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Caracalla Coin, 210-213CE

Published onSep 09, 2020

Caracalla, 210–213 CE 

Silver coin 

In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. 


This ancient coin depicts the Roman Emperor Caracalla (188–217 CE). He was the son of Septimius Severus and was born with the name Lucius Septimius Bassianus in 188 CE. In order to link the family with the previous successful line of emperors that included Marcus Aurelius, called the Antonine dynasty, Caracalla’s given name was changed to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. This explains why the coin reads Antoninus Pius instead of Lucius Septimius Bassianus. Caracalla was only a nickname. The reverse of this coin depicts victory holding a wreath and palm, symbolically honoring Caracalla.

At the age of ten, Caracalla became co-ruler with his father Septimius Severus. He spent most of his reign attempting to expand the Roman Empire and often fighting with his brother. Later, after his brother’s death, he would incite a damnatio memoriae of his brother’s image. Meaning any depictions of his brother were painted over or scratched off.

Caracalla was known for being characteristically severe. One of the ways classical scholars identify his portraits is by looking for the characteristic “X” across his face due to his tight pursed lips and angrily furrowed brow.

Septimus Severus is the only emperor for which we have a surviving painted portrait. In this portrait skin tone is depicted, which is something that was unknown until this portrait’s discovery. Because of this portrait, we know that Septimus Severus was black and his children were as well. This means that the Severian Dynasty was one of African descent. That fact is important to note as some modern groups misinterpret the makeup of Ancient Roman society.

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