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Games of Brotherly Love

Base of a funerary kouros, Athens 510-500 BC, with wrestlers – National Archaeological Museum Greece

There are coins from Nicaea, Bithynia, showing the games of “Severan Botherly Love” or “CЄOVHPIA ΦIΛAΔЄΛΦЄIA” with prize crowns highlighting “IEPOC AGWN” or “Holy Games” – perhaps wishfully promoting good relations between the two princes. CNG Article here and here. Knowing the end of the story, it is hard to see anything other than irony in games of "Brotherly Love" associated with Caracalla and Geta.

While my coin, doesn’t explicitly mention the Holy Games or the Severan Games, it is from local Nicean games of Severus celebrating the royal family if not more specifically the elevation of Caracalla and Geta to Augustus and Caesar. The local Severan games were modeled on the Pythian games honoring the emperor and imperial cult in place of Apollo. It is not clear to me if this is the same event or series of events referenced in the coins above.

This coin attracted my attention for its very clear strike of a prize crown with palm branch.

Geta, as Caesar, Nicaea, Bithynia, AD 198-209

Obv: [ΓЄTAC] KAICAP, bare-headed bust right

Rev: NIKAIЄΩN, prize crown containing single palm branch

Size: 17mm., 2.55g

Ref:AsiaMinorCoins 11899; missing from RPC online?

There are very similar coins issued for (links to ACSearch entries provided):

  • Julia Maesa, aunt (sister to Julia Domna)

  • Julia Domna, mother

  • Caracalla, brother

as well as later issues for Julia Mamaea (neice to Julia Domna) and her son Severus Alexander.

One example for Geta includes the additional “CЄOVIPЄIA” (Severan) on the reverse, compared to my coin.

Honors bestowed (and taken away) by the emperor

Nicaea was on the losing side at the beginning of Septimius' run for emperor in the year of 5 emperors. The Battle of Nicaea was fought in 193 between the forces of Septimius Severus and his rival, Pescennius Niger. Severus was the victor, and Niger’s bid was ended the next year at Issus. Septimius penalized Nicaea for not supporting him with the removal of their neokoroi, literally a word combining νεώς 'temple' + κορέω 'to sweep', honoring a town with a sacred temple to the Roman emperor. Septimius Severus also rewarded Nicaea’s rival for leading city of Bithynia, Nicomedia, with a second neokoria for their support.

Caracalla appears to have intervened on behalf of Antioch and Byzantium, to restore them to the good favor of the emperor. He may have also intervened on behalf of Nicaea.

“It was at his [Caracalla’s] plea, moreover, that their [Byzantium’s] ancient rights were restored to the citizens of Antioch and Byzantium, with whom Severus had become angry because they had given aid to Niger.” -Scriptores Historiae Augustae The Life of Antoninus Caracalla 1.7

When were these games held? (and who attended?)

The right to host games was another honor that could be bestowed as a sign of favor of the emperor. [Burrell] Nicaea was honored to celebrate agonistic festivals (games festivals) in honor of the Septimius Severus and his two sons.

“There took place also during those days a gymnastic contest, at which so great a multitude of athletes assembled, under compulsion, that we wondered how the course could contain them all. And in this contest women took part, vying with one another most fiercely, with the result that jokes were made about other very distinguished women as well. Therefore, it was henceforth forbidden for any woman, no matter what her origin, to fight in single combat.” -Dio LXXVI.16.1 (referencing games of AD ~200 in Nicaea)​

The games shown on this coin appear to date between AD 198 and 204. This coin could come from the games sponsored to celebrate the brotherly love of Caracalla and Geta and their elevations in 198 to Caesar (Geta) and Augustus (Caracalla). This article, Weiser p121, describes the games of “Severeia Philadelphia” in happening in 204.

In this thread on forumancientcoins, @curtislclay discusses the question:

“Is it possible that the emperors actually attended these games, on the occasion of a visit to Nicaea in c. summer-autumn 198 when they supervised the construction of siege engines for their second attempt to capture the city of Hatra in Mesopotamia?”

There are many other coins with one of more agonistic prizes on them. This coin is an early Roman provincial coins with an agonistic prize/crown (perhaps even first?):

Cilicia Pedias, Tarsus, Commodus, 177-192 AD, Æ 27mm (12.64, 7h)

Obv: [ΑVΤ ΚΑΙ(Ϲ) ΑVΡ ΚΟΜΟΔΟϹ ϹƐΒ] Mantled bust right, wearing demiourgic crown; club of Hercules in left field

Rev: ΑΔΡ ΚΟΜ ΤΑΡ ΜΗ Β ΝƐⲰΚΟ (twice Neokorie), agonistic crown inscribed ΚΟΜΟΔƐ (Kommodeios); above, ΟΙΚΟ/VΜƐ (worldwide).

Expanded Legend: HADRianeia, KOMmodeios - TARsos MEtropolis

Ref: RPC IV.3 5845 (temporary)

Notes: Tarsos was the first city in Cilicia to receive the title Neokoros and a temple dedicated to the cult of Hadrian, during the reign of Hadrian circa AD 130. A second temple was dedicated to Commodus during his reign, before August 191. The Kommodeios Isolympic Worldwide Festival was held in honor of this temple. Commodus, as reincarnated Hercules, probably honored Tarsos because its city god was Hercules.[*]


The hopes of these holy games, Philadelphia (Brotherly love), clearly didn't work out. This is one of the last coins to hope the two brothers could find their brotherly love. A coin of Caracalla as Emperor, after the death of Septimius Severus in 4-February-211, and likely before or at latest, very shortly after, Geta was killed on 26-December- 211.

Thrace, Augusta Traiana, Caracalla (211-217)

Obv: AVT K M AVPH ANTΩNINOC, laureate bust right, with slight drapery.

Rev: AVΓOVCTHC TPAIANHC, Caracalla and Geta standing facing one another, both togate holding globe

Ref: Varbanov 1093 (unlisted variant with clasped hands, no globe)

Caracalla had ordered the murder of his brother, explaining why I chose a funerary base for the opening image of this post. Geta died in the arms of his mother, Julia Domna, on 26-Dec-211, killed by the Praetorian guard loyal to Caracalla. Then Caracalla took further actions against any supporters of his brother, and attempted to erase the memory of Geta with damnatio memoriae.

Addendum: since writing this in Oct 2020, I have acquired this coin of Gallienus with has a spiky prize crown (or urn) - or at least something that looked like a prize crown.

Nero induced Polemon II to abdicate the throne of Pontus in AD 62. AD 63 is the year that Neocaesarea starts its civic year dating. Neocaesarea appears to have achieved its first temple to the cult of divine Augustus during Trajan's reign while it was still a client kingdom. A second temple to the imperial cult was granted under Severus Alexander around AD 226/227.

Çizmeli describes two types of crowns - these spikier metal crows are considered decoration for the temple of the imperial cult and different from the laurel crowns that are connected to games celebrating the anniversary of Actium. The actium variety (rounded base) shown here on the left of the spiky metal crown variety (cylindrical base). Both examples are from coins of Gallienus.

Pontus, Neocaesarea, Gallienus, AD 253-268, Æ (23mm, 10.84g, 6h), dated Civic Year 200 (ЄT C) (AD 263/4)

Obv: AYT KAI ΠO ΛIK ΓAΛΛIHNOC, laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right

Ref: MHTP NЄOKAICAPIAC, prize urn, containing two palm fronds, set upon agonistic table; ЄT C (date) in exergue

Ref: Çizmeli 480 D4-R7 (same dies? ex CNG 41, 1997, 1393); Lindgren I 50

Note: see Cizmeli, Z. Le monnayage de Neocesaree et du Koinon du Pont. Glaux 17. (Milan, 2006) "couronne métallique posée sur un autel" (metal crown placed on an altar)

Neocaesarea -issued very few coins during the period of 262-266. The city ceases minting coins from this period until the restoration of Roman peace in Asia Minor. The Flan of CNG coin is described as "lopsided" - my coin also has a poorly made flan with metal flaws and on sharp edge that bulges to nearly 5mm.


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