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Uranius Antoninus: Little Known Usurper

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Many of us non-coin collectors can learn from numismatic evidence.


While reading Michael Grant's Roman History from Coins, I am reminded of the importance that coins played in our knowledge of the obscure and potential usurper Lucius Julius Aurelius Sulpicius Uranius Antoninus, who, according to numismatic evidence, ruled in some capacity in Syria, in AD 253-254.




Aureus, Emesa 253-254, AV 5.90 g. L IVL AVR SVLP VRA ANTONINVS Laureate, draped and cuirassed bust r. Rev. VICTO  RIA AVG Victory advancing l., holding wreath and palm




Uranius Antoninus, also named Sampsigeramus, was originally a Priest in the temple of the Romano-Syrian sun god Elagabal in Emesa, Syria.




Hexastyle temple containing the conical stone of Elagabal (ornamented with a facing eagle)


During the instability of the AD 250s, the Sassanian King, Shapur I, attacked the Roman province of Syria, sacking the city of Antioch. It was during this time that Uranius Antoninus rose to prominence in leading a successful defense of the Syrian city of Emesa.


Unfortunately, much of the literary evidence for the history of Rome during the Third Century Crisis is scant or incomplete. The literary evidence for Uranius Antoninus is non-existent. There is, however, numismatic evidence.


Michael Grant writes, "To write the history of the chaotic third century AD, the editors of the Cambridge Ancient History decided to call upon specialists on the coinage; and one of them, Harold Mattingly described the coins as almost our only chance of penetrating the thick darkness that still envelopes so much of the history of the third century. Coins even reveal the names and features of men who are totally unknown to every surviving writer and, indeed, to any other source whatsoever."

Coins of Uranius Antonius are such an example. Although there is no literary evidence of Uranius Antoninus, the numismatic evidence suggests that he not only rose to prominence after his successful defense of Emesa in AD 253-254, but he seems to have exerted his authority into the surrounding region, locally driving out the Sassanians.




Bronze, Emesa 253-254, 23.38 g. The Temple of Sol at Emesa; in exergue, EΞΦ


Note in the exergue the symbols EΞΦ. These symbols on the coin's exergue are for the year of 565 of the Seleukid Era or AD 253/254. (For us non-coin collectors, the exergue is the space on the reverse of a coin sometimes with an inscription below the central design that often gives the date or the place of mintage.) This helps distinguish this Uranius Antonius from the two usurpers mentioned by Zosimus (writing in AD 500) against the earlier emperor Severus Alexander (AD 223-235). Confusingly, one of these earlier usurpers was named Uranius and the other Antoninus.


Uranius Antoninus' fate is uncertain after the Emperor Valerian returned to the East to face the Sassanians. It is unclear whether he was murdered after being deposed or he resigned peacefully. His name and memory have disappeared into the mists of history. Coins struck with his portrait, however, shed light and give lasting evidence about this otherwise forgotten figure in Ancient Roman history.



guy also known as gaius

Edited by guy

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The Romans appear to be very ambivalent about recording their usurpers. Some have very scanty claim to fame - and some might even be fictional given the accuracy of some sources - whereas others are deliberately exaggerated for the purpioses of historical narrative. We often see a personal bias in recording peoples lives, such as with Tacitus.


Don't forget the Roman practice of damnatio, stricken from the record, forgotten. Perhaps Uranius is one of the recipients of such exclusion?

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