) of a dupondius or as (PUBLIC-76C893). Limesfalsa will be covered in another blog.

Eastern Mint / Antioch
Elagabalus struck a significant number of gold and silver coins in the East. Antioch is traditionally given as the site of the mint, although it could well have moved with Elagabalus some of the time. Kevin Butcher has suggested that it moved as far west as Nicomedia in western Turkey in the first year of his reign.4
The attribution of coins to the Eastern mint to the empresses, as for Elagabalus, is often on the basis of style. An example in the British Museum collection, does show a distinctly different obverse style from the Rome coins. However, no coin of Julia Maesa on the PAS Database appears to be from the Eastern Mint.

Silver denarius of Julia Maesa from the Eastern Mint. British Museum BM 1979,0614.39.

Julia Soaemias, AD 218-222

Julia Soaemias was the mother of Elagabalus and played a major role in his accession. Along with Julia Maesa, Julia Soaemias was instrumental in maintaining a stable government during Elagabalus’s reign. Of course, in the end Elagabalus became too much for Rome and he and his mother were assassinated.

Mint of Rome
Elagabalus struck in gold, silver and base-metal for Julia Soaemias at Rome. Gold is very rare and it appears that silver ‘radiates’ were not struck for Soaemias. Again, silver denarii are the most common coins; in fact, they are the only denomination recorded on the PAS Database with 59 specimens (excluding 11 IARCW pieces). Of these, the two VENVS CAELESTIS types are by far the most common, again mirroring the Shapwick Hoard. Single specimens, but without images, are recorded for ANNONA AVG (RIC 234), PIETAS AVG (RIC 237A) and PVDICITIA (RIC 238).

Silver denarius if Julia Soaemias with VENVS CAELESTIS reverse. Record ID WILT-FDE852 (Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, License CC-BY).

Base-Metal coinage
Sestertii, dupondii and asses of Julia Soaemias are scarce. None have been recorded on the PAS Database.

Eastern Mint / Antioch
Coins of Julia Soaemias from the Eastern Mint appear to be very rare and there are none on the PAS Database.

Julia Paula, AD 219-220

Julia Cornelia Paula hailed from an aristocratic Roman family. She married Elagabalus in AD 219, but they were divorced the following year.

Mint of Rome
Rome struck for Julia Paula in gold, silver and base-metal. However, the silver denarii are by far the most common and are the only denomination recorded on the PAS Database. Of the 16 pieces, the CONCORDIA type is by far the most numerous with 12 specimens recorded.

Silver denarius of Julia Paula, c.AD 218-219. Record ID LEIC-B50412 (The Portable Antiquities Scheme, license CC-BY).

Base-metal coinage
Base-metal coins of Julia Paula are rare and none are recorded on the PAS Database.

Eastern Mint / Antioch
Identifying Eastern mint coins for Julia Paula is open to some debate. It appears that pieces with braided hair are more likely to emanate from the Eastern Mint, although one such piece
is attributed to Rome in BMC V (pl. 88, no. 15). It does seem that there are more coins struck in the East for Julia Paula than for any of the other empresses, at least four being recorded on the PAS Database.

Rome or Eastern Mint / Antioch

Silver denarius of Julia Paula, c.AD 218-219, VENVS GENETRIX reverse. Record ID LIN-7F6B44 (The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License CC-BY-SA).

This type, VENVS GENETRIX, is recorded in BMC V for both Rome (p. 555, no. 177) and the Eastern Mint (p. 583, nos. 323-5). The coin attributed to Rome does not have the distinctive Rome bust with ridged hair (see Fig. 22, above) but has braided hair (BMC V, pl. 88, no. 15). This piece does not have ridged hair, but nor does it have braided hair; in some ways it resembles the hairstyle of Julia Maesa at Rome. It does appear to have the feel of an
Eastern Mint coin, but only further research can confirm this.

Ancient forgeries
The first coin shown here appears to be an ancient forgery copying the obverse of Julia Paula with the reverse type, PROVIDENTIA AVG, common to emperors. The second is a much cruder coin, inspired by the obverse of Julia Paula and again a reverse type, AEQVITAS AVG, common to emperors. Both portraits appear to have been inspired by Eastern Mint coins.

Contemporary copies of Julia Paula denarii.

Julia Aquilia Severa, AD 220-222

Elagabalus’s second wife was Julia Aquilia Severa who was a Vestal Virgin, responsible for tending the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. This union was scandalous because Vestal Virgins were forbidden from having sexual intercourse; the punishment was to be buried alive. However, Elagabalus claimed it was permissible as he was the high priest of his
religion, and she the high priestess of hers. He rejected Aquilia in AD 221, in favour of his third wife Annia Faustina, but returned to Aquilia by the end of AD 221. Therefore, it is safest to date Aquilia Severa’s coins to AD 220-222.

Mint of Rome
Coins were struck in gold, silver and base-metal. Denarii are the most common denomination, but even they are rare. There is only one example on the PAS Database.

Eastern Mint / Antioch
The coin, below left, is worn, but the style of the coin does appear to be that of the Eastern Mint. However, we can be more confident with the coin on the right which has a reverse type which might only have been used in the East.

Annia Faustina, AD 221

Elagabalus’ marriage to Annia Faustina was very brief. This is reflected by the rarity of her coins which are known to have been struck in Rome. Only denarii and sestertii are known, the sestertius illustrated below being in the British Museum collection.

Sestertius of Annia Faustina, c.AD 221. BM/BMC V, no. 451 (copyright Trustees of The British Museum).