Caracalla, 198-217. Aureus (Gold, 20 mm, 6.31 g, 6 h), Rome, 216. ANTONINVS PIVS AVG GERM Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust of Caracalla to right, seen from behind. Rev. P M TR P XVIIII COS IIII P P Lion, radiate, walking left, holding thunderbolt in its jaws. BMC p. 462, 178 note. Calicó 2754. Cohen 366. RIC 283a. Very rare. A particularly attractive example with a remarkably bold and impressive portrait. Very minor marks, otherwise, extremely fine.
It has often been pointed out that the radiate lion appearing on Caracalla's late coinage served as a symbol of the sun, but also of Persia, which the emperor was bound to conquer during his Parthian campaign. We may add to this observation that the remarkable reverse type may also represent the lion constellation, as it was in this sign of the zodiac that Alexander, the great conqueror of the East and Caracalla's personal hero, had been born. Caracalla's imitatio alexandri was famously manic: he stylized himself as the new Alexander, conqueror of the East, raising Macedonian style hoplites in Greece and asking - in reminiscence of Dareios' daughter Stateira, whom Alexander had married in 324 BC - for the hand of a daughter of the Parthian King Artabanos IV. We also know that Caracalla was fond of lions in general, as he had a pet lion named Akinakes and hired elite 'Skythian' and Germanic soldiers, which he called his personal 'lions' (Cass. Dio 79,6.1). Last but not least, the lion naturally also connects Caracalla to the hero Hercules, while the thunderbolt is the symbol of Jupiter, the highest deity in the Roman pantheon. As such, the reverse type of this remarkable aureus compromises a wide range of allusions, from geography to history right up to the divine, and thus masterfully spans the whole scope of Caracalla's imperial self-representation.