Welcome to the next edition of Coin Relief! In this issue Andrew Brown discusses coins linked to the notorious murder of Julius Caesar
Kαὶ σύ, τέκνον – Et tu, Brute!
On the 15th of March 44 BC a group of 60 senators led by Marcus Junius Brutus of the gens Junia, formerly governor of Cisalpine Gaul (47-45 BC) and Praetor (44 BC), set upon Julius Caesar as he entered the Theatre of Pompey. The group of conspirators, fuelled by opposition and fear to Caesar’s increasing dictatorial power in Rome, stabbed Caesar 23 times with the second, reportedly lethal, blow delivered by Brutus himself (e.g. Suetonius Divus Julius 80-82). The Ides of March has become synonymous with the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic, to be transmitted in later history through the likes of Shakespeare (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar). In the Shakespearean tradition Caesar’s last words are often recounted as “et tu, Brute?” (but see below…) although other, more contemporary, sources suggest he either said nothing or used the Greek “καὶ σύ, τέκνον” (“Kai su, teknon?” or “You too, child?”) (Suetonius Divus Julius 82; Plutarch Caesar 66.9).
The coinage of this period is fascinating in many respects and aside from the many coin types that relate directly to Caesar others relate to the conspirators involved in his assassination and the Civil War that ensued. Although initially pardoned by the senate, once Octavian came to power he set out along with Marc Antony to avenge Caesar’s assassination in what became the Liberator’s Civil War between 43-42 BC. The leaders of the assassins (known as the Liberatores), Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus (often simply Cassius), had fled to the eastern provinces where in October 42 BC their seventeen legions faced the nineteen legions of Octavian and Antony in two battles of Philippi (Macedonia). In the First Battle of Philippi, Brutus’ forces overpowered Octavian’s while Antony’s were victorious over Cassius, the latter subsequently committing suicide. A second, decisive, battle followed later in the month with Octavian and Antony’s combined forces defeating Brutus and the remnants of the Liberatores army. Brutus himself committed suicide, bringing about the end of the Civil War.
Prior to Caesar’s assassination, coinage was struck by Brutus in his role as moneyer, probably in 54 BC. Two types in particular (RRC 433/1 and 433/2) emphasise the ancestral links of Brutus and the Bruti to the early days of the Roman Republic and their roles in ensuring liberty (libertas) and struggle against tyranny. In Cicero (Brutus 53) we hear that one of Brutus’ ancestors and founder of the family, the consul L. Iunius Brutus, correctly interpreted an oracle that allowed him to overthrow the Tarquin Kings and establish the Republic in 509 BC. This episode is represented on Brutus’ denarii (RRC 433/1), depicting L Iunius Brutus as consul, of which there are at least 6 PAS examples.
In a later incident in the history of the Bruti, Spurius Maelius was suspected of attempting to establish a monarchy in 439 BC only to be killed by Brutus’ ancestor (reportedly on his mother’s side) and Master of Horse Gaius Servilius Ahala (see Livy 4.14). A second issue of Brutus from c.54 BC depicts the head of Brutus on one face with his supposed ancestor Ahala on the other (RRC 433/2). There do not appear to be any examples of this type on the PAS to date.
The presence of libertas types and Brutus’ hearkening back to his ancestor’s efforts to overthrow tyranny are perhaps a reaction to the growing influence of Pompey within the Republic. With the later rise of Caesar, a second member of the Bruti and co-conspirator to the assassination – Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, a distant cousin of Brutus – also issued denarii as moneyer in c.48 BC. There are approximately 8 PAS examples for two different types of Brutus Albinus’ coinage, one (RRC 450/1) with Mars obverse and two carnyces (Celtic war trumpets) in a saltire on the reverse – there are 4 PAS examples. The other carries a bust of Pietas with clasped hands holding a caduceus, for which there are four PAS examples, two of which are pierced.
A final type from the same issue of Albinus coinage, RRC 450/3, carries a bust of Aulus Postumius Albinus, the last consul of the Postumii Albini in 99 BC. There appear to be no PAS examples of this type though. As with Brutus himself, those of his cousin continue to recall ancestral links as well as virtues important to the Republic (e.g. Pietas).
Probably the most recognisable of Brutus’ coin type, though, is the issue celebrating Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March. This is arguably the most famous coin type of the Roman world, indeed Cassius Dio remarks that “In addition to these activities Brutus stamped upon the coins which were being minted his own likeness and a cap and two daggers, indicating by this and by the inscription that he and Cassius had liberated the fatherland.” (Cassius Dio 47.25.3). These issues depict Brutus on the obverse, with the reverse carrying the pileus – the cap of liberty worn by freedmen, referencing freedom from Caesar’s tyranny – along with the daggers representing the co-conspirators and maybe even reflecting the weapons used in the actual assassination itself(?). Despite the fame of this coin type, it is very rare and especially so in Britain with just one example on the PAS.
Following Caesar’s murder, in 43 BC, the assassins, initially given amnesty by the senate, were condemned in absentia and officially exiled by the state. In the year leading up to Philippi, coins were struck by the surviving triumvirs, Octavian and Antony (along with Lepidus), typically stressing their authority as well as individual links to the now deified Casesar.
A slightly more war-like type appears for Octavian, too, in 42 BC, which heralds the Battles of Philippi, depicting a bust of Mars on the obverse with legionary standards on the reverse. There are at least four PAS examples of this type.
On the other side of the conflict, coins were issued in the names of both Brutus and Cassius as leaders of the forces opposing Octavian and Antony, often again stressing libertas and elements that reflect ideals in opposition to tyranny or in support of the Republic. Although not represented on the PAS database, aurei for both Brutus and Cassius highlight their status as leaders of the opposition and supporters of the Republic, the Cassius type also referencing Libertas with its obverse type.
Denarii from this period reflect similar themes and although rare as PAS finds there are a handful of examples recorded to date. At least three examples of Brutus with bust of Neptune on the obverse and Victory reverse types are recorded and a rarer single example with bust of Apollo is also present.
So far, there appear to be no PAS coins with images of denarii that carry more overt associations between Brutus, Cassius, and the Republic. It is possible examples of these and similar types may well appear in the future or already be on the database amongst the range of Republican denarii that require further editing.
The presence of attributes not only relating to Libertas but also to Apollo (lyre, tripod, laurel branch, etc.) is worth noting here. It was the oracular reading from the Delphic Apollo that Brutus’ ancestor correctly interpreted to bring about the beginning of the Republic. The types on the coinage therefore create an important link between the Bruti, Apollo, and the Republic as opposed to the tyranny and kingship that they sought (successfully in the past and now with Caesar and his followers) to overthrow.
Although the famous EID MAR denarius of Brutus is an instantly recognisable and often broadcast image relating to Caesar’s assassination, it has to be remembered that it was one component of a much longer numismatic story for both sides either in support or against Caesar and the Republic. Brutus and Cassius’ coinages obviously disappear with their defeat at Philippi, but that of the later Republic continues and we see similar themes in the coinages of Octavian and Antony in particular with elements used to both garner support, claim ancestry, and arguably as general propaganda for one or other side of their own causes. It is a fascinating period of numismatic history and experimentation. Whether Caesar’s final words were indeed directed at Brutus or not – even in Shakespearean tradition the often quoted “et tu, Brute?” are not actually his final words, since he goes on to say “Then fall, Caesar” – the event continues to be pivotal to the Republic and stimulates discussion. Not to mention a fascinating series of coins.
Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief. In this issue, Sam Moorhead looks at another group of nummi – those with the VIRTVS EXERCIT legend.
VIRTVS EXERCIT nummi of AD 319-21
We previously covered the VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP issue of AD 318-20. This article considers the next issue of VIRTVS EXERCIT, which dates to AD 319-21. Two different types were used with the legend VIRTVS EXERCIT: the more common type shows two seated captives either side of a standard, inscribed VOT XX or sometimes VOT X; the rarer one (only struck at London, Trier and Lyon) shows the two captives seated either side of a trophy. Of the 450 VIRTVS EXERCIT coins on the PAS Database, over 350 are of the standard type with just under 100 displaying the trophy type; these figures could change with further editing.
VIRTVS EXERCIT coins were struck at the same mints as the VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP issues, with the addition of Aquileia and Thessalonica (see Table 1). However, there are under half the number of VIRTVS EXERCIT pieces (450) than VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP coins (1,040) on the PAS Database. Of the 450 VIRTVS EXERCIT pieces on the PAS Database, at present around 264 can be attributed to a mint; the majority of these coins have been edited recently. These mints were all in the realm of Constantine I, hence the dominance of coins struck for Constantine I (100 coins; 41%), Crispus (65; 26%) and Constantine II (52; 21%), as opposed to Licinius I (12; 5%) and II (17; 7%) (see Table 1). What is interesting is that Constantine I’s share has declined from 85.4% for the VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP issue and the shares of the other emperor increased significantly. Furthermore, there wereonly 4 coins out of 437 (1%) for the Licinii for the VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINCE PERP group; now, in the VIRTVS EXERCIT group, they have 29 out of 246 (12%).
Table 1 shows that Trier has the lion’s share of the coins with 119 (45%), followed by London with 87 (33%). This reverses the shares for the VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINCE PERP issues, where London had 54% and Trier 29%. Of the other mints, only Lyon has any significant number with 30 coins, Arles, Ticinum, Aquileia, Siscia and Thessalonica only having 28 coins between them. Each of the mints will now be considered in turn.
London (Londinium), c. AD 320
There were two major issues from London, marked PLN and PLON. In RIC VII, Patrick Bruun places PLON before PLN (RIC VII, pp. 109-10), but Adrian Marsden argues cogently, from the obverse legends used for Crispus, that the PLN issue actually comes first.
This means that the PLN and PLON ‘standard’ pieces come first, followed by a very small issue of PLON trophy pieces. There are 88 coins on the PAS Database, showing that this is smaller than the previous VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP issue which had 255 specimens. Of these coins, the PLN ‘standard’ issue has 49 pieces (58%), the PLON ‘standard’ issue 33 pieces (39%) and PLON ‘trophy’ issue only one or two pieces (2%).
Of the 79 coins on which an emperor can be identified, Constantine I has 34 pieces (43%), Crispus 19 (24%) and Constantine II 26 (33%). This shows a major change from the previous VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP issue when Constantine had 85% of the coins with Crispus and Constantine II only having 8.75% and 6.25% respectively. The two Caesars are much better represented and it is interesting to note that Constantine II outstrips Crispus. Note that no coins were struck in this issue for Licinius I or II. The coins are now catalogued according to H. Cloke and L. Toone, The London Mint (2015), the authors providing an extra 7 varieties to the 16 listed in RIC VII (1966). Cloke and Toone date these pieces to c. AD 320, rather than AD 320-1 which is given in RIC VII. I now follow the Cloke and Toone dating.
PLN, c. AD 320 – Standard There are 49 of these pieces, making PLN the more common of the two issues. The two most common types are for Constantine I (Fig. 4) with 21 specimens and Constantine II with 13 specimens. The coins of Crispus are spread across five varieties.
PLON, c. AD 320 – Standard There are 33 coins of this issue, making it scarcer than the PLN issue. The two most common types are still for Constantine I (Fig. 10) with up to 13 specimens and Constantine II with 13 specimens. The types of Crispus are spread across four types.
PLON, c. AD 320 – Trophy This type is apparently struck at the end of the VIRTVS EXERCIT issue and is rare with only one coin on the PAS which has an image; there is another poorly preserved piece without an image.
Trier, AD 320-1
There are 119 VIRTVS EXERCIT pieces from Trier on the PAS Database, making it the best represented mint for the type. For Britain, the significance is that Trier now surpasses London; for the previous issue, VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINCE PERP, London out-stripped Trier. RIC has three distinct issues:
AD 320: * – // ● PTR and STR – Trophy and Standard types AD 320: – // ● PTR and STR – Trophy and Standard types AD 320-1: T F // ● PTR and STR – Trophy and Standard types
Overall, the * in reverse field issue is quite rare; coins from the other two are much more common. Whereas at London the ‘Trophy’ variety was very rare, at Trier it makes up a significant proportion with 41 pieces (34%) and it is struck in each issue. Constantine has the lion’s share of coins with 32 pieces (29%), but Crispus (29; 27%) and Constantine II (24; 22%) are not far behind. Whereas at London there were no coins struck for the Licinii, at Trier Licinius I (9 pieces) and Licinius II (15 pieces) make up 22% of the coins.
AD 320: * – // ● PTR and STR – Trophy and Standard types Coins of this issue are scarce. It is possible that more are to be identified amongst poorly preserved specimens as the star can be obscured by wear and corrosion.
AD 320: – // ● PTR and STR – Trophy and Standard types Although the type of Constantine I with helmeted bust (RIC VII, no. 266) is reasonably common, with up to 6 specimens on the PAS Database, none are well preserved. For this obverse type, below.
AD 320-1: T F // ● PTR and STR – Trophy and Standard types The T F in the reverse field can sometimes be quite hard to read and it is always worth double-checking.
There are a few (at least four) contemporary copies of VIRTVS EXERCIT types on the PAS Database, but they are not as common as for the VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP issue.
There are 30 VIRTVS EXERCIT coins from Lyon on the PAS Database. There are two issues: A S // PLG has both ‘trophy’ and ‘standard’ types (14 specimens); C R // PLG only the ‘standard’ type (14 specimens). Adrian Marsden argues that, as at London, the ‘trophy’ type should be at the end of the series, hence A S // PLG actually comes after C R // PLG. When his latest work is published, the dating can be changed accordingly, but at the moment this work follows RIC. Across both marks, only the ‘standard’ type is represented on the PAS Database. The coins were struck for Constantine I, Crispus and Constantine II, but only Constantine I (23 specimens) and Crispus (7 specimens) are represented.
There is only one issue of VIRTVS EXERCIT at Arles, all the coins being of the ‘standard’ variety. With only two (or possibly one) specimens on the PAS Database, the issue appears to have been quite small. Interestingly, coins are only recorded in RIC for Constantine I, Constantine II and Licinius II. However, LIN-DE4631 records a piece of this type for Crispus with obverse legend IVL CRISPVS NOB C, a helmeted and cuirassed bust right and the mintmark – // PARL. Sadly, there is no image with the record for absolute confirmation. The coin illustrated has a new obverse type variety for Licinius II.
Ticinum only struck the ‘standard’ type, but in three issues: – // PT, – // P * T and – * //PT. Some coins have a ‘Chi-Rho’ type symbol in the reverse field, but none are represented on the PAS Database. Ticinum struck in the names of all five emperors, but only Constantine I, Crispus and Licinius I are represented amongst the nine regular coins on the PAS Database.
There are 9 coins of the VIRTVS EXERCIT type from Aquileia on the PAS Database. Only the ‘standard’ type was struck, but for all emperors; all except Constantine II are represented on the Database. There are two major issues as noted below.
Siscia (Sisak, Croatia)
Siscia only struck the VIRTVS EXERCIT ‘standard’ issue with only six pieces on the PAS Database. Coins were struck for all five emperors, of whom all are represented on the Database except Licinius II. The Caesars have VOT X on the standard, as opposed to VOT XX which is used for the two Augusti, Consantine I and Licinius I. There is a variety of mintmarks, covered in RIC VII (pp. 437-40).
Thessalonica only struck the VIRTVS EXERCIT ‘standard type’, with three issues struck all in one year (AD 320): ●TS●A●, S F // ●TS●A● and ‘Chi-Rho’ – // ●TS●A●. There are only two coins from Thessalonica and both come from the first issue. Coins were struck for all five emperors, but only Crispus and Constantine II are represented on the PAS Database.
The earliest Roman coin types seen through the PAS, of the Roman Republic, are relatively abundant, at least in terms of the precious metal coinage, with over 2,000 denarii recorded to date. One of the problems with Republican silver coinage is that it all pre-dates the Claudian invasion in AD 43 so it remains unclear precisely when any or all of it made its way to Britain. That some did cross the channel prior to AD 43 is suggested both on archaeological grounds and through the re-use of silver from denarii in British Iron Age coin manufacture. Much, however, likely remained in circulation for an extended period of time post-AD 43 to be lost within the new province of Britannia. This makes sense, since the silver was intrinsically valuable and would still have a function in the payment of, for example, soldiers’ wages.
Base metal, bronze, coinage is a slightly different matter. Lacking the same intrinsic value of the silver, the appearance of bronze Republican coinage in Britain might not be expected in any volume, if at all. After all, Britain was already producing its own coinage by the 2nd century BC in gold, silver, and also bronze. Furthermore, after the Claudian invasion there is quite extensive production from the main imperial and auxiliary mints within the empire that brought contemporary bronze coinage to the new province. It would seem unlikely that the earlier, Republican, bronze types would either be needed or used prior to AD 43 in Britain, or still be circulating alongside the new imperial issues afterwards.It is interesting, therefore, that there are now 11 examples of Republican bronze coins recorded through the PAS, with an additional 7 unverified examples contained within the IARCW dataset. The first securely identified example on the database was an as from Essex (ESS-05C304) recorded in 2006, since when various examples of asses and other fractional denominations have been recorded and include the earliest Roman coin recorded to date within the PAS dataset (KENT-618FA2).
Arguably, some of these coins may be more recent or antiquarian losses, for example the sextans from Berkshire (BERK-7EF5E1) whose findspot, circumstances of discovery, and appearance suggest it was probably not lost in antiquity. However, it is only through recording all of these examples that we can begin to look at their distributions and relationships to one another (and indeed distributions of other early bronze coinage within Britain; see below) to identify those that are likely to be genuine ancient losses and comment on their movement within the province. That said, we still currently have a very limited dataset to work with!
Early Roman coinage
Coinage appears in the Mediterranean by c.600 BC, with perhaps the earliest examples being the group of electrum coins excavated beneath the Temple of Artemis Ephesos (the Artemision), Turkey, in 1904-5. The Greek city-states of Magna Grecia (southern Italy) in the4th century BC had quite extensive coinage and by c.300 BC the first elements of Roman coinage appear, perhaps due to proximity and interaction between the Italian populations and their ‘Greek’ neighbours. Initially, large cast lumps of bronze, aes rude (‘unformed bronze’), served as currency, but were replaced from c.300 BC with rare struck silver (derived from Greek prototypes) and bronze coinages that carry the legend ROMANO (‘of the Romans’) alongside large cast bars or ingots – aes signatum (‘stamped bronze’) – that weighed c.1.5kg or more.
In addition, a cast bronze coinage was produced – the aes grave (‘heavy bronze’) – circular in shape but with detail in high relief. This used as its base unit the Roman as, equivalent to 1 Roman pound of bronze or c.324g, with various fractions working on an uncial standard – 12 ounces to a Roman pound. There were several aes grave series with various weight revisions, but, importantly for the later bronze coinage, each denomination carried a mark of value based on its weight in uncia relative to the as. The as was identified with an I, down to a single uncia marked with a circle/dot, as follows:
The denarius coinage
The early systems of Roman currency were quite disparate to begin with. However, by the mid-3rd century BC the aes signatum disappears and there is a subsequent reorganisation and integration of the struck silver, struck bronze, and aes grave into a more unified currency system in the period leading up to the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) against Hannibal. There is a standardisation of types depicted on the coins too, notably with the use of the janiform head on the obverse – characteristically, the silver didrachm depicts a quadriga on the reverse, which often leads to it being called a quadrigatus.
These early coinages prior to the Second Punic War are unlikely to be found in Britain (although if you do find one we definitely want to know about it!), but they do provide important background to the emergence of the denarius, which formed the backbone of Roman coinage for several centuries after its introduction. War with Hannibal placed huge economic strain on Rome that brought her to her knees. This was evident in the huge debasement of the quadrigatus from a very pure silver coin to one with less than 40% silver and a corresponding reduction in weight standard of the bronze coinages. Out of monetary collapse came reforms that replaced the quadrigatus with the denarius. There has been some discussion as to when this occurred, but the consensus, based on the discovery of the earliest issue of denarii in sealed contexts beneath the destruction layers of Morgantina (Sicily), suggests a date in c.211 BC.
The standard denarius type that emerged with this reform has a helmeted head of Roma on the obverse with a reverse type depicting the Dioscouri, the heavenly twins Castor and Pollux – there are a few examples on the PAS of this early type but they are less common than later issues. It was tariffed at 10 asses and the denominational marks seen on the bronze coinage prior to 211 BC were carried over onto the denarius and other new silver and bronze denominations that appear with the monetary reforms. Thus, the denarius is marked with an X (10 asses – literally ‘a tenner’), while the quinarius carries a V (5 asses or half a denarius), and the sestertius – a silver coin during the Republican period(!) – is marked IIS (2½ asses or a quarter of a denarius). We will look at the silver Republican coinage, in a future blog post(s), since the types are extensive and do change, the denarius also undergoes various adjustments including a revaluation to 16 asses with the corresponding mark of XVI in c.141 BC.
The as experienced various weight reductions prior to 211 BC and with the introduction of the denarius coinage the bronze denominations now employed a sextantal weight standard, the as based on a theoretical ⅙ of the Roman pound (libra) – the weight of the sextans of the previous system (initially c.54.5g). These were now struck rather than cast coins and typically have standard types that were issued until c.80 BC. The as itself continued the types of the later aes grave issues, depicting Janus on the obverse and a ship’s prow on the reverse. For the fractions, the prow is usually standard as a reverse type with the obverses bearing busts of different deities or personifications and their corresponding marks of value, as follows:
The combination of head and ship’s prow is distinctive of Republican bronze coinage and shouldn’t be mistaken for issues later in the Imperial series. It also lends itself to the phrase ‘heads or ships’ (‘capita aut navia’) used in the Roman period rather than ‘heads or tails’ when tossing a coin (see Macrobius Saturnalia 1.7.21). Bronze coinage was struck until c.80 BC, although during this time underwent several key changes. The production of large numbers of asses resulted in revaluation against the denarius in c.141 BC (the denarius now 16 rather than 10 asses) and a corresponding change in relation to the sestertius, which was now valued at 4 asses – a relative value maintained in the imperial period. In c.91 BC the Lex Papiria de assis pondere (the ‘Papirian Law concerning the weight of the as’; see Pliny, NH 33.46) adjusted the bronze coinage to use a semuncial (half ounce) standard with some coins even marked L.P.D.A.P to reflect the introduction of the new law.
Republican bronze coinage on the PAS
Given the unlikely use of Republican bronze coinage in Britain, it is not surprising that there are very few PAS examples recorded to date. The 11 identified coins cover most of the standard denominations, with the as best represented in 6 identified examples and a further coins within the IARCW dataset:
I have not included here the small number of early bronze coins from provincial mints in the Mediterranean region that have also been recorded through the PAS (e.g. Punic coinages and those from mints in Spain). These need further work and warrant a separate blog post themselves. In this roundup, I have included only those PAS coins struck in the main Roman mints and covered by the types listed in M.H. Crawford’s Roman Republican Coinage (RRC), which should be your standard reference when identifying any coins of the Republican period. These essentially run to the c.80s BC, although there is small group struck by Pompey the Great in the 40s BC, of which there appear to be no PAS examples.
Oddly, the earliest Roman bronze coin, and seemingly the earliest Roman coin on the database, is a semuncia (half an uncia or ⅟24 of an as) from the period immediately prior to the monetary reforms in 211 BC. This is an extremely unusual find as we would not normally expect to see any coinage of such early date in a British setting – indeed, its manufacture pre-dates the majority of the British Iron Age coinages too. Although we cannot discount the possibility of a more recent loss, its findspot and preservation suggest this is plausibly a genuine ancient find. If we consider that similarly early bronze Punic coins are found in Britain in increasing volume, and with a concentration in the south east, notably in Kent, it is plausible that this example could have reached Britain by the same mechanisms that are affecting the movement of the Punic coins (see below).
There are six examples on the PAS database, plus 3 IARCW coins.
Triens, Quadrans and Sextans
There is just one example of each of these on the PAS database.
Distribution of Republican Bronze coins on the PAS
The number of Republican bronze coins recorded to date through the PAS doesn’t allow for huge comment on their distribution or use within the province, or for that matter clarify the nature of their arrival here (whether in antiquity or more recently). However, the importance of recording these coins is evident when we plot their distribution, especially when considered in comparison with other early bronze coin types that are traditionally often seen as being modern rather than ancient losses. This serves two useful functions. On the one hand, we can identify the areas where these coins appear more precisely and therefore suggest whether their distribution (or individual findspot) suggests potential ancient loss – clearly the more coins we have recorded the better in this regard. On the other hand, it also allows us to identify outliers whose findspots instead probably indicate different mechanisms for their appearance in Britain, potentially in more recent times. An excellent example of how the PAS data can be applied in this way was produced in 2020 by a former colleague at the British Museum, Robert Bracey, in a video looking at Dutch and Indian coins recorded on the database and how these can be used to identify whether examples of ancient coins from the area of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan can be interpreted as ancient or modern losses. This references also the work of Caitlin Green who has looked at similar patterns for Indian, Ptolemaic, and Numidian coinage recorded through the PAS.
For the Republican coins, it is notable that their distribution falls within the main areas we might expect to see other early bronze types, albeit most of these other issues are slightly earlier in date. Given that much of this material is of Mediterranean origin, it is perhaps not outside the realms of possibility that early Roman bronze types are reaching Britain in much the same way as these other Mediterranean types are, and potentially prior to AD 43. While there are likely to be some examples within the data above that are more recent losses (such as the triens), what the PAS data is showing, I think, is possible evidence for the early movement of these coins to the region in antiquity. There seems to be a clear focus on the south east and Kent. This would make a lot of sense given that the Massaliot bronze coinages provided a prototype for the earliest Kentish potin types, so we might see movement of coinage here demonstrated by the large group(s) of material, particularly the Massaliot bronzes, at quite an early date. The cluster in Oxfordshire is curious – could this be the result of riverine activity from Kent and London west? Finally, the small group of material focussedon the Humber is interesting. Again, this has a coastal or riverine focus and on the east coast. It wouldn’t be outside the realms of possibility that if material was reaching south eastern Britain at an early date it didn’t also find its way further north by similar mechanisms. This is a fascinating glimpse at the early bronze material and perhaps raises more questions than answers. Clearly, none of the above is definitive and much of it is (very!) conjectural and requires much more work in conjunction with data from other sources too. But, we can perhaps begin to see the patterns in the data that mean we shouldn’t immediately write off as ‘antiquarian’ the Republican bronze coins presented for recording (although this possibility both for the Republican and other early bronze issues cannot of course be ruled out entirely). Equally, this highlights the importance of recording those that do appear so that we can begin to understand their distribution within Britain. If some, or many, of the early bronze coins from various parts of the Mediterranean did reach Britain in antiquity, and perhaps relatively soon after they were struck, then why not Roman Republican bronze coins too…
References and further reading:
P. Walton and S. Moorhead ‘Coinage and the Economy’ in M. Millett, L. Revell, and A. Moore eds. The Oxford Handbook of Roman Britain (2016): 834-849
M.H. Crawford Roman Republican Coinage (Cambridge, 1974)
A.M. Burnett Coinage in the Roman World (London, 1987);
A.M. Burnett ‘Early Roman Coinage in its Italian Context’ in The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage (Oxford, 2012: Chapter 16)
Titus Flavius Vespasianus (born AD 39) was the eldest son of Vespasian and Domitilla the elder and older brother to Domitian and Domitilla the younger. After a childhood spent in imperial circles in Rome, notably as a close friend to Claudius’ son Britannicus, Titus followed a military career, serving in Germany and Britain in the AD 50s-60s as military tribune and then under his father in the Jewish War in the late-60s AD. His second marriage to Marcia Furnilla ended abruptly with divorce following the Pisonian conspiracy to overthrow Nero in AD 65 and although he never re-married was openly in a relationship with Berenice, a client-queen of the Judaean royal family, in the mid-AD 70s (e.g. Cassius Dio LXVI.15). Titus distinguished himself in the military campaigns in Judaea with the Legio XV and was likely instrumental in gaining support from the eastern provinces for Vespasian’s rise to power during the Year of the Four Emperors in AD 69.
Once Vespasian was installed as emperor in July AD 69, Titus as logical heir became Caesar along with his brother Domitian, taking various titles as Consul and power of the tribune throughout his father’s reign (See below). In a decisive action in AD 70, Titus with four Roman legions in the east laid siege to Jerusalem, sacking the city and destroying the Second Temple with huge loss of life to the population of the city and many more taken captive. This earned him a triumph on his return to Rome and the triumphal arch still standing in the Roman Forum completed under his brother Domitian memorialises his victory in bringing about the end of the First Jewish-Roman War. As Vespasian’s praetorian prefect Titus ensured that Vespasian’s position (and that of the Flavian dynasty) was secure in Rome, often quite ruthlessly.
After Vespasian’s death in June AD 79, Titus assumed power and developed a reputation as a benevolent and generally good ruler! He ruled for just two years, but they were years full of events that would test the new emperor. The eruption of Vesuvius shortly after Titus became emperor saw him invest in a huge disaster relief effort for the affected populations in the Bay of Naples, visiting the area in AD 79 and again in AD 80. During his second visit, a second disaster occurred this time in Rome itself, with fire engulfing the area of the Capitoline to the Parthenon. This in turn was followed by an outbreak of plague in Rome, again Titus pouring resources in to aid the city and her populous.
Despite a very brief reign, Titus was able to make contributions to the fabric and life of Rome too. The most visible is perhaps the completion of the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum, in AD 80 – begun by Vespasian in AD 70, elaborate and vast inaugural games lasted for 100 days. He also commenced construction of a temple to Vespasian, who the senate had deified in AD 80, and on the Baths of Titus close to the colosseum. Following a brief fever in the summer of AD 81 en route to the Sabine territories, Titus died suddenly, apparently in the same house as his father Vespasian, and is reported to have uttered the words “I have made but one mistake”. His cause of death is unclear, as are his enigmatic last words, with some suggesting it may have been his brother, Domitian, who conspired to poison him. Whatever the case, Domitian assumed power in AD 81 and Titus was deified shortly afterwards just over two years after becoming emperor.
The coinage of Titus
Titus’s coin issues can be broadly divided in to two main groups – the first struck as Caesar under his father Vespasian between AD 71-79; and the second as Augustus in his own right between AD 79-81. Gold, silver, and bronze coinage was struck in both periods for Titus and although the former is rare there are three PAS examples (see below; excluding two IARCW records). Rome was by far the most prolific mint during Vespasian’s reign and practically all of the precious metal coinages of Titus from this period are products of her workshops. However, all of the identifiable bronze coinage for Titus as Caesar on the PAS appears to be from the mint of Lugdunum (Lyon). For coins of Titus as augustus we are essentially only dealing with coins of the Rome mint.
As with much of the Flavian coinage, Titus’ issues are often identified based on the various titles he held from his first consulship under Vespasian in AD 70 through to his 8th in AD 80, most notably his Tribunician and Imperator (IMP) titles up to his death in AD 81. Many of Titus’ coins recorded through the PAS reference these titles in their legends and provide crucial evidence for the dating of individual examples – often complicated by the preservation particularly of the bronze coinages of this period. Following RIC II (2nd ed.) the key dates for the two periods of Titus’ coinage can be summarised as follows:
Separating out coins struck under Vespasian and then in his own right after AD 79 is not always straightforward when the types are poorly preserved or detail of the legends cannot be identified. However, upon becoming emperor, Titus adopted the titles Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, and Pater Patriae and so we do see a shift in the structure of the legends to include IMP and AVG in particular (see RIC II, 2nd ed.: p. 181; 197) – under Vespasian he was simply T CAESAR VESPASIAN rather than IMP T CAESAR VESPASIAN AVG (both with various forms or abbreviations) as augustus.
At the end of his reign in AD 80-81, and following the deification of Vespasian, there are two important groups of coins that are readily identifiable amongst the PAS material. The first is a large series of gold and silver struck for the deified Vespasian, characteristically bearing the obverse legend DIVVS AVGVSTVS VESPASIANVS. This is followed by several groups of bronze coinage with restored types of his predecessors, largely the Julio-Claudian dynasty. These are quite rare as PAS finds, although there are several examples now recorded. Both of these groups will be looked at separately below.
The PAS records 217 coins of Titus (both as Caesar and augustus), excluding over another hundred Welsh examples included in the IARCW dataset. Identifying all of the known examples is problematic in a number of ways. Coins of Titus as Caesar often appear recorded as Vespasian as a result of the structure of RIC and the dropdowns in the PAS database. Similarly, the DIVVS VESPASINAVS coins although issued under Titus are often recorded as being of Vespasian. An even larger problem is apparent with the bronze coinage.
Much of the Flavian bronze is poorly preserved as a result both of the coins staying in circulation in antiquity for an extended period of time and their post depositional corrosion. This means that while there are a large number of sestertii, dupondii, and asses on the PAS that are ‘Flavian’ in date, it is often impossible to separate out Vespasian and Titus in particular. I imagine there are likely to be further examples of Titus amongst the silver of Vespasian and potentially within the Flavian bronze issues too.
Examples of Titus as augustus are much more prolific as individual finds than those struck under Vespasian, with the silver coinage of Titus as augustus forming almost two-thirds (61%) of the total.
Titus as Caesar under Vespasian, c.AD 70-79
Coins of Titus struck under Vespasian are less common as PAS finds than those struck during his own reign as augustus. For denarii there are about a third the number (42 coins), but the situation is a little different for gold and bronze issues. RIC II (2nd ed., p. 196) notes that gold for Titus is comparatively more common for him as caesar under Vespasian and Bland and Loriot’s (2010) study of Roman gold coinage in Britain highlights a similar feature, with just three examples of single coin finds for Titus as augustus (two of which are plated copies) but 17 struck under Vespasian. The PAS records three aurei for Titus as Caesar (excluding two IARCW examples) but to date none as augustus.
For the bronze coinage it is notable that there are twice the number of coins for Titus Caesar – 26 examples. Furthermore, all of the PAS examples that have currently been securely identified to type in RIC belong to the same issue of coins from the mint of Lugdunum (Lyon) in AD 77-78 (see below). There appear so far to be no earlier issues of Titus or for that matter any coins from the mint of Rome. Two factors to note might affect this preliminary conclusion. Firstly, bronze coins of Titus are often poorly preserved as site finds, which means that it is often difficult to ascribe them with certainty to individual types or mints. Secondly, and related, there are large numbers of bronze coins recorded on the PAS that are clearly Flavian in date but which are either of Vespasian or Titus but cannot be more closely identified. This means that there could well be other coins on the database either from the mint of Rome or from other issues of Lugdunum that have and cannot be identified. It is remarkable, though, how discrete this group is.
AD 72-73 (TR POT) The earliest types for Titus recorded on the PAS date to AD 72-73. Three examples of the same type with NEP RED reverse are recorded, one of which is a plated copy.
AD 73 (TR POT CENS)
Three denarii, one of which is a plated copy.
AD 74 (COS III)
Three PAS coins, one is plated.
AD 75 (COS IIII)
Just two PAS examples, both of the same type (one is plated)
AD 76 (COS V)
The earliest aureus on the PAS for Titus belongs to this year, with an additional four denarii
AD 77-78 (COS VI)
By far the largest group of coins for Titus Caesar recorded through the PAS relates to the large issues from the two mints of Rome and Lugdunum for Titus’ COS VI in AD 77-78. Two of the aurei alongside 18 denarii from the mint of Rome belong in this group, as do all of the identifiable bronze from the mint of Lugdunum. These 46 coins make up 65% of the coins recorded struck under Vespasian for Titus and so if you are recording site finds in a British context it is worth checking this group first as it is highly likely your coin could belong to this issue. Issues from this period can be separated out into those that carry dated legends (COS VI) and those with undated legends but of types that are identifiable to this issue. Dated issues – 1 aureus, 9 denarii of just 3 types, all of the bronze.
AD 79 (COS VII)
The latest coins of Titus as caesar are less common as PAS finds, with just six denarii, four of which are of the same Venus type. These issues should not be confused with the first of his reign as augustus, which are also COS VII, the difference being the change in obverse legend.
Titus as Augustus, c.AD 79-81
Far more prolific on the PAS database are coins of Titus as Augustus in his own right, struck from the middle of AD 79 through to his death in AD 81. The majority of these are denarii – 133 coins – so far with no examples of aurei and just 13 bronze coins that can be securely placed in this period, all of which date to c.AD 80-81.
Table 1 below compares the relative numbers of Titus’ silver coinage as Augustus recorded through the PAS when compared with the same statistics used in RIC II (2nd ed., p.195). In RIC, the relative numbers of coins in hoards and in examples that had appeared through the numismatic trade on VCoins at the time of publication were compared. If we add the PAS material to this as a third data source we can see that the general trends remain largely consistent. The PAS demonstrates slightly higher numbers for Titus’ COS VII and corresponding lower numbers for the DIVVS VESPASIANVS issues. It is possible that both of these figures might be affected by either misattribution of coins to Titus Caesar for COS VII and also to Vespasian rather than Titus for the deified issues. That said, the numbers are not hugely different and the general conclusion in RIC (p. 195) that there was increased output for Titus from AD 80, representing almost 90% of the total numbers, is maintained within the PAS dataset – approximately 85% of the denarii from Titus’ reign date to AD 80- 81.
AD 79 (COS VII, TR P VIII)
AD 79, COS VII and VII P P
A limited number of types were issued for the remainder of AD 79 (after 1 July) in silver, all repeating in each of three main issues:
Issue 1: TR P VIIII IMP XIIII COS VII Issue 2: TR P VIIII IMP XIIII COS VII P P Issue 3: TR P VIIII IMP XV COS VII P P
Separating the coins out into their respective issue depends on being able to identify the respective numbers in the reverse field. This is usually possible, even with worn coins – look out in particular for the P P (or lack thereof) at the end of the legend, and the XV rather than XIIII. There are six main types in this period for the denarii, their relative frequency for each group within the PAS dataset summarised in Table 2.
AD 79 (COS VII, TR P VIIII)
A total of seven denarii
AD 79 (COS VII P P)
A total of 10 denarii.
AD 79 (COS VII P P, IMP XV)
A total of 4 denarii.
AD 80 (TR P IX IMP XV COS VIII P P)
The bulk of Titus coinage as Augustus comes from the TR P IX issues, which cover the first half of AD 80, with seemingly no precious metal coinages in Titus’ name later in his reign (TR P X). Production of the AD 80 coins may have continued into AD 81, and likely the Divus Vespasian and Julia Titi coins were also struck in the later years of Titus’ reign (See below; see RIC II, 2nd ed., p. 185). It is worth noting the presence of left facing busts for Titus in this period – there are a handful of PAS examples.
DIVVS VESPASIANVS, AD 80-81
Following Vespasian’s deification, an issue of coins with distinctive DIVVS AVGVSTVS VESPASIANVS (and sometimes DIVVS VESPASIANVS AVGVSTVS) obverse legend was struck by Titus, probably belonging to the years AD 80-81. These are usually readily identifiable based on the obverse type as well as distinctive reverse types that are prominent within the PAS material. Although bronze coinage was struck for this issue, there appear to be no examples identified to date on the PAS and so we are dealing solely with denarii. There are 26 examples on the database (including three contemporary plated copies with reverse types of Vespasian’s lifetime issues), all from three main types of this issue, by far the most common being a reverse type depicting two Capricorns holding a shield inscribed SC, a globe below. It is possible that other examples from this issue may be recorded amongst the many denarii of Vespasian’s lifetime recorded through the PAS – there are c.1,200 examples to date, many of which still require editing.
Julia Flavia Titi, c.AD 80-81
The only child of Titus by his second wife Marcia Furnilla, Julia Flavia Titi (c.AD 64-91), appears on an issue of coinage struck by her father in c.AD 80-81. Following the Pisonian conspiracy, Julia was raised by Titus and eventually married her cousin Titus Flavius Sabinus. She was later seduced by her uncle, Domitian, according to contemporary sources becoming his lover and perhaps “giving birth to abortions that displayed the likeness of her uncle” (Juvenal, Satire II.32; see also Dio LXVII.3), which may also have been the cause of her death. Julia was deified and her ashes buried with those of Domitian (Suetonius, Life of Domitian 17.3).
Restoration issues of Titus, AD 80-81
An interesting series of bronze coins struck in AD 80-81 restore coin types of the pre-Flavian emperors and were struck in Rome and at a ‘Thracian’ mint in the east, although the separation between the two is complex particularly on very worn or corroded examples. Titus’ restoration coinage contains a range of types for the various emperors and empresses that preceded him and in RIC II (2nd ed., pp. 224-233) is divided based on the groups identified by H. Komnick. These are rare as British finds and there are just four securely identified PAS examples (although see also KENT-0FD06A as an example of similar very worn bronze coins that may well also belong to this group). They can be separated from their original types, even though the obverse dies in particular are extremely close, by the presence of reverse legends for Titus.
References and further reading:
The revised edition of RIC II should be your standard reference for Titus’ coinage
Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief. In this issue Sam Moorhead talks about the base-metal coinage of Domitian. That is, sestertii, dupondii, and asses.
The base-metal coinage of Domitian (AD 72-96). We have previously covered the silver denarii of Domitian’s reign as Caesar (AD 69-81) and as Augustus (AD 81-96). In this piece, I am considering the base metal coinages of sestertii, dupondii, and asses. In broad totals, there are around 1,020 coins on the PAS Database This includes 333 IARCW coins from Wales. These are not included in the first part of the report, but I do consider the Welsh data in the chronological comparison at the end of this article. Without the Welsh coins, there are about 687 pieces (104 sestertii, 136 dupondii, 370 asses and 77 dupondii or asses). A large number of these coins, mostly the better-preserved specimens, have been edited whilst writing this piece, but there is definitely a need for more work on the dataset. However, I do believe that the coins edited do provide a plausible overview of the nature of Domitian’s base metal coinage in Britain. The standard reference for Domitian’s coinage is RIC II, part 1 (2007), the new edition dedicated to the Flavian dynasty.
This discussion of the actual coinage is split into two major elements: a coverage of Domitian’s coinage as a Caesar under Vespasian and Titus (AD 69-81) and then a more lengthy coverage of Domitian’s coinage as Augustus (AD 81-96). These are followed by a chronological analysis of the coins and a consideration of their spatial distribution in Britain.
Domitian as Caesar under Vespasian (AD 69-79) and Titus (AD 79-81)
Coins for Domitian were first struck in AD 72 under Vespasian and continued to be issued under Vespasian and Titus until Domitian became Augustus in AD 81. At present there are 25 asses for Domitian as Caesar; all the clearer pieces date to the reign of Vespasian (AD 69-79) and the vast majority are struck at Lyon in AD 77-8 (RIC 1290). Pieces from Rome are rarer). There are no dupondii and only two sestertii, both for Domitian as Caesar under Titus (AD 79-81). As a general rule, the coins of Domitian as Caesar generally show a squatter, plumper portrait, in keeping with the general style used for Vespasian and Titus. The portrait becomes taller and narrower after Domitian becomes Augustus in AD 81.
Domitian as Augustus (AD 81-96)
Excluding the IARCW records from Wales, for Domitian as Augustus (AD 81-96), there there are around 661 coins (102 sestertii, 136 dupondii, 346 asses and 77 dupondii or asses). After a short discussion of the dating of these coins, I will cover the coinage by denomination: asses, dupondii and sestertii. Some asses do not have well-preserved specimens on the PAS Database, but they are cross-referenced with dupondii which share the same reverse. It should be noted that Domitian’s portrait when Augustus becomes taller and narrower than it had been on earlier coins when he was Caesar.
The dating of Domitian’s coins
As for the silver, the base metal coins are normally quite closely dated to specific years, or groups of years. The date of a coin is normally indicated by the consular numeral on the obverse. Domitian held the consulship for the seventh time (COS VII) in AD 81 and was holding it for the seventeenth time (COS XVII) when he was assassinated in AD 96. The consular dates are noted on Tables 1-3, below. It is also worth mentioning the aegis. Nearly all base metal coins had laureate or radiate heads right. However, in the AD 80s, there was often the addition of an aegis (a breastplate, with the head of the Gorgon Medusa, associated with Minerva) to the front of the neck. When the date is slightly unclear, the presence or absence of the aegis (as noted in RIC) can sometimes provide a vital clue as to the date of the coin.
Asses make up the largest number of base metal coins for Domitian with around 346 on the Database. 175 better preserved specimens are tabulated in Table 1. Asses normally have the obverse type of a laureate head right, sometimes with an aegis.
A quick glance at Table 1 shows that the three types struck from AD 85 to 96 are by far the most common:
FORTVNA AVGVSTI S C
MONETA AVGVST/IS C
VIRTVTI AVGVSTI S C
Of these, 63 are dated, 55 of them dating to AD 86 (COS XII) and 87 (COS XIII). Although many of the other types are listed as common in RIC, they are rare as site-finds in Britain – SALVS AVGVSTI S C Altar (3), S C Victory (1), ANNONA AVG S C (9), FIDEI PVBLICAE S C (3; cf. dupondius), IOVI CONSERVAT AVG S C (1) and S C Mars (5). There is one example of a coin struck to commemorate the Secular Games in AD 88 – COS XIIII LVD SAEC FEC S C. It is interesting to note that after the large influx of coins in AD 86-7 (making up 79% of the dated coins), there is only one as for AD 88-9 on the PAS Database.
There are far fewer dupondii on the PAS Database with 136 specimens, of which 57 better preserved pieces are presented in Table 2. The obverse type is normally a radiate head right, sometimes with an aegis.
The two reverse types struck from AD 84 to 96 are again the most common:
FORTVNA AVGVSTI S C (15 pieces)
VIRTVTI AVGVSTI S C (23)
FIDEI PPVBLICAE S C (8) and S C Mars (6) are reasonably represented but the ANNONA AVG S C and IMP XIIII COS XIII CENSOR PERPETVVS P P around large S C are much rarer with only two recorded specimens for each. Again, coins of AD 86 and 87 are the most numerous, but with dupondii only represent 61% of the dated coins (as opposed to 79% for asses).
There are 102 sestertii, but many are in very poor condition and this report only includes 34 of the better specimens, as shown in Table 3.
There is one early sestertius, with S C Minerva, dating to AD 81-2; this is the only base metal piece for these two years on the PAS Database. By far the most common type is the IOVI VICTORI S C issue showing Jupiter seated. All the other types are much rarer with only a few specimens each – S C Domitian and Victory (4), S C Domitian on horseback (1), S C Domitian at altar with soldiers (2), S C Domitian and German captive (2), and S C Domitian and Rhenus (2). This time the number of coins for AD 86-7 only makes up 29% of the dated coins, way below the 79% and 61% for asses and dupondii. Instead, the best represented years are AD 95-6 with 43% of the coins. Below, I argue that this might be because there was a shortfall in silver arriving in Britain in AD 95-6.
A Chronological analysis of Domitian’s base metal coinage
Several studies of the chronological distribution of Domitian’s base metal coinage have been made in the past. It is interesting to see what the PAS Data can contribute to the debate. At the outset it should be stated that the 129 dated specimens in the PAS data, and the 151 dated coins in the Welsh data (discussed below and IARCW records on the PAS Database) are by far the largest samples available for study from Britain.
A quick glance at the figure below shows that there are very few base metal coins arriving in the province for the years 81-4, with a slight rise in AD 85. It is in AD 86 and 87 that the peak of coin supply occurs, coins from these years accounting for 67.4% of total supply for the reign; asses are the dominant denomination in these two years (see Table 1). The drop-off in AD 88-9 is marked and there are only small totals in the period 90-4. However, there is a slight upturn in AD 95-6, caused by the nine IOVI VICTORI S C sestertii recorded on the PAS Database (see Table 3).
The Welsh (IARCW) Data on the PAS Database
I noted that the 333 coins from Wales (IARCW) were not included in the general discussion of the coinage. Because these coins come from hoards, excavations and detector finds it is difficult to use them alongside other PAS data in analysis. However, for Domitian’s base metal coins they provide an important group of coins which can be used in chronological analysis. There are 151 coins which can be dated precisely, making this a comparable dataset to the 129 pieces recorded as normal PAS finds. Table 5 shows the data in summary form.
Comparison of PAS and IARCW data with other sites in Roman Britain and regions on the Continent
It is important to compare the PAS and Welsh data with other sites in Britain and regions on the Continent. Because I do not have access the Hobley (1998) and Carradice (1983), I am reliant on statistics provided by David Walker in his Bath report, which does draw in part on the work of Ian Carradice. Table 6 shows the totals for various sites and regions set against the PAS and IARCW Welsh data (after Walker 1988, p. 286). The other three major British assemblages come from the Sacred Spring at Bath (Walker 1988), Coventina’s Well (Hadrian’s Wall), and Richborough (Kent).
The figure below shows how the British groups have quite a similar profile. There is a general dearth of base metal coins for the years AD 81-4 with a slight rise in AD 85. However, in AD 86 and 87 there is a major peak at British sites the combined years accounting for between around 68 to 85% of all the coins. It is interesting to note that all but one of the British sites have higher totals for AD 86 than AD 87, Coventina’s Well being the exception. There is then a major fall off in supply in AD 88-9 with most sites only recording a few pieces for the period AD 90-6. However, there is a significant rise in the numbers in AD 95-6 for the PAS and the Welsh data, largely due to an influx of sestertii. We will return to this below.
The Rhine / Danube Frontier and Italy pattern is very different from the British groups. There is much better representation in the period A 81-4 with larger rises in AD 85. There is not the pronounced peak in AD 86-87, although Andrew Hobley has noted this for Galla Belgica (North-Eastern Gaul) and his statistics will be included in the next version of this article. There are significantly higher proportions of coins in the AD 88-94 period, before the continental groups fall below the British sites in AD 95-6.
David Walker, in his Bath report, writes extensively about this period of ‘sporadic supply’ of coinage to Britain, noting that during the later years of Agricola’s campaigns (AD 81-4), only small amounts of new silver and next to no new base metal coins were arriving in the Province (Walker 1988, 286-88). Obviously, in AD 86-7, there was a major decision to supply Britain with copious quantities of base metal coins, especially asses. However, after 87, there was only a small amount of base metal coinage arriving before the slight rise in AD 95-6, a phenomenon not noted on the Rhine / Danube Frontier nor in Italy. Overall, the supply of base metal coinage to the Rhine / Danube frontier was more consistent during Domitian’s reign.
It is interesting that previous research has not been able to pick up the increased totals for sestertii of AD 95-6 in Britain. This is where the PAS and Welsh (IARCW) provide important extra data. One has to ask why there might have been this influx of large base metal coins in AD 95-6. The answer might lie in the relatively small amount of new silver sent to the Province in AD 95-6, as shown on Table 7. Was an extra injection of sestertii required to make up for a shortfall in silver? This might be supported by the fact that all but one of these sestertii have been found in what one could term the military zone of the Province.
References and further reading:
I. A. Carradice and T. V. Buttrey, The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol. II, Part 1 (Spink, 2007)
D. R. Walker, Roman Coins from the Sacred Spring at Bath, Part 6 of B. Cunliffe (ed.), The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath, II: Finds from the Sacred Spring (Oxford, 1988), pp. 286-88; A. S. Hobley, An Examination of Roman Bronze Coin Distribution in the Western Empire A.D. 81-192 – British Archaeological Reports International Series 688 (1988); RIC II (part 1; 2007), pp. 261-3
P. Guest and N. Wells, Iron Age and Roman Coins from Wales (Moneta 66, 2007). This comprehensive survey of coin finds from Wales, includes coins from hoards, excavation and metal detecting.
For Coventina’s Well, see L. Allason-Jones and B. McKay, Coventina’s Well (Chesters Museum, 1985).
For Richborough, see J. P. Bushe-Fox, First to Fourth Reports on the Excavation of the Roman Fort at Richborough, (1926, 1928, 1932, 1949)
B. W. Cunliffe, Fifth Report on the Excavations at the Roman Fort at Richborough (1968)
P. Walton, Rethinking Roman Britain: Coinage and Archaeology (Moneta 137, 2012), pp. 50-52
Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief! In this issue, Sam Moorhead examines nummi with the VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP legend – a type only struck at selected mints.
The VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP nummi of AD 318-20
The VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP nummi, along with the IOVI CONSERVATORI AVGG nummi, were the first major types to follow on from the SOLI INVICTO COMITI and related issues which had been struck since c. AD 310. The VICTORIAE LAETAE PRINC PERP types were only struck at selected mints: London, Trier, Lyon, Arles, Ticinum and Siscia. These were all in the domain of Constantine I and his sons, hence a real scarcity of coins struck in the name of Licinius I and II.
One feature of the coins is that they had a higher silver content than the issues that preceded and followed them. Coins sometimes show considerable silver wash and many show traces of silvering. (There was apparently an earlier base silver argenteus of this type struck in AD 312-3 at Trier, which has been the subject of much discussion, but it is not included in this blog). It was the higher silver content of the AD 318-20 nummi which was undoubtedly the reason for many contemporary copies being produced, many more than for any other issue between AD 294 and 330. There are up to 80 or more contemporary copies on the PAS Database, the number being certain to change after further editing. This copying did not just occur in Britain; the British Museum has a group of copies found in the Balkans region, the local mint striking this issue being Siscia (Sisak in Croatia).
On the PAS Database, there is a total of around 1,040 pieces, of which 472 are attributed to Mints. Table 1 shows the coins attributed to mints, broken down by emperor – the totals do include contemporary copies. London has the largest share with 255 coins (54%), followed by Trier with 138 pieces (29.2%). The remaining four mints have much smaller shares: Lyon (26 coins; 5.5%); Arles (17; 3.6%); Ticinum (22; 4.7%); Siscia (14; 3%).
Constantine I takes the lion’s share of the coins (373; 85.4%) with his sons Crispus (38; 8.7%) and Constantine II (22; 5%) accounting for most of the rest. Licinius I and II only have four coins recorded between them. This might not be so surprising given that this issue was from the western section of the Empire where Constantine and his family held sway.
There is quite a variety of obverse types with laureate, laureate-helmeted, helmeted and radiate busts. Some helmeted busts show the emperor holding a spear.
Mint of London London is the best represented mint on the PAS Database for this issue with 255 coins (54%). This does appear to show that the majority of coins supplied to Britain at this time was coming from the mint at London. Constantine I is by far the best represented ruler with 204 coins (85%), the rest of the coins being shared by Crispus (21; 8.75%) and Constantine II (15; 6.25%). RIC lists three issues for this type, which is also presented in the even more comprehensive listing of these coins in H. Cloke and L. Toone, The London Mint of Constantius and Constantine (2015), pp. 248-53. The dating in Cloke and Toone differs slightly and I use it below and when editing records:
AD 319: The shield rests on a column – this is the smallest issue.
AD 319-20: The shield rests on an altar with lozenge decoration (often with dots).
AD 319-20: The shield rests on an altar with wreath decoration (often enclosing a symbol such as a star or cross) – this appears to be the most common issue.
Trier Trier is the next best represented mint after London, with 138 coins (29.2%). Again, Constantine I accounts for the largest number of coins (118; 95.2%). There are only four for Crispus and two for Constantine II. There are two main issues:
AD 318-9: – // P/STR
AD 319: Star on altar // STR and ●STR (Figs. 10-12). This is the more common issue. In RIC VII (pp. 183-4, nos. 223-36), there is a subsequent group of coins with the second mark of * // STR and ●STR which have a variety of abbreviated reverse legends. These are rare and subsequent editing might identify some in the PAS Data.
Contemporary copies As noted above, large numbers of contemporary copies were produced, probably with little or no silver content. They are quite often of reasonable style, but the legends can be more crudely cut and the mintmarks incorrect. It is always worth checking that a supposed ‘new variety’ is not in fact a contemporary copy.
Lyon (Lugdunum) Coins of Lugdunum are much scarcer as finds in Britain with only 26 specimens on the PAS Database: 12 of Constantine I, 9 of Crispus and 2 each for Constantine II and Licinius I. There are two issues at Lyon:
AD 319-20: – // two seated captives
AD 320: – // P two seated captives L
Arles (Arelatum) Coins from Arles are also scarce with only 17 on the PAS Database: 15 for Constantine I and one for Licinius I. There are two issues of this type from Arles:
AD 319: – // P star over crescent A
AD 319: – //P/S/TARL. This is much the more common of the two issues
Ticinum (Pavia) There are only 22 pieces from Ticinum: 15 for Constantine I, 2 for Crispus and one each for Constantine II and Licinius II. There are two issues for this type:
AD 318-9: -, P, R, + and * //P/S/TT (below left).
AD 319: C // P/S/TT (below right).
Siscia (Sisak) There are 14 coins from Siscia, of which 9 can be attributed to Constantine I and two each to Crispus and Constantine II. There are three major issues:
AD 318: – // A-ESIS*
AD 318-9: – // A-ESIS (Fig. 24)
AD 319: – // A-ESIS●
In addition, there are – // ●ASIS●, ASIS* and ASIS● pieces of AD 319-20 with the legend VICT●LAETAE PRINC PERP (RIC VII, pp. 434-436, nos. 81-99), but none can be identified on the PAS Database.
References and further reading:
A. Marsden in H. Cloke and L. Toone, The London Mint of Constantius and Constantine (2015), p. 67.
Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief! In this issue Andrew Brown examines the coinage of Tacitus and Florian.
Tacitus (AD 275-76) and Florian (AD 276)
The death of Aurelian in the autumn of AD 275, assassinated in a coup led by his own officers, left something of a gap in succession. There is numismatic evidence to suggest that Severina may have assumed authority in the interim and it is not until later in AD 275, probably in November of that year, that a successor was chosen – Marcus Claudius Tacitus. The transition appears to have been an unusual one for Rome. With no obvious successor in place prior to Aurelian’s death there seems to have been a period of negotiation between the senate and the armies, who it is reported called on the senate to name a successor from amongst them (e.g. Historia Augusta Life of Tacitus 2). Finally a decision was made and the 75-year-old Tacitus was chosen for the purple. Whether this was entirely the decision of the senate and a restoration of their role in the election of the new emperor is unclear and it is likely the armies, notably with the involvement of Severina too, were key to his selection. The following year was unsettled to say the least and by the end of AD 276 not only had Tacitus been deposed, but so too had his successor Marcus Annius Florianus, with the military leader Marcus Aurelius Probus usurping power before being recognised as emperor in late AD 276.
The coinage of Tacitus and Florian is not hugely common in Britain for much the same reasons the reformed radiates (aureliani) of Aurelian do not experience widespread circulation within the province. If anything, they were simply too large a denomination in a province that used extensive quantities of small change during the Gallic Empire and this in turn prompted the production during this period (c.AD 275-285) of large numbers of contemporary copies (‘barbarous radiates’). Because of their significant silver content, a high proportion of these coins also appear to have been hoarded quickly, rather than entering general circulation. This is not to say that they do not turn up at all and indeed the PAS has 179 single coins of Tacitus albeit with just 11 of Florian. This total excludes the IARCW Welsh data, which contains 689 coins from the Rogiet Hoard for the two emperors combined. When we looked at the coinage of Carus and family, I compared the relative numbers of coins for each of the emperors from Tacitus to Nigrinian, which showed that the PAS data largely reflects the same pattern as that seen in the large hoarded assemblages found in Britain. Although editing the records for Tacitus means a slight adjustment to the totals, this pattern still holds true and, if anything, brings the PAS data more closely in line with the hoarded material (see Table 1).
Although RIC V.1 remains the standard published reference for the coinage of Tacitus and Florian, there has been extensive development in the study of this period and there are other more up to date resources that should be consulted if possible when dealing with their coinages. The first stages of a revised RIC V.1 have appeared in the excellent Monnaies de l’empire Romain/Roman Imperial Coinage (MER-RIC) website by S.Estiot, which covers the coinage of the period AD 268-276 (http://www.ric.mom.fr/en/home).
The material within the la Venèra hoard and in P. Bastien’s study of the Lyon mint update the organisation of Tacitus and Florian’s coinage provided in RIC and form the basis of more recent analyses of this period (including MER-RIC). In a British setting, this is followed in more recent publications of hoarded assemblages that contain large numbers of aureliani, notably the Gloucester and Rogiet hoards.
Tacitus (AD 275-276)
Tacitus was of the equestrian class and had held the consulship once, in AD 273, prior to his elevation as emperor. Rare denarii (see MER-RIC temp no. 3514 http://www.ric.mom.fr/en/coin/3514?tempRIC ) demonstrate that he took his tribunician powers for the second time in December AD 275 and he then became consul for the second time at the beginning of January AD 276. However, not a huge amount is known about Tacitus’ life and there is little written about his time as emperor. He was likely born in the Danube region in c.AD 200, was probably not related in any way to the Roman historian who fortuitously carried the same name, and at the age of 75 was one of several short-lived emperors who rose with the support of the armies – as is suggested by his first coinage, which appears as a gold donative at the mint of Lyon. After travelling to Rome from Lyon (following campaigns on the Rhine) to receive full recognition by the senate, Tacitus set out on campaign in the east against the Goths and Heruli, joining the armies in Thrace before crossing in to Asia Minor early in AD 276. His praetorian prefect Florian, probably Tacitus’ half-brother, was already on campaign in the east and their combined successes here resulted in Tacitus receiving the title Gothicus Maximus and with coin types bearing the reverse legend VICTORIA GOTHII by late AD 275. At Ticinum he appears on coins as COS III, but there is no record of him holding a 3rd consulship and this perhaps reflects his victories in Germany prior to becoming emperor.
After successful campaigns in Anatolia, Tacitus prepared to return to Rome, perhaps due to new threats from the west. However, on his way back in the summer of AD 276 he died suddenly, plausibly in a coup at Tyana (Cappadocia, Turkey) that may well have involved future emperor Probus, following a reign of just six months.
There are a total of 179 coins of Tacitus on the PAS, including a provincial tetradrachm from Alexandria. This excludes 692 records from the IARCW data, the majority of which are hoard coins from the Rogiet Hoard. The types represented on his coinage are in keeping with many of the themes typical of the 3rd century, for examples ROMAE AETERNAE types that speak to the eternity of Rome and types that reference the importance of the military. There is perhaps also a return to more orthodox thinking and types, particularly from a theological perspective, following Aurelian’s focus on the worship of Sol. The coin issues of Tacitus’ reign largely follow the structure of his predecessor Aurelian, with all of the mints continuing to strike in much the same way. Gold is produced but is not seen in Britain, while denarii are also issued from some mints. The bulk of the coinage, and certainly all the coins seen on the PAS, are reformed radiates, again carrying the mark of value XXI from the Italian mints (KA in the eastern mints) to reflect the 5% silver content of these new denominations. Coins of Antioch and Tripolis marked XI or IA seem to suggest the introduction of a double radiate denomination valued at twice the amount of those marked XXI or KA as has already been seen with the coinage of Carus. In the western mint of Lugdunum (Lyon) coins continue to lack the mark of value of the reformed radiates, simply carrying letters that relate to individual workshops within the mints. An interesting feature to note with Tacitus’ coinage that has some bearing on the historical interpretation of his reign is the development of the bust types in the mints of Lugdunum, Rome, and Ticinum. At Lugdunum the imperial portrait is much as we imagine Tacitus from the outset. However, there are clear changes in the portraiture in the second issue at Ticinum and third issue at Rome, which see a sudden shift from a very young looking bust to one that is characteristic of Tacitus, suggesting the die engravers had never seen Tacitus or his likeness until his arrival in Rome (and therefore later than at Lyon).
As with Aurelian, Tacitus’ coin types can generally be identified based on their reverse types and the officina and mint letters that accompany them:
As might be expected, the coins recorded through the PAS are for the most part (60%) from the mint of Lugunum, followed by that of Rome (16%) and Ticinum (8%). The eastern mints in contrast are negligible in quantity. Compared to the Gloucester hoard, for example (Table 2) the percentages of each mint represented within the PAS data are relatively comparable, the major different being about 15% more Lugdunum coins in Gloucester than on the PAS. However, I think it likely that many of the 11% of coins from uncertain mints (either due to preservation or lack of images on database records to check identifications) could be products of the Lugdunum mint, which would push the PAS total close to that of Gloucester. It is not surprising that Lugdunum is most prolific in the PAS assemblage given the proximity of the mint in the western empire, so it is important when identifying or recording coins of Tacitus, and indeed Florian who follows him, to check coins of this mint first – the officina letters in the reverse fields are usually quite quickly identifiable.
Lugdunum A total of 109 radiates recorded to date. By far the most commonly seen reverse types are those depicting Felicitas and the legend TEMPORVM FELICITAS, for which there are at least 47 examples – a quarter of all coins of Tacitus on the database.
Rome Just 30 coins from the Rome mint are recorded on the PAS, the most commonly seen being coins with a LAETITIA FVND reverse type, of which there are 8 examples. It is worth noting that coins of the first two Rome series have young bust types that appear closer in appearance to the emperors that preceded Tacitus, replaced in the third series with older, heavier bust types. This likely reflects Tacitus’ arrival in Rome with die engravers seeing proper likenesses, or indeed the emperor himself, for the first time.
Ticinum Just 16 coins of Tacitus from the Ticinum mint are recorded through the PAS. The most common reverse types depict Felicitas (4 coins), Mars (4 coins) and Providentia (4 coins). A similar shift in bust types seen at Rome occurs with the second series at Ticinum.
Eastern Mints Of the mints east of Rome, only three coins from the imperial mints of Siscia (two coins, only one example with an image) and Cyzicus are recorded on the PAS, with a further single provincial tetradrachm (the same coin recorded twice on the database – LEIC-0500B1 and LEIC-180E21) from Alexandria.
Florian (AD 276)
After Tacitus’ death in the summer of AD 276 in Cappadocia (Turkey), Florian took power and gained support not only of the senate but also the western provinces. In contrast, the eastern provinces put their support behind a rival claimant, the skilled military leader Probus who controlled elements of the Roman military there and likely had a hand in Tacitus’ demise. In theory, Probus at this point was a usurper given the senate’s recognition of Florian, but in a matter of months he in turn succeeded Florian as emperor. Probus’ presence in the east drew Florian away from campaign against the Goths where he had served as Tacitus’ praetorian prefect, the armies of the two men finally meeting near Tarsus (Cilicia). Despite Florian’s larger force, Probus chipped away rather than engaging in an all-out battle that resulted in a coup which saw Florian’s own men depose and execute him. This probably happened in August/September of AD 276 after little more than two months as emperor.
Florian’s coinage largely followed that of Tacitus and coins were struck at most mints with the exception of the Syrian mints of Antioch and Tripolis, and the mint of Alexandria, all in areas that fell within the sphere of Probus’ usurpation. Coins from the individual mints can usually be identified by their types and associated mintmarks for the individual officinae that were in operation:
Although gold was struck for Florian, and a single aureus is recorded by Bland and Loriot (2010: p. 230, no. 487) from Oxfordshire, it is hugely rare in Britain. Denarii and smaller bronze denominations are also known, but we are essentially dealing with reformed radiates (aureliani) in Britain during this period. These are not common as PAS finds – there are just eleven single finds, excluding 43 coins from the IARCW dataset that are mostly from the Rogiet Hoard like those of Tacitus. None of the 11 examples on the PAS are in great condition, although examples that appear in hoards tend to have better preservation.
Lugdunum remains the best represented of the mints with 6 coins (4 with images), followed by just two from Rome and a single example that is possibly from the mint of Siscia, the remaining two coins unclear.
References and further reading:
S. Estiot ‘The Later Third Century’ in The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage (Oxford, 2012)
D. Gricourt, Ripostiglio della Venèra. Caro – Diocleziano Vol. IV. Verona, 2000.
P. Bastien, Le monnayage de l’atelier de Lyon de la réouverture de l’atelier par Aurélien à la mort de Carin (274-285). Wetteren, 1976.
R. Abdy, E. Besly and F. López-Sánchez, ‘Gloucester, Gloucestershire’, in Coin Hoards from Roman Britain XIII, 2010: pp. 21-113; see also the Blackmoor Hoard: R Bland, ‘The Blackmoor Hoard’ CHRB III, 1982
There are many symbols that we have come to associate with Easter. Aside from those that directly reference the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, there are also lambs and chicks that symbolise new life, as well as the good old Easter Bunny, whose association is less obvious (Professor Naomi Sykes explores it further in her excellent blog post on the subject). But were you aware that the (not so) humble peacock is also a symbol of resurrection?
Nowadays we are more used to the peacock’s association with pride and vanity, as in the saying “proud as a peacock”. However, the ancient Greeks believed that the flesh of the peacock never decayed, even after death, and so it became a symbol of immortality. Early Christians adopted the symbolism and the peacock thus became an emblem of the Resurrection and the eternal life of Christ. Many early Christian and Byzantine paintings and mosaics contain pictures of peacocks.
The theme of resurrection and renewal was further emphasised by the fact that the male peacock sheds its tail feathers at the end of each mating season. The feathers regrow by spring, in time for the new mating season. Peacocks continued to appear in art in the medieval period and into the Renaissance, although whether every depiction of a peacock carries Christian symbolism is another question.
The Romans were partial to peacocks, both visually and as a delicacy. Peacocks were associated with the goddess Juno and appear in Roman art, as well as on coinage (particularly those issued by empresses) and on objects such as nail cleaners and buckles. When they weren’t decorating objects with peacocks, they were busy eating them – particularly peacock tongues, which were a highly prized dish. Peacocks also graced the dinner tables of wealthy Europeans in the Middle Ages, when they would be served complete with their tail feathers on display.
Of course, peacock symbolism extends beyond Christianity and western cultures. In India, the native home of the peacock, the bird is a symbol of royalty and power. It is also India’s national bird. Two golden peacocks were even incorporated into the splendid “Peacock Throne” commissioned by Shah Jahan, emperor of the vast Mughal Empire in the 17th century. The peacock features in Hinduism, as well as Islam, and can be found extensively in Indian art. You can read more about this here.
To see all examples of objects from the database with peacocks on them, click here.
Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief! In this issue Sam Moorhead looks at the coinage of Commodus, both as Caesar and as Augustus with Marcus Aurelius.
The coinage of Commodus (c.AD 175-192)
Commodus was born in AD 161 and made Caesar by Marcus Aurelius in AD 162. However, it appears that no coins were struck for him until AD 175 (although RIC III dates some to AD 172-6). This article follows the dating in BMC IV which dates his first issues to AD 175.
Commodus was made Augustus alongside his father in AD 177 and an increasing number of coins were struck for him in the last years of Marcus Aurelius’ reign. Commodus married Bruttia Crispina in AD 178, but the dating of her coinage is highly problematic and her coinage will be dealt with in a separate piece. For his coinage with Marcus Aurelius, dating to c. AD 175-80, there are around 50 coins on the PAS Database. These comprise 12 silver denarii, 28 base-metal sestertii, 4 dupondii and 6 asses. On the Database, these coins have the ruler dropdown ‘Commodus under Marcus Aurelius’ which places the coins in Reece Period 8.
Coinage as Caesar, c.AD 175-77
Commodus as joint Augustus with Marcus Aurelius, AD 177-80
Commodus as sole Augustus, AD 180-92
Upon Marcus Aurelius’ death in AD 180, Commodus assumed power as sole Augustus. However, this occurred midway within an issue so it is not possible to date some coins to his joint or sole reign. However, we include these coins under the ruler dropdown for Commodus, linking to Reece Period 9. His reign is marked by considerable intrigue and increasing turmoil in Rome. The following outline loosely follows some of the major events and themes of his reign. A few other coins, not related to the specific topics discussed, are included in their chronological position.
Excluding the IARCW Welsh data, there are 1065 coins for Commodus as sole Augustus on the PAS Database. They comprise 269 silver denarii, 718 base-metal sestertii, 43 dupondii, 39 asses and 22 dupondii or asses. We witness a major predominance of base-metal coins, notably the sestertius which outnumbers the denarius by over 2.5 to 1. This dominance of the sestertius over the denarius is to suddenly be reversed in the Severan Period when for Septimius Severus (AD 193-211) the denarius (1,449 specimens, including copies) massively outnumbers sestertii (153 specimens) by almost 9.5 to 1! It should also be noted that the silver denarius was debased by Marcus Aurelius around AD 170 and twice subsequently by Commodus in the AD 180s; this heralds the increasing debasement of the denarius in the Severan period.
Liberalitas and Donatives
Commodus struck a large number of coins, showing Liberalitas, which celebrate donations of money made to the populace of Rome. Each Liberalitas is numbered, I and II occurring when he was ruling with Marcus Aurelius (in c. AD 175 and in AD 177). During his sole reign, there were seven such donations, Liberalitas III to VIIII, spanning his whole reign from AD 180 to AD 192. Liberalitas III was in AD 180 and is celebrated on a sestertius which shows the full scene of Commdodus handing out largesse to the people. However, the clearest Liberalitas coins on the PAS Database tend to be silver denarii which just show the personification of Liberalitas.
The Conspiracy of Lucilla
n 181/2, Commodus’ sister (and widow of Lucius Verus, AD 161-9), Lucilla, led a conspiracy against Commodus. It failed and Lucilla was exiled to Capri. It has been suggested (BMC IV, p. clvii) that as a result of this event, Commodus took the title ‘Pius’ to align himself with the virtuous Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, in contrast to the impious Lucilla and her associates.
AD 184-5 – Britannicus and the fall of Perennis
In the early 180s there had been problems on Britain’s northern frontier, with the apparent breaching of Hadrian’s Wall. By 184, the governor of Britain, Marcellus, had restored order which was the opportunity for Commodus to take the title Britannicus and celebrate the victory on his coinage. However, there was unrest within the Roman army in Britain, apparently due to changes being made by Perennis, Commodus’s chief minister in Rome. A legionary commander called Priscus was even declared emperor in Britain, but the coup failed. However, this did not stop 1,500 ‘javelin men’ from Britain marching to Rome to complain about Perennis. Their complaints were heard by Commodus and Perennis was executed in AD 185.
The Annona/Corn Supply of Rome
Maintaining the corn supply of Rome (the Annona) was a crucial element for imperial contral of Rome, as stated in Juvenal’s panem et circenses (‘bread and circuses’). Annona was the personification of the corn-harvest, most commonly used to represent the corn supply brought to Rome by large fleets from Egypt and North Africa. The modius that appears on coins was a corn measure. In AD 186, Commodus did build a new grain fleet for Rome.
We have seen above how Commodus took the title Pius in AD 183. In AD 184, he added the title Felix. Here, Commodus combines the Felicity of Augustus (27 BC – AD 14) with the piety of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-61), creating a formula which is to become commonly used by emperors of the later Roman Empire (when it is normally abbreviated P F on coins). In general usage Pius Felix was to mean ‘pious to the Gods, blessed by the Gods’. P FEL / FELIX are the most common abbreviations on the coinage of Commodus.
AD 187 – Commodus’ tenth jubilee (decennalia)
n AD 186/7, Commodus celebrated his tenth year as Augustus. On the coin below, Commodus is seen fulfilling his vows (vota soluta) with a sacrifice after ten years of rule.
Mint reforms in AD 186-7?
In AD 186-7, Commodus introduced a novel new type showing the three monetae on the reverse of his sestertii. It is suggested that this might refer to mint reforms in Rome.
AD 186-9 – The different guises of Fortuna
Fortuna was regarded as an essential attribute of a successful emperor; without Fortuna on your side you were doomed. She took on different forms, however, as shown clearly in Commodus’s coinage, some which are shown above. The image below shows, from left to right: ‘Fortuna Redux’ (‘Fortune the Home-bringer’), in this case probably in anticipation of Commodus travelling to Germany or Africa; ‘Fortuna Manens’ (‘Fortune the Steadier’) is much rarer on coins, but as Harold Mattingly writes she was popular with Romans: ‘… a Fortuna as firmly held as the horse which she herself bridles.’ (BMC IV, p. clxv); and ‘Fortuna Felix’ who ‘combines the wealth of Fortuna with the magic luck of Felicitas.’
AD 188-90 – Extolling Rome’s power and stability, and the fall of Cleander
The coinage of this period presents an ordered, peaceful and divinely-ordained Rome, with types proclaiming ‘eternal peace’, victorious Minerva and Mars ‘the bringer of peace’. The reality was that matters in Rome were becoming increasingly troubled under Commodus’ chief minister, Cleander. Finally, during the races in the Circus Maximus, the people rioted against Cleander because there was a food shortage; Cleander was forced to flee to Commodus who had him executed. Apollo of the Palatine was the protective deity of the imperial palace on the Palatine Hill and might be represented on coins to show that after the disturbances Commodus was in residence in the city. The coin below is an unusual type which shows Apollo as a protective deity of the Mint.
Loyalty of the army
It must be remembered that whilst there were court intrigues and increasingly turbulent times in Rome, Commodus maintained the army’s loyalty, both the Praetorian Guard in Rome, and the army further afield (at least for now). A number of coins show this, some extolling the ‘Faith of the Cohorts’.
Commodus and Hercules
In the last few years of Commodus’ reign, he increasingly suffered from megalomania. He began to perform in the arena at the games (as now immortalised in the film Gladiator). He had already honoured Hercules earlier in his reign but increasingly associated himself with the god in his later years, giving rise to a wide range of types in his last two years, some even depicting him as Hercules on the obverse.
New Year’s Eve, AD 192 – The demise of Commodus
Commodus’ reign became increasingly turbulent in AD 192. After a major fire in Rome, Commodus styled himself as a new Romulus and even named the city after himself: Colonia Lucia Annia Commodiana. It appears that in attempt to bolster his throne he had two ‘liberalities’ (numbers VIII and VIIII) to bribe the people of Rome. In the end the Praetorian Prefect Laetus hatched a plot with Commodus’ servant, Eclectus, which even included Commodus’ mistress, Marcia. On New Year’s Eve, AD 192, their attempt to poison Commodus failed, but he was strangled by his wrestling partner, Narcissus, in the bath. He was succeeded by Pertinax who reigned for just under three months.
Today is World Book Day! So as well as settling down with your favourite copy of PAS “50 Finds” or “Finds Identified”, why not have a go at our Book Clasp craft activity? Download the activity sheet below and get making!