Roman Coins About Britain - Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Geta - Naval Types

Back to
River God Types
This page is part of the article
Roman Coins About Britain
Forward to
Does Britannia Feature on Severan Coins?

The Classis Britannica (the British fleet) were heavily involved in both transport and fighting roles during the campaigns, and are thought to have been supported by the Classis Germanica (Rhine fleet) and the Classis Pannonica and Moesica (Danube fleet). This significant naval operation is celebrated on at least one, and possibly three coin types of the time.

The first of these coins are all denarii featuring Neptune, the Roman sea god, and were minted by Severus in 209 (RIC 4 228), 210 (RIC 4 234 and RIC 4 241) and 211 AD (RIC 4 244), exactly overlapping with the two campaigns. The second issue in 210 AD was to add “BRIT” to the obverse legend:

RIC 4 244

Photo Copyright Classical Numismatic Group, LLC. Auction 422 Lot 546. 13th of June 2018. Sold for $110+fees.

The second coin we’re interested in is from 209 AD and features what RIC describes as a “Sea-god (Triton?)”.

RIC 4 229

Photo Copyright Classical Numismatic Group, LLC. eAuction 457 lot 300. 4th of December 2019. Sold for $1200

This could have a similar meaning to the Neptune coins, but the change of god suggests there may have been a different meaning. David Sear (“Roman Coins and Their Values 2” #6347) suggests that it could be a River God representing the Tyne. The South Shields fort of Arbeia was converted into a massive supply base at this time, and as it was on the Tyne at the point where it flows into the sea, a figure that represents a river god and a sea god might have been appropriate to commemorate this. Of course, the forts at Cramond and Carpow were in similar locations on the Forth and the Tay, and were also being used in 209 AD, so it could feasibly refer to either of them as well, or perhaps to all three of these naval bases.

The final coins that may be related to the naval activities in the campaigns are the coins featuring a Galley which were minted in 207, 208 and 210 AD. These are more complex to attribute.

Severus’ Denarius (RIC 4 215) from 207 AD.

Photo Copyright CGB Numismatique Paris. Sold for €380

Galleys were typically used to denote the emperor travelling by sea, and coins of this type were minted in 202, 206, 207, 208 and 210 AD. I’ve included 202 and 206 to give some context.

The coins from 202 AD were minted either for Severus’ and Caracalla’s return from Parthia, or their trip to Africa in this year, or possibly for both events

The coins of 206 AD are thought to refer to another trip to Africa, although it isn’t proven that there was such a trip.

The coins of 207 AD (Septimius: RIC 4 215 and 774; Caracalla:RIC 4 98, 426A, 426B, 429a, 429b, and 429c) are presumably for the return leg of that trip. However, that trip isn’t confirmed, there’s conflicting evidence (but very weak) that Caracalla might have been in Parthia in 207 AD, and there are no galley coins for the return leg of the 202 AD trip, so it’s possible that these are related to Britain somehow. The generally accepted date for this is 208 AD, so they might have been in preparation for the trip, or perhaps the trip got postponed until 208 AD (there would be some degree of lead time in minting the coins). The 207 AD coins could also be used to celebrate the start of troop and material transport to Britain in preparation for the war, although that would go against the generally accepted theory that galleys were used to celebrate the emperors travels.

The accepted date for their travel to Britain in 208 AD so Caracalla’s coins from that year (RIC 4 437A, 437B, and 437C) would be for that, although there are no corresponding coins from Severus.

Caracalla’s sestertius (RIC 4 437C) from 208 AD

Photo © Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Number R.15854

Finally, Severus minted a galley coin (RIC 4 801) in 210 AD which also needs explaining. He was in Britain until 211 AD so didn’t travel that year. One possible explanation is that the galley was being used to celebrate the activities of the navy, although the lack of a similar coin from 209 AD is odd. Maybe they transported him back from Carpow to York.

Another possible explanation is that the coin was minted because Severus thought he was travelling home to Rome. The first campaign was complete in 210 AD but a revolt forced a second campaign. The timing might have been such that the order to mint the coin was sent to Rome before the revolt happened, and the coins were minted before they could be cancelled. This might also explain the Adventus coins of 210-211 AD minted by Severus (RIC 4 330 and a not-in-RIC Aureus variation). As he never returned to Rome, these are thought to celebrate his return to York after the campaign in Scotland, but maybe they were just minted for an event that didn’t happen. Interestingly, these coins have the legend AVG and not AVGG, so perhaps he was planning to return to Rome himself.

In terms of availability, they have proven to be exceptionally difficult to find photos of. I managed to find one photo for Severus’ 207 AD denarius (RIC 4 215) but nothing for his 207 or 210 AD sestertii. I found three photos for one of Caracalla’s 208 AD sestertii (two of which are in the British Museum) but none for his other two from that year. However, Severus’ coin sold for €380 and Caracalla’s for $150+fees, so they aren’t very expensive.

Article Navigation

Back to
River God Types
Up to
Septimius Severus, Caracalla, and Geta
Forward to
Does Britannia Feature on Severan Coins?
Please complete the required fields.