Coin Relief 45 – Philip I and II, and Octacilia Severa

Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief! In this issue Sam Moorhead examines the coinage of Philip I, his wife Octacilia Severa and son Philip II.

Philip I, Octacilia Severa and Philip II, AD 244-9

The coinage of Philip I and II and Otacilia Severa, AD 244-9 Marcus Julius Philippus was an Ituraean Arab from the Hauran in southern Syria (ancient Trachonitis). His family came from Shahba, a village which Philip would rebuild as the Roman city of Philippopolis. There were many Hellenized Arab tribes in the Roman Empire when Pompey arrived in 63BC and they continued to flourish during the Roman period. His father, Julius Marinus, appears to have been a man of some local importance, and was even honoured on coins by his son at Philippopolis. Philip’s brother, Julius Priscus, was a praetorian prefect serving in the army of Gordian III (AD 238-44) on his campaign against Shapur I, King of the Sasanians, in AD 243-4. With the death of the other praetorian prefect, Timesitheus, Philip was elevated to serve alongside his brother Priscus. This is where the sources become contradictory. Classical authors are generally hostile to Philip, which could be quite simply because he was an Arab. He is accused of undermining and finally assassinating Gordian, but the story does not ring entirely true. In 1938, an inscription was found at Naqsh-e Rustam, near Persepolis, which claimed that Shapur defeated the Romans at the Battle of Misikhe, 50km west of Baghdad. The relief above the inscription appears to show Gordian being trampled under the hooves of Shapur’s horse. Finally, we read that Philip paid the Sasanians 500,000 denarii. This defeat is air-brushed from Roman sources who blame the downfall and death of Gordian on Philip’s treachery; it seems the truth could be otherwise and it is possible that Philip might have been maligned.

Whatever the occurred, Philip made a treaty with Shapur and retreated back into Roman territory. He was to raise his son, also Philip and known as Philip II, to Caesar (AD 244-6) and then to co-Augustus (AD 246-9). His wife, Otacilia Severa, was also honoured as an empress with a copious coinage.

It is very important to understand that there were significant Arab populations in the Near East in the Greek and Roman periods; it is here that Arabic developed as a language.

The Coinage of Philip I, Philip II and Otacilia

Coins were struck at two mints, Rome and Antioch, in the names of all three rulers. Romehad the higher output, striking in gold, silver and base metals; Antioch only struck in silver. The radiate is now the absolutely dominant silver denomination, the denarius being hardly struck at all. Excluding the IARCW Welsh data, there are around 144 coins for Philip I, 36 for Philip II and 56 for Otacilia Severa – the vast majority have been edited for this article. It is interesting to note that across the board, the proportion of official base-metal coins to silver radiates in this reign is 37%, which is very close to the 38.5% for Gordian III (AD 238-44).

Philip I – Mint of Rome
Philip I has 87 radiates, 11 sestertii and 20 asses from the Mint of Rome on the PAS Database. I will discuss the radiates and base metal coins separately.

Silver Radiates
Silver radiates make up 74% of Philip I’s coins on the PAS Database. These Rome radiates can be divided into four main groups:
a) AD 244-8: Dated coins 
b) AD: 244-7: Coins with obverse IMP M IVL PHILLIPVS
c) AD 247-9: Coins with obverse IMP PHILIPPVS AVG 
d) AD 248: Coins struck to celebrate the Saecular Games, with obverse IMP PHILIPPVS AVG

The dating of some of these coins can be a little more precise, as noted in the introduction to Philip’s reign in RIC IV, pt 3 (pp. 56-9). This listing also provides the number of each type in the huge Dorchester Hoard of 22,121 coins, found in 1936; there were 6,089 radiates of Philip I, Philip II and Otacilia Severa types, mints. wts., pls II-IV of some coins.

It is important to note that in the period AD 246-9, Philip II was co-Augustus and shared the same obverse legends (as noted above) as Philip I. The reverse type can provide a clue to which emperor it is, but on most coins it is possible to distinguish between the bearded, more craggy and often hook-nosed Philip I and his young, clean-shaven son Philip II.

Portrait of Philip I (left), with beard (LEIC-338709), and Philip II (right), young and clean-shaven (SF-1E8DC5).

a) AD 244-8: Dated coins
Philip struck dated coins at Rome from AD 244-8. The table below showing the years of his Tribunician Power and Consulships. No coins are recorded for AD 244 and coins for AD 249 were only struck at Antioch.

This issue makes up the majority of radiates recorded on the PAS Database, with examples of many of the over 25 reverse types recorded in RIC. The coins are listed here in RIC number order.

Silver radiate of Philip I, Rome, AD 245. Record ID SF-828CC4).

Coins of this issue with the shortened obverse legend IMP PHILIPPVS AVG are scarcer than the earlier issue with IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS obverse legend. As mentioned above, this shortened legend was also used by Philip II so one needs to check the portrait and reverse type.

Silver radiate of Philip I, Rome, AD 248-9. Record ID GLO-5C1C18 (Bristol City Council, License CC-BY-SA).

d) Coins struck to celebrate the Saecular Games (or Millennial Games) in AD 2487
The 1000th Anniversary of Rome’s foundation (753 BC) was commemorated in AD 248 by Philip in Rome. The major event held was the Secular Games. They had last been held by Septimius Severus in AD 204 and should not have been held again for about 100 years. However, Rome’s 1000th Anniversary was deemed an important enough event to hold the
Secular Games earlier. They involved a whole series of religious and cultural ceremonies across Rome and, of course, games in the arena. The foundation of Rome was celebrated on a radiate showing the wolf and twins. Philip followed Augustus in publicising the games by means of a cippus, or low column, inscribed with his consular status, COS III, or in case of Philip II, COS II; for Otacilia Severa, the cippus was left blank as women could not hold political office. The religious element is encapsulated by Roma seated in a temple with the inscription SAECVLVM NOVVM. The gladiatorial games were commemorated with coins which depicted animals, notably a lion and stag; the animal on Otacilia’s coins was a hippopotamus, but only a fragment of such a coin is recorded on the PAS Database (LEIC-213D57). It is suggested that one of the reasons for Philip’s subsequent unpopularity was that people from established Roman families thought it inappropriate that an Arab should preside over such an important event in Roman history.

Silver radiate of Philip I, Rome, AD 248, struck to celebrate the Saecular Games. Record ID BH-150B00 (St. Alban’s District Council, License CC-BY-SA).

Base metal issues of Rome

Rome was the only mint to strike imperial base metal coins for Philip. There are 11 sestertii and 22 asses on the PAS Database. RIC does not attempt to date the coins precisely as was done for the silver, although it is certainly possible to suggest more specific dates. However, this can await the arrival of the new edition of RIC. It does appear that AEQVITAS AVGG S C is the most common type found in Britain on sestertii and AEQVITAS AVGG S C and ANNONA AVGG S C are the most common types for asses.

Philip I – Mint of Antioch

There are 5 coins from the Mint of Antioch on the PAS Database (in addition to two from the IARCW Welsh dataset). These coins are all attributed to Antioch in RIC, but there is debate about whether the early group are from another Eastern Mint.

Early Coins, AD 244
There are four coins from these early issues on the PAS Database, with an extra two from the Welsh data. This makes them more common than the later issues for which there is only one. The coins celebrate Philip’s ‘victory’ / treaty with Shapur, giving him the title PERSICVS MAXIMVS and extolling the courage of the army. The third type in this issue bears the reverse legend PAX FVNDATA CVM PERSIS (‘Peace made with Persia’), but the only coin of this type on the Database is an unillustrated coin from the Welsh dataset (IARCW-63DAF65B).

Silver radiate of Philip I, Antioch, AD 244. Record ID LANCUM-502C97 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License CC-BY).

Later coins, AD 247-9
There is only one of the later coins of Antioch on the PAS database, a piece dated to AD 249. This is an interesting coin becomes is gives Philip the ‘tribunician power’ for the sixth time (TR P VI), a title which does not appear on any coins from the Rome mint. There is a dispute about how Philip’s reign came to an end. The traditional story is that he was defeated and killed at the battle of Verona in AD 249 by Trajan Decius. Decius was returning from campaigns on the Danube, where an attempted usurpation under Pacatian had failed. This is still the most common account. However, one later, Byzantine, source, John of Antioch, states that Philip was actually campaigning on the Danube frontier in AD 249, before moving eastwards to deal with another usurper, Jotapian, in Syria. He was forced to stop when he heard that Decius had usurped in Rome (with apparent support of the Senate). In a subsequent battle at Borea (Thrace), Philip was defeated and subsequently assassinated; Philip II was killed back in Rome. This might explain why no TR P VI coins exist for Rome, the city being under the control of Decius. Antioch, however, acknowledged Philip as emperor for longer in AD 249, hence issuing this coin. It is likely that we will never know for certain how the reign of Philip came to an end. It does appear, however, that Otacilia Severa survived.

Silver radiate of Philip I, Antioch, AD 249. Record ID BUC-D74173 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License CC-BY).

Philip II, AD 244-249

Philip II was made Caesar on the accession of his father, Philip I, in AD 244. In 247, he was made co-Augustus. There are 36 coins for Philip II on the PAS Database (excluding the IARCW Welsh data) with 22 silver radiates, six sestertii, one dupondius, five assses and two dupondii or asses. Coins were struck in his name at Rome and Antioch, but all but one piece on the PAS Database come from Rome.

Philip II as Caesar, AD 244-6 – Mint of Rome
The majority (24 coins; 69%) of Philip II’s coins on the PAS Database come from the period when he was Caesar. Most of his coins as Caesar have the PRINCIPI IVVENT (or variant) reverse legend, depicting the young emperor in a variety of guises – the most common type shows him holding a globe and a spear. His base metal coins are quite easy to distinguish from those of his father because he appears bare-headed.

Sestertius of Philip II as Caesar, Rome, AD 244-6. Record ID CAM-C32756 (Cambridgeshire County Council, License CC-BY-SA).

Philip II as Augustus, AD 246-249 – Mint of Rome
Coins of Philip II as Augustus are scarcer than those for him as Caesar with only 11 pieces recorded on the PAS Database. Furthermore, he shares the same obverse legends IMP PHILIPPVS AVG and IMP M IVL PHILIPPVS with his father, so it is important to check the portrait. Coins were also struck for Philip II to celebrate the Saecular Games in AD 248.

Silver radiate of Philip II as Augustus, Rome, AD 248. Record ID SF-1E8DC5 (Suffolk County Council, License CC-BY-SA).

Philip II – Mint of Antioch, AD 247-249
There were apparently no coins struck at Antioch for Philip II in the early issue, the coins for Philip II all being struck when he was Augustus, AD 247-9. There is only one coin of Philip II from Antioch on the PAS Database, a very rare coin which is not represented in the British Museum collection. It is another coin dated TR P VI, dating to AD 249.

Otacilia Severa, AD 244-249

Whereas Roman imperial coins of Tranquillina, wife of Gordian III (AD 238-424) are extremely rare, pieces of Otacilia Severa are quite common. There are 56 coins on the PAS Database, all but one being from the mint of Rome. 33 are silver radiates, and 23 are base metal coins, of which 11 are limesfalsum copies of asses which will be considered at the end of this piece.

Silver radiates – Rome
Otacilia’s radiates can be split into three groups by obverse legend:

  • MARCIA OTACIL SEVERA AVG date to AD 244-246
  • M OTACIL SEVERA AVG date to AD 246-248
  • OTACIL SEVERA AVG date to AD 248-249
Examples of the three groups of Otacilia’s radiates. Left to right:  MARCIA OTACIL SEVERA AVG (KENT-968E29); M OTACIL SEVERA AVG (GLO-E64ABA); OCTACIL SEVERA AVG (BH-936448).

Mint of Antioch, AD 247-249
As for Philip II, Antioch only struck coins for Otacilia Severa in the later period. There is only one coin for her from Antioch on the PAS Database.

Silver radiate of Otacilia Severa, Antioch, AD 247-9. Record ID FASAM-22664D (License CC-BY).

Base-Metal issues – Mint of Rome
There are no sestertii for Otacilia Severa on the PAS Database. There is one dupondius, ten asses and one dupondius or as. The limesfalsa asses are covered below. Otacilia also has coins celebrating the Saecular Games, but the low column (cippus) on her piece is blank because she, as a woman, could not hold the consulship.

Hybrids and Contemporary Copies

RIC includes a large number of hybrids for all three rulers; these are coins where the reverse type is of another ruler or issue. Whether some of these are regular coins or not is often difficult to ascertain. The hybrids on the PAS Database appear to be mostly plated coins so are almost certainly contemporary copies. What would be interesting to research is whether
any of the plated coins come from official dies. If they do, this might show corruption in the mint. These hybrids can fall into one of three broad categories:

1: Coins of Philip I, Philip II or Otacilia with a reverse from one of the other rulers in their own dynasty. 

2: Coins of Philip I, Philip II or Otacilia Severa with the reverse type of another ruler outside of their dynasty. 

3: Coins of Philip I, Philip II or Otacilia Severa with the reverse type from a different issue of their own particular coinage. 

Limesfalsum (literally ‘frontier forgery’) is a name given to cast sestertii, dupondii and asses commonly found on the Rhine and Danube frontiers, the best published examples coming from Carnuntum in Austria. George Boon suggested that they should be called ‘lightweights’ as they are lighter than their prototypes. He notes that asses are the most common denomination found in Britain and there are almost 60 recorded on the PAS Database – there are probably more yet to be identified, but it is often the handling of such pieces which is the easiest way to identify them. At Carnuntum such coins range from copies of Augustan asses to a single example for Philip I. In Britain, the pieces on the PAS Database range from Domitian to Otacilia Severa, most of the specimens coming from the first half of the 3rd century AD. The latest example known to Boon from Britain was for Trebonianus Gallus (AD 251), but he suggests that some of these coins could have been cast as late as the period of the Gallic Empire (AD 260-275) as moulds of aes were found at Whitchurch with those for radiates. What is clear is that the British finds have a later chronological profile than those on the Continent. Furthermore, it is clear that coins were being cast in Britain. David Walker identified coins from a ‘casting mint’ amongst the finds at the Sacred Spring in Bath, dating from Domitian to Hadrian. More recently, Julian Watters, when FLO for Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, recognised that two limesfalsa of Severus Alexander, found separately, near Luton and near Baldock, came from the same mould, suggesting a local production (BH-386FB5 and BH-989326). For Philip I, there is possibly one limesfalsum. Another has been identified for
Philip II, but no image is available (BM-03CFC1).

Copper alloy cast asses (limesfalsa) of Otacilia Severa. Record IDs: HAMP-B7FFF6 and NARC-53510E.

However, for Otacilia we have the largest number of limesfalsa for any ruler on the PAS Database, with 11 asses. Of these, nine have the reverse CONCORDIA AVGG S C with Concordia seated left. Seven of these records have images and six coins appear to have come from the same mould / prototype; the weights range from 3.56 to 5.79g. They copy a known official as. This suggests production on an industrial scale. One has to ask whether these were the products of a single forger or whether they were the products of Roman officialdom in Britain, needing to increase the supply of small change. Map 1 shows a quite clear patterning of finds of these coins in the south-east, suggesting a production centre somewhere in the home counties.

In addition to the Concordia limesfalsa, there is a bizarre piece with the obverse of Otacilia Severa and a reverse with the head of Nero. This does warn us that such cast coins could use prototypes from much earlier periods.

References and further reading:

C. Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman Empire (2004) (pp. 166-8).

Y. Zahran, Philip the Arab – A Study in Prejudice (2001).

W. Metcalf (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman
Coinage (2012), pp. 514-37.

G. Barker, Imperial Legitimation (2020), pp. 46-53.

M. Pfisterer, ‘Limesfalsa und Eisenmünzen – Römisches Ersatzkleingeld am Donaulimes’, in Numismata Carnuntina vol. 2 (2007), pp. 643-875.

G. C. Boon, ‘Counterfeit coins in Roman Britain’, in J. Casey and R. Reece (eds), Coins and the Archaeologist (Seaby, 1988), pp. 102-88, esp. pp. 108 and 124-5.

G. C. Boon, ‘Light-Weights and “Limesfalsa”’, Numismatic Chronicle 1965, pp. 161-74.

D. R. Walker, ‘Roman coins from the Sacred Spring at Bath’, in B. Cunliffe (ed.), The Temple of Sulis
Minerva at Bath, II: Finds from the Sacred Spring (Oxford, 1988), pp. 281-358, esp. plates XXXII & XLI, nos.