Welcome to the latest issue of Coin Relief. This time Dr. Andrew Brown looks at the coinage of the emperor Antoninus Pius.
Antoninus Pius, AD 138-161
After the death of Lucius Aelius in AD 138, Hadrian turned to Antoninus Pius (AD 138-161), who he adopted as his son and heir. Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus, following his adoption on 25th February AD 138 known as Imperator Titus Aelius Caesar Antoninus, was born in Lanuvium in September AD 86. He married Annia Galeria Faustina (Faustina I), the niece of emperor Hadrian in the first decades of the 2nd century and held various offices under Hadrian including consul in AD 120 and proconsul of Asia between AD 135-136. A requirement of Antoninus’ adoption was that he in turn adopted Marcus Annius Verus (later Marcus Aurelius), son of Hadrian’s brother in law, and Lucius (later Lucius Verus) son of Lucius Aelius. In so doing, the seeds of a new dynastic structure were put in place that saw succession from the end of Hadrian’s reign through the entirety of the 2nd century even if often largely by adoption rather than direct familial ties. Of Antoninus and Faustina’s biological children, only one, Faustina II, would continue the dynasty through her marriage to Marcus Aurelius.
Following Hadrian’s death in AD 138, Pius’ reign was long and relatively peaceful – as one of the ‘Five Good Emperors’ this was a period of relative stability and prosperity that also saw him celebrate the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Rome in AD 148 with great games. Despite Faustina’s death in AD 141, the reign was defined as much by the development of the imperial family (and dynasty) as anything else, with Pius seemingly focused on ensuring continuity and stability from Hadrian’s reign and apparently no great desire to expand or for that matter leave Rome! He promoted the development of public infrastructure, formal public and religious celebrations, legal reform, and the careful administration of the empire’s finances. On his death in AD 161 he was deified by the senate and power shifted to his adopted son, Marcus Aurelius.
Coinage of Antoninus Pius
Coins struck for Antoninus are not uncommon on the PAS. There are over 3,000 examples in his name alone for this period (Reece Period 7; AD 138-161), including 407 Welsh coins from the IARCW dataset, with more than 1,200 coins for his wife Faustina I, almost 900 for Marcus Aurelius as caesar, and over 150 examples for Faustina II1. In total, for Reece Period 7 (AD 138-161) the PAS records over 5,000 coins, with c.2,000 sestertii and c.1,700 denarii forming the bulk of the material. The standard references for identifying coins of this period remain RIC III and BMC IV, the latter perhaps more up to date and with a useful introduction to the structure and organisation of his coinage.
Throughout this period, we are dealing essentially with a single mint – Rome – producing gold, silver, and bronze coinage for all of the imperial family. Examples of gold are typically rare as British finds in this period, but silver and the larger bronze denominations are prolific. Analysis of the coins from the Sacred Spring at Bath by D. Walker demonstrated the replacement of the smaller bronze dupondii and asses during the period of regular supply of bronze coinage to Britannia (c.AD 96-197) with sestertii that begin to dominate, especially after AD 147. The smaller semis and quadrans largely disappear by Pius’ reign and it is in this period too that the denarius, struck at 1/96 lb, begins to see a reduction in fineness, especially by the end of the century with Commodus. Several notable groups of bronze coins, struck in AD 153-155, for both Pius and his family represent discrete batches issued in Rome and shipped for use in Britain – the so-called ‘Coins of British Association’ (see below).
Antoninus Pius’ coinage is usually quite closely identifiable and datable thanks to a combination of his official titles and the organisation of his obverse legends:
Consulships: COS DES II – AD 138 COS II – AD 139 COS III – AD 140 COS DES IIII – AD 144 COS IIII – AD 145-161
Between his accession in AD 138 until AD 147 he carries tribunician powers simply with the title TR P. These were taken it seems on 25th February each year, but a change occurs in AD 147. Marcus Aurelius received his first tribunician power in AD 147, following the birth of his first son, during Antoninus’ 10th tribunician year (TR P X). It seems that the two systems were streamlined so that from December 10th AD 147 the emperor and his adopted son took their tribunician powers on the same day and in so doing likely reinforced the notion of their imperial dynasty too with Aurelius as the junior party. From this date onward, Pius’ coins have numbered tribunician dates for each year from TR P XI in AD 147 (with Marcus as TR P II) to TR P XXIIII in AD 161 (with Marcus as TR P XV-XVI). If your coin has a legible TR P date for Pius, it should therefore be possible to date it to one year!
Antoninus caesar under Hadrian, c.AD 138
The first issues of Antoninus appear following his adoption by Hadrian as his heir on 25th February AD 138 and prior to Hadrian’s death in July of the same year. These are rare as PAS finds and I can only find a handful of examples (fewer than 10) that might reasonably be identified with this period. In these types, his obverse legend identifies him as caesar, while he has first TRIB POT COS and then COS DES II reverse legends that demonstrate his first tribunician power combined with his first consulship and his election (DES[ignatus]) to a second consulship to be taken up the following year.
Antoninus as augustus, AD 138-139
Following Hadrian’s death in July AD 138, Antoninus assumed power and continued the dynastic structure that Hadrian had created through his adoption and in turn Pius’ adoption of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. The succession, constructed rather than biological, was seemingly secured. However, Antoninus met with opposition from the senate, who not only attempted to stop many of Hadrian’s acts, but also prevent his deification by Pius. This battle with the political heart of Rome led Antoninus to threaten abdication before the senate relented and his reign began in proper. Interestingly, this struggle between emperor and senate is reflected in Antoninus’ coinage through the changing legends that appear in the early issues of AD 138 and in to AD 139.
The first issue of AD 138 for Antoninus as augustus sees him named as COS DES II as he had been on his coinage under Hadrian. However, a second issue shortly afterwards sees him demoted to simply COS, presumably a result of the senate questioning the acts of Hadrian and indeed Antoninus’ legitimacy as emperor as a result. A third issue sees him adopt Hadrian’s gentile name Aelius (AEL) and the titles Augustus and Pontifex Maximus, then the title Pius and the name Hadrian in a fourth and fifth issue respectively. Finally, in a sixth issue at the end of AD 138 he is restored to COS DES II and Hadrian’s deification is recognised in a short consecration issue. In AD 139, Pius becomes COS II and to begin with retains the long obverse legend referencing Hadrian until part way through the year (in a 3rd issue of AD 139) when this is dropped to just read ANTONINVS AVG PIVS P P, which remains the standard format for the rest of his reign. The following year, in AD 140, After the shortening of the obverse legend, coins also appear for Marcus Aurelius as caesar and consul designate.
The types that appear on Antoninus’ coinage are quite varied and often commemorate significant social or political events and the emperor’s links to the wider empire, notably also reinforcing the structure and importance of the imperial family. We have already seen in previous editions the ‘crown’ series issued by Pius in AD 139 that references his contact with the provinces and halving of the aurum coronarium gold tax. The modius type (above) is again a reflection of the importance of the grain supply to Rome and the imperial role in maintaining this. Similarly, the sacrificial implements – emblems of the priesthood – may reference Marcus Aurelius’ entrance into the chiefpriesthoods before he appears on Pius’ coinage, initially as a young caesar depicted as a reverse type.
Antoninus, COS III, AD 140-144
The coinage of Antoninus’ third consulship, between AD 140-144, continues many of the themes from his early coinages in terms of his role as emperor and head of the imperial family. A notable change is the use of a laureate bust from AD 140 along with several coin issues that relate to specific events within the Roman world during these years.
The only two gold aurei recorded through the PAS belong to this period – gold is generally less common in the 2nd than the 1st century in Britain, Bland and Loriot note 20 single finds for the period of Antoninus’ reign (along with another 65 hoard coins), including one of the PAS examples below. The aureus in Fig. 15, with its depiction of Mars and Rhea Silvia, highlights the appearance in this period of coin types that focus on Rome and her mythology, perhaps in anticipation of the 900th anniversary of Rome but equally in the gradual renewed interest in her origins as was seen with the medallic coinages of Pius too. Thus, in addition to the Mars and Rhea Silvia type, coins also appear that depict, for example, the wolf and twins or the sow suckling eight piglets.
Perhaps the most significant event early in Antoninus’ third consulship was the death of his wife Faustina I in AD 141. An extensive posthumous coinage was struck in her name from this date that probably lasted for most of the reign up until his death in AD 161. The coinage of the defied empress has numerous types that initially retain her title of augusta before this transfers to Faustina II in AD 147, after which she is simply the deified Faustina. The production in large volume of coins depicting the female members of the imperial family is a feature of the 2nd century coinage, with lifetime and posthumous issues of several of the Antonine women. With perhaps the exception of Sabina, depictions of the empress prior to this were generally on a more restricted scale. We have already looked at Faustina II, whose coinage begins under Pius in AD 147 and continues under her husband Marcus Aurelius.
Antoninus’ reign was not notable for any real conflict or war. Indeed, he ruled over an essentially peaceful empire from Rome (never leaving the city on campaign or straying further than his nearby estates!) as a well-liked leader who succeeded as much due to his sense of duty to the empire and the careful implementation of administrative and legal control as he did in any militaristic or acquisitive way. This doesn’t mean that the empire was entirely peaceful of course! It is in Britannia that his most overt military action occurred with the appointment of Quintus Lollius Urbicus as governor in AD 139. His campaign in southern Scotland against the Brigantes resulted in the construction of the Antonine Wall 40 miles north of Hadrian’s Wall in AD 142. Although the territory gained was not held for all that long – the Antonine Wall being abandoned by the AD 160s – the victory in the north of the province gained Antoninus the acclamation as Imperator for the second time with the event commemorated on his coinage, notably with the appearance of Britannia personified too.
Antoninus, COS IV, AD 144-161
The coinage from Antoninus’ fourth consulship continues in much the same vein as that of his third. There are some interesting issues though that relate to events specific to his reign. He celebrates his first decennalia, the 10th anniversary of his accession, in AD AD 147-148 (TR P XI). After this time, the coin types can be dated by the Tribunician numbers in their legends that change each year for the remainder of his reign. A second decennalia is celebrated on the coinage of AD 157-158 and AD 158-159 and the several episodes of imperial largesse during this period are frequently depicted, notably through the personification of Liberalitas. On the coinage of AD 150-151 an interesting revival of Pius’ first obverse legend, alluding to his link as Hadrian’s heir, is revived and this likely reflects the dedication of the Temple of Divus Hadrianus and Diva Sabina in that year.
It is in this last period of Antoninus’ reign that we also see injections of bronze coinage into the currency pool in Britain, in particular in the years AD 153-154 and AD 154-155. Most notable amongst these coins are the smaller bronze dupondius and as denominations that have types seemingly associated with Britannia – the ‘Coins of British Association’. These are issued not only for Pius himself, but also for the deified Faustina and the two juniors Marcus Aurelius and Faustina II. The subject as a whole has been examined by D. Walker and S. Moorhead, amongst others, and is part of ongoing work looking at the PAS dataset. These warrant an examination in their own right as part of a later edition, but it is worth noting the key types for Antoninus. Most distinctive are the Britannia asses, and more rarely dupondii, that depict her seated left on rocks, which is by far the most common type found in Britain, with over 150 PAS examples. These are followed by two Libertas types (in both denominations), one holding pileus with arm outstretched, the other holding pileus and sceptre. A less common Felicitas type is represented on the PAS by just seven examples. Do look out for these if you are recording coins through the database. They were struck in Rome but appear to have been shipped to the province deliberately to top up the currency pool, so they have a specific British connection.
Antoninus Pius died of illness on the 7th of March AD 161 aged 74 at his estate in Lorium (Etruria). He was deified without opposition by the senate and buried in the mausoleum of Hadrian in Rome alongside Faustina I. The temple in the Roman forum dedicated initially to Faustina I was rededicated following his death as the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, with parts of the original structure still preserved in the Church of San Lorenzo in Miranda. His largely peaceful reign was long and he was well thought of. Perhaps as importantly, he was central to the development of the new Antonine dynasty conceived during Hadrian’s reign and which would last until the end of the 2nd century, albeit with varying degrees of success…!
References and further reading
D.R. Walker ‘Roman Coins from the Sacred Spring at Bath’ in B. Cunliffe ed. The Temple of Sullis Minerva at Bath II: Finds from the Sacred Spring (Oxford, 1988)
S. Moorhead’s academia page here: https://www.academia.edu/12608461/Coins_of_British_Association_after_David_Walker_and_David_Shotter_with_additions_by_Sam_Moorhead
R. Bland and X. Loriot Roman and Early Byzantine gold coins found in Britain and Ireland (London, 2010)
This is the next in our series of posts on metal-working written by Dr. Kevin Leahy, PAS National Finds Adviser. The articles were first published in The Searcher magazine and are reproduced here with kind permission of Harry Bain, editor for The Searcher.
The arrival of the Romans brought many changes to Britain – towns, villas, plumbing and a sudden abundance of small metal objects. While Roman gold is relatively uncommon, we have some amazing hoards: the Thetford Treasure, found in 1979, contained 22 gold finger rings, four bracelets and five necklaces. Even more startling was the Hoxne hoard from Suffolk, found in 1992, with six gold necklaces, three rings and 19 bracelets, along with 565 gold coins, 14,191 silver coins and 24 bronze coins, the latest of which dated to AD408. The workmanship of the gold was typically late Roman – filigree rings with settings for glass or semi-precious gems (removed before burial) and sheet gold bracelets (actually closed bangles), some bearing repoussé decoration resembling basket weave, others are “opus interrasile” where the gold is perforated giving a lace-like effect.
Was any of this stuff made in Britain? There is evidence for a goldsmith working at Malton in North Yorkshire where an inscription was found reading “FELICITER SIT GENIO LOCI SERVVLE VTERE FELIX TABERNAM AVREFICINAM” (Good luck the Genius (spirit) of this place. Young slave, use to your good fortune this goldsmith’s shop).
The PAS recorded 204 pieces of Roman gold plus 148 gold coins, finger rings being themost common item of Roman gold jewellery with 121 finds. By the Roman period metallurgical techniques had developed allowing improved control over the alloys used and gold objects were often made from good, pure metal. Cupellation was used to rid gold of base metal impurities by oxidation, and liquidation and amalgamation using mercury came into use.
The PAS has recorded a total of 473 items of Anglo-Saxon gold, including 119 gold coins. The amazing Staffordshire Hoard has not been included here as it is a one-off that distorts the overall picture. If we look more closely at Anglo-Saxon gold use, an interesting story emerges. There doesn’t appear to have been much gold around in the 5th century (or they weren’t putting it where we can find it). From the 5th to the 6th century we have 37 records of gold objects (plus 11 coins). The most common type of object are thin bracteates with 19 finds. Silver-gilt was used in the 6th century – perhaps they aspired to gold but couldn’t get it.
Finds of early 7th century gold are more common and the PAS has recorded 136 finds (plus 61 coins), pendants being the common type of object with 62 finds. Unfortunately, (for both the Anglo-Saxons and us) things went wrong around the middle of the 7th century. The gold they used was probably coming into the country in the form of Merovingian coins which they melted down. Around AD640 the gold content of these coins plummeted, the gold being replaced by silver. By 675 the gold coinage was replaced by silver; they couldn’t get any more gold. Not only gold disappeared – garnets were no longer used and elephant ivory was no longer available. For the 366 years of the Middle and Later Anglo-Saxon period we have only 81 records (plus four coins). Finger rings are the most common object with 28 finds and there are 16 ingot fragments.
The PAS has 781 records of Medieval gold (1066-1485) including 435 coins. Rings are the most common object with 271 finds. We have 1104 records of Post-medieval gold (1486-1800) which includes 277 coins and 720 finger rings. The increasing availability of gold may reflect the massive influx from the New World mines.
Gold was always scarce and valuable, and great economy was exercised in the way that it was used. It was rarely cast; most gold objects have a hollow, box-like construction. I remember many years ago seeing a massive Roman gold ring set with an intaglio which had fallen out to reveal that the ring was hollow and quite thin – most disappointing. The economical use of gold is aided by its remarkable workability. It can be beaten to any shape, joints are easily made and, uniquely, it is possible to cold-weld it.
Gold is perfect for plating other materials. Gilding using mercury is one method but gold can also be beaten to form gold leaf, four to five millionths of an inch thick. Leaf can be used to cover other metals and materials, leaving them looking like solid gold. Gold leaf can be applied to wood and plaster and it was used to great effect on illuminated manuscripts like the 8th century “Codex Aureus” (golden book) now in Stockholm.
Filigree and granulation were much used in the decoration of gold objects. Filigree consists of gold wire, sometimes as thin as 02.mm in diameter fused to the surface of the gold. Granulation involves the attachment of small pellets of gold. We are not sure how the Anglo-Saxons made gold wire. There isn’t any evidence for the use of draw-plates of the sort used now. This leaves two possible methods: strip-twisting and block-twisting. In strip-twisting a narrow strip is cut from the edge of a thin sheet of metal. This is then twisted to form a helical tube with an open centre (like a paper straw) which is then rolled between two smooth blocks of stone to compress the tube, cold-welding it to form a round-sectioned wire. In block-twisting, a square or rectangular sectioned strip of metal is cut from the edge of a thicker sheet and then twisted so that its four edges tightly encircle it. This can then be rolled between two blocks smooth the surface and produce round wire.
While we can see how plain wire was made, we’ve not been able to discover how beaded wire was produced. Every attempt results in beads with a groove around their middle – they didn’t have this problem in the past, what did they know that we don’t? The tiny gold beads used for granulation were less of a problem. Small pieces of cut gold wire were heated on a flat surface and naturally formed balls. Strips of gold leaf were wrapped around silk to form gold thread, traces of which have been found in graves.
Once they had got their wire (beaded or unbeaded) it had to be attached to the surface of the gold. This was done by a process known as eutectic soldering. The gold wire or granules were stuck to the surface using an adhesive made up of resin mixed with a copper salt and possibly a flux. When everything is stuck in place the object is heated in a furnace. With rising temperature the organic component of the adhesive carbonises to form carbon monoxide which reduces the copper salt to copper. This is absorbed by the gold or silver to form an alloy with a lower melting point than the components (a eutectic) and this new molten alloy is carried into the joint by capillary action, pulling the components together to form a strong, tight joint. While the process is apparently simple, it was not easy to carry out as the melting point of the eutectic was not much less than that of the work piece!
Analysis of Anglo-Saxon gold shows that they were using surface enrichment to make alloys look like pure gold. This was done by leaching out the silver from the surface of the gold. We don’t know how they managed to do this but they may have surrounded the object with salt and heated it. The ingenuity of people in the past never fails to impress me. The question “how did they do that?” constantly springs to mind. The trick that really amazes me is the separation of gold from silver. Imagine you have an alloy of gold and silver and want to separate them – how would you even start? The process is actually simple: the alloy was beaten into thin sheets which were laid in a pottery container interleaved with common salt and finely crushed tile. This was then sealed and heated in a furnace to a temperature below the melting point of the alloy and held at that temperature “a day and a night”. The salt reacts with the silver in the alloy to form silver chloride which is absorbed by the tile fragments and the clay vessel. The gold remains unchanged. Once the process is complete, the silver was extracted from the silver chloride. Easy – but how did anyone ever discover this trick?
Welcome to the latest issue of Coin Relief. This time Dr. Andrew Brown delves into the world of the Barbarous radiate. These are contemporary imitations of Roman coins, so-called due to their often crude style and the radiate crown worn by the emperor.
Barbarous radiates, c.AD 275-285
Contemporary copies of Roman coins were produced relatively extensively throughout the Roman period. There are various reasons why an individual might want to produce a copy (and indeed several ways in which this could be done!), the most obvious being a deliberate forgery for personal gain – if you’re able to produce and pass off a copied silver coin using a fraction of the silver an official coin should contain, for example, then there is the potential for huge profit. Of course, within an empire where the production of coinage was often quite tightly controlled, the punishment if caught for producing forgeries could be extreme. This may include anything up to banishment, crucifixion, death, or in the case of forging or adulterating gold coins, we hear that “free men should be thrown to the beasts” (“si quidem liberi sunt, ad bestia dari”) – a form of execution where the guilty were publicly killed by wild animals (e.g. lions) in the amphitheatres!
There are also episodes of counterfeiting that appear to have been the result of other economic pressures though. Some of these copies may well have been more or less ‘official’ or at least accepted as currency in circulation (albeit perhaps with lesser value than their official counterparts). This was particularly at times when shortages in coin supply meant, in a British setting at least, there was a need for additional coinage to top up the currency pool. From the Republican and early Imperial periods irregular and plated copies of silver denarii appear frequently, and especially so by the Severan period where they are prolific as PAS finds in Britain although contrastingly scarce in hoarded assemblages. In the 1st century, unofficial or semi-official bronze asses and dupondii of Claudius I appear in some quantity in Britain.
It is in the 3rd century that we see a spike in contemporary copies, specifically in the production of large quantities of irregular radiates that copy official prototypes issued by the Roman mints. These so-called ‘barbarous radiates’ appear in Britain and Gaul and typically copy coins of the central emperors from Gallienus (sole reign, c.AD 260-268) to Quintillus and the Gallic usurpers from Postumus to Tetricus II, with some later examples (e.g. for Aurelian (AD 270-275) and Probus (AD 276-282)). They vary in both size and style/execution, some measuring only a few millimetres in diameter and far removed from their original prototypes. Others are better executed but can be distinguished from official coins based on their size or, for example, errors in obverse and reverse legends or types.
But why copy radiates?
We have already seen in previous editions how by the AD 260s-270s the radiate introduced by Caracalla in AD 215 had experienced huge debasement to the point that under the Gallic usurpers and with Claudius II it was essentially a bronze coin with just a few percent silver content. In the last edition we looked at how Aurelian sought to resolve some of the problems with the coinage by introducing a reformed radiate, the aurelianus, with an improved 5% silver. This was produced by all of the mints and entered general circulation in AD 274-275. However, despite attempts to recall the old debased radiates (now also largely devalued by Aurelian’s reforms) from circulation, in the western provinces and particularly in Gaul and Britain the reformed radiates did not experience widespread usage. Indeed, the coins struck at Lyon lack the typical XX or XXI that would signify their reformed status, perhaps indicative that the authorities here gave up or did not try to push the new denomination into the currency pool.
There appear to be two issue at play here. Up until Tetricus’ surrender to Aurelian in AD 274 the Gallic empire produced large numbers of debased radiates and in the western provinces these were used in huge quantity in general circulation. This, of course, stopped with Aurelian and the closure of the Gallic mints. At the same time, the poor penetration and comparatively higher value of the new aurelianus meant that it wasn’t in widespread use in the west. The reaction to this was the production in large number of contemporary copies to fill the gap in the coin supply and the need for small change between Aurelian’s reforms in c.AD 275 and the accession of Carausius in AD 286. George Boon’s Counterfeit Coins in Roman Britain (1988) is important here both for the background to contemporary copies generally and the barbarous radiate phenomenon specifically. He demonstrates (pp. 129-132) how die links over long distances or between coins in different hoarded assemblages, the reuse of aureliani, and raw material (e.g. copper-alloy bars to be chopped up as coin blanks) for the production of radiate copies highlight how widespread the phenomenon was, perhaps with numerous local ‘mints’ producing vast quantities of these often tiny coins that could have travelled extensively. It is arguable as to whether these represent full value coinage like earlier pre-reform issues or more plausibly a token coinage to meet the shortfall of currency in circulation.
Barbarous radiates on the PAS
The proliferation of barbarous radiates is evident both in site finds and hoarded assemblages found in Britain. Hoards ending with or containing barbarous radiates are not uncommon – many of the largest hoards we see in Britain have examples – there were 2,262 in Normanby, 2,149 in Cunetio (of which 1,259 are copies of Postumus), and several hundred in Frome. Roger Bland notes 53 hoards terminating with barbarous radiates, c.AD 275-286, and the PAS now records over 90 hoards that contain barbarous radiates. Bland also points to John Davies’ doctoral research that identified two broad hoard groups: Class A hoards with barbarous radiates of similar size to their prototypes and a distribution in the south and east of Britain; Class B hoards that are almost exclusively small module copies, generally with no regular coinage, and with a western and northern distribution. Bland’s examples fall within this latter group and he notes considerable clusters in the south west (Cornwall, Somerset, Gloucestershire, and south Wales) and Sussex.
On the PAS itself, a search using the terms ‘barbarous’ and ‘radiate’ produced almost 16,000 coins, of which c.11,000 are recorded as ‘barbarous radiates’, over 1,000 are ‘Divus Claudius (barbarous radiate)’ (see below), the remainder contemporary copies of specific rulers or of unclear type. All of these fall in to Reece Period 14 and are dated broadly to c.AD 275-285 – the ten-year gap between Aurelian’s reforms and the appearance of Diocletian, Maximian, and ultimately Carausius. The greatest numbers appear to be in a band from Wiltshire through to East Anglia and then north into Yorkshire. However, if we look at the concentrations of these coins in a heatmap it is clear that the largest concentrations are to be found in east Anglia.
Interestingly, if we look at the percentages of radiates as they are currently recorded on the PAS, this is also confirmed to some degree. By filtering the PAS data for all radiates and comparing that to the total numbers of coins recorded with a search of ‘barbarous AND radiate’, we get the following figures for the top 10 counties with barbarous radiates.
Clearly, Essex has the largest percentage (48% of all radiates), followed by Cambridgeshire (42%), Hertfordshire and Suffolk (both 35%). The remaining six counties all average between 20-30% irregular copies – it is worth noting that this is still much higher than the 3.8% or 4.7% of irregular copies in the Cunetio and Normanby hoards respectively. These coins were clearly therefore in circulation in some quantity, but not always hoarded to the same degree as regular types. I should add here that this is a very quick, cursory glimpse at these relative volumes and, with extensive work on the PAS material to drop all of these coins in their correct places, it is likely that this picture may change slightly. Even so, it is striking how the percentages correlate with the distribution and heat map. One thing to remember when looking at barbarous radiates is that it is very unusual to get two that are the same, although, as we shall see below, there are examples of die-linked groups. This means there is no standard reference work for identifying them. Many hoard catalogues and publications have numerous examples of different types of barbarous radiates and there are some prototypes (e.g. for Victorinus, Tetricus I, and Tetricus II) that are regularly copied, but there isn’t any hard and fast typology. Instead, when recording through the PAS they are recorded as ‘barbarous radiates’ with their wide AD 275-285 date range but, where possible, with their prototype identified. This in itself isn’t always possible with particularly small, poor, or weird (and wonderful!) copies, or with those that combined obverse and reverse types of different rulers or coin issues! The Normanby catalogue is useful in publishing many irregular types as well as those that mix reigns or issues.
There is some evidence on the PAS for the unofficial production of late Roman bronze coinage, some of which likely relates to 3rd century barbarous radiates. For earlier periods there are examples of both coin moulds and coin dies for the manufacture of counterfeit silver denarii. Although there is no clear example of a radiate die, there is a single lead mould with an obverse type for Tacitus. It is likely that this was used for the manufacture of cliché copies where a base metal core is covered by thin sheets of precious metal (gold or silver) that are hammered in the mould to produce the coin type. The PAS example is either for a radiate or an aureus, but it’s unclear which. Other groups of material are recorded on the database too that likely represent the raw materials used in coin production. It is worth looking out for these or similar objects when recording material through the PAS in case they might provide evidence for counterfeit production in local workshops (or possibly even local ‘mints’!).
Three iron coin dies from Buckinghamshire were recorded along with multiple coin blanks and copper-alloy pellets that appear to have been cut from rods to produce blanks. They were found in the same area as the Fenny Stratford hoard, a forger’s hoard discovered just south of Milton Keynes during roadworks in 1990 comprising three ceramic vessels containing blanks, pellets, and two iron dies, likely for late-3rd or 4th century counterfeits. It is likely that the PAS examples represent a similar assemblage. Although the objects from Buckinghamshire aren’t definitively for the production of barbarous radiates, they do present the kind of material we might expect to see in local manufacture of contemporary copies. Indeed, a second similar group has also been recorded from near Bentley, South Yorkshire, that includes 121 coins or blanks and a possible fragment from a cut copper-alloy rod, two of the coins identifiable as barbarous radiates copying coins of Victorinus or Tetricus I. Other examples of groups of blanks are known from various locations and although they can’t categorically be attributed to the production of barbarous radiates it is only through recording them and their associated material that we can understand more about the processes of local coin production during the Roman period.
Barbarous radiates: copies of central empire rulers
Barbarous radiates copying the central emperors begin essentially with coin types from the sole reign of Gallienus (AD 260-268) and become increasingly common for Claudius II, before tailing off again with the likes of Aurelian and Probus. Examples of Gallienus do appear on the PAS, particularly for issues from his later series at Rome (notably his ‘zoo series’) but these are typically less common than those of Claudius II in particular – there were numerous Gallienus examples in the Frome hoard. These can be a little harder to spot sometimes and it will be features such as mis-spelt legends or slightly odd looking obverse and reverse types that will be the giveaway. As a general rule, if you’re not certain it’s definitely a copy when recording, leave it under Gallienus! These can sometimes also be confused with coins of Allectus (both of which have obverse legends that start similarly: IMP GALLIENVS… or IMP C ALLECTVS…, the G and C often appearing very similar) or Carausius, so some care is needed when recording them.
Coins of Claudius are common, Quintillus less so, although oddly sometimes difficult to tell apart from official coins. As the quality of the products from the mint of Rome decreases into Claudius’ reign it is sometimes difficult to tell apart barbarous copies from the Friday afternoon issues struck by mint workers deliberately producing adulterated, poor quality coins! This can be something of a headache to untangle!
Coins of the central emperors from Aurelian onward are rare, in large part because the prototypes do not circulate widely after Aurelian’s reforms so they are not as accessible to copy. There are some examples on the PAS but not in any great number. They tend to be quite clearly different from the official coins, not least in their lack of silver content, often with blundered or irregular legends as well as bust types that are clearly removed from the official issues.
Barbarous radiates: Divus Claudius
By far the most commonly seen contemporary copies of the central emperors are the posthumous issues of Divus Claudius II. Indeed, it is likely that the majority of these that we see are irregular. The official coins were struck under Quintillus, probably also early in Aurelian’s reign, and are not always of great quality themselves given that they were issued prior to Aurelian’s reforms. The copies are generally worse still and the two main reverse types – the altar and the eagle – range from being identifiable to highly stylised and often on quite small module coins. Do look out for examples that mix Claudius’ lifetime and posthumous issues, as well as those of Quintillus and Aurelian.
The contemporary copies – barbarous radiates – of Claudius’ posthumous issues make up at least 1,000 coins recorded through the PAS (and I think likely much more), so they are a significant percentage of the total and one of the more common types you are likely to see. If we compare how they are distributed nationally the picture is quite different to that of the barbarous radiates generally.
Whereas places like Wiltshire, East Anglia, and Yorkshire remain a focus, the concentration as highlighted in the heat map has shifted very definitely to the Wiltshire/Hampshire area albeit still with a large proportion in the east too. Whether this reflects elements of recovery and recording remains to be untangled, but on current evidence it seems that the Divus Claudius copies are more likely to be found and recorded through the PAS in the south west than anywhere else.
Barbarous radiates: The Gallic Empire
Copies of the Gallic emperors from Postumus to Tetricus II are prolific and make up the majority of the barbarous radiates recorded through the PAS. It is sometimes difficult to separate poor quality official coins from good contemporary copies, although the latter are often slightly stylised or have errors in the dies or legends that would point to them being copies. In all cases, poor quality and small flans, as well as coins that are struck with unusual die axes between the obverse and reverse dies, can be indications that the coin is a copy rather than a product of one of the official mints. Of course, given the Gallic rulers are usurpers where the line between official and unofficial mint lies is another matter entirely!
Although large numbers of Postumus copies were noted in Cunetio, there are fewer of these types on the PAS than for his successors. His early coinage in particular is better quality and with higher silver content than the end of his reign, so we also get some base or plated copies for Postumus in this period.
Copies of Laelian and Marius are generally rare as PAS finds, especially so for Laelian, for which there appears to be only one example and the first of its kind noted by Sam Moorhead or Roger Bland when it was reported in 2010. Given his very short reign and the very few coins of Laelian we record in Britain, we might not expect copies of his type to circulate in any volume, if at all.
There are several hundred contemporary copies for each of Victorinus, Tetricus I and Tetricus II recorded through the PAS. For the two senior emperors, it is often difficult to tell whether the coin is intended to be Victorinus or Tetricus I, particularly when legends are garbled, missing, or reverse types are mixed. Tetricus II is more straightforward in that he lacks a beard!
Some Gallic oddities!
Sometimes it is difficult or impossible to tell whether a barbarous radiate is for a specific Gallic ruler or indeed what the reverse type is supposed to be. They can be dated to AD 275-285 and identified as probably ‘Gallic’, but that’s often as far as we can get – here are a few ‘unique’ examples!
Barbarous radiate groups
Although the majority of barbarous radiates we see tend to be quite individual, the sheer volume of material and the evidence for their manufacture makes the appearance of groups of coins from the same dies a real possibility. There are several such groups recorded through the PAS currently, adding to our understanding of these localised copies, and it is worth noting if you do come across more as it will help to fill out the picture nationally for these small workshops.
One day someone will write the typology for barbarous radiates. But, in the meantime, keep recording them, keep photographing them, and remember that these are products from a specific place in time – they’re not always as bad or uninteresting as they first might seem!
References and further reading: A. Brown 50 Finds of Roman Coinage from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (Forthcoming, 2021): p.68
S. Estiot, http://www.ric.mom.fr/en/info/sysmon
G.C. Boon ‘Counterfeit Coins in Roman Britain in J. Casey and R. Reece (eds.) Coins and the Archaeologist (Seaby: London, 1988): Chapter 7
R. Bland Coin Hoards and Hoarding in Roman Britain AD 43-c.498 (Spink, 2018): pp. 80-81, map 18
Welcome to another edition of Coin Relief. In this issue Dr. Andrew Brown examines the coinage of the emperor Aurelian who ruled from AD 270-275.
Aurelian, AD 270-275
Lucius Domitius Aurelianus had risen from relatively humble origins in Moesia through the military ranks to serve as commander of the cavalry under Claudius II. He had served under Gallienus as a competent cavalry commander, notably alongside Claudius at the Battle of Naissus against the Goths in AD 268, although it is reported in at least one ancient source (Aurelius Victor XXIII.21) that he may have been one of the co-conspirators in Gallienus’ assassination outside Milan that same year. His military achievements continued under Claudius, first against the Alamanni in the north and then against the combined forces of the Goths and Heruli where his Dalmatian cavalry drove and harassed the invading forces east through the Balkans and Thrace. Claudius’ death by plague in AD 270 at Sirmium prompted the brief reign of his brother, Quintillus, before the legions came out in support of Aurelian, who was still campaigning against the Goths on the Danube. Aurelian was initially based in Sirmium, where he had been declared emperor in September AD 270, and from here he had to deal with a new Vandal invasion on the Danube. This was quickly supressed before a second, more pressing, threat of invasion by the Alamanni and Juthungi in northern Italy took him to Milan (Quintillus’ former capital). Initial Germanic raiding proved quite successful and Aurelian’s forces suffered defeat in the Po Valley near Piacenza. As the invading forces worked their way closer to Rome, fear spread and the Sibylline books were consulted before Aurelian achieved important victories, notably at Fano, in early AD 271 that pushed the Juthungi back to the Danube. His victories against the Juthungi and Alamanni earned him the title Germanicus Maximus.
Two events occurred in Rome in AD 271 that had a long-standing impact on Rome and the wider empire. The city itself had been left to fend for itself and since the beginning of the imperial period had been without city walls to protect it. As a matter of urgency, Aurelian began a massive program of works to construct a huge defensive circuit to surround the city, a project that would not be completed until the reign of Probus. Much of the c.19km of the Aurelianic walls remain visible today, albeit with improvements and additions over the years.
The second issue Aurelian faced was with the coinage and particularly with the hugely debased material being produced by the imperial mint at Rome. We’ll look at this in greater detail below, but Aurelian’s attempts to control the coinage resulted in a pitched battle between the urban cohorts and the mint workers on the Caelian Hill in Rome with c.7,000 deaths and the closure of the Roman mint in AD 271 for two years. Ultimately, this resulted by AD 274 in a reformed radiate coinage that was rolled out to the mints empire-wide.
At home in AD 271 Aurelian dealt with usurpations by Septiminus and Urbanus in Dalmatia that were quickly put down by the legions, and by Domitianus in Gaul. His attention then turned east to the Palmyrene Kingdom, reaching Antioch by May AD 272. After pushing the Palmyrenes back to Palmyra itself, Zenobia and Vabalathus were taken captive by Aurelian and, following a second insurrection in AD 273, Palmyra was sacked. Aurelian received the titles Parthicus Maximus for his eastern campaigns and his coinage often carries legends that included Restitvtor Orientis for his role as ‘restorer of the east’. After his successes in the east, Aurelian’s focus moved to the breakaway Gallic Empire in the west. In a resounding victory (likely manufactured in co-operation with Tetricus I!) at Châlons-en-Champagne in mid-AD 274, Tetricus I surrendered to Aurelian, reportedly quoting Virgil: “Unconquered hero, free me from these ills” (Eutropius IX.13). For the first time in 14 years the Roman empire was united and Aurelian’s coins of this period (post-AD 272) often carry the reverse legend Restitvtor Orbis – ‘Restorer of the World’ – to reflect his role in restoring the eastern and western provinces to Rome.
AD 274 was significant not just for the reunification of the empire, but also for the reform of the radiate coinage. By the end of the year Aurelian was in Rome celebrating his triumphs (including triumphal processions with the Tetrici, Zenobia, and Vabalathus on display) and his quinquennalia – his 5th year in power – with extensive games. After his victories in the east, Aurelian brought the solar cult of Sol Invictus (‘the unconquered/invincible sun’) to the fore, it has been argued even heading towards monotheism, with his coinage reflecting his association to Sol. This may have been stimulated by his defeat of the Palmyrenes at Emesa where he apparently achieved victory thanks to the divine intervention of the sun god, later paying his respects at the Temple of Elagabalus within the city (Historia Augusta Life of Aurelian 25). In any case, Aurelian’s affinity with Sol resulted in the establishment of games dedicated to Sol that occurred every four years, a priesthood, and an elaborate temple to Sol Invictus in Rome that was adorned with the spoils of Aurelian’s eastern campaigns and dedicated by him on 25th December AD 274. During the course of these festivities at the end of AD 274, Aurelian’s wife, Ulpia Severina, as augusta was afforded equal honour and becomes an important figure on Roman coinage of this period.
Coinage of Aurelian
Although the radiate coinage of the 3rd century is generally abundant in Britain and on the PAS too, Aurelian and Severina are not well represented, particularly after Aurelian’s reforms of the coinage in AD 274 (see below). The PAS has data for 181 coins of Aurelian (141 have images), with an additional 365 coins in the IARCW data that includes a mixture of site and hoard coins but lacks images and so is not included in the analysis here. For Severina, the picture is even less comprehensive, with just 20 coins (13 have images) and a further 36 IARCW coins not included here. For the early issues of Aurelian one of the difficulties lies in the similarities between obverse and reverse types with his predecessors Quintillus and Claudius II, which on very worn or corroded coins can all look quite similar. There are several coins recorded under Aurelian that I have excluded here as they are in fact issues of Quintillus or Claudius and I imagine there are likely to be other examples within the mass of material for Claudius and Quintillus that could well be early types of Aurelian!
Gold coinage was struck for Aurelian, with some significant donatives issued, for example, from the mints of Milan and Siscia. However, this is extremely rare in Britain and Bland and Loriot note just one gold piece of Aurelian (no. 427bis); there are to date no PAS examples.
The hugely debased currency inherited by Aurelian in AD 270 included output from seven mints and 33 officinae around the empire. Attempts to curb issues of inflation and debasement by his predecessors had been unsuccessful and so one of the challenges presented to Aurelian was to resolve the monetary issues faced by Rome. Once the military and political situation had resolved itself to a degree, this became increasingly possible and during the course of his reign Aurelian implemented a significant reform to the radiate coinage that had a long-standing impact, ultimately culminating in the reforms of Diocletian at the end of the century.
The “bellum monetariorum” and monetary reform
During the course of the 3rd century, the radiate coinage quite quickly experienced widespread debasement. The, theoretically silver, coin issued first by Caracalla had become more of a token bronze coinage by the middle of the century, particularly with the reigns of Gallienus and Claudius II when the empire experienced both its greatest external threats and fragmentation, as well as economic instability and inflation. The drop in value of the radiate had also pushed the denarius from regular circulation by the AD 240s-250s and, aside from a brief interlude with Postumus, the large bronze denominations (sestertius, dupondius, and as) had all but vanished. In Rome the situation was particularly dire. By the time the posthumous Divus Claudius issues were struck, perhaps under Quintillus or early in Aurelian’s reign, the radiate had reached its most base. Coins were poorly struck and on poor fabric that had little more than a few percent silver content. But they were also produced in large volume, flooding the market with poor quality coinage. Oddly, some of the early coinage of the breakaway Gallic empire, particularly with Postumus, as well as coins struck in the eastern mints, tends to have better quality control and more silver. The reason for this essentially appears to have been widespread fraud committed by the mint workers in Rome who, left unchecked, deliberately issued adulterated and underweight coins and possibly pocketed some of the raw metal themselves!
Aurelian’s attempts to suppress the poor-quality coinage issued by the Rome mint resulted in uprising by the mint workers led by the rationalis (the finance minister in control of the mint) Felicissimus. The revolt – the bellum monetariorum (‘the war of the moneyers’) – was repressed by Aurelian in a pitched and bloody battle on the Caelian Hill in Rome, with some sources suggesting as many as 7,000 deaths (e.g. Historia Augusta Aurelian 38.2; Eutropius IX.14)! The immediate impact in Rome was the forced closure of the mint in AD 271 for the next two years, with mint workers relocated to other mints around the empire. By AD 274, following the reunification of the empire, Aurelian was in a position to more fully reform the coinage. The return of the Gallic provinces to the fold meant the closure of the mints in Cologne and Trier and a resultant reduction in output of debased radiates. Rome had re-opened again in AD 273 and in the spring of AD 274 Aurelian introduced his reforms. The debased radiate was replaced with a reformed radiate with silvered surface, the aurelianus, that now contained 5% silver and was rolled out to all mints producing coinage within the empire. Significantly, these reformed radiates are marked with the numerals XXI in Latin or KA in Greek, guaranteeing their fineness at 5% silver. Coins from the Ticinum mint are typically marked just with XX, while at Siscia they often carry punctuation: XX•I. This indicates the XXI or KA means “20 to 1” rather than 21, either one part silver to twenty bronze or 20 aureliani to one pure silver argenteus, thus 5%.
Alongside the introduction of the Aurelianus, the debased radiates were recalled from circulation, Zosimus noting that “He likewise called in all the counterfeit money, and issued new, to avoid confusion in trade.” (Zosimus I.61.3). This effectively devalued the poor quality radiates struck from Gallienus’ reign onward, and particularly in the Gallic empire, although, as we shall see in a future edition, in the west at least they did not quickly disappear from use. Indeed, the new, large denomination prompted widespread contemporary copies (‘barbarous radiates’) that proliferate in Britain, as well as large hoarded assemblages. The denarius is reintroduced with Aurelian’s reforms as a small bronze coin with laureate bust, the aurelianus valued at two denarii in much the same way as when the radiate was initially introduced by Caracalla. The larger bronze denominations briefly re-appear and it is in the years AD 274-275 that all of the coinage for Severina is struck. Perhaps as significant as the newly introduced denominations was a reorganisation of the mints themselves, with eight mints systematically striking and marking their coinage with more regulated mintmarks. The reverse types, too, show some element of reform with a focus on solar imagery and the cult of Sol Invictus that Aurelian had adopted during his eastern campaigns.
The mint at Rome produced several series of coins during Aurelian’s reign. The initial output from the mint continued in much the same way as it had done with Claudius II and Quintillus, striking from 12 officinae each with their own officina letter and with types similar to previous reigns. These carry a longer obverse legend with all of Aurelian’s titles: IMP C L DOM AVRELIANVS AVG – there are currently nine identified examples on the PAS.
Following the monetary reform in AD 274, aureliani, denarii, and larger base metal denominations were all issued from the Rome mint and are represented in the PAS data. A total of four aureliani are recorded to date for Aurelian, with a further two examples of Severina. It is worth noting that Severina often appears associated with Concordia and is given remarkable status in the coin issues with the officinae of several of the mints only striking for her. After Aurelian’s death in AD 275, coins in Severina’s name continue to be struck prior to Tacitus’ promotion to emperor by the senate, suggesting that she held significant power and acted almost a regent for a short period of time.
With the reformed radiate also appears the small laureate bronze denarius – not the silver coin of the first two centuries AD, but a small copper coin that tariffed at half an aurelianus (or 1/124 lb). Some of these coins are marked in exergue with the letters VSV, perhaps to demonstrate its value as a vsvalis or ‘common’ denarius. Perhaps surprisingly there are nine examples of these smaller denominations recorded through the PAS, four for Aurelian and five for Severina. For each the same type is represented – VICTORIA AVG for Aurelian and VENVS FELIX for Severina. Interestingly, the only denarius of either in Normanby was of the same type for Severina (no. 1286). A single large bronze denomination – an as – has also been recorded through the PAS. These are generally rare and it appears to be the only example to date.
The Gallic mints had disappeared after Tetricus’ surrender to Aurelian in AD 274. Aurelian appears to have opened a new mint in Lyon, but it had a limited output and the issues lack the marks of value associated with the reformed radiate. Estiot suggests the reason for this may have been the difficulty in imposing the reformed coinage in a region where the debased coinage was the standard and that the authorities may have given up trying. These are not common coins, and there appears to only be one example on the PAS to date. It has been suggested that some coins originally identified as from Lyon may be the last issues of the Trier mint before it was closed by Aurelian.
The issues from the mint of Milan follow a similar pattern to those of Rome, striking in up to four officinae (P, S, T, Q) first with the debased radiates and then the slightly improved coins of c.AD 273-274. With the coinage reform, the mint at Milan was relocated to Ticinum, which produced large quantities of the reformed aureliani. As such, there are no reformed radiates from the Milan mint. The Milan coinage is quite extensive on the PAS, however, with at least 42 examples recorded to date.
It is thought, too, that the production of the Divus Claudius radiates, which appear in huge volume as regular and copied coins, may well have continued into the reign of Aurelian (at both Milan and Rome). A coin from the Bourne Valley Hoard, Wiltshire (BM-C33636) would seem to confirm this, since it combines a posthumous issue of Claudius II on the obverse with a reverse type of Aurelian.
The slightly improved radiates appear towards the end of the mint operation at Milan, with several examples recorded through the PAS. There is a noticeable change not only in style, but also in reverse types that highlight, for example, the military, Aurelian’s role as RESTITVTOR ORIENTIS (‘restorer of the east’) following his reclaiming of the eastern provinces, and Sol.
After the transfer of the mint from Milan in AD 274, the new mint at Ticinum issues a series of post-reform radiates, aureliani, for both Aurelian and Severina, all carrying the value XXI in the mintmark. These were struck in six officinae (P, S, T, Q, V, VI), the latter two for Severina alone. There are twelve PAS examples with three main reverse types: Oriens, Providentia, and Sol.
The mint at Siscia began striking coinage almost immediately upon Aurelian’s elevation to emperor at Sirmium in AD 270. It was a significant mint for Aurelian, striking both gold and radiate coinages throughout his reign in four then, after the reform, six workshops (P, S, T, Q, V, VI). There are 15 pre-reform and three post-reform radiates for Aurelian recorded through the PAS currently attributed to Siscia. Three types are represented within this material, those that point to concord with the military (Concordia Militum), Fortuna types, and types depicting Jupiter in his role as protector of the emperor (Iovi Conservatori).
When the mint at Rome was closed by Aurelian, mint workers were sent to Serdica to establish a new mint in the Dacian province – an important frontier location in the conflict with the Goths. The mint had a relatively limited output, striking in up to four officinae and using both the XXI and KA marks for the reformed aureliani. Only three pre-reform radiates and five aureliani from Serdica are recorded through the PAS.
Uncertain Balkan Mint
Alongside the mints of Serdica and Cyzicus, a new mint was established in the Balkans to support Aurelian’s campaigns on the Danube frontier against the Goths. The mint operated only between c.AD 271-273, closing with the completion of Aurelian’s eastern campaigns after the defeat of the Palmyrenes and prior to the reforms of AD 274. Only four possible examples are recorded through the PAS.
The mint at Cyzicus struck throughout Aurelian’s reign, of which the PAS records eight prereform and three reformed radiates.
After Roman authority was re-established at Antioch in AD 272, the mint continued to strike for Aurelian and, following his death, solely in the name of Severina. Notably, the mint here in the last issues of Severina gives her the title P F (Pia Felix), which is normally reserved for the emperor. Aside from the issues jointly in the name of Aurelian and Vabalathus, there is possibly one coin of Severina from the Antioch mint recorded through the PAS.
Two coins within the PAS material are apparently from the mint of Tripolis (Lebanon), established in c.AD 273. Coins of this mint are rare as British finds.
There are approximately 40 PAS coins that cannot be attributed to a particular mint either due to their preservation or lack of surviving mintmarks. The moving of mint workers between mints in more than one instance means that many of the coins issued can appear quite similar in style. When identifying these coins, the mintmark should point you in the right direction. The reformed aureliani should be identifiable based on the XX, XXI, or KA in exergue and, conversely those lacking these marks are likely to be pre-AD 274 (with the possible exception of the Lyon mint noted above). Look out for unusual mintmarks, too, as these may help – most notable are lions in the exergue for Rome mint coins and dolphins for coins of the unattributed Balkan mint! There are no examples of these on the PAS yet that I can find.
Welcome to the next edition of Coin Relief. In this issue Dr. Andrew Brown looks at coinage from the period of the Tetrarchy. The Tetrarchy was a system of government instituted by the emperor Diocletian in AD 293 to try and bring some stability to the Roman Empire. Under this system, the government of the empire was divided between two senior emperors, the augusti, and their juniors and designated successors, the caesares.
The Tetrarchy, AD 293-307
In AD 293, the diarchy established almost a decade earlier by Diocletian (AD 284-305) that saw him rule in the east with his co-augustus Maximian (AD 286-305) in the west expanded to a tetrarchy of two senior and two junior rulers. Galerius (AD 293-311) assumed the title of caesar in the east under Diocletian, while in the west the nobilissimus Caesar was Constantius I (AD 293-306). The first task of the latter was, of course, the restoration of Britannia to the Roman empire following the usurpation of Carausius and then Allectus between AD 286-296. Diocletian, and by extension Galerius, was styled as the son of Jupiter – Jovius – Maximian as the junior partner, and his junior Constantius, on the other hand, assumed the title Herculius claiming descent through Hercules rather than Jupiter. Not only did this perhaps give them an element of divine legitimacy, but it also created an Imperial college and a more stable administrative structure from which to rule the empire, with each partner adopting characteristics, positions, and roles based on their Jovian or Herculian descent.
In this edition we will look at the coinage following the establishment of the Tetrarchy and Diocletian’s reforms of the coinage in c.AD 294 until the death of Constantius I and elevation of his son, Constantine I (AD 306-337) in AD 307. The history of the Tetrarchic period isn’t always straightforward, but the coinage at least has some basic elements that are commonly seen through the PAS. The standard reference for this period when recording coins through the PAS remains RIC VI.
Diocletian’s reforms, c.AD 294-301
Aurelian (AD 270-275) had attempted to stabilise Roman currency and inflation within the fractured empire in the AD 270s, but had not met with complete success. It was not until Diocletian, who introduced several reforms beginning in c.AD 294, that greater stability was exerted and with some control over coin production empire-wide.
Diocletian’s currency reforms in c.AD 294 re-established a trimetallic system of coinage and introduced new denominations into circulation. We have already seen in previous blog posts that the silver argenteus emerges at this time but perhaps more significantly for the 4th century is the appearance of a large silvered bronze coin, the nummus. In the initial period of reform the coinage structure, based on relative values to the denarius communis (hereafter ‘d.c.’; now essentially a unit of account rather than an extensive coinage in circulation), saw the following coins in use:
A second piece of legislation was issued from Diocletian’s capital in Nicomedia and was enacted on the 1st of September AD 301. This currency edict is partially preserved in the Aphrodisias currency inscription (Aphrodisias, Turkey) and establishes the denominations and their relative values in d.c. in use at that time. The precise purpose of the edict is a matter for discussion. It appears to have worked in tandem with the Edict on Maximum Prices (See below) to impose economic control, perhaps to curb inflation, prevent the hoarding of the new higher value denominations, and to benefit the Roman state notably in its recouping of taxes and bullion or for military pay and expenditure. For the coinage, the argenteus and nummus appear to have initially been undervalued relative to their metal content and the Currency Edict effectively doubled their face value with the coins themselves remaining the same. Thus, the argenteus after AD 301 was tariffed at 100 d.c. while the nummus increased to 25 d.c. and the post-reform radiate to 4 d.c.
About 140 fragments from inscriptions that preserve the Edict of Maximum Prices have been identified at various locations in the Roman world, mostly in the eastern half of the empire. This was introduced a few weeks or months after the Currency Edict, perhaps in November or December AD 301, but the two seem to have worked together as part of the same economic reforms implemented by the Tetrarchy. Where the currency edict established the values of the coinage, the Prices Edict attempted to curb inflation by fixing the maximum prices that could be charged for commodities, goods, and services empire-wide. The edict itself notes the affect unregulated prices, which varied regionally, had on the compulsory purchases required for the military. It goes on to list over 1,200 goods based on their commodity value, services (e.g. salaries, daily wages, etc.), and the value of bullion. Thus, there is everything from the price of wheat per modius at 100 d.c., to a sextarius (pint) of wheat beer (4 d.c.), a fattened pheasant (250 d.c.), 10 dormice (40 d.c.), a bundle of small parsnips (6 d.c.), 2 d.c. per customer for a barber, or 25 d.c. a day for a sewer cleaner or an armorer to sharpen a sword. At the other end of the spectrum, 80 d.c. for Babylonian purple slippers, 1,500 d.c. for a top-quality leather travelling bag, 6,000 d.c. for a hooded cloak from Britannia (a birrus Britannicus), or 150,000 d.c. for a pound of unprocessed silk dyed purple! The bullion value of gold is set at 72,000 d.c. per pound.
These were the maximum prices that should be charged around the empire for each good or service listed. However, the experiment with state control in this manner was ultimately unsuccessful. It did not account for the economic differences from one end of the empire to the other and indeed met with resistance and even black-market trade.
Tetrarchic coinage, AD 294-307
Against this background of monetary and economic reform, control of coin production was also tightened. A network of sixteen mints operated during the Tetrarchic period, many continuing from preceding decades, but others (Aquileia, Thessalonica, and Nicomedia) established with Diocletian’s reforms and others still (Ostia, Serdica, and Carthage) appearing intermittently. By AD 301 this had resulted in standardised production around the empire and the removal of Roman provincial issues. Mints now marked coins with mint and officina marks to ensure their quality and, perhaps more notably, coin types and legends (in Latin) were standardised around the empire so that, for example, a nummus from a western mint should be essentially the same as one from an eastern mint with the exception of its mintmark. The mints operating during the Tetrarchic period were:
The PAS records c.5,500 coins dated to the Tetrarchic period of Reece Period 15 (AD 296-317), with an additional 6,799 IARCW Welsh records. In this blog we will look at the c.5,500 coins alone, since the Welsh data contains a mixture of hoard, site, and single coin finds and lacks images to verify the identifications. This will be divided into two broad sections, roughly corresponding to the First, Second, and Third Tetrarchies between AD 294-307 and the elevation of Constantine I to Augustus.
Coinage struck in gold and silver is rare in Britain for the Tetrarchic period. A single gold coin, an aureus of Maximinus II as caesar, has been recorded through the PAS, while the two argentei of Diocletian on the database have been looked at in previous blogs. A handful of other examples post-dating AD 307 are noted on the PAS and will be looked at in a future edition, but in total there are no more than 19 silver (and base silver/billon) and gold denominations for the entire period up to AD 317.
Only 27 radiates struck following Diocletian’s reforms in AD 294 are recorded on the PAS. These are not common as British finds given their production in eastern mints. In any case, Britain remained separate from Rome until AD 296 while first Carausius and then Allectus presided over a breakaway empire and large quantities of radiates (official and otherwise) remained in use here, perhaps integrated later on with the new monetary system. The nummus does not appear until after Constantius reclaims the province for Rome.
The Post-reform radiates recorded through the PAS are products of just five Roman mints (see table below). They can be difficult to distinguish from later pre-reform radiates, but lack the XXI usually seen in the exergue of earlier coins of the Tetrarchs, while some carry vota reverse types that are distinctive.While the PAS coins appear to be genuine finds, it is possible that some may be more recent rather than genuine ancient losses – as with any unusual coin, an accurate findspot and decent image is vital in this regard.
By far the most common coin type, and the standard in Britain for this period, is the large (originally silvered) nummus introduced by Diocletion in AD 294. The earliest examples are large and can often be separated from later coins even when quite worn or corroded due to their laureate busts and large module – be careful not to confuse with very worn early bronze asses though (the mintmarks and lack of S C on the reverse are a giveaway here)! There are at least 1,400 nummi dating to the period between AD 294-307 recorded through the PAS. I think this number is liable to change up or down – there are a significant number of coins recorded within the broad Reece Period 15 range that could be potentially dated more closely. This is something to remember when recording the nummi of this period through the database, it is important to use the date ranges of the coin issue (where known) rather than the regnal dates of the emperor for the date ranges.
The nummus introduced by Diocletian has one standard type that is employed empirewide and which represents the bulk of the material seen in Britain. This is the distinctive GENIO POPVLI ROMANI (‘to the genius of the people of Rome’) reverse depicting Genius standing left holding patera and cornucopia (Figs.). If you are given for recording a large bronze coin with this reverse type it is probably going to be a Tetrarchic coin.
First Tetrarchy, AD 294-305
The initial phase of Tetrarchic rule, the First Tetrarchy, until AD 305 sees a relatively uniform corpus of material recorded through the PAS. With Diocletian and Maximian as the senior augusti and Galerius and Constantius as their juniors, there are at least 1,090 nummi recorded. Over 90% of these where the reverse type is legible are the standard GENIO POPVLI ROMANI types, with coins from twelve of the Roman mints so far identified. As might be expected, the western mints are the most regularly seen, with Trier taking the lead, followed by London and then Lyon. Maximian is the most commonly represented ruler, followed by Diocletian and then the juniors Constantius Galerius.
Although the GENIO POPVLI ROMANI type dominates, it was by no means the sole nummus type issued. Other examples are quite rare on the PAS, although distinctive Moneta types and coins issued from Carthage do appear.
Second and Third Tetrarchies, c.AD 305-307
Diocletian had fallen ill while at Nicomedia in AD 304 and the following year, something extraordinary happened. Galerius travelled to Nicomedia and many thought Diocletian had died with Galerius preparing to assume power. However, this was not the case. Instead, on 1st May AD 305, Diocletian called an assembly on the hill outside Nicomedia where he had been proclaimed emperor in AD 284 and publicly became the first Roman emperor to abdicate power and retire. Maximian followed suit and so the two junior partners, Galerius and Constantius, now assumed power. Although it was expected that Constantine I (son of Constantius) and Maxentius (son of Maximian) would be the next in line as junior partners in the Tetrarchic college this turned out not to be the case. Galerius it seems instead assured the appointment of Severus as caesar in the west under Constantius and Maximinus Daia under his control in the east. Things were to change again just a year later. Constantius controlled the western provinces and was responsible for Britain and Gaul. While campaigning in northern Britain against the Picts, he fell ill and recalled his son to York where, before his death on the 25th July AD 306, conferred power on Constantine (who accepted position as caesar but not augustus!) and in so doing side-stepped the natural progression that Galerius had manufactured for the Tetrarchy. Galerius accepted Constantine’s place in the Tetrarchy as caesar in the west, with Severus elevated to augustus. It was later in AD 306 that Maxentius, with the support of Maximian who came out of retirement, usurped power in Rome. Severus was ordered by Galerius to march on Maxentius, which he did the following year, but in defeat and captured at Ravenna he was removed from power. By July AD 307 Constantine assumed the title of Augustus. But the structure of the Tetrarchy established by Diocletian had clearly broken down.
The coinage of this period of political change is much less extensive than the First Tetrarchy, as might be expected given the two-year period between Diocletian and Maximian’s retirements and Constantine assuming power as augustus. The PAS has approximately 300 examples identified to date, not including those coins of Maxentius that post-date Constantine’s elevation as augustus and which we will look at in a future edition. The standard GENIO POPVLI ROMANI type remains in circulation, however with Constantine I and Maxentius, the nummus shrinks to 1/48 of a pound by AD 307 and drops in weight – the beginning of the decline of the large module coin to the smaller copper-alloy coins seen from the AD 330s onwards. This results in the legend shrinking to simply read GENIO POP ROM. For the retired augusti, Diocletian and Maximian, obverse titles adjust to reflect their new status as senior augusti (P F S) and reverse types point to their restful or peaceful (QVIES) retirement.
The Tetrarchy, AD 307-317
The second half of the Tetrarchic period covered by Reece Period 15, between AD 307-317, is a complex phase of Roman history and politics – there isn’t enough space here to do it justice! However, it is worth looking at and briefly summarising for the coinage that we see through the PAS. We have already seen how, after the retirement of the senior augusti Diocletian (AD 384-305) and Maximian (AD 286-310), Constantius I (AD 293-306) ruled in the west with Severus (AD 305-307) as caesar, with Galerius (AD 293- 311) and Maximinus Daia (AD 305-313) in the east. Constantius’ death at York in July AD 306 resulted in the legions there declaring for his son, Constantine I. Galerius instead promoted Severus to augustus but acknowledged Constantine’s position as caesar. Constantine initially seems to have accepted his role as junior partner and controlled the western provinces of Britain, Gaul, and Spain with coins struck from this period until he assumed the title of augustus in July AD 307 naming him nobilissimus caesar.
There are approximately 45 divus constantius nummi recorded through the PAS that commemorate Constantius’ death. All are of the MEMORIA FELIX type except the single example struck under Maxentius at Ticinum noted above.
After Severus’ defeat at the hands of Maxentius, Constantine styled himself as augustus. In Italy, Maximian came out of retirement in late AD 306, first in support of his son Maxentius’ usurpation against Rome (AD 306-312), then in an attempt to usurp him in AD 307, before fleeing to Constantine in the west where he again attempted to usurp power before committing suicide on Constantine’s orders in AD 310. There are over 100 post-retirement nummi of Maximian recorded on the PAS. About a dozen of these are of the Providentia type, but the majority are the standard nummus with shortened GENIO POP ROM reverse legend and type.
At a council in Carnuntum (Austria) on 11th November 308, Diocletian came out of retirement and met with Maximian and Galerius to try and stabilise the Tetrarchy, where it was decided that Maximian should retire (again!) and that Licinius I (AD 308-324) should replace Severus as augustus in the west. This was clearly not ideal for either Constantine I or Maximinus Daia, who were both overlooked. Upon Galerius’ death in AD 3111, Licinius extended his control eastwards into the territories of Maximinus Daia, with Maxentius sandwiched between him and Constantine I in the west. Only a single silver coin, a rare quinarius of Constantine I, is recorded on the PAS in the period immediately after Constantine becomes augustus in AD 307. Almost all of the coins recorded up until AD 313 are nummi – there are more than 1,300 examples identified to date, although I suspect this number is potentially slightly higher since the two standard types are often difficult to date more closely than the later Tetrarchic period when poorly preserved.
The nummus underwent a series of reductions between AD 307-313 instigated first by Constantine in the west before spreading east and including the mints operating under Maxentius’ control. By AD 310 it weighed between 4-5g and continued to decrease in size, particularly after AD 317 when it halved in value. An interesting group of nummi struck at Lyon in AD 308-309 and the eastern mints of Nicomedia (in AD 308-311) and Cyzicus (in AD 311-312), carry marks that reinforce the nummus’ face value after the initial reductions. Thus, coins from Lyon are marked CI HS to indicate their value at 100 sestertii, the equivalent of 25 d.c.; while those from the eastern mints have reverse legends that end CMH for the same value but with ligated Greek numerals MH. These are not common as PAS finds, although at least 6 examples from Lyon and four from the eastern mints are recorded. Alongside the weight reduction in the nummus was the introduction of fractional denominations – half, third, and quarter (or less) nummi. More than 130 examples have been identified on the PAS so far with the majority dating to the period c.AD 310-311 and from the mint of Trier.
A range of nummi are struck after AD 307, typically with reverse types that have associations to Mars, Jupiter, Sol, and Genius, amongst others. By far the most prevalent, however, and important to recognise if you are recording coins of this period in Britain, are the GENIO POP ROM and SOLI INVICTO COMITI types that are produced in large volume particularly from the western mints. Coins issued from the eastern mints are far less commonly seen, although do turn up notably with Jupiter reverse types. The GENIO POP ROM reverse type is prolific at most mints, and a continuation of the longer GENIO POPVLI ROMANI types on the larger nummi of the early Tetrarchic period.
There are approximately 500 examples identified to date on the PAS (many without images), with examples from several mints across the empire although largely confined to issues from the western mints of London and Trier. For the period up to AD 313 almost half of the examples are identified as products of the London mint and a third from Trier. This switches in the subsequent period between AD 313-317, with almost 60% from the Trier mint and 35% from London. It should be noted that this number is liable to change in either direction as there are at least 60 examples that do not have mint attributions and many others may need adjusting.
By far the most common type in this period, however, is the SOLI INVICTO COMITI nummus for Constantine I, which experiences a large volume of production particularly after AD 310. On his way to Trier to celebrate his quinquennial year, Constantine is reported by the anonymous orator of the panegyric (VII, 21.3-6) in AD 310 to have stopped at a temple where he had his first religious vision of “Apollo with Victory accompanying him, offering you crowns of laurel, each one of which brings you an omen of thirty years”. After this, Sol Invictus, the invincible sun god, becomes Constantine’s protector and is most frequently styled as SOLI INVICTO COMITI as the invincible companion of the emperor. Coins issued with Sol types, particularly from the western mints, are prolific during this period, with over 2,500 PAS examples between AD 307-317. Of these currently with mint attributions, the London and Trier mints each make up about 40% of the total before AD 313, with London rising slightly to c.45% and Trier just a quarter of the total up to AD 317. As with the Genio types, these figures are likely to change! What is less likely to change is that fact that coins depicting Sol in this period are almost always for Constantine (about 90% of the total), with very few examples for the other emperors. It is worth noting that although Sol standing holding a globe is the most common type, he also appears on fractional nummi with abbreviated SOLI INVICTO reverse legend and on coins that have a radiate bust of sol on the reverse. Of the latter, there are about 30 examples on the database so far.
The standard SOLI INVICTO COMITI type continues until AD 317, so do check the mintmarks if visible to identify whether your coin falls early in the period or towards the end. Several other less common types do appear in this period too, notably depicting Mars. The Jupiter types from the eastern mints are not common as PAS finds, with fewer than 30 examples recorded to date. The Mars bust type should be readily distinguished from the Sol type by the presence of a helmeted rather than radiate bust on the reverse. These portrait reverse types are struck at Trier only. Several rarer issues are also recorded through the PAS. These include two nummi of Galeria Valeria, the daughter of Diocletian and second wife of Galerius. During his usurpation, Maxentius issued coinage from the Italian mints and there are 34 coins on the PAS struck in his name from Rome, Ticinum, Ostia, and Aquileia. These are mostly of one reverse type with CONSERV VRB SVAE legend and hexastyle temple, but also includes a single example of a posthumous issue of Divus Romulus, Maxentius’ son struck in AD 309.
AD 312 and 313 brought about three key events. In October AD 312, Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, thus ending his usurpation and giving Constantine control in the west. Maxentius had declared war on Constantine after his father, Maximian’s death and, in fear of Constantine allying with Licinius, Daia threw his support behind Maxentius. North of Rome near the Milvian Bridge, Constantine’s forces faced those of Maxentius, which were significantly larger. It was here that Constantine received his second divine vision – according to Eusebius (Vita Constantini I.28; see also Lactantius De Mortibus Persecutorum XLIV.3-9) this took the form of a vision at about noon of a cross of light above the sun accompanied by the inscription (in Greek ἐν τούτῳ νίκα) ‘in hoc signo vinces’ (‘in this sign, you shall conquer’) – prompting him to direct his troops to mark their shields with Christograms. The battle, on the 28th October 312 was decisive and Constantine reached Rome in triumph the following day while Maxentius’ body was fished out of the Tiber! Several coin issues struck after this date demonstrate Constantine’s authority in Rome and his restoration of peace following the victory.
Early the following year, Constantine met with Licinius in Milan. Here Licinius married Constantine’s half-sister, Constantia, to secure an understanding between the two men, at which time they also issued the Edict of Milan that promoted religious tolerance and prevented the persecution of Christianity within the empire. Maximinus Daia had sided openly with Maxentius and he was soon defeated in Battle by Licinius at Heraclea before fleeing to Tarsus where he died in August AD 313. This left the empire effectively divided in two by the end of AD 313, with Constantine (who championed Christianity) in the west and Licinius (a pagan who tolerated Christianity) in the east. The period between AD 310-315 presents some interesting material with regard to the coinage recorded through the PAS. A series of coin issues for Constantine from the mint of London depict Adventus reverse types – the ‘arrival’ of the emperor. One issue in AD 307 likely relates to a visit by Constantine to Britain in that year. A larger group of coins in the period c.AD 310-312 plausibly relate to another imperial visit by Constantine, perhaps in advance of Milvian bridge, for which he could well have recruited forces in Britain (although RIC VI, p. 121 sees this issue as representing Constantine’s threatened arrival in Rome).
Finally, a third group dating to AD 313-315 might point to a third visit to the province at some stage during that period. This at first glance doesn’t seem hugely out of the ordinary. What is fascinating, however, are the other coin types that appear contemporary with these issues. Gold coinage begins to reappear through the introduction of a lighter solidus struck at 1/72 lb in c.AD 309/310. A single solidus of Constantine – of a type previously unrecorded in Britain – was recorded through the PAS in 2019 and dates to AD 313-315 (Fig. 36). This is joined by two multiple aurei (1 ¼ aurei, sometimes termed festaurei), both of Licinius, dating to the same period. A further contemporary solidus from Britain is noted by R. Bland and X. Loriot (no. 229) along with another multiple of Licinius (no. 169).
In addition, between AD 310-313 we start to see the reappearance of silver in the PAS data with silver argentei for Constantine, Licinius, and Daia along with their base or billon copies. This coincides, too, with the spike in production (between AD 310-313) and loss of fractional nummi in Britain at around the time of celebrations for Constantine’s 5th year in power. As we have already seen, these fractional nummi do not appear in hoarded assemblages in huge volume as part of the regular currency in circulation and the suggestion instead is that they may have acted as donatives dispersed during the commemoration of specific Imperial events. The same may also be the case for the larger gold denominations, which could be seen more as a medallic coinage rather than currency in circulation. Sam Moorhead has already made the suggestion that this series of special gold coins struck at Trier between AD 313-315 for both Constantine I and Licinius I, with known museum examples and now findspots through the PAS finds in Britain, may have been shipped to the province in a batch as part of imperial largesse during a potential visit in AD 313-314. I think it possible that the combination of Adventus types, fractional nummi, silver and base argentei, and gold denominations, all of which cluster around the two broad dates of AD 310-313 (second group of Adventus coins, fractional nummi and argentei) and 313-315 (third group of Adventus types and gold) could well correspond with visits to the province by Constantine, or at least planned ones. Is it possible that the AD 310-313 group relate to Constantine being in Britain prior to Milvian Bridge (perhaps to garner support and manpower)? And could the second batch between AD 313-315 provide evidence for a third visit after Constantine secured his position as emperor? We perhaps need more material to substantiate this fully, but it is an interesting possibility!
AD 313-317 An uneasy period of truce followed the meeting at Milan, before civil war ensued and the armies of Constantine and Licinius met at Cibalae (Croatia) forcing Licinius to flee to Sirmium. A further Constantinian victory followed at the Battle of Mardia (Bulgaria) in AD 316/317 with a peace concluded on 1st March AD 317 at Serdica. This was effectively the end of Tetrarchic system established by Diocletian, since the two augusti promoted their sons (Crispus and Constantine II for Constantine and Licinius II for Licinius) to caesars and reestablished a dynastic system of rule.
The coinage of this period differs little from the preceding phase on the PAS, although there is far less variety in the types (Fig. 40) seen and now the Sol types for Constantine – who is after all now in sole control in the western empire – dominate. The London mint again accounts for the largest share of those coins currently given a mint attribution on the PAS. At the very end of the period, in AD 317, a few slightly less common types for Constantine II as caesar appear and are worth looking out for if you are recording coins on the database.
References and further reading:
R. Abdy ‘Tetrarchy and the House of Constantine ‘in The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage 2012
G. Bransbourg ‘Inflation and monetary reforms in the fourth century: Diocletian’s twin Edicts of AD 301’ in K. Butcher (ed.) Debasement: Manipulation of Coin Standards in Pre-Modern Monetary Systems (Oxbow, 2020): 165-194
The best source for the London mint coinage of this period is H. Cloke and L. Toone, The London Mint of Constantius and Constantine (London: Spink, 2015)
A key reference for the mint of Lyon is P. Bastien Le Monnayage de l’atelier de Lyon (6 vols.)
For Maxentius, see V. Drost Le monnayage de Maxence (2013)
R. Bland and X. Loriot Roman and Early Byzantine Gold Coins found in Britain and Ireland (Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication no. 49, 2010)
S. Moorhead and D. Stuttard, The Romans Who Shaped Britain (2012): pp. 194, 196
Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief. In this issue Dr. Andrew Brown at the coinage of the brothers Claudius II and Quintillus.
Claudius II, AD 268-270
One of the conspirators in the assassination of Gallienus at Milan in AD 268 may have been a highranking military official in Gallienus’ army – Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius. Upon Gallienus’ death, Claudius was declared emperor by the legions and swiftly dealt with the attempted usurpation of Roman authority by Gallienus’ former commander of the cavalry, Aureolus. At the same time, he halted attempts by the senate to murder supporters of Gallienus in Rome, persuading them to deify his predecessor.
Claudius was a soldier with a distinguished military career that saw him advance through the ranks to the position of Gallienus’ commander of cavalry before assuming the highest office as emperor. As emperor he was very much liked by the senate and the people, and history has painted him in a good light. This may have as much to do with the dislike in some quarters of Gallienus by the end of his life combined with Claudius’ successes against Rome’s enemies during his brief two-year reign.
The first threat faced by Claudius at the start of his reign, once order had been restored at Milan, was from the north. Aureolus’ retreat to Milan had left the northern Italian frontier vulnerable and subject to incursion from the Alemanni. He secured an important victory against the Alemanni at Lake Garda in late AD 268, earning the title Germanicus Maximus as a result, before heading to Rome to celebrate the triumph and his elevation as emperor. He took the consulship in Rome in January AD 269 before turning to face a second threat that in many respects defined his period as emperor. Gallienus was already engaged in conflict along the Danube and in the Balkans and had managed to stall the Herulian invasion prior to his assassination. In autumn AD 269 Claudius face the threat of renewed incursion from the east, with a huge Gothic fleet and army working its way west through Greece. He met the Gothic forces at the Battle of Naissus (Niš, Serbia), perhaps with Aurelian leading the Dalmatian cavalry, and inflicted a heavy defeat (with large numbers of casualties on both sides), which earnt him the title Gothicus Maximus by which he is often known (Claudius Gothicus).
Although Claudius’ legions succeeded in pushing the Goths back out of Roman territory, Claudius himself did not have time to focus on attempts to reunify other parts of the empire – the breakaway Gallic states in the west and the Palmyrene empire in the east. In August AD 270, while at Sirmium dealing with a new threat to Pannonia by the Vandals, he contracted the plague and died.
Although Claudius was only emperor for two years, coinage was struck at a number of mints around the empire with gold (Fig. 1) and base metal coinages known. There are to date no gold coins of Claudius II on the PAS and there do not appear to be any examples of the very base denarii of this period that are easily missed amongst the mass of radiates. During this period the radiate coinages struck at Rome reach their low point in terms of quality and the very base nature of the alloys used. This may have prompted an early closure of the mint, perhaps in AD 270, although this certainly did happen later with Aurelian who brought about extensive monetary reforms.
Milan and Siscia produced quite extensive issues for Claudius, as did the eastern mints, notably Cyzicus and Antioch. Although examples of Milan and Siscia do appear on the PAS database, they are generally scarcer than the Roman mint coins that form the bulk of the assemblage, the eastern mint coins remaining very rare. It is worth pointing out, too, that Claudius’ coinage was subject to quite extensive copying, particularly in Britain, so it is not unusual to see contemporary copies of Rome mint coins, particularly of his posthumous issues. Of course, deciding what constitutes a contemporary copy or just a very poorly engraved and struck coin from the official mint in Rome is not always straightforward!
In total, the PAS records over 6,200 coins of Claudius II (including 1,458 IARCW Welsh records), the vast majority of which are attributed to Rome. There is much work still to do on his coinage within the database, but I don’t imagine this will have a significant impact on the volume of the individual mints represented – Rome is always going to be more common than the others. In this blog I follow the outline of Claudius’ coinage given in the Normanby volume. This updates the evidence presented in Cunetio and as one of the largest groups of Claudius’ coins is far more complete and should be your standard reference at present. It should be noted though that work is ongoing to provide an updated revision of RIC V.1 for Claudius II – there is an excellent digital version of this online here: http://www.ric.mom.fr/en/home.
Mint of Rome
Claudius’ coinage at Rome was struck in 12 officinae and over four issues that cover his reign. Each officina in the main issues struck a different reverse type, often with the workshop identified by a mintmark or officina letter in the field.1 It is therefore usually possible to identify relatively closely Claudius’ radiates from Rome based on the few standard types that appear for each issue. I follow here the outline in Normanby, since it is much more comprehensive than Cunetio and afforded an updated interpretation of Claudius’ coinage through the addition of an earlier first issue.
Mint of Milan
We have already seen that at the end of Gallienus’ reign his commander of cavalry, Aureolus, attempted to usurp power or at least defect to Postumus and struck coinage from his base in Milan in Postumus’ name. Although Gallienus had been successful on the battlefield against Aurelous and had pushed him back into Milan, during the siege that followed his own forces conspired to assassinate him. Those involved may well have included amongst their number Claudius II and Aurelian (e.g. Zosimus I.40), who were both officers under Gallienus. Claudius was declared emperor by the military at Milan and coinage appears very quickly from the mint in his name, including gold issues that served as donatives to appease the legions now occupying the city. Under Claudius, the Milan mint struck three issues of coinage with three officinae in operation. Coins from these series are generally marked in exergue with the officina letters P, S, or T to denote the workshop. This is a useful diagnostic tool in identifying a coin as potentially from the mint of Milan rather then one of the other mints. The bust type for Claudius is also different from that of Rome or Siscia – his head appears slightly rounder with bust types that are mostly (but not always, of course!) radiate, draped, and cuirassed.
The obverse legend also differs from most coins struck at Rome, reading IMP CLAVDIVS P F AVG. If you have a coin of Claudius therefore that has P F in the obverse legend it may well belong to the Milan series (although double check that it is not one of the rare early issues from Rome or Siscia too!). It is also worth noting that coins from Milan tend to be of slightly better quality than those of their counterparts at Rome, which can be very base and often quite crude. Coins from the Milan mint do appear on the PAS database – there are currently at least 235 records attributed to the mint, although I suspect this number may be slightly higher and that there are other coins yet to be fully identified.
The coinage from Siscia is perhaps more complex than that of Milan. Again, the coins are generally better quality than those from the Rome mint and the bust types have distinctive portraits that separate them from the other mints. Four issues of coinage are apparent at Siscia with up to four workshops striking in the latest issues of his reign. These do turn up as PAS finds, although there are fewer than 70 examples recorded to date, so they are generally scarcer than those of Milan and especially Rome.
Eastern Mints: Cyzicus and Antioch
Coins were also issued from the eastern mints of Cyzicus and Antioch for Claudius, of course the Antioch coins struck while Zenobia and Vabalathus controlled the mint here. These are generally very rare as British finds – Normanby has just 5 coins from Cyzicus and one from Antioch – and this is also true for the PAS database, for which there are so far only three verifiable examples, one from Cyzicus and two from Antioch. Coins from both of these mints generally look quite different in style to the coins of Rome, Milan, and Siscia, often silvery in appearance, and with types and legends that should separate them out from the bulk of Claudius’ coinage. The standard reference for these should be to Cunetio or Normanby, but if you are recording and unsure if you have an unusual, eastern coin please photograph it and send the details through to us!
Posthumous coinage – Divus Claudius, c.AD 270
After succumbing to plague in Sirmium in AD 270, Claudius was defied by the senate and his younger brother, Quintillus, briefly assumed control of the empire. At this point quite an extensive issue of posthumous coinage appears to commemorate the deified Claudius, probably struck during the reign of Quintillus, but perhaps extending into that of urelian. Characteristically, these issues have an obverse legend reading DIVO CLAVDIO for the deified emperor, with a reverse legend simply reading CONSECRATIO. Two basic reverse types are issued: one depicting an eagle with head left or right; the other an altar decorated either with a swag or divided into four with a dot in each quadrant. The majority of these seen in Britain are from the mint of Rome, however there were examples struck at the other mints too (occasionally, as is the case with Milan, with slightly modified obverse legend or with officina mark in the exergue), so do double check if the example you have looks a little unusual.
The Divus Claudius types are commonly seen for recording through the PAS – a quick search of the database produces over 2,000 examples. They were also copied extensively during the Roman period and the majority of PAS examples are probably irregular copies. Do remember that if you are recording Divus Claudius types on the PAS there is a separate dropdown option on the numismatic page for irregular copies!
Quintillus, AD 270
Marcus Aurelius Claudius Quintillus succeeded his brother Claudius II as emperor for a brief period of time in AD 270. He was born in Sirmium and during his brother’s reign perhaps held senior office but was certainly entrusted with responsibility and the security of the norther Italian frontier from Milan. It was at Milan, on Claudius’ death, that Quintillus assumed the purple with the legions in Milan declaring him emperor (see for example Eutropius IX.12). There is a suggestion that he was not originally Claudius’ first choice for emperor, with some sources (e.g. Zonaras) suggesting Claudius on his death bed had nominated Aurelian as successor. However, the senate seems to have quickly ratified Quintillus’ nomination, even if the military with Aurelian (probably on the Danube still dealing with the Goths) were unaware and ultimately preferred their own leader.
In the end, Quintillus never saw Rome as emperor. His reign was brief – sources like Eutropius (IX.12) and the Historia Augusta (Life of Claudius 12.5) suggest it lasted just 17 days, although the volume of coinage and other sources like Zosimus (I.47) indicate it was probably as long as a few months, even if Zosimus also notes that Quintillus “performed nothing worthy of notice, before Aurelian was raised to the imperial throne”! He likely assumed power in August of AD 270, but by September the military had put their support behind Aurelian, who was proclaimed emperor by them at Sirmium. Quintillus probably died by November of AD 270, precisely how is unclear – either murdered by his own forces or by suicide depending on which source you believe – but he was at Aquileia at the time of his death. Whether he was fully recognised by Aurelian is another matter. Quintillus appears to have been favoured by the senate rather than the military, and the latter were clearly behind Aurelian as their emperor. We will look at Aurelian in a later edition.
Coinage of Quintillus Although Quintillus only ruled for a very brief period of time in AD 270, coinage was initially struck empire-wide and included rare early gold issues at Milan, which served as donatives for the army and which are understandably absent from the PAS dataset. It is likely that many of the (regular) Divus Claudius types noted above were struck under Quintillus (although we will look at these with Aurelian too) even if the mint at Rome may well have closed at the start of AD 270 for a short period of time.
Quintillus’ coinage is not hugely extensive and the individual types seen for recording through the PAS should be readily identifiable (see all PAS examples here). As will become apparent below, there are some issues in terms of separating Quintillus from his brother, and there are a large number of PAS coins that need closer attention to resolve this problem. The main references for his coinage should be the Normanby hoard in the first instance, which is a more comprehensive reference than Cunetio (although Cunetio is also fine if you do not have access to Normanby). The original RIC V.1 volume is now outdated for Quintillus (and indeed Claudius) and work is ongoing by S. Estiot and J. Mairat to produce a revised version. An evolving digital version of this can be accessed here: http://www.ric.mom.fr/en/home and is an invaluable reference for Quintillus too. The coins from the Frome hoard are yet to be fully organised, but will add to this in the near future. In this post, I follow Normanby since this is the most comprehensive outline to date and should be accessible to all FLOs recording Roman coins through the PAS.
Quintillus’ radiate coinage is much rarer on the PAS than that of either his brother Claudius II or his successor Aurelian – there are currently 289 examples recorded, which includes 89 IARCW records, 140 of which have images. I suspect the actual number to be slightly higher. The main reason for this is that Quintillus can easily be confused with Claudius II (and indeed sometimes Aurelian), which means there are likely other examples on the database misidentified as Claudius II. There are, however, two useful diagnostic elements that help to separate the two out:
• Perhaps the most useful, particularly on worn coins, is Quintillus’ hair – unlike Claudius II he is depicted with very curly hair that is noticeably different to Claudius even though their facial features (as brothers) are almost identical
• Additionally, Quintillus has a long obverse legend that usually reads IMP C M AVR CL QVINTILLVS AVG. This means the obverse legend generally has a lot of small letters that often look quite crammed together, unlike the larger, spaced out letters for Claudius I.
Although several mints struck radiates for Quintillus, we are essentially dealing with coins from Rome and Milan on the PAS. Siscia did issue radiates but I can find no examples so far on the database. These are rare in the larger hoards too – there were only 9 Siscia mint coins amongst the 382 examples of Quintillus in the Normanby hoard.
Mint of Rome
Quintillus’ coins at Rome largely follow the same format as Claudius II – twelve officinae, each striking a different reverse type and with officina letters (where present) in the fields or exergue: A, B, Γ, Δ, ε, ς, Z, H, N, X, XI, and XII. Rome only struck one issue of coins for Quintillus. This means if you have a coin of Quintillus and can only make out parts of the reverse type, or more importantly can see an officina letter, the coin should be identifiable to an individual type. Bust types are usually either radiate and cuirassed, or radiate, draped, and cuirassed.
Mint of Milan
Aside from the rare gold coins noted above, Milan struck two issues of radiates. This makes some sense, since Quintillus was based at Milan and so the mint would have been in operation from the outset. Milan coins are, however, far less common as finds in Britain. Cunetio has just 4 examples, Normanby has 45, and there are only 25 PAS examples.
Issue I : The first issue is short-lived and has the longer obverse legend IMP C M AVR CL QVINTILLVS AVG. There are no PAS examples from this first issue and the few examples in the BM collection do not have images available.
Issue II: The majority of Quintillus’ Milan coinage comes from his second issue. These coins have a contracted obverse legend, simply reading IMP QVINTILLVS AVG, and are struck in three officinae with officina letters P, S, and T that, when used, are found in the exergue. Bust types are usually radiate, draped, and cuirassed for Milan.
These three Milan types are the only ones represented on the PAS other than a single Providentia type within the IARCW Welsh data that lacks an image to confirm. By far the most common are the Mars types (14 coins), with the Fides and Concordia both having similar numbers (5 each). Note that the reverse legends do have some variation (e.g. MARTI PAC or MARTI PACI; CONCORD EXER or CONCO EXER), but the types stay the same.
Mint of Siscia
The coin issues from Siscia were short-lived for Quintillus, but the types are quite varied and with two different obverse legends: IMP C M AVR CL QVINTILLVS AVG and IMP C M AVR QVINTILLVS AVG. In the Normanby volume, seven reverse types are noted with officina letters P, S, T, and Q indicating four workshops. There do not appear to be any Siscia coins on the PAS as single site finds, which might not be overly surprising as there was just one coin in Cunetio and 9 in Normanby. These are rare coins in Britain but their appearance in hoards means that the odd example may well appear in general circulation too.
Mint of Cyzicus
In the eastern empire, Zenobia controlled the mint at Antioch having produced the latest issues here in Claudius’ name and there are no coins of Quintillus in AD 270 here. Coins were struck for him at Cyzicus, though, but these comprise a short issue of radiates that are rare in the western empire – there were none in either of the Cunetio or Normanby hoards and those in the British Museum collection lack images. There appear to be no PAS examples to date.
References and further reading:
R. Bland and A. Burnett The Normanby Hoard and other Roman Coin Hoards (CHRB VIII, 1988);
R. Bland, E. Besley, A.Burnett The Cunetio and Normanby Hoards (Spink 2018)
Welcome to the next edition of Coin Relief. In this issue, Dr. Andrew Brown takes a look at a turbulent period of Roman history when a succession of usurpers destabilised the empire…and of course minted some coinage!
Usurpers c.AD 258-272
“It was the public destiny that in the time of Gallienus whosoever could, sprang up to seize the imperial power”
Historia Augusta Lives of the Thirty Pretenders 10
The passage above from the often-inaccurate Historia Augusta, which cast Gallienus in a rather unfavourable light, emphasises the problems faced by the empire in the middle of the 3rd century. As we have seen previously, during the reigns of Valerian I and Gallienus things began to unravel. Pressures external and internal to the empire resulted in insurrection on a number of occasions, perhaps most evident in the emergence of the breakaway Gallic Empire by Postumus in AD 260. Valerian’s capture in the east was undoubtedly a factor in this, the vacuum it created spurring rebellion east and west that Gallienus (often unsuccessfully!) attempted to deal with.
Between the period of Valerian and Gallienus’ rise to power in AD 253 and Aurelian finally providing some stability, uniting the empire again before his death in AD 275, Roman authority was usurped on a number of occasions at both ends of the Roman world. Indeed, in more than once instance this resulted in the emergence breakaway states and the creation (or attempted creation) of new dynasties. A by product of this was the appearance of coinage in the name of numerous individuals who did not hold power in Rome or who were not officially recognised as emperors by Rome. There were not quite the ‘Thirty Pretenders’ suggested by the Historia Augusta, but there were enough for it to be a major destabilising problem for the empire in the 3rd century.
What is curious about all of these episodes of usurpation is their emergence on the frontiers of the empire. It was in these regions where individuals with certain standing and support (notably of the military) could wrest authority from Rome and were perhaps far enough removed from the Emperor and his legions to do so. It may be, though, that this was as much an effort to stabilise conditions close to home as it was any real attempt to take on the might of Rome proper. We have looked previously at one of these breakaway states, the Gallic Empire, and it is notable that Postumus in particular stopped short of pushing to take Rome when the opportunity might have been there, seemingly content to consolidate the regions under his control. We might see something similar at the opposite end of the empire in the east too – at least for a time!
During this period, then, we are dealing with a central authority in Rome, with five emperors (and their families) in power:
We have already looked at the Gallic Empire, focused on the western provinces and with seven usurpers who issued coinage:
However, these were not the only individuals to usurp Roman authority during this period. On the Danube frontier and in the eastern provinces, faced with similar destabilising effects of incursion and Valerian’s defeat by the Persians, similar grabs for power were made, often with the support of the local populace and the legions. Their coinages are much more limited due to their comparatively restricted periods of autonomy and, from a PAS perspective, much rarer given that they are far removed from the province of Britannia, which was under the control of the Gallic Empire until AD 269. On the Danube, there was revolt in AD 258 or 260 against Gallienus by Regalianus and his wife Sulpicia Dryantilla. Meanwhile, in Syria Valerian’s capture resulted in Macrianus Major and his sons Macrianus Minor and Quietus assuming power, before being ousted themselves by Septimius Odaenathus in AD 261. He established a new Palmyrene dynasty in the east that was turned into an empire by his wife Zenobia who succeeded him as regent with their young son Vabalathus in c.AD 267.
he numbers of coins present in a British context for any of these usurpers is understandably small given where they usurped power and their short periods of rule. Nevertheless, some examples do turn up, so it is perhaps worth having a quick look at who produced coinage other than the Gallic usurpers in this period that might crop up either in hoarded assemblages or as single finds.
Regalianus and Sulpicia Dryantilla, AD 260
The instability created by external threat and then Valerian’s capture in AD 260 was felt in particular on the frontiers. We have previously seen that while Valerian campaigned in the east, Gallienus was engaged with incursion along the Danube and Rhine frontiers in the mid to late AD 250s. In AD 258 he installed his eldest son, Valerian II, who was himself still only a teenager, at Sirmium (Serbia) in an attempt to stabilise the situation there while Gallienus focused on the Rhine. As a young caesar, Valerian II may well have been in the charge of one Ingenuus, apparently the governor of Pannonia and Moesia, or at least in command of the military here. The death of Valerian II in AD 258 put Ingenuus in a potentially perilous position but he was soon declared emperor by the Moesian legions. His usurpation was swiftly dealt with, though, and Gallienus’ general Aureolus defeated Ingenuus at the Battle of Mursa – precisely when this occurred is a matter for debate, possibly as early as AD 258 or following Valerian I’s capture in AD 260.
Ingenuus issued no coinage, suggesting his rule was brief. He was by no means the first to usurp power in the Danube region though – a decade earlier Pacatianus (AD 248) had done just that against Philip II – and he was quickly followed by another, Regalianus. Regalianus may have been a Dacian promoted to the position of dux Illyrici by Valerian I, before being declared emperor by the remnants of Ingenuus’ forces to continue the revolt – the Historia Augusta jokingly suggests his authority to rule as ‘king’ derived from his name: “Rex, regis, regi, Regalianus” (Historia Augustus 10)! It seems as though Regalianus had a successful campaign against the Sarmatians in AD 260, before being killed by a coalition of his own troops and the Roxolani (a Sarmatian people).
Regalianus elevated his wife Sulpicia Dryantilla to augusta and coinage was issued for both. There are very few of these extremely rare coins known and the number of types represented to date are limited to a handful of examples (see RIC V.2, pp. 586- 588). These are very often overstruck on earlier coin types, for example Severan denarii, and appear quite crude and varied in terms of their manufacture. This is likely indicative of a rushed and ultimately short-lived output of coinage, perhaps more of an emergency coinage than anything else. Their general distribution close to Regalianus’ seat of power in Carnuntum (Austria) points to his control not extending much if at all outside Pannonia. As we might expect for such a rare coinage there are so far no PAS examples. Of course, there is always the possibility one might turn up in the future!
Macrianus and Quietus, c.AD 260-261
Valerian’s defeat at the Battle of Edessa and subsequent capture by the Sassanid Persians led by Shapur I in AD 260 proved the tipping point in Syria too. In the face of an invading Persian army, two of Valerian’s officials who held sway with the purse strings and the military assumed control: Callistus, or Ballista, who had been Valerian’s praetorian prefect; and Fulvius Macrianus or Macrianus major, who controlled the Imperial treasury as rationibus. They conspired to elevate Macrianus’ two sons, Titus Fulvius Iunius Macrianus or Macrianus minor and Titus Fulvius Junius Quietus, to power. Macrianus and Quietus were duly proclaimed as co-rulers by the legions in AD 260.
An initial push by Macrianus major and Ballista prevented further incursion into Syria by Shapur’s Persian forces, who had already captured several Syrian towns and notably sacked Antioch. Valerian’s failed campaign had left something of a military vacuum in the region, which Macrianus and his sons were able to inherit and gain an element of control over. The final expulsion of the Persians, however, came with the Palmyrene king Odaenathus (more on him further below). By the end of AD 260, the Macriani controlled a large portion of the eastern empire, with their influence extending from their base in Syria as far south as Egypt with her grain supplies that were so important for Rome – indeed, Roman provincial coins were struck at Alexandria for both sons.
It is at this point that they divided their forces. Macrianus major and Macrianus minor marched west to confront Gallienus, who was at this time engaged with incursion in northern Italy by the Juthungi. They met his armies commanded by the general Aureolus in Pannonia in AD 261 where they were heavily defeated, the two men either killed in battle or afterwards at the hands of their own forces. Quietus, however, remained in Syria with Ballista, presumably with the intent to keep control of the eastern territories. News of his father and brother’s deaths, though, resulted in power slipping from his grasp. Quietus sought refuge in Emesa, but was besieged by Odaenathus – who remained loyal to Gallienus – and was finally killed by the inhabitants of Emesa as Odaenathus approached the city.
Although both Macrianus minor and Quietus were short-lived rulers, they did strike coinage, perhaps in two eastern mints (in addition to the provincial issues noted above). Only ten radiate types are listed in RIC V.2 (pp. 580-583) for Macrianus and 11 for Quietus, so their small issues should be identifiable if they appear for recording through the PAS. At present, I can find no examples of single coins recorded through the PAS for either Macrianus or Quietus. This might at first glance seem unsurprising, however, both brothers are represented (admittedly in very small quantity!) in hoarded groups of later-3rd century date in Britain. Ten coins are present in the Cunetio hoard (8 of Macrinus and 2 of Quietus; Cunetio nos. 1917-1924) and single examples do occasionally appear in larger assemblages (e.g. Normanby, in contrast to Cunetio, has just one coin of Quietus – Normanby no. 582)4. Given that they do appear in a small number in hoards, it is quite plausible that the odd example might turn up in wider circulation amongst the thousands of radiates recorded in England and Wales.
Odaenathus, Zenobia and Vabalathus, C.AD 260-272
While the Macriani had attempted to use Valerian’s defeat as a means of establishing their own rule in the eastern (and perhaps wider) empire, Odaenathus remained loyal to Gallienus as client king in Palmyra. Palmyra, an oasis town whose prominence and wealth had been built on its position as a key trading centre, lay within Roman Syria but retained a degree of autonomy from Rome. Odaenathus was from a prominent Palmyrene family and by c.AD 251 attained senatorial rank along with his elder son, Septimius Hairanes (or Hairan), perhaps later granted further powers in Syria by Valerian.
The Persian victory over Valerian, and the latter’s death, in c.AD 260, afforded new opportunity for Odaenathus, who appears to have manipulated the position to his benefit while maintaining fealty to Rome. Initially, as noted above, he was able to pull together an army of Palmyrenes and, if we are to believe the literary sources, Syrian peasants, who faced the Persian army fresh from defeating Valerian and sacking Antioch. Although Macrianus and his sons had been able to hold off any further Persian advance, the Palmyrene army pushed the Persians out of Syria and Mesopotamia, driving them back as far as the Persian capital of Ctseiphon and securing once again the eastern territories for the empire. Odaenathus followed this up by returning to Emesa where he ousted Quietus and Ballista after Macrianus’ death.
These two events, purportedly conducted under the auspices of the empire and for the good of Rome, earned him position and great honours from Gallienus. Not only was the Palmyrene triumph celebrated with a Victory in Rome in AD 263, but Odaenathus was given several titles, apparently including corrector totius orientis (‘corrector/restorer of the whole east’) and dux Romanorum (‘Commander of the Romans’) – Gallienus appears to have accepted his position and loyalty in the east, even if Odaenathus remained a client king subservient to the emperor. Odaenathus extended his control to cover large portions of the eastern empire, including Syria, Arabia, and parts of Anatolia. He was seemingly declared ‘King of Kings’ in the east and retained military and political sway within the region while remaining a vassal to Rome. While on campaign in Anatolia in c.AD 267, Odaenathus was assassinated along with his eldest son, Hairan, although precisely where, why, or by whom remains unclear! What he had managed to achieve, though, was some stability in the east through the reclamation of Roman territories lost to Persia and the maintained security of the eastern frontier, as well as the foundations for a new Palmyrene empire.
This latter empire was short-lived but emerged in AD 267 upon Odaenathus’ death with his wife Zenobia7. As the de facto ruler of the Palmyrene Kingdoms she became (for a brief period of time!) one of the most powerful leaders in the ancient world and is remembered in classical (and more recent) sources as a formidable and charismatic figure compared to the likes of Cleopatra. She acted as regent for her 10-year-old son Lucius Julius Aurelius Septimius Vabalathus, who inherited his father’s regnal titles – he too was ‘King of Kings’ – although Zenobia’s usage of Roman official titles caused some friction with Rome since they were not hereditary in the same way. It was Zenobia, though, who for the next few years consolidated control in Syria from her base in Palmyra and probably also at Emesa and Antioch. Where Odaenathus had managed to create an environment for a Palmyrene dynasty to succeed him, it was Zenobia who as able to expand this to a full-blown empire. In the west, Gallienus had been killed in AD 268 and his successor, Claudius II was engaged in conflict with the Goths on the Danube frontier, giving Zenobia freedom to expand her control in the east. In Palmyra, she initially sought to develop the city into a centre of learning and culture, something approaching Alexandria or Antioch. Claudius’ death in AD 270 was followed by the brief reign of Quintillus (AD 270), before Aurelian came to power and sought in the first instance to deal with the problems on the northern frontiers, before turning to look east.
It appears as though initially Aurelian may have been accepting of Zenobia’s position and that Zenobia herself maintained Palmyra’s role, at least outwardly, as a client kingdom of the Roman empire. As we shall see below, this is perhaps reflected on the coinage of this period. But this began to change in AD 270. Zenobia expanded her territory within Syria and then into Arabia, before amassing a Palmyrene army of c.70,000 to invade Egypt, where she was declared ‘Queen of Egypt’. The following year, Zenobia’s empire expanded further to encompass Galatia and Ankara in Antolia, reaching its fullest extent by AD 271. It was at this point that the relationship with Rome collapsed. Zenobia and Vabalathus took the titles of augusta and augustus respectively, in clear usurpation of Roman authority. By the spring of AD 272, Aurelian’s forces had reached Anatolia and pursued the retreating Palmyrenes back to Antioch, Emesa, and finally Palmyra itself. Aurelian laid siege to the city and Zenobia attempted to flee in order to seek aid from Persia, but was captured along with her son Vabalathus and the city ceded to the emperor. It seems as though both were spared, to be paraded in Rome at Aurelian’s triumph alongside the Tetrici and she may well have lived out her remaining days in the city or its environs. Palmyra herself suffered a similar demise. A further insurrection by the population in AD 273 led Aurelian to raze the city and effectively remove its control over the eastern empire. What was once the capital of a fledgling eastern empire separate from and sandwiched in between Rome and Persia had come to a relatively swift end from which it never fully recovered.
Coins were struck for both Zenobia and Vabalathus at an eastern mint, probably Antioch, as well as from provincial mints (e.g. Alexandria). There are few types issued for either ruler, with just two radiate types for Zenobia and eight for Vabalathus (RIC V.2, pp. 584-585). There are no examples yet of Zenobia on the PAS, which is not surprising given the small volume of coinage reaching the province from eastern mints, particularly for short-lived issues, although there is an example in the British Museum collection.
The Zenobia coin above clearly depicts her as empress (augusta), the Juno Regina reverse type characteristic of issues seen for imperial women. In this respect it represents a clear depiction of intent and usurpation of power from Rome. Contrastingly, the situation is slightly different for Vabalathus. Upon Aurelian’s accession to power in AD 270, the number of officinae at the Antioch mint (now under Palmyrene control of course) striking coinage increases from eight to nine. The mint at this time produces coins that depict Vabalathus on one face (probably the reverse) and Aurelian on the other (probably the obverse). Aurelian appears as the augustus and while Vabalathus is the Palmyrene prince (or king?) he is clearly a junior party in the relationship – the coinage in this issue does not give him official title as emperor. What this appears to be is an acknowledgement of Aurelian’s authority and so Vabalathus’ position, much like his father, as vassal to Rome. A situation that clearly changed with Zenobia’s coinage (see above) and the later issues of Vaballathus where he appears as augustus.
There are no examples of Vabalathus’ later coinage on the PAS. However, perhaps surprisingly, there are three coins from his issue with the Aurelian obverse type. These are listed as part of the Imperial series in RIC V.1 (p. 308) with the coinage of Aurelian rather than Zenobia and Vabalathus (RIC V.2, pp. 584-585). The unusual titles at the end of Vabalathus’ legend – VCRIMDR – have been interpreted as reading Vir Clarissimus Rex IMperator Dux Romanorum (Most illustrious, king, leader of the army, leader/commander of the Romans) and perhaps demonstrate at this stage (c.AD 270) Vabalathus and Zenobia’s continued acknowledgement of Aurelian’s authority.
Aurelian and reunification
Aurelian’s defeat of the Palmyrene empire in AD 272 was the beginning of stability and a reunification of the Roman world. The eastern provinces had returned and by AD 274 the breakaway Gallic empire in the west was also brought under control. In the brief period of time from the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus through to Aurelian – less than two decades – the Roman empire had suffered external threat, internal instability, fracture, usurpation, and had witnessed the appearance of numerous individuals as rival claimants to power. Where Gallienus, Claudius II, and Quintillus had struggled to keep the empire intact, Aurelian was able to unify the provinces and introduce a number of other reforms to aid in the restoration of the empire after the difficulties of the 3rd century (although it was perhaps only later, at the turn of the 4th century, that order was more fully restored). We will look at Aurelian in a future edition.
One thing to keep in mind with the multiple individuals, whether Gallic usurpers, emperors in Rome, or kings in the east, is that their coinages are often quite limited in volume given their short periods of rule and in provinces far removed from Britain – particularly so for the individuals looked at in this edition. However, it is worth keeping an eye out for them, particularly when recording coins through the PAS, since they could well be hidden amongst the large numbers of radiates or hoard groups that appear within the province. While Macrianus and Quietus might be most likely, a double headed radiate could well be Vabalathus, and we can still hope for a first Regalianus or Zenobia…!
References and further reading:
E. Besly and R. Bland, The Cunetio Treasure (British Museum, 1983) – recently republished in a combined volume with the Normanby Hoard by Spink: R. Bland, E. Besley, and A. Burnett, The Cunetio and Normanby Hoards (Spink, 2018).
See also a more detailed analysis (in German) of the coinages during Gallienus’ reign: R. Göbl Die Münzprägung der Kaiser Valerianus I./Gallienus/Saloninus (253/268), Regalianus (260) und Macrianus/Quietus (260/262). (MIR Bd. 36. Vienna, 2000).
For Vabalathus and Zenobia see also: http://www.ric.mom.fr/en/home
A good read on Syria generally is T. Bryce Ancient Syria: A Three Thousand Year History (OUP, 2014);
See also, for example, K. Butcher Roman Syria and the Near East (2003).
Zenobia and her life has stimulated huge interest in the arts and prompted a large volume of written output that I can’t go in to here, ranging from classical sources through well-known passages by the likes of Edward Gibbon (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – “Zenobia, the celebrated queen of Palmyra and the East”), to more modern histories.
Welcome to another edition of our regular blog on ancient coins. In this edition Dr. Andrew Brown takes a break from the coins to look at another type of round object: medallions.
Roman medallions are extremely rare objects and to date there are perhaps half a dozen examples that have been identified. The term “medallion” is generally used to refer to struck coin-like objects that, although issued by the Roman mints, differ from standard denominations in circulation in a number of ways.
Bronze medallions were initially struck using dies for sestertii, dupondii, and asses, but notably have larger (and often heavier) flans, often with modified or thickened rims to frame the imagery, and characteristically often omit the SC that should appear on official coinage in circulation. Some, particularly in the Neronian period, have enlarged flans with concentric grooves and are termed “pseudo-medallions”.
By the 2nd century, notably with Hadrian, this had developed into an art form in its own right, with specific medallic dies used for the production of these special pieces. Often, the types seen on medallions are not represented otherwise in Roman coinage and the dies are often more elaborate or well-executed and the objects themselves larger and heavier.
In some instances, notably at the end of the 2nd century with Commodus, bimetallic medallions appear that incorporate elaborate edges or rims of the flans to distinguish them from the normal bronze coinage in circulation. These elaborate presentation pieces were not just confined to bronze, however. Large, multiple denominations in gold and silver also appear from the 1st century onward, although perhaps most notable at the end of the Roman period, that did not circulate as normal currency but would have had a medallic function much like the bronze types.
In their imagery, too, the range of types represented in particular on bronze medallions perhaps reflected contemporary events or more complex scenes relevant to the contemporary Roman world (or in some instances her history) that their intended audience would have understood. These were valued, therefore, not for their instrinsic metal content, like the large silver and gold multiples in the later Roman period, but for their status as a gift from the emperor and the direct link this created with him. The recipients of these miniature works of art would likely have been of some status themselves, particularly during the early-2nd century with Hadrian when the production of medallions was at its artistic peak. In the later Roman period, the gold and silver multiples come to the fore.
Medallions are rare finds but they can usually be identified as a result. The handful of PAS examples to date means it is unlikely there will be huge numbers appearing, but it is always possible! When dealing with very worn bronze coins, the size of the flan, possible finishing to the edge of the coin, and the lack of SC on the reverse are clues that what you have may be a medallion rather than a normal bronze denomination.
The earliest example recorded to date through the PAS belongs to a series of medallions struck during the reign of Antoninus Pius between c.AD 140-143. These depict various scenes from Roman history and mythology and are often seen as commemorative medallions celebrating the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Rome (in AD 148). However, analysis of this series by C. Rowan suggests that they should instead be seen as components of a broader tradition begun with Hadrian that highlights an interest in the past and Rome’s early history.
In the PAS example we see the Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Juno Regina and Minerva, who were worshipped in the three cellas of Rome’s oldest temple – the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (“Jupiter Best and Greatest“) on the Capitoline Hill. They formed an integral component of Roman state religion with the temple located at the heart of Rome itself. Little remains on the Capitoline Hill of the temple today, although parts of the podium are visible in the Capitoline Museum. A range of other examples appear, some, like this example from the BM collection that depicts the Aesculapian snake coming ashore at Tiber Island (Insula Tiberina) where the Sanctuary to Aesculapius was constructed, carrying types that are otherwise not known on Pius’ coinage.
Medallions struck in this period are not just confined to Pius himself though and a range of examples appear for the wider Imperial family, often with quite wonderfully executed and unusual types.
For Marcus Aurelius as caesar under Pius, a remarkable medallion was recorded from London in 2014. The reverse depicts Apollo in his guise as Apollo Salutaris (god of healing or well-being), a type that notably appears on mid-3rd century coinage at a time when the Empire was suffering from outbreaks of plaque. A medallion of Pius with this type is known and was struck from the same reverse die as the PAS example, but the combination for Marcus as caesar is otherwise unknown.
At the end of the Antonine period, and with his Hercules complex, in full swing, comes this wonderful medallion of Commodus from Lincolnshire (below), recorded on the the PAS at sold at auction in 2010. The appearance of TR PXVIII in the reverse legend indicates that this medallion was struck in the last few weeks of Commodus’ reign from 10th December AD 192, when his tribunician powers were renewed, to his death on the 31st December AD 192.
There are two striking features that can be highlighted in this medallion, apart from its preservation and crafstmanship. Most obvious is the clear allusion to Commodus’ association and identification with Hercules. Not only do we see Commodus self-styled as Hercules and his first labour – the Nemean Lion. It belongs with a group of medallions that reference the cult of Hercules towards the end of Commodus’ reign, including examples in the BM collection.
The second point of interest in both of the examples of Commodus above is that the medallions are bimetallic. Here we can see the use of one alloy (copper) at the core with a different (in this case brassier) alloy forming an outer rim. This would have clearly marked them as exceptional and different from the standard bronze coinage in circulation at the time and not for use as currency in the same way as the regular large bronze denominations would have been. These bimetallic medallions are exceptional – they cluster particularly during the reign of Commodus, although there are earlier and later examples, the majority of 2nd century medallions are simply bronze and often identified based on the lack of SC seen on sestertii, dupondii, and asses. It is not clear how these bimetallic pieces were originally struck. That their components could potentially become separated is apparent in an example of Severus Alexander in the BM collection.
The most recent medallion recorded through the PAS, of Severus Alexander, was discovered in Yorkshire in 2019 and is the only example on the database dating to the first half of the 3rd century AD. The reverse type emphasises the fidelity/loyalty of the Roman army (FIDES MILITVM) to Alexander, while the appearance of Jupiter as his protector (Jupiter Conservator) appeaers not only on this series of medallions but a number of other contemporary coin issues dated. Analysis of these types by C. Rowan notes that their appearance on Alexander’s coinage in AD 231 might highlight the importance of the military in his accession to power at a time when it appears some had also revolted against him in the east.
The lack of SC in exergue, combined with its size (28.5mm in diameter and 9.86g in weight) suggest this is a medallic as. In the standard as issue the same reverse type is known but with the addition of the SC. Interestingly, two examples of this medallic type are present in the British Museum collection, both from very similar, if not the same, dies. This is perhaps not surprising given the rarity of these medallions, but it is interesting all three are in Britain. The reverse type also appears on a wonderful medallion featuring Alexander and Julia Mamaea.
Larger bronze denomination from the second half of the 3rd century are generally rare as PAS finds – they essentially disappear as single finds with Gallienus and Postumus, and for Reece Periods 13 and 14, the PAS has records for perhaps c.100 examples of sestertii, dupondii, and asses (amongst the more than 50,000 records for this period). The medallion of Gallienus from North Yorkshire recorded in 2006 is therefore quite an exceptional find, with another example of this type in the Münzkabinett in Berlin.
Medallions continue to be struck into the later 3rd century and at the end of the period those of Carausius and a returning Constantius I nicely encapsulate the breakaway Britannic Empire between AD 286-296. Sam is working on the new RIC for Carausius and Allectus and so the more definitive account will come with his volume! However, it is worth noting the unique examples of Carausius in the BM that provide an unprecedented direct reference to Virgil and which perpetuate Carausius’ image as perhaps more Roman than the Romans! One carries the legend RSR in exergue, while the other I.N.P.C.D.A . G. de la Bédoyère has interpreted these combined legends as references to Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue (IV.6-7)11, reading: Redeunt Saturnia Regna (the Golden Age returns) and Iam Nova Progenies Caelo Demittitur Alto (Now a new progeny is sent down from heaven above). Carausius’ new state did not last for all that long, however, and the wonderful Arras Medallion from the Beaurains hoard sees a triumphant Constantius I arrive in Britain on horseback in AD 296 to greet a kneeling London personified and retake the province for the Roman empire. These are exceptional objects from this period and while an example of this quality has not yet been reported through the PAS, we can speculate that a very worn bronze coin recorded from Lancashire in 2016 could possibly represent a medallion of Carausius. It will be fascinating to see if other examples appear in the future – Britain, after all, is perhaps the most likely place for them to turn up!
In the 4th century, there are no examples on the PAS of medallions as such, although we do have two coins that are multiple denominations of solidi struck for Licinius I. As we have already seen in previous blogs, slightly heavy miliarenses were struck in the 4th century (at 60 to the pound) but alongside these much larger coins appear as multiples (multipla) of the standard silver and gold denominations. The two gold coins on the PAS are just fractionally larger than a normal solidus, at about 1¼ of a solidus. However, examples of multiples several times the weight of a normal denomination are known (up to a 72-solidus piece with Tiberius II in the 6th century AD!) – these are sometimes termed ‘money medallions’ or simply ‘multiples’. Gold and silver multiples had replaced the bronze medallions of earlier periods but likely had a similar function as donatives or diplomatic gifts as much as part of the regular coinage . We have yet to see a really large example on the PAS. They are extremely rare, but do keep a look out for them, and indeed, any other potential earlier bronze medallions if recording through the scheme – it is possible there are some out there….!
Standard references when dealing with medallions:
H.A.Grueber, BMCRM / Roman Medallions in the British Museum (1874)
F. Gnecchi, I medaglioni Romani (3 vols.; 1912)
J.M.C. Toynbee, Roman Medallions (1944) – online here http://numismatics.org/digitallibrary/ark:/53695/nnan8359
More recent useful contributions include: P.F. Mittag, Römische Medaillons. Caesar bis Hadrian (2010)
N. Schindel and B. Woytek ‘Nero and the Making of the Roman Medallion’ NC 171, 2011: 109-20
C. Rowan ‘Showing Rome in the Round: Reinterpreting the ‘Commemorative Medallions’ of Antoninus Pius’ Antichthon 48, 2014
As you know, the Portable Antiquities Scheme hit a rather large milestone this month by recording the 1.5 millionth object onto the database. This number is impressive by itself, of course, but what does it actually mean? It’s a lot of objects but what do they actually tell us? In a recent Twitter thread, John Naylor (Finds Adviser for Medieval coinage, based at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford), highlighted a number of research projects that have successfully used PAS data. These projects demonstrate the research potential of the data behind this massive milestone. We have collated John’s Tweets into this blog post so that you can explore these research projects and perhaps be inspired to carry out your own!
Interpreting early medieval society and economy through metal-detected finds
Between 2004 and 2007, John worked with Julian Richards (of the Archaeological Data Service) on the Viking and Anglo-Saxon Landscape and Economy (VASLE) project, which explored PAS data for early medieval England and Wales. At the time of the project (and it may still be true), more was known about the location and density of settlements of this period through metal-detecting activity than through archaeological fieldwork. Interpretation of this data therefore held enormous potential for helping to understand the landscape, economy and identity of early medieval England and Wales. The VASLE project analysed, interpreted and evaluated PAS data in relation to information from other sources, and was an important step for understanding what could be done with PAS data. To learn more about the VASLE project visit their website here and read John and Julian’s paper here. To see all early medieval objects recorded on the database click here.
Finding local meaning in Lincolnshire
Ten years later, our former Finds Liaison Officer for Lincolnshire, Adam Daubney, used PAS data to write about long-term settlement in Lincolnshire. His book explores the significance of PAS data for Lincolnshire and how the finds enhance the known archaeological record for the county. It shows how powerful the PAS dataset can be, especially when used with archaeological and other evidence. The book can be read online here. To see all finds on the database from Lincolnshire click here.
Small finds, big picture
PAS data isn’t all about the big landscape either. Several studies have been done on specific object types, such as that by Eleanor Standley (Ashmolean Museum) which looks at the social and economic contexts of lead spindle whorls. Excavated finds of spindle whorls are dominated by ceramics, baked clay and stone, whereas the PAS examples are predominantly lead and lead alloy, presenting an exciting new corpus of material to study. The full study can be found online here or as a free text-only download here. To see all examples of spindle whorls recorded on the database click here.
Coinage and collapse?
We couldn’t talk about research using PAS data without mentioning Roman coins! A great example is the study of coin use and the end of Roman Britain by Philippa Walton and our very own Sam Moorhead (Finds Adviser for Roman Coins, British Museum). Their research looked beyond chronology to explore what hoards and site finds can tell us about the nature of coin use in Britannia and its apparent collapse in the 5th century AD. To read the full paper click here. To see all Roman coins recorded on the database click here.
Helpful “hot spots”
Finally, PAS data provided an important part of Professor Helen Hamerow (Oxford School of Archaeology), Chris Ferguson and John Naylor’s research exploring the origins of Wessex in the 5th-8th centuries. By digitally mapping PAS and other data they were able to identify new “hot spots” of activity from the period AD 400-750, as well as gaps in the distribution of Anglo-Saxon material culture that could point to a British presence. To read the full paper click here. To see material on the database from the period AD 400-750 click here.
This is just a small selection of the research that has been carried out using PAS data. PAS data has been increasingly important in archaeological research and is a standard part of most major projects these days. It’s available to all and can be used to study the past from one parish to the whole country. So why not head to the database and see what you can find? For help and advice on how to search the database check out our handy finds recording guide to searching the database.
In this issue, Dr. Andrew Brown takes a break from emperors to celebrate the recent PAS milestone by looking at where it all began with coin recording…
New beginnings and records!
As many of you will be aware, the PAS hit a milestone recently with the announcement of the 1.5 millionth object recorded through the Scheme! Sadly, this wasn’t a coin(!), but nevertheless an interesting Papal bulla of Innocent IV (AD 1243-1254) that can be seen on the database here. In light of this achievement and the collaborative effort it represents between finds, volunteers, interns, museums, FLOs and the PAS, I was curious to see where it all began for the Roman coinage and some of the “records” that have emerged over the last two decades of the Scheme’s existence.
Where it all began…
The very first Roman coin on the PAS was a silver miliarensis of Constantius II (AD 323-361) recorded from Kent on the 12th May 1998 by Richard Hobbs (now the Weston Curator of Roman Britain at the British Museum). Although the record lacks an image (it was created prior to the Scheme having a centralised database), it is identified as being of the same dies as an example in the British Museum collection and so we have a good idea of what the coin is. See the original record here.
The first Roman coin recorded with an image is from a few days later, the 27th May 1998. This time, a horribly worn probable sestertius from Wakefield (Yorkshire) with a large piercing evident on the line drawing that accompanies the record! Remarkably typical for a large proportion of Roman coins we see every year reported through the Scheme, especially the early bronze coinage, which very regularly is poorly preserved to the point where identifying features are now lost. One of the few PAS examples with a drawing though, I suspect! See the full record here.
From the north west though, we see the first Roman coin record with a photograph – a denarius of Julia Soaemias, the mother of Elagabalus, recorded on the 10th June 1998. It seems to belong to a small group of Severan denarii reported to the PAS from the area of Kendall, Cumbria, which includes a much rarer coin of Julia Aquilia Severa, the second wife of the emperor Elagabalus – there appear to be only three other examples of her coinage on the database to date. See the full record here.
Oldest to newest
It is quite surprising that a search of the database reveals over 25 coins that were issued prior to 300 BC! Bearing in mind that Iron Age coinage does not really appear in Britain prior to the 2nd century BC, these are something of an anomaly. The majority of these early coins are Mediterranean types associated with the various Greek and North African city-states that emerged by the mid-1st millennium BC, but how and why they appear in Britain is a subject for discussion. Many of the genuine coins recorded are likely to be more recent losses from antiquarian or military activity, particularly since the 18th century, rather than genuine ancient losses that were circulating around the time they were struck. Others are clearly more modern copies and souvenirs of travels to the Mediterranean region. Distinguishing what is a genuine ancient loss in this regard is highly problematic, despite the range of types seen from around the Mediterranean region.
For some of these coin types there is increasing evidence that they could have reached Britain in antiquity, albeit some time after they were struck. The Siculo-Punic coinages of Sicily and North Africa for example, of which here are almost 30 PAS examples, have a quite similar pattern of distribution in Britain to the earliest cast bronze potins of the British Iron Age, which may suggest they could have been associated with various mechanisms of trade etc. over a long period of time that brought them to Britain.
There are examples that do appear to be genuine losses in Britain though and in recent years these have included coins from the Greek city-state of Massalia (Marseilles) (below left, full record here) and a wonderful drachm of Alexander III (“The Great”) found in Berkshire in 2019 wrapped in a lead sheet (below centre, full record here). Could it have a votive element or perhaps it circulated to Britain amongst other later silver coinage? There is extensive British coinage at the end of the Iron Age, which I will not go in to detail about here as this deserves proper treatment in its own right. Somewhat surprisingly however, the earliest Roman coin is a Republican bronze semuncia from Kent reported in 2019 that was issued earlier than many of the more than 46,000 Iron Age coins on the PAS (below right, full record here). Its findspot and preservation suggest it could well be a genuine ancient loss from a time when Britain was not integrated with the Roman world and from a period when we would not expect to see Roman silver in any volume let alone bronze coinage.
In contrast to the earliest ancient coins, the latest ones are harder to classify or quantify. We have seen in previous blogs that Roman coinage appears in Britain until at least the 5th century AD, but there are also some examples issued in the Mediterranean that reach British shores at a much later date. Gold continues into the post-Roman period, amongst the latest examples of official gold on the PAS being a semisses of Justin II from Gloucestershire (below left, full record here). Unofficial coinages like the example of Julius Nepos from the Isle of Wight also begin to appear more regularly (below right, full record here).
Increasing examples of Byzantine bronze coins have also been recorded through the PAS. Although these have in the past been interpreted as modern losses, their recovery on sites with known contemporary archaeology and their distribution within Britain is instead pointing to some of these coins being genuine ancient losses. Sam Moorhead has done much work on these coins and is currently updating their number and distribution nationally.
Out of curiosity I wondered what “records” were contained within our database records. By that, I mean those coins that hold the record on the PAS database for being, for example, the biggest or smallest seen! This is by no means comprehensive but it does give all of you reading this a challenge to have a search and see what else you can find (or indeed other examples that might knock the ones listed below off their perches!).
The smallest Roman coins on the PAS measure as little as c.5mm in diameter and are mostly contemporary copies of late-3rd and 4th century date, or chopped up nummi of Magnentius and Decentius. Examples that can be identified to proper types include the coin below from County Durham which measures just 6mm in diameter!
In contrast, some of the early bronze Roman coins can get as big as almost 40mm in diameter. The largest I can find that can be securely identified to type and scale being this double sestertius of Trajan Decius – a whopping 37.96mm in diameter compared to the tiny radiate above.
Although this may seem a slightly unhelpful comparison, it really does demonstrate the range of material that is found and recorded by FLOs, their interns, volunteer and finders on a regular basis. The material is by no means uniform or even in some cases remotely comparable, which makes the job of identifying what you have often all the more difficult. To give an idea of the scale we are talking about in the two coins above, the figure below illustrates the two coins at the same scale and the difference is quite incredible!
While the smallest coins recorded on the PAS can weigh fractions of a gram (the radiate above weighs just 0.4g), the largest early bronze coins can be over 30g. The largest I can find with an image on the database so far is a sestertius of Antoninus Pius from West Sussex which at 32.87g is 82 times heavier than the little radiate! Of course, these both circulated at slightly different points during the Roman period, but the difference is huge.
One of the most travelled coins on the database is perhaps the silver drachm of one of the “western satraps”, the Kshaharata King Nahapana dating to c.AD 119-124. It’s origin in the Saurashtra Peninsula of Western India means that it has travelled several thousand miles to reach Britain. Silver coinage from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is also recorded through the PAS, and there are currently at least 22 identified Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, Indo-Parthian, Western Satrap, Kushan, and Kushanshah coins on the database. It is still unclear whether any (or which) of these coins are ancient losses or the result of modern colonial activity.
The commonest emperor represented within the PAS data is Constantine I (AD 306-337) with over 18,500 records attributed to him (example below left). However, given coinage was issued in his name for over 30 years, this is perhaps a little misleading. In fact, the most prolific emperor within the PAS data is probably Claudius II (AD 268-270), for which there are over 6100 records for the coinage issued during the two years of his reign (example below centre). In contrast, one of the rarest is Nigrinian (AD 283-285), for whom there is just one PAS coin (below right).
In a previous blog post we looked at the current state of play in terms of the database and the Roman coinage, but it might be worth a quick recap here just to tie together the milestone of 1.5 million objects recorded through the PAS. Of this number, there are currently 324,329 Roman coins within 293,196 database records. Nummi are the most commonly seen denomination, with over 165,000 examples, of which 44,039 alone belong to Reece Period 17 (AD 330-348), which remains the most prolific period of coin use and loss in Britain. The mint of Trier is most common for nummi – with over 23,800 examples – the London mint currently has almost 7,000 coins attributed to it. After nummi, radiates are the next most common (almost 70,000 coins) followed by denarii (almost 16,000 examples). Statistically, you are more likely to see Roman coins in the east of England (Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire), the south west (Wiltshire and Hampshire), and Yorkshire, than you are the Midlands, the far south west (Cornwall and Devon) and the north west.
The work we are able to do on ancient coinage in Britain has been affected hugely by the material recorded through the PAS. Coinage accounts for a third of all PAS records, and Roman coinage forms two thirds of that total. Without the ongoing support of finders willing to report their coins and the continued hard work of FLOs, their volunteers and interns to record them, we would not be able to do everything we currently do. The PAS data is dramatically changing how we view the numismatic landscape and it is only through the continued recording of material that we can continue to develop new understanding of all periods of coin use within Britain. We are fortunate to have a dataset unparalleled anywhere worldwide – and a substantial component of the 1.5 million finds currently recorded on the PAS database. Thank you and keep doing what you do!