A wonderful sestertius of Septimius Severus
Lot 271
Septimius Severus, 193-211. Sestertius (Orichalcum, 33 mm, 27.64 g, 6 h), Rome, 210. L•SEPT SEVERVS PIVS AVG Laureate head of Septimius Severus to right. Rev. P M TR P XVIII COS III P P / S C Septimius Severus, with Caracalla and Geta standing to left and right behind him, standing right on platform, addressing an officer, looking right, and two soldiers, looking left, before him on the ground below; behind them, aquila, standard and three curved fasces. BMC 192 and pl. 57, 7 (same reverse die). Cohen 559. RIC 800a and pl. X, 5 (= the BM example). Extremely rare. Boldly struck and among the best of very few examples known. A splendid piece of wonderful style and with an attractive green patina. Slightly smoothed, otherwise, extremely fine.

This impressive sestertius is closely connected to the military campaign of Septimius Severus against the Caledones and Maeatae in 208-211, two local tribes that had increasingly begun troubling the northern frontier of Roman Britain in the years before. Septimius assumed the title britannicus maximus in 210, but the 64-year old emperor was, in fact, mostly confined to bed due to gout, while his troops - despite winning most battles - sustained heavy casualties from the indigenous guerrilla warfare in southern and central Scotland. Cassius Dio reports that Septimius actually reached the nothern tip of the British Isles, but this is almost certainly an exaggeration. The Romans only had a rudimentary idea of the complicated geography of Scotland, and the fact that Dio paints a picture of Septimius studying the movements of the sun and the length of the days and nights in summer and winter at the northern headland (Cass. Dio 77.13.3) is not to be taken literally - it is, instead, an allegory for Septimius expanding the boundaries of the Empire to the 'end of the world' and it may, in fact, be a reference to Pytheas, who famously circumnavigated Britain in the 4th century BC before reaching ultima thule and studying the astronomical phenomena of the North. In any case, the annexation of Scotland by the Romans, if ever anticipated, proved to be impracticable due to the heavy resistance of the local population and the poor fertility of the country. Septimius died in Eburacum (York) on 4 February 2011 and the Romans consequently withdrew their troops to the reinforced vallum hadriani.
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