AR Denarius. 3.03g, 18.5mm
MINTED: Rome mint, AD 220-222
REF: RIC IV 88
OBVERSE: IMP ANTONINVS PIVS AVG, laureate and draped bust right, with horn above forehead.
REVERSE: INVICTVS SACERDOS AVG, Elagabalus standing left, holding patera over altar in right hand, club in left hand; recumbent bull behind altar, star in left field.
Very Fine. Slightly granular surfaces with some dark reddish deposits.
This remarkable issue shows a portrait of Elagabalus with a 'horn' protruding from his head, just below the tip of his laurel crown, a feature in Roman coinage that is unique to him. Scholarly debate about what this might represent has not come to a consensus, but it likely had religious significance to Elagabalus, and one theory is that it shows a dessicated bull penis that the emperor wore as part of the rituals he conducted to his god. The reverse scene and legend are equally notable, with its depiction of Elagabalus wearing eastern style robes of a priest. The legend, INVICTVS SACERDOS AVG, translates into "Invincible Priest Emperor".
Elagabalus was a 14-year-old youth living in Emesa in Syria when his grandmother, the powerful noblewoman Julia Maesa, successfully engineered the downfall of Emperor Macrinus and the restoration of the Severan dynasty. Elagabalus was made the new emperor and would go on to become one of Rome's most luridly colourful and notorious emperors. He would scandalize his subjects with one outrageous act after another, and apart from openly having a string of male lovers (and declaring himself the wife of a charioteer named Hierocles), he also broke religious taboo by marrying a sacred vestal virgin, Aquilia Severa.
In Emesa, Elagabalus had been the high priest of the sun god, El-Gabal, and when he arrived in Rome, he made the god, renamed Deus Sol Invictus (God the Undefeated Sun), the head of the Roman pantheon of deities. This did not sit well with the largely conservative aristocrats of Rome, and in March 222, having ruled for less than four years, Elagabalus was assassinated by members of the Praetorian Guard, who had themselves grown weary of the emperor's many un-Roman eccentricities.
ELAGABALUS . AD 218-222 . AR Denarius. Horned Portrait/Invincible Priest Emperor
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