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    Julia Maesa (Augusta, AD 218-224/5). AR denarius. NGC AU. Rome, under Elagabalus, AD 218-220. IVLIA MAESA AVG, draped bust of Maesa right / SAECVLI FELICITAS, Felicitas standing left, holding long caduceus and sacrificing over lighted altar, star in right field. RIC (Elagabalus) 271. RSC 45.

    The later Severan dynasty represents one of the few instances in Roman history when women wielded true power. This was  engineered by Julia Maesa, the sister of the Roman Empress Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus and mother of Caracalla. In AD 218, the Severan dynasty's fortunes were at a low ebb: Septimius was long dead, Caracalla had been murdered and replaced by the dull civil servant Macrinus, and Julia Domna had been compelled to return to her Syrian hometown of Emesa, where she starved herself to death in grief. Maesa, probably Julia Domna's younger sister, had been a fixture in the Severan Court and had married a prominent Senator by whom she had two daughters, Julia Soaemias and Julia Mamaea, each of whom had also married well and produced children. Maesa, determined to avenge her sister and restore the Severan-Emesan dynasty to power, seized upon her 13-year-old grandson Varius Avitus, son of Soaemias, as the means. The boy, who was the hereditary high priest of the god Elagabal, greatly resembled a young Caracalla, and Maesa had it put about to the soldiers that he was the emperor's natural son and true successor. That, plus a liberal sprinkling of gold from Maesa's fortune, induced the troops to revolt and proclaim Avitus (now renamed Antoninus, but widely known as Elagabalus after his god) as emperor. Improbably, Macrinus was defeated and killed, and Elagabalus and his retinue made their way to Rome, where the people greeted their new ruler with mixed bafflement, amusement, and horror. For in addition to his Syrian birth, Elagabalus was also what would today be called transgendered, an exotic dancer, and totally committed to the orgiastic rites of his cult. He married three times in rapid succession, including a scandalous union with a Vestal Virgin. Athletes, dancers, actors and charioteers reached high office based on their sexual prowess. The populace and soldiery soon became disgusted with this un-Roman behavior. Though Julia Maesa ably held the reigns of government from behind the scenes, she failed in restraining her grandson's wilder impulses and finally decided that he must be replaced to save the dynasty. She induced Elagabalus to adopt his more docile cousin Alexander, Mamaea's son, as Caesar, then cooly arranged for the Praetorians to murder their oddball emperor along with his mother in March, AD 222. Whatever qualms Maesa felt about the deaths of her daughter and grandson she kept to herself. Maesa continued to rule as emperor in all but name under Severus Alexander, who proved an obedient figurehead, until her death in late AD 225 or early 226, after which her surviving daughter Mamaea stepped seamlessly into her role.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2017
    25th Sunday
    Internet/Mail Bids: 8
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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