Coin Relief 37 – Commodus

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

Left to right: Silver denarii of Commodus as Caesar (DENO-839F0E, LANCUM-A587C3, both Portable Antiquities Scheme, License CC-BY-SA). Copper-alloy as of Commodus as Caesar (DENO-D3ACE6, Derby Museums Trust, License CC-BY-SA).

Commodus as joint Augustus with Marcus Aurelius, AD 177-80

Left to right: Copper alloy dupondius of Commodus as Augustus with Marcus Aurelius (BUC-2CD010, Buckinghamshire County Museum, License CC-BY-SA). Silver denarii of Commodus as Augustus with Marcus Aurelius (LVPL-8690C2, National Museums Liverpool, HAMP-FBE581, Winchester Museums Service, both License CC-BY-SA).

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.

Silver denarius of Commodus, Rome, AD 179-80. This issue began to be struck before Marcus Aurelius died in AD 180, but continued after his death. Record ID WILT-EB82E1 (Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, License CC-BY-SA).

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.

Silver denarius of Commodus, Rome, AD 181-182 with personification of Liberalitas on the reverse. Record ID SWYOR-50A748 (West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, License CC-BY).

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.

Silver denarius of Commodus, Rome, AD 182-3, with Pius legend. Record ID DOR-806F42 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License CC-BY).

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.

Silver denarius of Commodus, Rome, AD 184, with Commodus hearing complaints about Perennis on the reverse. Record ID WILT-867A0D (Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, License CC-BY).

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.

Pius Felix

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.

Silver denarius of Commodus, Rome, AD 186-7, with reverse depicting Commodus sacrificing at a tripod altar. Record ID PUBLIC-72C6C1 (All rights reserved, License CC-BY-SA).

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.’

Left to right: copper alloy sestertius (DENO-ED7C9D, Derby Museums Trust); silver denarius (BM-AA3304, Vincent Drost); and copper alloy sestertius (DOR-5F62D5). All images License CC-BY-SA.

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.

Silver denarius of Commodus, Rome, AD 190. Record ID SUR-6FF567 (Surrey County Council, License CC-BY).

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.

Copper alloy sestertius of Commodus, Rome, AD 192, depicting the emperor as Hercules on the reverse. Record ID HAMP1747 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License CC-BY-SA).

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.

Coin Relief 36 – Sol’s last dawn

Welcome to another edition of Coin Relief! In this issue Sam Moorhead discusses an enigmatic coin type that continues to generate discussion…

Sol’s last dawn, at Thessalonica in AD 319

Figure 1: A copper alloy nummus of Crispus Caesar with Sol reverse, mint of Thessalonica. Record ID is NCL-D720B2 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY-SA).

In AD 319, the mint at Thessalonica struck an enigmatic nummus type which has engendered a fair amount of discussion. It was issued in the names of Constantine I, Licinius I, Crispus, Licinus II and Constantine II, employing all five workshops (A to ε) at Thessalonica (RIC VII, p. 507, nos. 66-71). The obverses are all self-explanatory, but the reverse will probably always remain a bit of a mystery. Figure 1 can be described as:

A copper-alloy nummus of Crispus Caesar (AD 317-26) Thessalonica, AD 319
Obv. D N FL IVL CRISPVS NOB CAES; Laureate and cuirassed right
Rev. VIRT EXERC; Sol standing, raising right hand and holding globe in left, in middle of cross made up of four lines.
Mintmark: – // TSε
RIC VII, p. 507, no. 69

Patrick Bruun, in RIC VII (p. 494), regards this as a military type. The legend VIRT[us] EXERC[iti] (‘the courageous army’) is self-explanatory. However, the use of Sol, instead of Mars, is unusual. In fact, as Bruun notes, this is the last time that Sol appears on the Roman coinage, having figured prominently on Constantine’s SOLI INVICTO COMITI coins from AD 310 to AD 318. The RIC description states that Sol is standing on the ‘plan of a Roman camp’, hence Bruun claiming that in this case Sol is acting as the patron deity of the army. However, it is quite difficult to perceive a plan of a military camp from the cross formation on the coin. Roman camps did have ramparts and ditches, and sometimes there were multiple ramparts and ditches (as at Ardoch fort in Scotland); but why does this coin have a cross feature rather than a square feature? We have seen in an earlier post that the die-engravers were perfectly capable of designing clearly recognisable architectural features, in this case a camp or town gateway.

Figure 2: A copper-alloy nummus of Constantine I, with Sol reverse, mint of Rome. Record ID is HAMP-8C376B (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

In more recent articles, Peter Weiss and David Woods have argued that this coin does not depict the plan of a military camp, but a ‘radiate cross’. A panegyric of AD 310, delivered to Constantine at the imperial capital at Trier, refers to Constantine having a vision of Apollo (who was easily conflated with Sol) who would grant him a lengthy life. In addition there is Eusebius’ description of Constantine’s vision of a cross and the words in hoc signo victor eris (‘in this sign you will conquer’) before his victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in AD 312; Lactantius describes a similar story, suggesting that the symbol the emperor saw was a staurogram (a cross with a looped top to make a Greek rho). So, it is possible that this coin type refers to a vision of Apollo (Sol) above a related ‘radiate cross’ which would probably have strong Christian undertones, given Constantine’s vision at the Milvian Bridge? It could also be considered quite an appropriate type for the last appearance of Sol, standing on a symbol heralding the dawn of a new state religion in the Roman Empire, Christianity. Does this coin mark the end of Sol’s role as a bridge between the pagan and Christian world?

Figure 3: A copper-alloy nummus of Constantine I with Sol reverse, mint of Thessalonica. Record ID is SUSS-899073 (Sussex Archaeological Society, License: CC-BY-SA).

Whatever the precise meaning of this reverse, this coin is quite rare. There are only two pieces on the PAS Database, one from East Yorkshire and the other from Sussex. Quite what the people who handled the coin in antiquity made of the reverse type would be interesting to know; they might have been as mystified then as we are now in the 21st century!

References and further reading:

P. Weiss, ‘The Vision of Constantine’, Journal of Roman Archaeology 16 (2003), pp. 237-59;

David Woods, ‘Postumus and the Three Suns: Neglected Numismatic Evidence for a Solar Halo’, Numismatic Chronicle 172 (2012), pp. 85-92.

Pan. Lat. 6(7).21.4

Eusebius, Life of Constantine, I.28

Lactantius, On the Deaths of the Persecutors, 44.5

Coin Relief 35 – Maximinus I and Maximus

Welcome to another edition of Coin Relief. In this issue, Sam Moorhead examines the coinage of the two Maxes: Maximinus I, a man who was max by name and by nature, and his son Maximus.

The coinage of Maximinus I and Maximus (AD 235-8)

Maximinus was a giant Thracian (Scriptores Historiae Augustae tells us that he was 8ft 6ins!) from humble origins who worked his way up through the ranks to become a general under Severus Alexander (AD 222-235). Maximinus’ lowly background was to hinder him throughout his reign as the Senate and other aristocratic Romans resented his rise to power. After Severus Alexander’s rather pathetic attempts to deal with German
unrest in AD 235, the troops declared Maximinus emperor and Severus Alexander and his mother, Julia Mamaea, were both murdered. When Maximinus made his son, Maximus, Caesar is unclear, but it was in AD 235 or 236. Maximinus went on to win victories on the Rhine (for which he and his son received the title Germanicus Maximus) and Danube borders which he strengthened. However, this was at great human and financial cost and wealthy Romans began to tire of increased extortion and confiscations.

In early 238, the first resistance to Maximinus came from the Gordiani (Gordian I and II) in North Africa, with senatorial support, but this was short-lived. In Rome, Balbinus and Pupienus, elderly senators, were then declared joint emperors; however, they were forced to call for the grandson of Gordian I from Africa, who was favoured by the people of Rome and
the Praetorian Guard. Maximinus, meanwhile, had begun to march west against Italy. However, Aquileia refused to open its gates to the emperor and he gradually lost the support of his men until he and his son were assassinated in June 238. Balbinus and Pupienus were murdered a month later, leaving Gordian III (AD 238-44) sole emperor.

The coinage of Maximinus

The coinage of Maximinus is quite straightforward. It was all minted in Rome, with gold, silver and base metal issues. There are two major issues, differentiated by the obverse legends IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG (AD 235-6) and MAXIMIANVS PIVS AVG GERM (AD 236-7). RIC IV, pt 2, divides his coinage according to these legends. However, BMC VI goes further in dividing the IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG issue into two, an earlier AD 235
issue, and a later AD 236 issue. The determining factor is the style of Maximinus’ portrait. The earlier issue has a portrait based upon that of Severus Alexander, the latter issue has the more pronounced jaw and rugged features of Maximinus. In editing the PAS Database and writing this piece, the divisions of BMC are applied where portraits are clearly visible. It also needs to be noted that BMC only dates the second issue to AD 235-7. Dated coins of AD 238 are rarer and it is thought that the mint at Rome would have ceased minting coins for Maximinus very early in AD 238 when talk of rebellion began under Gordian I and II.

The silver radiate (sometime called the antoninianus) was re-introduced under Balbinus and Pupienus and became the dominant silver denomination in the reign of Gordian III. It is in the reign of Maximinus that the denarius has its last gasp as the sole silver denomination.

There are about 135 coins of Maximinus on the PAS Database. There are 85 denarii (which includes 5 or more contemporary copies), 35 sestertii, 3 dupondii, 6 asses (including one limesfalsum copy) and 6 dupondii or asses. All of the coins have been edited so it is possible to present some quite solid statistics. Firstly, it is worth noting that 85 denarii make up 63%
of the coins and the 50 base metal coins 37%. This does show an increasing proportion of base metal coins than we have seen earlier in the Third Century when it was much lower – base metal coins made up only 2.2% of coins of Elagabalus (see DCR 68).3 Of course, the proportion would rise even higher if one included the coins of Maximus as all his pieces on the PAS Database are of base metal issues.

It is possible to look more closely at the denarii. In BMC VI (p. 88), there is a breakdown of numbers of coins for different types from six coin hoards from across the Empire. In Table 1, it has been adapted with the addition of coins from the Cunetio hoard, figures for three British hoards and the PAS totals. It is clear from this tabulation that the AD 235-6 denarii were struck in the largest numbers with 72 to 82% of the coins in the three groups coming from these issues. The PAS group actually has the largest proportion with 81.7% which is close to the 78.2% for the six hoards, but considerably higher than the 72.1% for the three British hoards. All the groups have around 8 to 9% for the miscellaneous AD 236 issues (which include coins of Maximus and Paulina). For the AD 236-7 issues, the three British hoards have the highest proportion with 19.3%; the six hoards (13.03%) and the PAS (9.8%) are more comparable. What is clear from Table 1 is that the silver denarii of AD 235-6 were struck in the largest numbers. There is a considerable decline in AD 236-7 and very few dated coins for AD 238. This dearth of AD 238 dated pieces is the reason why Robert Carson, in BMC VI, dated the last major issue to AD 236-7.

For base-metal coins there is not the same comparanda, but it is important to tabulate the PAS finds nevertheless (Table 2). In contrast to the silver denarii, there actually is a slightly higher proportion of base metal coins on the PAS Database for the period AD 236-7 (53.5%) than the period 235-6 (46.3%). Why is this the case? It could be to do with supply to Britain, the apparent dearth of silver in the period AD 236-7 being made up for with more base metal coinage. But I do wonder whether this is not an Empire-wide phenomenon. We know that Maximinus’ campaigns on
the Rhine and Danube frontiers were very costly and that there was increasing resistance from the general population to Maximinus’ heavy handed means of raising funds. It might just be that the decline in the silver coinage represents an increasing shortage of silver and that the imperial treasury had to resort to striking more base metal coins to pay off its debts.
This requires much more analysis across the empire; however, the PAS data have led the way for someone to pursue this research in the future.

Dated Coins

Maximinus struck dated coins throughout his reign, although they are scarce as finds in Britain. The PAS Database has dated four dated denarii for AD 235 and AD 236; the IARCW (Welsh data) has one for AD 236 and one for AD 237. There are no
dated base metal coins.

Silver denarius of Maximinus I, Rome, AD 236. Record ID is HAMP-B68E15 (copyright: Winchester Museums Service, License: CC-BY-SA).

AD 235: IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG with early portrait

These coins are distinguished by an earlier portrait of Maximinus, based upon that of Severus Alexander. We can assume that the die-engravers were not familiar with the looks of Maximinus and were awaiting official busts of the emperor to be sent from the frontier. These coins are much scarcer than those of the next issue with only 5 out of the 38 AD 235-6 denarii bearing the early portrait.

Silver denarius of Maximinus I featuring the early portrait. Record ID is SUR-2C020F (copyright: Surrey County Council, license: CC-BY).

AD 236: IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG with later portrait

This is undoubtedly the best represented issue of Maximinus I amongst British finds, with 33 specimens on the PAS Database.
The 33 denarii come from five common types: FIDES MILITVM, PAX AVGVSTI, PROVIDENTIA AVG (Fig. 10), SALVS AVGVSTI (Fig. 11) and VICTORIA AVG. There are 14 sestertii from four of the same types: FIDES MILITVM S C, PAX AVGVSTI S C, PROVIDENTIA AVG S C  and SALVS AVGVSTI S C. This clearly shows how these were the dominant reverse types for this issue. There is a solitary dupondius for VICTORIA AVG S C. Finally, there are three definite asses, two for PAX AVGVSTI S C  and one for VICTORIA AVG, S C.

Silver denarius of Maximinus I with later portrait. Record ID is LEIC-2228A4 (license: CC-BY-SA).


Denarii of this issue are much rarer as finds in Britain than the AD 235-6 issues, with only three pieces recorded on the Database. However, there are almost as many base metal coins as in the AD 236 issue, with 11 sestertii and one dupondius. This suggests that there was either a reduction in the output of denarii of this issue and / or a reduction in the numbers imported to Britain. However, there does not seem to have been a significant
change in the output and / or import of base metal coins.

Silver denarius of Maximinus I with GERM legend. Record ID is DUR-6359E1 (copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, license: CC-BY).

The coinage Maximus

As noted above, it is not clear when Maximus was made Caesar, but his issues are generally dated to AD 235 to 237, alongside those of his father. There are 16 coins of Maximus on the
PAS Database, of which 5 are sestertii and 11 are asses (including two limesfalsa copies). His silver coinage is very rare, explaining the lack of pieces on the Database. Again, there are two major issues dependent on obverse legends: C IVL VERVS MAXIMVS CAES (AD 235-6) and MAXIMVS CAES GERM (AD 236-7) (Fig. 28). On all coins, Maximus is always shown bare-headed, although he shares a similar profile to his father.

Copper-alloy sestertius of Maximus, Rome, AD 236-7. Note the bare-headed portrait. Record ID is WILT-25E185 (copyright: Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, License: CC-BY).

Coins struck for Diva Paulina

From the style of the coin, it is assumed that Paulina was the wife of Maximinus, but we do not know for certain. Her coins are rare and there are only two on the database. It is possible that one is a cast copy and sadly the other has no image attached to the record.  There is also a piece of DIVA PAVLINA with the reverse CONSECRATIO, Paulina seated on a peacock flying right (RIC 2) on the PAS Database, but without an image (KENT575).

Contemporary Copies

As is common in the first half of the Third Century, there are a number of contemporary copies of Maximinus and Maximus on the Database. For Maximinus, there are five or more plated copies of denarii and one cast copy of an as (a limesfalsum). For
Maximus, there are two probable limesfalsa of asses. It is possible that the coin of Diva Paulina, discussed above, is also a copy.

Contemporary copies of coins of Maximus. On the left is a silver-plated copy of a denarius (CAM-FEB022, Cambridgeshire County Council, license CC-BY), whilst on the right is a copper-alloy cast copy of an As (NMS-E69F5C, Norfolk Museums Service, License CC-BY).

References and further reading:

The main sources for Maximinus I are Herodian and Scriptores Historiae Augustae. The most accessible summary of his reign is in C. Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman Emperors (1995). 

G. C. Boon, ‘Light-weights and Limesfalsa’, Numismatic Chronicle (6th Series, Vol V) 1965, pp. 161-174;

G. C. Boon, ‘Counterfiet Coins in Roman Britain’, in P. J. Casey and R. Reece (eds), Coins and the Archaeologist (Seaby, 1988), pp. 124-5.

M. Pfisterer ‘Limesfalsa und Eisenmunzen – Romisches Ersatzkleingeld
am Donaulimes’ in Alram and Schmidt-Dick (eds.), Numismata Carnuntina: Forschungen und Material (2007), pp. 643-875.

Coin Relief 34 – Augustus

Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief. In this issue, Andrew Brown looks at the coinage of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus.

Augustus, c.27 BC to AD 14

In September 31 BC, Gaius Octavius (Octavian) was victorious at the Battle of Actium and gained undisputed control over the Roman Republic. Octavian was the great-nephew of Julius Caesar through Caesar’s sister, Julia, and rose first in the military ranks under Caesar before taking the political reins in 43 BC when he became consul for the first time. As the Republic unravelled and conflict grew with Mark Antony, Octavian secured his position in part by drawing on very obvious familial links to the deified Caesar, and also by pointing out to the senate the obvious, treasonable, actions of Mark Antony and his relationship with Cleopatra.

Although Actium brought Octavian power, it also resulted in instability with the senate clearly not wanting another dictator. In January 27 BC, Octavian, with his new title ‘Augustus’ (sacred or revered), went through the show of giving his powers back to the senate and people of Rome, but the uproar that ensued resulted in him maintaining his imperium over the provinces and the legions as well as adopting the title Princeps (‘first citizen’). This ‘First Settlement’ essentially established the Principate, the first period of the Roman Empire with Augustus as its emperor.

Further political change came in 23BC with a Second Settlement when an ill Augustus dropped the power of consul and was instead granted Tribunician powers for life, which he held 37 times in total before his death in AD 14. This was a period of rebuilding within the new empire and not just politically. Extensive building and administrative works were carried out in Rome that also saw the emergence of a cult of Rome and Augustus that spread beyond the confines of Rome itself.

Augustus’ military campaigns saw the empire expand its control east as far as Spain and west into the provinces of Africa and Syrian, and notably against the Parthians. His victories and military honours are well documented, notably on the Res Gestae (‘The Deeds of the Divine Augustus’). This was Augustus’ own account of his life and achievements written just prior to his death and a version of this text survives on the cella wall of the Temple of Augustus and Rome (the Monumentum Ancyranum) in Ankara, Turkey. Indeed, he was acclaimed Imperator 21 times during his lifetime, albeit with the odd notable defeat along the way – in particular, Teutoburg in AD 9 when the Roman legions were resoundingly defeated by the Germanic forces of Arminius of the Cherusci.

The Monumentum Ancyranum with the  minaretof the Ottoman Haci Bayrum Mosque visible behind (image copyright: Andrew Brown).

Through his daughter Julia and her second husband Agrippa, Augustus attempted to preserve the Julian line with succession intended to go to his grandsons Gaius and Lucius who he adopted as sons and heirs. However, both died as young men, passing away before their grandfather – Lucius, in AD 2,  after a sudden illness while at Massalia (Marseille) en route to complete his military training, and Gaius, in AD 4, who had retired from public life after being wounded on campaign in the east. Succession now shifted to Tiberius, Augustus’ stepson through his first marriage to Livia, to continue the Julio-Claudia dynasty; and in fact there were suggestions in antiquity that Livia may have had a hand in events turning to favour her son. Tiberius was recalled to Rome to be formally adopted as heir and in turn adopted his own nephew, Germanicus, as his heir, thereby assuring the continuation of the dynasty.

Augustus died at Nola on the 19th August AD 14 at the age of 75. His body was returned to Rome with enormous ceremony, where he was cremated and his ashes interred in his vast mausoleum. Tiberius and Drusus delivered funerary orations, Augustus was deified, and his achievements (and useful propaganda!) in his Res Gestae inscribed on bronze pillars set in front of the mausoleum. Perhaps most importantly, he had established the new empire with an individual emperor at the head. He had transformed Rome physically and his legacy as Rome’s greatest emperor, and through the cult of Divus Augstus, shaped the empire for many centuries to follow. Two versions of his last words were reported. Publicly he is reported to have said:

Found it (Rome) of brick but left it of marble

While in private he is supposed to have said:

Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.

Coinage of Augustus

With the emergence of the principate from c.27 BC there was also a change to the Roman coinage that saw the introduction of the Augustan currency system. The denarius, in use since the end of the 3rd century BC, remained the standard silver denomination and was struck at about 3.9g of very pure silver. Above this, the larger gold aureus, a coin of about 8g of pure gold, was valued at 25 denarii. The most extensive change, however, came with the reorganisation of the base metal, bronze, coinages whose relative values as fractions of the denarius were fixed and remained in place until the mid-3rd century AD. The sestertius, originally a small silver coin during the Republican period but now a large brassy coin of about 26g, was the largest of the base metal denominations, valued at a quarter of a denarius. Beneath this was a brassy dupondius of around 12.5g, valued at half a sestertius, and a copper as of around 11g, valued at half a dupondius. The two smallest denominations, the semis and the quadrans (a half and a quarter of an as respectively), we have looked at in previous blogs.

Coins of Augustus are not hugely common as PAS finds. There are currently 321 single coins recorded on the PAS database, the majority of which are denarii from various mints in the western empire, with just four aurei and fewer than 30 bronze coins. Indeed, bronze coins of Augustus are rare even as British site finds and gold is never common.

Coins of Augustus were struck at a number of mints in both the eastern and western empire, particularly in the early years of his reign following the Battle of Actium. These can usually be distinguished from one another based on the coin types and denominations attributed to each mint, although take with worn coins. In this piece we follow the outline of Augustus’ coinage given in RIC I (2nd edition), although much has been written on the subject and this may require adjustment to the PAS records in the future.

  • Spain: three mints striking coins between c.25-16 BC (Emerita, and two uncertain mints, possibly Colonia Caesaraugusta(?) and Colonia Patricia(?))
  • Gaul: three(?) mints striking coins between c.20 BC-AD 14 (Nemausus, Lugdunum and Treveri(?))
  • Italy: several(?) mints striking between c.32 BC-AD 12 (uncertain Italian mints and Rome)
  • Eastern mints: multiple mints striking between c.31-15 BC (North Peloponnesus, Samos(?), Ephesos, Pergamon, Antioch and Cyrenaica)
  • Other uncertain mints striking between c.28-17 BC

Within the PAS dataset we are largely dealing with coins from mints in Spain, Italy and especially Gaul, which is understandably the best represented given its proximity to Britain. The are 289 coins attributed to Augustus on the PAS database, of which 265 can be ascribed to a mint. Of these, more than half the of the total are coins from the mint of Lugdunum.

Lugdunum (Lyon, France)

The mint at Lugdunum began striking coins under Augstus in c.15 BC, replacing the coin production of the Spanish mints in the western empire. From c.12 BC the mint at Rome stopped minting precious metal coinage, only striking bronze from this point onwards. Production of aurei and denarii shifted to Lugdunum. Importantly, Augustus himself controlled the provinces so could issue coinage here without any influence from the authorities in Rome, while the city itself was close both to key silver reserves in Spain and the armies on the Rhine that required payment. The city became an important centre of the imperial cult. From c.12 BC, Drusus brought together the tribes of the three imperial Gallic provinces (the Tres Galliae) with Lugdunum becoming the focal point of the concilium galliarum at an altar to Rome and Augustus, personally dedicated by Augustus on his visit to the city with annual celebrations on the 1st August.

The first issues from Lugdunum carry Augustus’ title of IMP X, Augustus is depicted bare
headed and as the divine son of Caesar (divi filius). Record ID is WILT-CEB2C2 (Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, license: CC-BY).

Coins of Lugdunum are the most commonly seen on the PAS, with almost two-thirds of all examples belonging to the mint. Of these, 99 coins are of one type with reverse depicting the two imperial heirs Gaius and Lucius. The majority are aurei and denarii, with just 12 base metal coins recorded to date.

The most significant group of coins from the Lugdunum mint is the issue of coins from c.2 BC onward with distinctive reverse types depicting Augustus’ grandsons, the caesars Gaius and Lucius. Woytek and Blet-Lemarquand (2017: p. 185)13 describe this issue as “the iconic coins of the Augustan age par excellence” and it was struck in huge volume. This is the only
issue on the PAS represented by aurei as single finds (3 coins) with 96 denarii. Augustus is depicted laureate, still as divi filius, but now also Pater Patriae (‘father of his country’) – a title afforded to him in 2 BC. The reverse type refers to Gaius and Lucius as consules designati (COS DESIG), which indicates that the issue of this coinage must have begun in c.2-1 BC after Augustus became pater patriae and before Gaius became consul in AD 1.

Record ID is LEIC-35CCA5 (Leicestershire County Council, license: CC-BY).

The denarii of this issue fall into four main types in RIC, nos. 207, 210, 211, and 212. A fifth variety, RIC no. 208 appears to be a restitution issue struck after Augustus’ death. All four of these types are essentially identical, the difference being the arrangement of the lituus and simpulum on the reverse between the spears. RIC 207 is by far the most common, with 83 of
the PAS examples likely attributable to this type.

The placement of the simpulum and lituus are potentially significant chronologically and an excellent summary, followed here, is found in the analysis of this type by Woytek and BletLemarquand (2017). In RIC 207, the most common type, the simpulum as a symbol of the pontifex is on the left, indicating Gaius who became pontifex in 7 BC is standing to the left of
the reverse type. The lituus, on the other hand, was the symbol of the augur and therefore of Lucius who stands to the right. These swap around in RIC 210 and so the caesars also swap places. Gaius’ seniority is also represented by his shield always being in front of that of Lucius – the shields and spears symbolise the brothers’ coming of age. Coins bearing an X beneath the simpulum and lituus have been interpreted as a commemorative issue struck after the deaths of Gaius (AD 4) and Lucius (AD 2), perhaps connected to the lex Valeria Cornelia in AD 5 that ordered senators and equites into ten centuries, five named for Gaius and five for Lucius, when voting for candidates for consul and praetor.

An important last issue to note is the appearance just prior to Augustus’ death of coins that reference the new heir, Tiberius, and which carry on into the latter’s reign (below right), replacing the Gaius and Lucius coinages from c.13 AD. There are only five PAS coins from this period, but it is important to note the distinctive PONTIF MAXIM reverse type (below left) that is prolific under Tiberius but rare for Augustus.

Left: record ID LIN-AE1D8E (Lincolnshire County Council, license: CC-BY). Right: record ID IOW-BDC677 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, license: CC-BY).

Base metal coinage from the Lugdunum mint is much rarer on the PAS than the silver. This might be expected, since the coinage is being struck prior to the Claudian invasion and at a time when Britain was not integrated into the empire. Silver and gold were intrinsically valuable and so could have travelled across the channel both prior to AD 43 but most likely
following the invasion to pay the incoming legions within the new province. Bronze in contrast wouldn’t have functioned or circulated in the same way prior to the invasion. There are just 12 possible bronze coins of Augustus from Lugdunum recorded on the database to date, nine asses and three semisses, all with the same reverse type that depicts the altar of Augustus and Rome at Lugdunum with the reverse legend ROM ET AVG. This
reverse type appears in c.15 BC and soon replaces the Nemausus aes as the predominant bronze coinage in the western empire. One thing to note with the bronze of both the Nemausus and Lugdunum mints is that they do not carry the S C on the reverse type as these are essentially issued from regional/provincial mints and so not directly under the auspices of
the senate at Rome.

We have focused on coins from the mint at Lugdunum in this blog post as they are the ones most commonly seen through the PAS. If you’d like to see examples from other mints, please download Andrew’s full article below.

References and further reading:

There are many texts on Augustus’ life, see for example W. Eck The Age of Augustus (2007)

Suetonius Divus Augustus 29; see also Cassius Dio LVI.30: “I found Rome of clay; I leave it to you of marble”

Butcher and Ponting’s (2005) analysis of Augustan denarii from Spain and Lugdunum suggest almost pure

P-A Besombes and J-N Barrandon ‘Les dupondii de Nîmes : datation, diffusion et nature du métal utilisé’ RN 157, 2001: 305-328

B. Wolters ‘The Julio-Claudians’ in The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage
(2012), p. 339

B. Woytek and M. Blet-Lemarquand ‘The C. L. CAESARES denarii RIC I² Augustus 208. A pseudoAugustan unsigned restoration issue. Corpus, die study, metallurgical analyses’ RN 174, 2017: 183-248

Coin Relief 33 – “Camp Gate” nummi

Welcome to another issue of Coin Relief. In this edition, Andrew Brown examines a rather funky series of nummi – the “Camp Gate” type. These are identifiable by the fabulous depiction of a camp gate on their reverse.

The ‘Camp Gate’ nummus issues of AD 317-330

This piece covers one particular reverse type of the Fourth Century, the ‘Camp Gate’ type, struck between AD 317 and 330 (Reece Period 18). Although most of the coins we will consider fall in the period AD 324-9, some earlier issues were minted at some central and eastern mints. Sometimes, people surmise as to whether it is a camp or town gate, or even a watchtower, but we’ll stick with camp gate for simplicity’s sake.

A search on the database brings up about 1,240 specimens, although further research and editing will probably find some more. So the totals given in this piece are subject to change with further editing. Most of the specimens on the PAS database come from the western mints of London, Trier, Lyon and Arles (just over 95% of the examples). A few come from the Central and Eastern Empire mints and are considered at the end of this article.

Mints recorded for Camp Gate issues on the PAS database.


There are a number of varieties of camp gate types, the major determining factor being the reverse legend: either PROVIDENTIAE AVGG/CAESS or VIRTVS AVGG/CAESS. Several mints struck with both legends. However, in the west, London, Trier and Lyon only use the PROIDENTIA AVGG/CAESS legend. Other varieties derive from the number of turrets on the gate (two, three or four) and whether there is just an arched entrance (normal for the Providentia types) or open doors (normal for the Virtus types).

With regard to emperors for whom these types were struck, Constantine takes the lion’s share with 46.5% of the coins. His sons Crispus (11%), Constantine II (25%) and Constantius (17%). As most of the camp gate coins were struck after the defeat of the Eastern emperors Licinius I and II in AD 324, there are very few of their pieces. We will now go on to discuss the camp gate issues by Mint.

Camp gate coins by emperor.

London, AD 324-5

There was only a single issue of Camp Gaate coins at London as the mint closed in AD 325. Only the PROVIDENTIA AVGG/CAESS types were struck here. As there was only one workshop (officina) at London, the mintmark is PLON on all pieces. There are 123 Camp Gate coins from London on the PAS database, about 16% of the total. Although RIC VII is the standard reference for these coins, there is a recent publication which deals exclusively with the Mint of London and which provides more specimens: H. Cloke and L. Toone, The London Mint of Constantius I and Constantine I (Spink 2015). They date this issue to c. AD 325, but we’ll stick with the AD 324-5 date until there is a chance for a major re-edit.

Left to right: Nummus of Crispus Caesar (YORYM-F1BC24, York Museums Trust, License CC-BY-SA); nummus of Constantine II as Caesar (PUBLIC-A09F6B, Leonard Eeles, LicenseCC-BY-SA); nummus of Constantius II as Caesar (CORN-E0D45C, Royal Institution of Cornwall, License CC-BY).

Trier, AD 324-28

Trier has the largest number of coins with camp gate reverses from this period on the PAS database, with 512 entries (66% of all the recorded pieces). Trier struck in two workshops (officinae): P(rima) and S(ecunda). Therefore, coins are found with the core mintmark PTR or STR.

Constantine I is best represented with 210 coins (46%), followed by Constantine II (111 coins) and Constantius II (92 coins). Crispus was executed in AD 326, halfway through the issue period, which probably partly accounts for the small total of 42 coins.

There are four major issues from Trier which are outlined in the table below. All appear to have been of a similar size with numbers in the 70s and 80s, except for the P/STR crescent type which only has 31 pieces. Further editing will refine these totals.

Lyon (Lugdunum)

At Lyon there was only one issue of PROVIDENTIA AVGG?CAESS Camp Gate coins in AD 324-5. The min then closed temporarily until AD 330. This partly explains why there are only 39 pieces. Lyon only struck in one workshop (officina) at this time so all mintmarks are PLG.

Left: Nummus of Crispus (WILT-5731A4, Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, License CC-BY-SA). Right: Nummus of Constantine II as Caesar (YORYM-26624C, York Museums Trust, License CC-BY).

Arles (Arelatum)

Arles produces Camp Gate types from AD 324 to 329, striking both PROVIDENTIAE AVGG/CAESS and VIRTVS AVGG/CAESS types. Arles struck in four workshops (officinae): P(rima), S(ecunda), T(ertia), Q(uarta). Despite this, there are only 64 pieces on the PAS database.

Central and Eastern Empire Mints

Issues of Camp Gate types from the mints of Rome, Siscia, Thessalonica, Heraclea and Cyzicus are represented on the PAS database in small numbers. The Mint of Rome struck both the PROVIDENTIAE AVGG/CAESS and VIRTVS AVGG/CAESS types. The mints at Siscia, Thessalonica, Heraclea and Cyzicus only issued PROVIDENTIAE AVGG/CAESS types.

Left to right: Examples of Camp Gate nummi from Rome, Siscia, Thessalonica, Heraclea and Cyzicus.

Coin Relief 32 – “Fallen Horsemen” coins

Welcome to the next edition of Coin Relief! In this issue, Sam Moorhead looks at the “fallen horseman” coin type.


In a previous edition, I wrote about the Reformed
Coinage of AD 348-50, outlining the three different nummi
(AE2a, AE2b and AE3 sizes) and their types. In the early years of the reformed coinage, the AE2a with the legend FEL TEMP REPARATIO and type of a soldier spearing a fallen horseman is quite scarce in the Western Empire. I briefly discussed this type before, but intentionally deferred full coverage of the issue until this later piece. This is because the ‘fallen horseman’ type becomes increasingly common after AD 350 and ultimately becomes the only type issued with the FEL TEMP REPARATIO legend after AD 353.

On the Database, there are almost 6,000 FEL TEMP REPARATIO ‘fallen horseman’ coins (a search brings up 5,987, but there are probably more). Of these, around 3,825 (64%) pieces are listed as being contemporary copies, but I believe the proportion is higher. Of these coins, it appears that around 50 date to the period 348-51, the vast majority being official pieces and contemporary copies dating to c. AD 353-61. There is still much editing to be done of these coins and so more precise figures can be given in the future.

Varieties of ‘Fallen Horseman’

Three varieties of “Fallen Horsemen”.

Different RIC numbers often depend on the reverse legend break in FEL TEMP REPARATIO (as noted for specimens illustrated in this article: FEL TEMP REPARATIO; FEL TEMP R – EPARATIO; FEL TEMP RE – PARATIO) and on the style of the ‘fallen horseman’. Sometimes, the horseman falls forward over the horse’s neck and at other times he turns to face the soldier with one or two arms extended; on a few issues, he is bare-headed, but on most he wears a pointed, or Phrygian, cap (a common symbol used for barbarians in Roman art). There are an infinite number of different varieties which are noted in RIC VIII. Also helpful for analysing the reverse type is G. Bruck, Late Roman Bronze Coinage – An attribution for poorly preserved coins (trans. Alisdair Menzies) (Geneva, 2014).2

AD 348-50 at Western Mints
This type (up to 23mm in diameter, and weighing over 5g) was struck across the empire but was struck in far fewer numbers than the ‘galley’ types in the West. It was the preferred type at Eastern mints. Hence, few of these coins are found in Britain. However, in recent editing, I have come across another piece from Lyon, dating to this period with an unpublished mintmark, shown below.

Copper-alloy nummus of Constantius II, Lugdunum, unpublished mintmark. Record ID is OXON-51F0ED

Arles (Arelatum) was to strike a number of issues of these coins from AD 348-50. The examples below (left and centre) are standard types, struck alongside the bulk of the reformed coins in AD 348-50. The example on the right, though, is interesting in that it is apparently struck later in 350 after Magnentius had usurped power in the West.

Nummi of Constantius II. Left to right: DENO-CA0EC3, SWYOR-62E563 and SWYOR-A5D944 (Derby Museums Trust and West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, all license CC-BY).

AD 348-54 at Central and Eastern Mints
In the west, the ‘fallen horseman’ type ceases to be struck under Magnentius and Decentius (AD 350-3), but in Central and Eastern Mints it continues to be issued, at mints such as Rome, Siscia , Thessalonica, and Constantinople, for Constantius II and his Caesar, Constantius Gallus. Although common in the Mediterranean region, these coins are much scarcer in Britain.

Nummus of Constantius II, mint of Siscia, AD 351-5. Record ID is SF-531528 (Suffolk County Council, License CC-BY)

Mint of Amiens (Ambianum), AD 353
In 350, Magnentius had set up a new mint in his hometown of Amiens (Ambianum) where extensive issues were struck for him and his brother Decentius. After Magnentius’ defeat in August AD 353, Constantius II continued to strike coins for a few months, in his own name and that of Constantius Gallus, his Caesar. These coins are sometimes found in hoards containing coins predominantly of Magnentius and Decentius.

Nummus of Constantius II, mint of Amiens, AD 353. Record ID is SUR-D8C945 (Surrey County Council, License CC-BY).

The Reforms of AD 354-64
Soon after the defeat of Magnentius and Decentius, the size of the nummi starts to decline from over 20mm to around 17mm in the late 350s. The weights declined from around 4-6g to just over 2g. The legislation that led to this change appears to have survived. Preserved in the Theodosian Code, a collection of laws compiled under the emperor Theodosius II in AD 438, is a decree that was probably made in 354, and possibly re-issued in 356 (CTh IX.23.1). It has been interpreted in different ways by scholars, but it appears to have dealt with trade between Arles (in southern France) and Africa and includes a reference to three types of coins which were banned or whose movement was restricted:

1: “Coins which are known to be forbidden.” These are almost certainly the coins of Magnentius and Decentius which would have been demonetized after the death of Magnentius in 353. It is interesting that there are a large number of hoards which terminate with coins of Magnentius, or soon afterwards. These hoards were probably buried after the defeat of Magnentius when Constantius had outlawed his coins. The owners of the coins probably hoped that might be of value at some time in the future. In fact, some of these large module coins were cut down for use when coins were reduced in size.

2: “Maiorinae” which might be the large (and smaller) AE 2 coins mentioned above. It does seem that all the FEL TEMP REPARATIO large module coins were now restricted in their movement or even banned from use. A blanket ban of all large coins would certainly quickly remove all the coins of Magnentius and Decentius from circulation.

3: “Centionales Communales” might be the pre-348 coins (or possibly the AE2b nummi) which were still in circulation. That pre-348 coins were banned is suggested by their over-striking with the smaller module FEL TEMP REPARATIO
‘falling horseman’ types.

AD 353-61 – Smaller module FEL TEMP REPARATIO ‘fallen horseman’ issues from Trier, Lyon and Arles

After 353, the only FEL TEMP REPARATIO type to be struck was that of depicting the ‘fallen horseman’. As noted above, the module and weight of the coin was reduced until in the late 350s it could be a piece of around 17mm in diameter with a weight of little over 2g. These coins were struck in much larger numbers in the western mints than the earlier ‘fallen horseman’ types and the majority of the pieces on the PAS Database with legible mintmarks come from Trier, Lyon and Arles. The vast majority of coins were struck for Constantius II who is shown wearing a pearl-diadem or rosette-diadem. In the period 353-4, coins are also struck for Constantius Gallus, who as a Caesar is depicted bare-headed. From 355 to 360, Julian is Caesar and is also shown bare-headed. On coins with bare heads, but unclear legends, it might not be easy to differentiate between Gallus and Julian, although Gallus’ coins tend to be larger and Julian’s pieces are generally quite scarce.

Mint of Trier
Having been the major mint in the West for much of the Fourth Century, the output at Trier appears to decline after AD 353. Compared to the output of Lyon and Arles, that of Trier is modest in the period AD 353-5, Fig. 16 showing the only common entry (RIC VIII 350) recorded. After 355, no ‘fallen horseman’ types are recorded. However, contemporary copies of Trier pieces are relatively common, apparently outnumbering official pieces amongst the 135 specimens on the PAS Database. This is a conundrum because one would expect fewer copies of coins when official pieces are scarce.

Nummus of Constantius II, mint of Trier, AD 353-5. Record ID is PUBLIC-742BBB (Graham Brandejs, License CC-BY). 

Lyon (Lugdunum)
There appear to be considerably more official coins struck at Lyon in this period than at Trier. Of the c, 280 or so pieces on the Database, the vast majority are for Constantius II with only five for Constantius Gallus and one for Julian. Amongst these coins, there are also copies, identified by their mintmarks.

Nummus of Julian as Caesar, mint of Lyon, AD 355-60. Record ID PUBLIC-A279D5 (Lindsey Bedford, License CC-BY-NC-SA). 

Arles has a comparable number of pieces (125) to Trier, but a much higher proportion of the coins are official pieces. Again, the majority are for Constantius II, with but around 11 for Constantius Gallus and two for Julian. Note how the reverse legend break is used to differentiate many of the common type.

Nummus of Constantius II, mint of Arles, AD 353-5. The legend break on the reverse determines many of the different RIC numbers for this issue. Record ID is NLM-5BB7E8 (North Lincolnshire Museum, License CC-BY).

AD 352-61 – Smaller module FEL TEMP REPARATIO ‘fallen horseman’ issues from Central and Eastern Empire Mints

‘Fallen horseman’ types continued to be struck across the Empire (even whilst Magnentius was ruling in the West) with small numbers arriving in Britain from Mints such as Rome, Aquileia, Siscia, and Thessalonica. These mints have fewer than 10 records each on the Database, except for Siscia with 20 records.

Nummus of Constantius II, mint of Aquileia, AD 352-5. Record ID is SUR-077840 (Surrey County Council, License CC-BY).

Contemporary Copies of FEL TEMP REPARATIO ‘fallen horseman’ types, c. AD 355-615

Contemporary copy of a nummus of Constantius II. This coin is 1.7mm thick and weights 0.88g. Record ID is BH-264EE6 (St. Alban’s District Council, License CC-BY).

As noted above, there appear to be around 3,825 contemporary copies on the Database, making up 64% of the total for ‘fallen horseman’ types. However, the practice of editing shows that there are probably many more contemporary copies in the corpus. Copies range from good quality pieces, often with accurate or plausible inscriptions and mintmarks to small and crude copies which can be less than 10mm in diameter. Some of the smallest pieces can be quite dumpy, sometimes apparently due to the flans being cut from bronze rods. These small, dumpy pieces are quite distinctive and are normally from this period, so if you have a poorly preserved piece, look for any defining feature of the ‘fallen horseman’ type: the horse’s rump is often quite pronounced. On the PAS Database, we date these copies to c. AD 355-61, but it is possible that some were produced up to AD 363 or even later, before the massive issues of Valentinianic nummi began to arrive in Britain in the later AD 360s. These coins were probably issued in great numbers because of a dearth of official small change, the official pieces of Trier, Lyon and Arles (see above) being insufficient to satisfy demand. They are found in hoards, but also often at temple or shrine sites, such as 1630 specimens in a hoard from the Temple of Nodens at Lydney in Gloucestershire (found during the excavations by Mortimer Wheeler in 1929 – see IARCH-E8C9B4). It is possible that their presence on religious sites is because there was an upsurge in activity at many ritual sites across the province in response to the promotion of paganism by the emperor Julian (AD 360-3).

Overstrikes of FEL TEMP REPARATIO ‘fallen horseman’ copies on earlier issues 

Above, I note how it is possible that pre-AD 348 coins were outlawed in 354. It is quite possible that they had already been prohibited from use in 348 with the new coinage reform enacted then. However, with the banning of large denomination coins in AD 354, it is possible to see how older, small module, coins could come back into play. There are many examples of FEL TEMP REPARATIO ‘fallen horseman’ copies being overstruck on pieces of the period AD 330-48. The example below shows an example with the GLORIA EXERCITVS undertype clearly visible. Older coins would have provided a good source of ‘ready-made’ flans for striking, precluding the need to provide fresh flans from scratch. If you have a fourth century nummus with a supposedly unintelligible reverse, check to see if it is not one of these coins.

Contemporary copy of a nummus of Constantius II, overstruck on a GLORIA EXERCITVS type of c. AD 340-1. Record ID is NLM-5D69BD (North Lincolnshire Museum, License CC-BY).

SPES REI PVBLICE nummi of c. AD 355-61
In the second half of the 350s, a new smaller bronze denomination was issued from mints across the Empire. The SPES REI PVBLICE issue depicted the emperor standing left, holding globe and spear. (They should not be confused with VIRTVS AVGG NN and VIRTVS AVGVSTI pieces of AD 337-40 with roughly similar types – see DCR 11, Figs. 26-29).

Nummus of Constantius II, mint of Rome, AD 355-61. Record ID is BERK-B63832 (Oxfordshire County Council, License CC-BY).

Although RIC includes the issue in the period AD 355-61, I believe that, from hoard evidence, the coins started to be struck later in the 350s. These coins are quite commonly found on sites in the Mediterranean region, but are rare in Britain, with only around 90 specimens on the PAS Database. Very few were struck at Trier and Lyon; Arles was the only Western mint to strike them in any number but, even so, only four specimens for Arles have been identified on the PAS Database so far. Amongst the mints represented on the Database are Rome, Siscia, Sirmium, Thessalonica, Heraclea, Constantinople, and possibly Cyzicus. The rarity of these coins in Britain is another reason why there was an apparent need to produce contemporary copies of ‘fallen horseman’ pieces.

References and further reading

The standard reference for the FEL TEMP REPARATIO ‘fallen horseman’ coinage is Roman Imperial Coinage volume VIII, published in 1981. 

S. Moorhead, ‘The Easterton Hoard of Mid-Fourth Century Roman Coins’, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 78 (1984), pp. 41-9 – one of these coins is the latest piece in the hoard.

I discuss these reforms in more detail in S. Moorhead, ‘Emperors, Usurpers, Decrees and Forgery, AD 348-56’ UK Detector Net Issue 11 (July 2008). 

The best overall summary of contemporary copies in Britain remains G. C. Boon, ‘Counterfeit coins in Roman Britain’, in J. Casey and R. Reece, Coins and the Archaeologist (Seaby, 1988), pp. 102-88.

The most comprehensive study of these copies is R. Brickstock, Copies of the Fel Temp Reparatio Coinage in Britain: a
study of their chronology and archaeological significance including gazetteers of hoards and Site Finds (BAR
British Series 176, 1987).

Coin Relief 31 – Civil War denarii

Welcome to another edition of Coin Relief. In this issue Andrew Brown looks at a rare group of coins from the period of unrest that followed Nero’s demise.

Denarii of the Civil Wars, c.AD 68-70

In previous editions we have looked at the coinage of Nero and his demise, as well as three of the four emperors that succeeded him in the tussle for power in AD 68-69: Galba, Otho, and Vitellius. However, we also see the appearance of rare ‘anonymous’ coins without the busts or names of any living ruler but which represent coinage issued during this period of unrest until Vespasian finally wrests control and establishes the Flavian dynasty in AD 69. These are not common coins and their identification is complicated by a number of factors, not least the lack of legends that identify issuers, types that are in some cases rare or unique, and a quite high prevalence of plated examples. Historically, they have been associated with a series of revolts in the period between c.AD 68-70 and were struck outside Rome, lacking the stylistic elements that would suggest they were products of the Rome mint.

C.H.V. Sutherland in his analysis of these coins in RIC I (2nd ed.) divided the anonymous Civil Wars coinage into six main groups, each with various associated mints or historical events. We follow this outline here for ease of identification. An important study of the metallurgy of these issues by K. Butcher and M. Ponting helps to more securely identify the location of the mints producing these coinages, while noting the presence of two basic
stylistic groups, one more closely associated with the coinage of Galba and the other with Vitellius but with some overlap between the two (Butcher and Ponting, 2015: 303). Anonymous coins of the Civil Wars are rare as PAS finds and to date there are fewer than 30 examples that can be securely identified as single finds, although there are examples from various hoard groups (e.g. SF-413CE5, WMID-7AECFC) that add to a growing corpus of material.

In this piece I will focus on the single coin finds while work is ongoing on some of the hoarded material. Although there are examples of aurei struck during this period these are so far extremely rare, especially in Britain, with Bland and Loriot noting only one British example (Bland and Loriot, 2010: no. 74). We are essentially dealing with denarii with a range of obverse and reverse types that can be separated out into the groups outlined in RIC I. Interestingly, Butcher and Ponting’s analysis of the metal composition of denarii from these issues highlights that they were struck with a higher level of fineness than the Neronian issues of the Rome mint (about 90% silver in Nero’s last Rome mint issues), approaching pure silver. The appearance of obverse and reverse types that reference the western provinces, the role of the senate and military, the achievements of Augustus, and the Roman people generally, reflect a sense of the times and push back against Nero’s increasingly autocratic rule. In their parallels to the coinage of subsequent rulers they also help to link these coins to the broad stylistic groups of Nero’s successors.

Group I – c.April to June AD 68, Spanish mint – Galba

Denarius of the Civil Wars, c.AD 68, Spanish mint, with clasped hands on the reverse. Record ID is BH-56A298 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License CC-BY).

The first substantial group identified in RIC is attributed to Galba in the period between April AD 68 when he was declared emperor by his legions and the death of Nero in June when he accepted the elevation fully. This was the period when Galba supported the revolt of Vindex in Gaul against Nero (see Group II below) and, as governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, was positioned in Spain. Analysis of coins from this group suggests they are likely products of a Spanish mint, adding weight to their association with Galba (see Butcher and Ponting, 2015: pp. 303, 312).

Coin types from Group I highlight the restoration of Rome and of the constitutional freedoms of the senate, as well as the hopeful outcome (‘bonus eventus’) of peace for the people of Rome, presumably against Nero’s tyranny, and of the Genius of the people of Rome. Some types, not represented amongst the single finds of coins recorded through the PAS, reveal strong links with the later coinage of Galba through the use of identical reverse types, while others clearly demonstrate a message of support between Galba and the Gallic revolt by Vindex against Nero.
Sutherland notes (RIC I, p. 198) that this issue highlights the shared goals of Galba and Vindex and that hurried production and shortage of materials to mint coin for his forces in Spain results in some stylistic variation as well as the appearance of plated copies.

This group is represented on the PAS by just five single coin finds with only three types present, at least two of which are plated.

Group II – c.March to May AD 68, Gallic mint – Vindex

Plated denarius of the Civil Wars, c.AD 68, Gallic mint. Record ID is BUC-14ABA3 (Buckinghamshire County Council, License CC-BY.

The largest Civil Wars group has been associated with revolt against Nero’s regime led by Gaius Julius Vindex – a Roman senator and governor of Gallia Lugdenensis. This began in March AD 68 when Vindex sought to free Rome and replace Nero with an individual of better character. He does not appear to have wanted the highest office himself and instead placed his support behind Galba in neighbouring Hispania (see, for example, Cassius Dio, 63.22-23; Plutarch, Life of Galba, 4; Suetonius, Life of Nero 40). However, Vindex was not to see this achieved. Lucius Verginius Rufus, the governor of Germania Superior and loyal to Nero led an army against Vindex, who himself is reported to have had at least 100,000 troops (perhaps hence the need for extensive silver coinage!). Vindex was heavily defeated in battle at Vesontio (Besançon, France) probably in May AD 68, after which he committed suicide. As Butcher and Ponting (2015: 304) note, there is no direct evidence that coins were struck in Vindex’s name, but given their style, manufacture, and timing and location of their appearance this is certainly a possibility even if there are potential other options – for example for Galba after Vindex’s death and before Galba’s acceptance as emperor by the senate. Analysis of denarii from this group shows them to be Gallic in manufacture with silver from the Massif Central (France), making an association with Vindex (or Galba) possible (see Butcher and Ponting, 2015: pp. 305, 312).

This group is the most well-represented amongst the PAS data, with a total of 13 denarii, one of which lacks an image and at least two others that are plated. The most common types carry legends reading SALVS GENERIS HVMANI (‘The Welfare of the human race’), repeated later on coins of Galba, that echo Vindex’s appeal to Galba to restore order to the empire (Suetonius, Life of Galba, 9.2: “humano generi assertorem ducemque”). There are eight PAS examples of this type. Other coins again reference the importance of the Roman people, of peace, safety/welfare, and liberty, and some overtly subvert types proper to Nero. In all instances there is a clear message of freedom for Rome and her people alongside a peaceful transition of power from Nero to something more befitting the empire.

Group III – c.AD 68-69, Gallic/Spanish mint – Augustus and Divus Augustus

Denarius of Augustus, possibly Civil Wars, c.AD 68-69, mint of Spain or Gaul. Record ID is DOR-B346D5 (Somerset County Council, License CC-BY).

In a third group of Civil Wars coinage, we see the revival of lifetime and posthumous issues of Augustus. These are difficult to separate from the official coinages of Augustus, particularly on very worn or corroded examples, and in some instances it is hard to know whether a coin is simply an irregular Augustan example or associated with the Civil Wars. RIC I (pp. 190-200) suggests the Civil Wars issues are generally lighter weight (on Nero’s reformed standard, c.3.5g for denarii) and often slightly irregular in terms of their style and production and with links to the other Civil Wars types. They are separated in RIC into two groups: types of Augustus’ lifetime attributed there to a Gallic mint and likely associated with Group II coins of Vindex; and posthumous Augustan types of suggested Spanish issue associated with Galba. Butcher and Ponting (2015: 306-308) note that many of the Divus Augustus types show greater affinity with the anonymous Civil Wars types than the lifetime issues of Augustus. Their analysis of one group of Augustan types demonstrates probable Gallic production with silver from the Massif Central (France) and metal composition and types that suggest a link to Vitellius rather than Vindex or Galba. However, these types remain a little ambiguous!

At the moment it is unclear whether there are any or many of the Augustus types on the PAS database. Two denarii noted for Augustus may simply be irregular but could just be later products of the Civil Wars rather than official Augustan issues, although this is a little unclear. Examples have appeared in hoarded assemblages, however (e.g. WMID-7AECFC), so they may well appear as single finds. It is worth checking any Augustan denarii you see for recording just in case there are later copies amongst them.

Group IV – c.AD69, Gallic/Spanish mint – ‘Military Group’, Vitellius

Denarius of the Civil Wars, c.AD 69, mint of Gaul. Record ID is SF-E12920 (Suffolk County Council, License CC-BY).

The last substantial group of Civil Wars coinage is the so-called ‘Military Group’, whose types demonstrate strong associations to the military. These are likely related to the early activity of pro-Vitellian forces in Gaul or Spain prior to Vitellius’ elevation as emperor in AD 69 (see RIC I (2nd ed.), pp. 200-201; Butcher and Ponting, 2015: 309). Analysis of the metal composition of coins from this group allowed Butcher and Ponting (2015: pp. 309-312) to suggest their separation into two distinct groups by type: one with characteristic clasped hands and overt military associations with silver from the Massif Central and therefore of probably Gallic manufacture; the other with Vesta and Jupiter types (Sutherland’s ‘civilian’ section of this group, see RIC I (2nd ed.), p. 201) of Spanish origin. Both groups perhaps sit between the issues of Galba and Vitellius as emperors.

The first group have a very strong military message, appealing to the loyalty of the army and the praetorians (Fides Exercitvvm and Fides Praetorianorvm), characteristically depicted clasped hands on the obverse. The second group references Vesta as protector of the Roman people (Vesta P R Qviritivm) and Jupiter Optimus Maximus (I O Max Capitolinus), again with references also the military. These are the second most commonly seen group in the PAS data, with six of the clasped hands types and four of the
Vesta/Jupiter types.

Group V – c.AD 69-70, Gaul, Batavian Revolt

A group of denarii are linked to the Batavian Revolt in the Lower Rhine in c.AD 69-70 first against Vitellius and subsequently Vespasian. These are very rare and so far not represented amongst the PAS data, but there is the possibility one could turn up. There are no BM examples of this group.

Group VI – c.April-June AD 68, Africa

The final group identified in RIC I is extremely rare and similarities with coinages of Clodius Macer and Galba suggest an African origin for the issue. There are only two entries for this group in RIC and there are, unsurprisingly(!), no PAS examples to date. There is a single example in the BM collection (Fig. 39). It is probably unlikely that one of these denarii will appear in Britain through the PAS, but this of course can’t be ruled out entirely.

References and further reading

BMC I; P.H. Martin Die anonymen Münzen des Jahres 68 n. Chr. (Mainz, 1974); there is ongoing interest and research into these issues based on single finds and hoarded groups that may well provide new interpretations. For the time being, the PAS data reflects the outline in RIC I, but it may be that in the future this needs to be adjusted slightly.

K. Butcher and M. Ponting The Metallurgy of Roman Silver Coinage: From the Reform of Nero to the Reform
of Trajan (CUP, 2015), see especially pp. 301-312

R. Bland and X. Loriot Roman and Early Byzantine Gold Coins found in Britain and Ireland (Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication no. 49, 2010)

K. Butcher and M. Ponting ‘The denarius in the first century’ In Holmes, N., (ed.) Proceedings of the XIV International Numismatic Congress. (Glasgow: The International Numismatic Council, 2011), p. 562) 

Coin Relief 30 – The Imperial women of Elagabalus

The Imperial Women of Elagabalus 

Elagabalus struck coins for five female members of the imperial family, his grandmother Julia Maesa, his mother Julia Soaemias, and his wives Julia Paula, Julia Aquilia Severa and Annia Faustina.

Julia Maesa, AD 218-222 or later

Julia Maesa was the sister of Julia Domna (Septimius Severus’ wife) and grandmother of Elagabalus. The coins of Julia Maesa are normally assigned to the reign of Elagabalus, AD 218-222. However, she survived the death of Elagabalus and Julia Soaemias, in AD 222, and remained in the imperial court as grandmother of the new emperor Severus Alexander (AD
222-235) until her death in AD 225. It is known that provincial coins were struck for Maesa under Severus Alexander, and given that her coins outnumber (by almost a factor of three) those of Julia Soaemias (see Table 1) it is entirely plausible that imperial coins continued to be struck for her after AD 222. This larger number of coins might also reflect the fact that Julia Maesa was probably the most important of the imperial women in Elagabalus’ court.

For PAS purposes, coins are dated to AD 218-222 which places them in Reece Period 10. Future research and editing could change and narrow down some of the dates.

Mint of Rome
The bulk of Julia Maesa’s coinage was struck at Rome, in gold, silver, and base-metal. It appears that all the coins of Julia Maesa on the PAS Database are from the mint at Rome, although future editing might identify a few from the Eastern Mint / Antioch.

Silver ‘Radiates’
We saw in a previous blog that Elagabalus continued to strike radiates, which had been introduced by Caracalla in AD 215, for a short time in AD 218-219. Whereas the emperors were shown with the radiate crown of Sol on the obverse, the empresses were to be shown with their bust on the crescent moon of Luna. There is only one radiate of Julia Maesa on the PAS Database.

The only radiate of Julia Maesa on the PAS database: WAW-432771 (Birmingham Museums Trust, license CC-BY).

Silver denarii
Silver denarii make up the vast majority of coins of Julia Maesa found in Britain. There are 147 (excluding the 17 IARCW Welsh pieces), although a number of these are contemporary copies. As for Elagabalus, the silver was debased and this means that many coins are either darker in colour or have surface verdigris. Below are listed the different types recorded on the PAS Database, most of the known issues being represented. The most common are PVDICITIA and SAECVLI FELICITAS, types which also predominate in the Shapwick Hoard.

Silver denarius of Julia Maesa, AD 281-222. Record ID GLO-10D842 (Bristol City Council, licence CC-BY).

Base-metal coinage
There are only four base metal coins of Julia Maesa on the PAS Database. Given the rarity of base metal coins of Elagabalus (see Daily Coin Relief Edition 68), this comes as no surprise.
Two are sestertii and one a dupondius or as. The other is a contemporary copy (limesfalsum) of a dupondius or as (PUBLIC-76C893). Limesfalsa will be covered in another blog.

Eastern Mint / Antioch
Elagabalus struck a significant number of gold and silver coins in the East. Antioch is traditionally given as the site of the mint, although it could well have moved with Elagabalus some of the time. Kevin Butcher has suggested that it moved as far west as Nicomedia in western Turkey in the first year of his reign.4
The attribution of coins to the Eastern mint to the empresses, as for Elagabalus, is often on the basis of style. An example in the British Museum collection, does show a distinctly different obverse style from the Rome coins. However, no coin of Julia Maesa on the PAS Database appears to be from the Eastern Mint.

Silver denarius of Julia Maesa from the Eastern Mint. British Museum BM 1979,0614.39.

Julia Soaemias, AD 218-222

Julia Soaemias was the mother of Elagabalus and played a major role in his accession. Along with Julia Maesa, Julia Soaemias was instrumental in maintaining a stable government during Elagabalus’s reign. Of course, in the end Elagabalus became too much for Rome and he and his mother were assassinated.

Mint of Rome
Elagabalus struck in gold, silver and base-metal for Julia Soaemias at Rome. Gold is very rare and it appears that silver ‘radiates’ were not struck for Soaemias. Again, silver denarii are the most common coins; in fact, they are the only denomination recorded on the PAS Database with 59 specimens (excluding 11 IARCW pieces). Of these, the two VENVS CAELESTIS types are by far the most common, again mirroring the Shapwick Hoard. Single specimens, but without images, are recorded for ANNONA AVG (RIC 234), PIETAS AVG (RIC 237A) and PVDICITIA (RIC 238).

Silver denarius if Julia Soaemias with VENVS CAELESTIS reverse. Record ID WILT-FDE852 (Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, License CC-BY).

Base-Metal coinage
Sestertii, dupondii and asses of Julia Soaemias are scarce. None have been recorded on the PAS Database.

Eastern Mint / Antioch
Coins of Julia Soaemias from the Eastern Mint appear to be very rare and there are none on the PAS Database.

Julia Paula, AD 219-220

Julia Cornelia Paula hailed from an aristocratic Roman family. She married Elagabalus in AD 219, but they were divorced the following year.

Mint of Rome
Rome struck for Julia Paula in gold, silver and base-metal. However, the silver denarii are by far the most common and are the only denomination recorded on the PAS Database. Of the 16 pieces, the CONCORDIA type is by far the most numerous with 12 specimens recorded.

Silver denarius of Julia Paula, c.AD 218-219. Record ID LEIC-B50412 (The Portable Antiquities Scheme, license CC-BY).

Base-metal coinage
Base-metal coins of Julia Paula are rare and none are recorded on the PAS Database.

Eastern Mint / Antioch
Identifying Eastern mint coins for Julia Paula is open to some debate. It appears that pieces with braided hair are more likely to emanate from the Eastern Mint, although one such piece
is attributed to Rome in BMC V (pl. 88, no. 15). It does seem that there are more coins struck in the East for Julia Paula than for any of the other empresses, at least four being recorded on the PAS Database.

Rome or Eastern Mint / Antioch

Silver denarius of Julia Paula, c.AD 218-219, VENVS GENETRIX reverse. Record ID LIN-7F6B44 (The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License CC-BY-SA).

This type, VENVS GENETRIX, is recorded in BMC V for both Rome (p. 555, no. 177) and the Eastern Mint (p. 583, nos. 323-5). The coin attributed to Rome does not have the distinctive Rome bust with ridged hair (see Fig. 22, above) but has braided hair (BMC V, pl. 88, no. 15). This piece does not have ridged hair, but nor does it have braided hair; in some ways it resembles the hairstyle of Julia Maesa at Rome. It does appear to have the feel of an
Eastern Mint coin, but only further research can confirm this.

Ancient forgeries
The first coin shown here appears to be an ancient forgery copying the obverse of Julia Paula with the reverse type, PROVIDENTIA AVG, common to emperors. The second is a much cruder coin, inspired by the obverse of Julia Paula and again a reverse type, AEQVITAS AVG, common to emperors. Both portraits appear to have been inspired by Eastern Mint coins.

Contemporary copies of Julia Paula denarii.

Julia Aquilia Severa, AD 220-222

Elagabalus’s second wife was Julia Aquilia Severa who was a Vestal Virgin, responsible for tending the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. This union was scandalous because Vestal Virgins were forbidden from having sexual intercourse; the punishment was to be buried alive. However, Elagabalus claimed it was permissible as he was the high priest of his
religion, and she the high priestess of hers. He rejected Aquilia in AD 221, in favour of his third wife Annia Faustina, but returned to Aquilia by the end of AD 221. Therefore, it is safest to date Aquilia Severa’s coins to AD 220-222.

Mint of Rome
Coins were struck in gold, silver and base-metal. Denarii are the most common denomination, but even they are rare. There is only one example on the PAS Database.

Eastern Mint / Antioch
The coin, below left, is worn, but the style of the coin does appear to be that of the Eastern Mint. However, we can be more confident with the coin on the right which has a reverse type which might only have been used in the East.

Annia Faustina, AD 221

Elagabalus’ marriage to Annia Faustina was very brief. This is reflected by the rarity of her coins which are known to have been struck in Rome. Only denarii and sestertii are known, the sestertius illustrated below being in the British Museum collection.

Sestertius of Annia Faustina, c.AD 221. BM/BMC V, no. 451 (copyright Trustees of The British Museum).

Coin Relief 29 – Elagabalus

The coinage of Elagabalus, AD 218-222

After the death of Caracalla in AD 217, Macrinus and his son Diadumenian reigned for just over a year. However, the Severan dynasty was not finished. Elagabalus, born Varius Avitus Bassianus, was the grandson of Julia Maesa; she was the younger sister of Julia Domna, the wife of Septimius Severus. Elagabalus’ mother started to spread the falsehood
that her son was in fact fathered by Caracalla himself. This succeeded in turning Legio III Gallica and on May 16th, 218, Elagabalus was declared emperor at the age of only 14. The following month, Macrinus was overthrown.

The Sun-God Elagabal

Silver denarius of Elagabalus depicting the emperor as Priest of the Sun-god Elagabal. Record ID BERK-6113AC (The British Museum, Licence CC-BY).

Elagabalus was named after the god Elagabal (meaning ‘God of the Mountain’) who was the Syrian Sun-God worshipped at Emesa (hometown of Julia Domna’s family). Elagabalus was in fact the hereditary high priest of Elagabal and his veneration of the God was to cause a great stir in Rome. He transported the black baetyl stone of the god to Rome where it was installed in a new temple, the Elagaballium, on the Palatine. Rome was shocked by the worship of this new deity because the emperor placed Elagabal above all the traditional Roman gods, including Jupiter. On numerous coins, the emperor is shown as the priest (sacerdos) of Elagabal: he is ‘Priest of the Sun-God Elagabal’; he is the ‘Invincible Priest’; finally, he is the ‘High Priest’.

Elagabalus’ personal life and demise
Elagabalus had a notorious personal life which shocked Rome. He was married three times, to Julia Paula (AD 219-20), to the Vestal Virgin Aquilia Severa (AD 220) and to Annia Faustina (AD 221) – he struck coins for all of his wives, his mother and grandmother which will be covered in another blog. Furthermore, it is said he had relationships with other women
as well. However, he was bisexual and had male lovers; at one stage he even asked for a physical operation to enable a sex-change. Added to his religious beliefs, his sexual activity was another factor in the young emperor’s unpopularity. It appears that it was his grandmother, Julia Maesa, and mother Julia Soaemias who oversaw the government of the
empire. In an attempt to stabilise the imperial house, Elagabalus’s cousin, the young Severus Alexander, was raised to Caesar in AD 221. The following year, Elagabalus tried to have Severus murdered, but failed; the tables were turned and Elagabalus and his mother were murdered, leaving Severus Alexander emperor (AD 222-35).

Elagabalus’ coinage on the PAS Database
There are 465 coins of Elagabalus (excluding 90 IARCW pieces from Wales) on the PAS Database. This total comprises 442 denarii, 13 ‘radiates’ and 10 base-metal sestertii, dupondii, and asses. Amongst the silver coins, there are contemporary copies which will be the subject of more editing. Elagabalus’ coinage was struck at two mints, Rome and a mint in the East, often given as Antioch. Coins of both mints are on the Database and this piece will look each of the mints in turn. Elagabalus did strike coins for five imperial ladies, but these will be the subject of the next piece.

Mint of Rome

Silver ‘radiates’ (Antoniniani), AD 218-9
Caracalla had introduced the ‘radiate’ in AD 215. From a study of dated coins, we can ascertain that it continued to be struck by Elagabalus in AD 218-219, at Rome only. After 219, it was not resurrected as a denomination until the reigns of Balbinus and Pupienus in AD 238. There are 19 radiates of Elagabalus on the PAS Database, being scarce finds in Britain.

Silver ‘radiate’ of Elagabalus, c.AD 218. Record ID IOW-F074D3 (The Portable Antiquities Scheme, licence CC-BY).

Silver denarii – dated issues
Both Rome and Antioch issued dated coins, Table 1 showing the different reverse legends found. These dated coins help us to give broader date ranges to undated coins. 

Dated coins from the Mint of Rome (c. 100 specimens)
Dated coins were issued at Rome in each of the five years of Elagabalus’ reign. The totals by year can be compared with the coins found in the Shapwick Hoard, as shown in Table 2. 

The PAS and Shapwick hoards show a similar proportion of coins (%) by year which does suggest that this profile represents the relative quantity of coins arriving in Britain for each year. The coins of AD 221 are by far the most common coins of the dated issues on the PAS Database and in the Shapwick Hoard. The vast majority of Elagabalus’ denarii are undated, but by comparing with dated coin types and obverse legends it is possible to give broad date ranges as follows:


Base-metal issues from Rome
Elagabalus struck sestertii, dupondii, and asses at Rome only; the Eastern Mint only struck in gold and silver. Since c. AD 196, the number of base-metal coins arriving in Britain had fallen dramatically; Severan base-metal pieces are particularly rare as finds in Britain. This paucity of coins is clearly shown by the PAS data for Elagabalus – there are only 4 sestertii, one dupondius and 5 asses (excluding 2 IARCW Welsh entries), making a total of 10 coins; there are 455 denarii and radiates showing clearly how silver predominates. One has to question if these coins were actually sent by the imperial authorities to Britain, or just arrived in dribs and drabs with soldiers, merchants or other travellers.


There are only four sestertii on the PAS Database, all in rather poor condition. The illustrated piece shows considerable wear, suggesting it remained in circulation up until the
time sestertii went out of use in the AD 260s.

Sestertius of Elagabalus, c.AD 220-221. Record ID HAMP-640DF8 (Hampshire Cultural Trust, Licence CC-BY).

Only one dupondius on the PAS Database can be attributed to Elagabalus. Dupondii became increasingly rarer during the 3rd century.

Dupondius of Elagabalus, c. AD 220-221. Record ID BH-324038 (The Portable Antiquities Scheme, Licence CC-BY).

Asses are the most numerous base-metal coins of Elagabalus on the PAS Database with 7 examples (including two IARCW pieces).

As of Elagabalus, c.AD 218-222. Record ID BH-E1CA34 (St. Alban’s District Council, License CC-BY).

Eastern Mint (Antioch)

There are 15 coins of the Eastern Mint on the PAS Database (of which 6 are IARCW pieces from Wales). If we exclude IARCW pieces from the analysis, 2% (9 out of 442) of the PAS denarii come from the Eastern Mint; for Shapwick it is 1.6% (11 out of 685). It should be noted that more Eastern Mint denarii might be found amongst the PAS coins after more editing.

Silver denarius of Elagabalus from the Eastern mint, c.AD 218-219. Record ID PUBLIC-B923E1 (All rights reserved, licence CC-BY)

Contemporary Copies

There are a number of contemporary copies of Elagabalus’ silver pieces on the PAS Database. However, it is very important to note that the official silver coins had an increasing amount of copper added in the early third century. This often results in green verdigris appearing on the coin which is often interpreted as representing a plated copy; however, in many cases this is not the case. There still needs to be further editing of coins which have been noted as copies which are in fact probably official.