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Uranius/Uranius Antoninus ( ca. 218-235 and/or 253/4? A.,D.)

Thomas M. Banchich
Canisius College

Evidence for Uranius (PIR1 V 675) is meagre and problematic, so much so, in fact, that the very number of rulers by that name remains a subject of scholarly debate. Indeed, this sketchy figure, though perhaps of interest to those concerned with the aristocracy of Emesa, is most important for what he may tell us about the interrelationships between various textual sources for the history of the 3rd Century.

Zosimus (I.12.2, ed. Paschoud I, p. 18, with n. 35) describes how the discontented soldiery selected "a Uranius, a man of slave ancestry," whom they brought draped in purple before the reigning emperor, Alexander Severus. The 5th-century Laterculus of Polemius Silvius (Chronica Minora I, p. 521, ed. Mommsen) states: "Antoninus Heliogabalus. Sub quo Marcellus Caesar et Sallustius Uranius Seleucus atque Taurinus tyranni fuerunt." Polemius' Marcellus Caesar may refer to Marcus Aurelius Alexander Severus (cf. PIR2 A 1610 and M 192), [[1]] and the Epitome de Caesaribus names as a uusurper under that same Alexander a Taurinus, who, after being named Augustus, threw himself into the Euphrates (Epitome de Caesaribus 24, ed. Pichlmayr, p. 157). This leaves Sallustius Uranius Seleucus, which may refer to one, two, or three individuals. George Syncellus (674, ed. Mosshammer, p. 437, lines 19-20[[2]]) refers only to a Uranius killed by Alexander, but that does nothing to solve the conundrum. Homonymy seems the only reason to connect Seleucus (PIR1 S 253) to Iulius Antonius Seleucus (PIR2 I 154) or Marcus Flavius Vitellius Seleucus, consul ordinarius in 221,3 but Sallustius (PIR1 S 58) may be Lucius Seius Herennius Sallustius (PIR2 M 27), father of Alexander's wife Sallustia Orbiana (PIR1 S 252). However, it has been suggested that Polemius' Sallustius Uranius Seleucus is but a corruption of Herennius Sallustius Seius Lucius prompted by confusion with a later Uranius -- on whom, see below -- which occurred in a source early enough to appear in the Epitome and which exerted an influence on the chronographic tradition represented by Polemius and Syncellus.[[4]]

Whatever the explanation, this first Uranius must be distinguished from the L. Julius Aurelius Sulpicius Severus Uranius Antoninus (PIR2 I 195), known through coins from or associated with Emesa (modern Homs, Syria), some of which show a laureate youth on the obverse and display on the reverse a variety of the standard formulaic references to him in Latin or Greek as Augustus, Autokrator, etc.[[5]]   This Uranius may be the Antoninus to whom Zosimus (I.38.1, ed. Paschoud I, p. 35, with n. 65) refers as a usurper under Gallienus, and he is also perhaps somehow connected with, or even identical to, the Emesan priest of Aphrodite called Sampsigeramus by John Malalas, who describes him as having helped repulse attacks by the Persian Sapor I in 253/4.[[6]]  There may be a link, too, between this/these figure(s) and a cryptic comment in the Sibylline Oracles (13.150-152): "but afterward / the last priest of all will come, sent from the sun, / appearing from Syria, and he will accomplish everything with deceit."[[7]]

In the end, nearly all that can be said with a reasonable degree of confidence is that Uranius Antoninus rose to prominence in the unsettled conditions of the mid 3rd-Century only to vanish through circumstances unknown into historical obscurity.


[[1]]At 23.4 (ed. Pichlmayr, p. 157), the anonymous author of the Epitome de Caesaribus notes: "He [Heliogabalus] made Marcellus, his own cousin, who afterwards was called Alexander, Caesar."

[[2]]"And a certain Uranius, having been proclaimed emperor in Edessa of Osrhoene [Urfa, Turkey] by soldiers and having usurped against Alexander, was killed by him." See, too, Syncellus 675, ed. Mosshammer, p. 439, lines 7-9: "And Alexander the son of Mammea, having returned to Rome after the elimination of Uranius the usurper and the good showing against the Persians, was eliminated with his mother Mammea in Moguntiacum [Mainz, Germany] in a military rebellion."

[[3]]For further references to whom, see Dietmar Kienast, Römishe Kaisertabelle (2nd ed.; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1996), p. 176

[[4]]Robert O. Fink, "Lucius Seius Caesar Socer Augusti," American Journal of Philology 60 (1939), pp. 326-332, esp. p. 331.

[[5]]For references to coinage, see Kienast, Römishe Kaisertabelle, p. 211.

[[6]]Malalas 296-297, ed. Dindorf, translated by Elizabeth Jeffreys, Michael Jeffreys, and Roger Scott, The Chronicle of John Malalas (Melbourne: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1986), pp. 162-163. A link between Uranius Antoninus and Sampsigeramos might mean kinship with Julia Domna, wife of the emperor Septimius Severus. See further, Michael Dodgeon and Samuel Lieu, The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (A.D. 226-363) (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 264, n. 30.

[[7]]Translated by J. J. Collins, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1983), Vol. I, p. 458. On the intricate exegetical difficulties of this text, see David Potter, Prophecy and History in the Crisis of the Roman Empire. A Historical Commentary on the Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990). Dodgeon and Lieu, The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars, p. 56, no. 3.2.3, provide epigraphic evidence perhaps connected to this incident.


Baldus, Hans R. "Denare des Uranius Antoninus (Anhang: neue Aurei)," Jahrbuch für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte 40 (1990), pp. 29-34.

_______. "Neue Forschungen zu Uranius Antoninus und seiner Münzen.Nachtrag III." Jahrbuch für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte 33 (1983), pp. 29-39.

_______. "Neue Münzen des Uranius Antoninus (Nachtrag II)," Jahrbuch für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte 27 (1977), pp. 69-74.

_______. "Die reformierten Tetradrachmen des Uranius Antoninus im Lichte eines neuen Fundes. Mit Nachträgen sur übrigen Münzprägung dieses 'Kaisers.'" Chiron 5 (1975), pp. 443-484.

_______. Uranius Antoninus: Münzprägung und Geschichte. Antiquitas 3 (Bonn:Habelt, 1971.

Bellinger, A. R. "The Numismatic Evidence from Dura," Berytus 8 (1943), pp. 61-71, = <almashriq.hiof.no/ddc/projects/archaeology/berytus-back/berytus08/61.html>.

Butcher, Kevin. "Two Notes on Syrian Silver of the Third Century A.D.," Numismatic Chronicle 149 (1989), pp. 169-172.

Callu, J. P., and Barrandon, J. N. "Uranius Antonin et deux autres notes de métrologie tardive orientale," Revue du Nord 60, no. 239 (1978), pp. 833-844.

Castritius, H. Review of Baldus' Münzprägung und Geschichte. Gnomon 46 (1974), pp. 589-595.

Chastagnol, A. Review of Baldus' Münzprägung und Geschichte. Syria 51 (1974), pp. 208-214.

Delbrück, R. "Uranius of Emesa," Numismatic Chronicle, Series 6, 8 (1948), pp.10-29.

Dodgeon, Michael, and Lieu, Samuel. The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars (A.D. 226-363). London and New York: Routledge, 1991.

Kienast, Dietmar. Römishce Kaisertabelle. 2nd ed.; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1996.

Fink, Robert O. "Lucius Seius Caesar Socer Augusti," American Journal of Philology 60 (1939), pp. 326-332,

Gilmore, P. M. "Radiate and Laureate Portraits on Imperial Syrian Silver,"Numismatic Circular 92 (1984), pp. 149-150.

Peckáry, Th. "Uranius Antoninus," Gazette Numismatique Suisse 23 (1973), pp. 15-18.

Potter, David. Prophecy and History in the Crisis of the Roman Empire. A Historical Commentary on the Thirteenth Sibylline Oracle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Seyrig, H. "Uranius Antonin. Une question d'authenticité." Revue Numismatique. Series 1. 6 (1958), pp. 51-57.

Southern, Pat. The Roman Empire from Severus to Constantine. London and NewYork: Routledge, 2001.

Watson, Alaric. Aurelian and the Third Century. London and New York: Routledge, 1991.

Winkler, Gerhard. "Uranius." Der Kleine Pauly (1979), Vol. 5, cols. 1059-1060.

Copyright (C) 2002, Thomas M. Banchich This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

Comments to: Thomas M. Banchich

Updated: 23 March 2002

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