Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief! In this issue Andrew Brown examines the coinage of Tacitus and Florian.
Tacitus (AD 275-76) and Florian (AD 276)
The death of Aurelian in the autumn of AD 275, assassinated in a coup led by his own officers, left something of a gap in succession. There is numismatic evidence to suggest that Severina may have assumed authority in the interim and it is not until later in AD 275, probably in November of
that year, that a successor was chosen – Marcus Claudius Tacitus. The transition appears to have been an unusual one for Rome. With no obvious successor in place prior to Aurelian’s death there seems to have been a period of negotiation between the senate and the armies, who it is
reported called on the senate to name a successor from amongst them (e.g. Historia Augusta Life of Tacitus 2). Finally a decision was made and the 75-year-old Tacitus was chosen for the purple. Whether this was entirely the
decision of the senate and a restoration of their role in the election of the new emperor is unclear and it is likely the armies, notably with the involvement of Severina too, were key to his selection. The following year was unsettled to say the least and by the end of AD 276 not only had Tacitus
been deposed, but so too had his successor Marcus Annius Florianus, with the military leader Marcus Aurelius Probus usurping power before being recognised as emperor in late AD 276.
The coinage of Tacitus and Florian is not hugely common in Britain for much the same reasons the reformed radiates (aureliani) of Aurelian do not experience widespread circulation within the province. If anything, they were simply too large a denomination in a province that used extensive quantities of small change during the Gallic Empire and this in turn prompted the production during this period (c.AD 275-285) of large numbers of contemporary copies (‘barbarous radiates’). Because of their significant silver content, a high proportion of these coins also appear to have been hoarded quickly, rather than entering general circulation. This is not to say that they do not turn up at all and indeed the PAS has 179 single coins of Tacitus albeit with just 11 of Florian. This total excludes the IARCW Welsh data, which contains 689 coins from the Rogiet Hoard for the two emperors combined. When we looked at the coinage of Carus and family, I compared the relative numbers of coins for each of the emperors from Tacitus to Nigrinian, which showed that the PAS data largely reflects the same pattern as that seen in the large hoarded assemblages found in Britain. Although editing the records for Tacitus means a slight adjustment to the totals, this pattern still holds true and, if anything, brings the PAS data more closely in line with the hoarded material (see Table 1).
Although RIC V.1 remains the standard published reference for the coinage of Tacitus and Florian, there has been extensive development in the study of this period and there are other more up to date resources that should be consulted if possible when dealing with their coinages. The first stages of a revised RIC V.1 have appeared in the excellent Monnaies de l’empire Romain/Roman Imperial Coinage (MER-RIC) website by S.Estiot, which covers the coinage of the period AD 268-276 (http://www.ric.mom.fr/en/home).
The material within the la Venèra hoard and in P. Bastien’s study of the Lyon mint update the organisation of Tacitus and Florian’s coinage provided in RIC and form the basis of more recent analyses of this period (including MER-RIC). In a British setting, this is followed in more recent publications of hoarded assemblages that contain large numbers of aureliani, notably the Gloucester and Rogiet hoards.
Tacitus (AD 275-276)
Tacitus was of the equestrian class and had held the consulship once, in AD 273, prior to his elevation as emperor. Rare denarii (see MER-RIC temp no. 3514 http://www.ric.mom.fr/en/coin/3514?tempRIC ) demonstrate that he took his tribunician powers for the second time in December AD 275 and he then became consul for the second time at the beginning of January AD 276. However, not a huge amount is known about Tacitus’ life and there is little written about his time as emperor. He was likely born in the Danube region in c.AD 200, was probably not related in any way to the Roman historian who fortuitously carried the same name, and at the age of 75 was one of several short-lived emperors who rose with the support of the armies – as is suggested by his first coinage, which appears as a gold donative at the mint of Lyon. After travelling to Rome from Lyon (following campaigns on the Rhine) to receive full recognition by the senate, Tacitus set out on campaign in the east against the Goths and Heruli, joining the armies in Thrace before crossing in to Asia Minor early in AD 276. His praetorian prefect Florian, probably Tacitus’ half-brother, was already on campaign in the east and their combined successes here resulted in Tacitus receiving the title Gothicus Maximus and with coin types bearing the reverse legend VICTORIA GOTHII by late AD 275. At Ticinum he appears on coins as COS III, but there is no record of him holding a 3rd consulship and this perhaps reflects his victories in Germany prior to becoming emperor.
After successful campaigns in Anatolia, Tacitus prepared to return to Rome, perhaps due to new threats from the west. However, on his way back in the summer of AD 276 he died suddenly, plausibly in a coup at Tyana (Cappadocia, Turkey) that may well have involved future emperor Probus, following a reign of just six months.
There are a total of 179 coins of Tacitus on the PAS, including a provincial tetradrachm from Alexandria. This excludes 692 records from the IARCW data, the majority of which are hoard coins from the Rogiet Hoard. The types represented on his coinage are in keeping with many of the themes typical of the 3rd century, for examples ROMAE AETERNAE types that speak to the eternity of Rome and types that reference the importance of the military. There is perhaps also a return to more orthodox thinking and types, particularly from a theological perspective, following Aurelian’s focus on the worship of Sol. The coin issues of Tacitus’ reign largely follow the structure of his predecessor Aurelian, with all of the mints continuing to strike in much the same way. Gold is produced but is not seen in Britain, while denarii are also issued from some mints. The bulk of the coinage, and certainly all the coins seen on the PAS, are reformed radiates, again carrying the mark of value XXI from the Italian mints (KA in the eastern mints) to reflect the 5% silver content of these new denominations. Coins of Antioch and Tripolis marked XI or IA seem to suggest the introduction of a double radiate denomination valued at twice the amount of those marked XXI or KA as has already been seen with the coinage of Carus. In the western mint of Lugdunum (Lyon) coins continue to
lack the mark of value of the reformed radiates, simply carrying letters that relate to individual workshops within the mints. An interesting feature to note with Tacitus’ coinage that has some bearing on the historical interpretation of his reign is the development of the bust types in the mints of Lugdunum, Rome, and Ticinum. At Lugdunum the imperial portrait is much as we imagine Tacitus from the outset. However, there are clear changes in the portraiture in the second issue at Ticinum and third issue at Rome, which see a sudden shift from a very young looking bust to one that is characteristic of Tacitus, suggesting the die engravers had never seen
Tacitus or his likeness until his arrival in Rome (and therefore later than at Lyon).
As with Aurelian, Tacitus’ coin types can generally be identified based on their reverse types and the officina and mint letters that accompany them:
As might be expected, the coins recorded through the PAS are for the most part (60%) from the mint of Lugunum, followed by that of Rome (16%) and Ticinum (8%). The eastern mints in contrast are negligible in quantity. Compared to the Gloucester hoard, for example (Table 2) the percentages of each mint represented within the PAS data are relatively comparable,
the major different being about 15% more Lugdunum coins in Gloucester than on the PAS. However, I think it likely that many of the 11% of coins from uncertain mints (either due to preservation or lack of images on database records to check identifications) could be products of the Lugdunum mint, which would push the PAS total close to that of Gloucester. It is not surprising that Lugdunum is most prolific in the PAS assemblage given the proximity of the mint in the western empire, so it is important when identifying or recording coins of Tacitus, and indeed Florian who follows him, to check coins of this mint first – the officina letters in
the reverse fields are usually quite quickly identifiable.
A total of 109 radiates recorded to date. By far the most commonly seen reverse types are those depicting Felicitas and the legend TEMPORVM FELICITAS, for which there are at least 47 examples – a quarter of all coins of Tacitus on the database.
Just 30 coins from the Rome mint are recorded on the PAS, the most commonly seen being coins with a LAETITIA FVND reverse type, of which there are 8 examples. It is worth noting that coins of the first two Rome series have young bust types that appear closer in appearance to the emperors that preceded Tacitus, replaced in the third series with older, heavier bust types. This likely reflects Tacitus’ arrival in Rome with
die engravers seeing proper likenesses, or indeed the emperor himself, for the first time.
Just 16 coins of Tacitus from the Ticinum mint are recorded through the PAS. The most common reverse types depict Felicitas (4 coins), Mars (4 coins) and Providentia (4 coins). A similar shift in bust types seen at Rome occurs with the second series at Ticinum.
Of the mints east of Rome, only three coins from the imperial mints of Siscia (two coins, only one example with an image) and Cyzicus are recorded on the PAS, with a further single provincial tetradrachm (the same coin recorded twice on the database – LEIC-0500B1 and LEIC-180E21) from Alexandria.
Florian (AD 276)
After Tacitus’ death in the summer of AD 276 in Cappadocia (Turkey), Florian took power and gained support not only of the senate but also the western provinces. In contrast, the eastern provinces put their support behind a rival claimant, the skilled military leader Probus who controlled elements of the Roman military there and likely had a hand in Tacitus’
demise. In theory, Probus at this point was a usurper given the senate’s recognition of Florian, but in a matter of months he in turn succeeded Florian as emperor. Probus’ presence in the east drew Florian away from campaign against the Goths where he had served as Tacitus’ praetorian prefect, the armies of the two men finally meeting near Tarsus (Cilicia).
Despite Florian’s larger force, Probus chipped away rather than engaging in an all-out battle that resulted in a coup which saw Florian’s own men depose and execute him. This probably happened in August/September of AD 276 after little more than two months as emperor.
Florian’s coinage largely followed that of Tacitus and coins were struck at most mints with the exception of the Syrian mints of Antioch and Tripolis, and the mint of Alexandria, all in areas that fell within the sphere of Probus’ usurpation. Coins from the individual mints can usually be identified by their types and associated mintmarks for the individual officinae that were in operation:
Although gold was struck for Florian, and a single aureus is recorded by Bland and Loriot (2010: p. 230, no. 487) from Oxfordshire, it is hugely rare in Britain. Denarii and smaller bronze denominations are also known, but we are essentially dealing with reformed radiates (aureliani) in Britain during this period. These are not common as PAS finds – there are just
eleven single finds, excluding 43 coins from the IARCW dataset that are mostly from the Rogiet Hoard like those of Tacitus. None of the 11 examples on the PAS are in great condition, although examples that appear in hoards tend to have better preservation.
Lugdunum remains the best represented of the mints with 6 coins (4 with images), followed by just two from Rome and a single example that is possibly from the mint of Siscia, the remaining two coins unclear.
References and further reading:
S. Estiot ‘The Later Third Century’ in The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage (Oxford, 2012)
D. Gricourt, Ripostiglio della Venèra. Caro – Diocleziano Vol. IV. Verona, 2000.
P. Bastien, Le monnayage de l’atelier de Lyon de la réouverture de l’atelier par Aurélien à la mort de Carin (274-285). Wetteren, 1976.
R. Abdy, E. Besly and F. López-Sánchez, ‘Gloucester, Gloucestershire’, in Coin Hoards from Roman Britain XIII, 2010: pp. 21-113; see also the Blackmoor Hoard: R Bland, ‘The Blackmoor Hoard’ CHRB III, 1982
E. M. Besly, ‘The Rogiet Hoard and the Coinage of Allectus’, BNJ 76, 2006: pp. 45-146 – available online here:
S. Estiot, MER-RIC: http://www.ric.mom.fr/en/info/hist6