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Deified, But When?


Divus Severus Alexander. Died AD 235. AR Antoninianus (21.5mm, 3.31 g, 7h). Rome mint, 6th officina. 8th emission of Trajan Decius, mid AD 251. DIVO ALEXANDRO, radiate bust right, with slight drapery / CONSECRATIO, eagle standing left, with wings spread. RIC IV 97 (Trajan Decius); RSC 599. Lustrous, a little weakly struck on reverse. EF.

No official records survive stating that Severus Alexander was ever deified by the Roman Senate, making his inclusion in the ‘Divi’ series of coins struck by Trajan Decius circa AD 251 rather problematic. Still, the coin type’s existence points to a deification that somehow went unrecorded. The Scriptores Historia Augusta is contradictory on the issue; the title of his biography (supposedly by Aelius Lampridius) does not call him deified, as it does with other rulers so honored, but one passage does assert that “the Senate raised him to the ranks of the gods ” (book 63, verse 3). It provides no clue, however, when this occurred. Alexander was overthrown in a military coup by Maximinus I Thrax, who would certainly not have sought deification for his predecessor - indeed some sources claim Maximinus ordered a damnatio memoriae against him. This was likely revoked as part of the Senate’s revolt against Maximinus during the Year of the Six Emperors in AD 238 (Alexander had been notably deferential to the Senate). The deification of Alexander could plausibly be assigned to the Senatorial rulers Balbinus and Pupienus, or the mild Gordian III (AD 238-244). By AD 251 it would have been widely known, and the favorable view of his reign carried over into subsequent centuries.