Gold; Diam. 0.78 in. (2 cm)
Gift of Joseph H. Durkee, 1899 (99.35.218)
The Severan dynasty commenced with the reign of Septimius Severus (r. 193211 A.D.), a soldier from Leptis Magna in North Africa (modern Libya). With his marriage to Julia Domna (25.78.90), by whom he fathered two sons, Caracalla and Geta, Septimius allied himself to a powerful and ambitious Syrian family. Some sources say that Julia Domna was the daughter of the high priest of the Syrian god Elagabalus, and that the future Roman emperor may have met her while stationed at a legionary camp near Antioch.
Julia Domna was an educated woman and, together with her relatives, came to dominate the imperial court, giving the Severan dynasty a very oriental character with their predilection for luxuriant materials and other exotica. She also held considerable power during the reigns of her husband and her elder son, Caracalla (r. 21117 A.D.) (40.11.1a), and is often shown on coins together with her husband or two children along with legends and images that emphasize her role as imperial mother and protector.
The reverse image on this coin depicts Venus Genetrix, a matronly goddess with Eastern connotations of fertility and mother goddesses, sitting on a throne with a winged cupid at her feet. Venus was one of a host of goddesses represented on Roman coinage to enhance the attributes of the issuer of the coin or the person whose portrait graced the obverse. Other such deities include Juno, queen of the gods and the patron goddess of mothers, Fortuna, Concordia, as well as personifications such as Happiness and Fecundity. All of these were meant to be closely associated with the empress and her roles as the producer of royal heirs and as a model for women of the empire.