The Roman Empire
Orbiana

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Coin Details

Origin/Country: ANCIENT - ROMAN EMPIRE (1st CENT BC - 5th CENT AD) ROMAN EMPIRE Orbiana, AD 225-227
Design Description: Orbiana Denarius
Item Description: AR Denarius rv Concordia std.
Full Grade: NGC MS Strike: 5/5 Surface: 3/5
Owner: Kohaku

Set Details

Custom Sets: The Roman Empire
Competitive Sets: This coin is not competing in any sets.
Research: NGC Coin Price Guide

Owner Comments:

Our understanding of history is only complete to the extent that information-bearing artifacts have been preserved, and our interpretation of that information is unbiased and accurate. For an illustration, consider the history of Gnaea Seia Herennia Sallustia Barbia Orbiana. We know from coinage that Orbiana married Emperor Severus Alexander and became Rome’s Empress in 225 AD. Many details regarding Orbiana and her reign, however, depend on historical source and interpretation.

Evidence of Orbiana’s imperial debut is manifested on this ancient denarius, struck in Rome circa 225 AD. The obverse depicts a draped female bust encircled by the inscription SALL BARBIA ORBIANA AVG, and the reverse features the seated figure of the goddess Concordia holding a patera and a double cornucopia, accompanied by the inscription CONCORDIA AVGG. Reportedly commissioned by Alexander himself for the wedding, this coin served to advertise the beautiful young Orbiana as Rome’s newest Augusta.

It is widely described that Orbiana was the daughter of a distinguished Roman Senator. Furthermore, Orbiana’s father may have been elevated to Caesar. Evidence for this view is tenuous, but at least the combination of two sources support it: the Feriale Duranum and the Historia Augusta. The former is a papyrus containing ancient Roman records of important festivals and anniversaries. This significant artifact, uncovered in Syria in the early 1930s, references the birthday of an unspecified L. Caesar concomitant with Alexander’s reign. While we can’t know the identify of the aforementioned Caesar for certain, it is intriguing that the Historia Augusta, a biography of Rome’s Emperors covering portions of 2nd and 3rd century AD, mentions that Alexander named his wife’s father as Caesar. Admittedly, the Historia Augusta, written by uncertain author(s) circa 4th century AD, is notoriously unreliable. Therein, Alexander’s wife and her father are named Memmia and Sulpicius, respectively. In addition, it is stated that the former was exiled and the latter was executed after the Emperor uncovered a traitorous plot. All of this information was attributed to an ancient historian named Dexippus. This account must be viewed with great skepticism based on the amount of misinformation, intentional or otherwise, provided within the Historia Augusta. In any case, the name of Oribana’s father can be rendered from inscriptions on her coinage in combination of the aforementioned sources as Lucius (Gnaeus?) Seius Herennius Sallustius Barbius (Orbianus?), not including the adoptive cognomen of Caesar.

If Sallustius ever served as Caesar, there are no surviving coins struck specifically for him. It is curious to note that the inscription on this denarius bears AVGG, which typically is in reference to co-rule. Why this coin seemingly references two Augusti remains a mystery. It seems unlikely, even if Sallustius did serve as Caesar, that he would rate so high a numismatic honor. Besides this denarius struck for the imperial wedding, all other contemporaneous imperial issues employ the expected AVG, since Alexander was Rome’s sole Augustus. In contrast, there were two women serving as Augusta; the other, besides Orbiana, was Alexander’s mother, Julia Mamaea.

Mamaea fervently advised her son as Emperor, to the point that she was arguably the most likely individual to be considered as the Empire’s co-ruler. According to Herodian of Antioch's History of the Empire from the Death of Marcus, it was Mamaea who secured Alexander a wife, although the ancient historian did not name her. Herodian’s account states that Mamaea grew envious of the affection that subsequently grew between Alexander and his new wife. Moreover, Rome’s matriarch came to regret having to share the Empress title. Mamaea reportedly maltreated Alexander's wife to the point that her father sought refuge within the camp of the Praetorian Guard. An enraged Mamaea leveraged the situation to declare that he was attempting to usurp Alexander, and ordered his death, in addition to banishing his daughter to Africa. So great was Mamaea’s influence over her son that Alexander acquiesced, despite any personal disapproval. It seems probable that the subjects in Herodian’s version are Orbiana and Sallustius. In this case, the father and daughter are innocent of any wrongdoing, in contrast to the account per the Historia Augusta.

Given the paucity - not to mention confusion - of the literary evidence, it is difficult to know Orbiana’s history for certain. Prior to the discovery of coins representing her with her husband Alexander, historians mistakenly thought her to be the wife Emperor Trajan Decius. If not for surviving coins such as this one, even the basic details about Orbiana might have been forever lost to history.

Additional Reading: A B Ertel, "The Life of Severus Alexander," 1986.

Coin Details: ROMAN EMPIRE, Orbiana, Augusta, AD 225-227, AR Denarius (18mm, 2.80 g, 12h), Rome mint, Special marriage emission under Severus Alexander, AD 225, NGC Grade: MS, Strike: 5/5, Surface: 3/5, Obverse: Draped bust right, wearing stephane, SALL BARBIA ORBIANA AVG, Reverse: Concordia seated left on throne, holding patera and double cornucopia, CONCORDIA AVGG, References: RIC IV 319 online (Alexander) wherein 14 specimens cited; BMCRE 287 (Alexander); RSC 1; ex. Dr. Allan Smith Collection.

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