Image: Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust of Septimius Severus looking right
Inscription: L SEPT SEV AVG IMP XI PART MAX
Image: Victory advancing left holding wreath and trophy; at feet, bound captive seated left
Inscription: VICT PARTHICAE
RIC IV/1, Septimius Severus, no. 142b, p. 108.
This aureus, minted between 198 and 200 CE, depicts on the obverse the head of Septimius Severus, and on the reverse Victoria, the goddess of victory, with a bound Parthian prisoner at her feet. The inscription on the obverse refers to Septimius Severus as Lucius Septimius Severus, Augustus, emperor for the eleventh time, and Particus Maximus. The inscription on the reverse refers to his undisputed victory against the Parthians (197-198 CE) as Victoria Parthica. Septimius Severus’s achievement is highlighted by the fact that the issue refers to his acclamation as imperator in the field, and to his title of Parthicus Maximus. The reference to the Parthians, the vanquished foe, is reiterated on the reverse. The title Parthicus Maximus had been previously assumed only by Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus after the victorious conclusion of the Parthian War of 161-166 CE. Septimius Severus had good reasons to move against Parthia, as the latter had supported the claims of Pescennius Niger. Parthia’s support probably resulted in the disaffection and eventual rebellion of various provinces and client kingdoms, such as the province of Arabia and the small buffer state of Adiabene. This time, however, Septimius Severus was in a war assisted by local rulers, such as Abgar IX, King of Osroene, who provided archers, and King Khosrov I of Armenia, who, on the other hand, contributed only money. In 197 CE, the Roman army, having crossed the Euphrates, campaigned in the area of Nisibis. In 198 CE, Septimius Severus army was successful in conquering and sacking the Parthian capital Ctesiphon and in annexing back Mesopotamia to the empire, as a new province, with Nisibis, by then a Roman colony, as its capital. However, the Roman army failed to conquer the Parthian’s held fortified city of Hatra.
Victoria, the goddess of victory, is depicted as standing, advancing towards the left, holding a wreath with her left hand and a trophy with her right hand. This depiction of Victoria is the variation of a similar issue, depicting Victoria holding both a wreath and a palm, which was firstly minted by the Flavians, and then by most emperors. Carlos Noreña has recalled that the depiction of Victoria is very frequent and vastly widespread on the silver coins minted by Septimius Severus. Only Titus and Trajan minted a superior quantity of coins depicting Victoria. Septimius Severus knew the political and ideological importance of Victoria, and had achieved enough victories in the wake of the two Dacian Wars and the Parthian War, to make the best possible use of references to Victoria (Noreña, Imperial Ideals in the Roman West, p. 155). The Parthian prisoner recalls Septimius Severus’s victorious campaign in Parthia, but the iconography has a long history, going back to the end of the Republican period. As Charles Parisot-Sillon and Arnaud Suspène rightly argue concerning the Republican period, the image of the barbarian prisoner corresponded more to stereotypes than to a reality (Parisot-Sillon and Suspène, "Le stéréotype du barbare," p. 49-61). Here, the depiction of the Parthian warrior wearing bracae or trousers, even if it was not completely disconnected from the Parthian use of wearing bracae, served to convey the stereotyped perception of the Parthians as effeminate and indulging in luxury. Moreover, the Phrygian cap, associated with manumitted slaves, served to reinforce negative stereotypes as well as to bolster the assumption of Roman superiority over all the peoples living in the oikoumenè.