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Severina, Empress

Ulpia Severina Augusta, wife of Emperor Aurelian is not named in ancient literature, however the Historia Augusta mentions her:

Clothing made wholly of silk​ he [Aurelian] would neither keep in his own wardrobe nor present to anyone else for his use; and when his wife besought him to keep a single robe of purple silk, he replied, "God forbid that a fabric should be worth its weight in gold." For at that time a pound of silk was worth a pound of gold'
-Historia Augusta, Life of Aurelian 45.4

"He held a yearly celebration of the Sigillaria​ for his wife and daughter, like any private citizen."
-Historia Augusta, Life of Aurelian 50.1

the emperor is said to have given his wife and daughter a gift during the annual festival, almost as a private citizen. Nothing is known about the daughter.

The name of the empress appears in a few inscriptions cited in Paully's Realencyclopedia:

  • III 472 (milestone from Asia)

  • V 29 (Pola), 3830 (Verona) references Severina as mater castrorum

  • VIII 23114 (Henchir Dzemda)

  • IX 2327 (Allifae)

  • ILAfr 617 (Volubilis)

[ulpiae severinae piissimae]
AUG [coniugi d n]
IMP CAES [l domiti aureli]
[ani in]V [aug] MATRI

She is referred to often as "Augusta" and there are inscriptions that refer to her as "Mater Castrorum" and "Mater Senatus et Patriae". This is interesting as there is uncertainty about whether she was a mother to any children.

An Antoninianus (not my coin) from Antioch of Ulpia Severina from AD 275 with the very unusual combination of legends that suggest that Severina ruled during an interregnum between the death of her husband, Emperor Aurelian, and his successor, Tacitus. Public Domain photograph by Kristina Hamacher from Eichstätt, Lehrstuhl für Alte Geschichte der Katholischen Universität, Nomisma Tresor.

"On coins of Severina issued from the mint at Antioch, it is possible to detect a change in mint marks that is used to confirm that these coins were issued particularly close to the first issues of Tacitus. From this same mint came a coin of Severina bearing the legend CONCORDIA AVG, which is striking for the use of the singular AVG in place of the earlier AVGG."
-PhD Thesis from Ryan Ann Ricciardi (2007)

My coin has a very masculine portrait of Severina wife of Aurelian, and with CONCORDIAE MILITVM on the reverse. Severina is the only empress who has this legend on a reverse. Could this have been issued after Aurelian's death? Did Severina retain control with the support of the military or the Senate for a few months during an interregnum?

Severina, received the title of Augusta in 274, survived her husband Aurelian, who was assassinated in a palace conspiracy. During the three-month interregnum which followed, Severina appears to have continued to handle current affairs with the help of the Senate. The coinage of Severina is very unusual compared to that of her husband during the short period between the end of 274, the date of coinage reform, and the death of Aurelian.

Ulpia Severina, wife of Aurelian, Augusta (274-275), date 275, Rome mint

Obv: SEVERI-NA AVG, diademed and draped bust of Severina to the right, seen three-quarters from the front, set on a crescent.

Rev: CONCORDIAE MILITVM/ -|S// XXIR, Concordia (Concord) draped, standing to the left, holding a military standard in each hand.

David Sear writes in Roman Coins and Their Values: "The numismatic evidence makes it quite clear that issues in her name continued for some time after Aurelian's death, though the precise length of this "interregnum" period is much disputed by now seems likely that the new emperor's proclamation took place less than two months after his predecessor's murder"

In her paper on the interregnum, Sylviane Estiot, concludes that the types of coins do not suggest an attempt to restore senatorial power. Instead, the coins reveal the connection between Empress Severina's temporary rule and Tacitus's rise to power. They explain each other: Severina's rule was not a cover for a power vacuum that might have allowed the Senate to take control. Instead, it was a way to ensure that Aurelian's military supporters secured his succession.


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