Welcome to the sixth edition in our series of blog posts written by our Finds Advisers for ancient coins, Dr. Sam Moorhead and Dr. Andrew Brown. In this series they are exploring some of the many (many) ancient coins from the PAS database.
Magnentius and Decentius, c. AD 350-353
The western Roman empire by AD 348 had been placed under the control of Constans, his brother Constantius II controlling the east. Constans’ rule, however, was met with increasing discontent and on the 18th January AD 350 his commander of the Jovian and Herculian legions (what had been the Praetorian Guards), Flavius Magnus Magnentius, appeared at a celebration dressed in imperial robes and was declared emperor. Constans fled to the foothills of the Pyrenees, but was chased to Helenae (Elne), captured, and then murdered with Magnentius seizing power. Magnentius is said to have been born at or near Ambianum (Amiens) and possibly of a British father and Frankish mother. He
was an experienced soldier and upon usurping Constans sought to establish his own rule in the western half of the empire, quickly gaining the support of many provinces including Britannia. Brief resistance was met by Vetranio in Illyria and Nepotian in Rome (see below), but although Magnentius attempted to create an alliance of sorts, or at least recognition of his position, with Constantius, the bigger threat to Magnentius (and his eventual downfall) was ultimately with the emperor in the east.
In AD 351 Constantius elevated Gallus to caesar (15th March 351) and Magnentius in turn promoted his brother, Magnus Decentius, to caesar in the west. On the 28th of September AD 351 the armies of Constantius and Magnentius met on the battlefield at Mursa (Croatia) in a bloody episode that saw more than 50,000 dead and forced Magnentius to retreat to the western provinces and take stock. Magnentius maintained control over Gaul, but he was soon
forced to withdraw from the parts of northern Italy he had previously gained (notably mints at Rome and Aquileia). Decentius for his part was positioned probably in Trier. This was not to last, though. In the summer of AD 353, Constantius pushed back and in the decisive Battle of Mons Seleucus (France) Magnentius was defeated, retreating to Lyon where he was besieged by Constantius’ forces before committing suicide on the 11th of August. News of his suicide reached Decentius who, possibly now ejected from Trier (see below), followed suit a few
days later. The brief period of usurpation was over by August AD 353.
The coinage of Magnentius and Decentius on the PAS is relatively common, with over 3,500 recorded examples. The standard references for recording these types should be RIC VIII or LRBC, although the study by P. Bastien of Magnentius coinage is significant.
After the introduction of the solidus by Constantine I in c.AD 309-310 gold coinage reappears amongst Roman coin finds in Britain. By the AD 350s, when Magnentius and Decentius usurp power, solidi are still rare, only really being found in any volume later in the 4th century (and notably in hoarded assemblages, such as Hoxne). R. Bland and X. Loriot identified just eight British finds of Magnentian solidi, to which we can add two PAS examples, one struck at Trier from the Isle of Wight and the other an issue of the
Aquileia mint from Suffolk (see images above, both copyright Portable Antiquities Scheme, License CC-BY). These remain extremely rare coins.
Although both silver denominations, the miliarensis and siliqua, were struck for Magnentius and Decentius these are extremely rare as single finds. There is just one PAS example for Magnentius and none for Decentius – fewer coins than for the gold issues!
The bronze coinages of Magnentius and Decentius are interesting in a number of ways, not least their introduction of some completely new types and the first extensive use of overt
Christian symbolism on some reverse types. Coins were struck at the western mints of Amiens – possibly Magnentius’ birthplace and opened by him by c.AD 350 – Trier, Lyon, and Arles and until Magnentius lost Italy in September AD 352 also in Rome and Aquileia.
The coinage of Julian the Apostate, c.ad 355-363
The death of Constantine I in AD 337 prompted turmoil and, at the hands of Constantius II, the massacre of many of Constantine’s extended family while Constantius and his
brothers secured their position within the empire. Born in
c.AD 332, Flavius Claudius Julianus along with his brother, Gallus, survived the purge (perhaps with some help from the Empress Eusebia) due to their young age. As we will see below, he was removed from public life, but given an extensive education in Asia Minor and Greece that allowed him to learn about philosophy, particularly Neoplatonism, and eventually shun the Church in an attempt to revive paganism within the empire. He also grew a beard! This earned him the name ‘Apostate’. But he was more than just a pagan. He was a philosopher, a writer, a
military commander, and in his brief reign sought to bring
change to the empire. His pagan revival was ultimately not
successful, but it is curious to note that upon his death in June AD 363 the Constantinian dynasty, so rooted in its Christian ideals, also came to an end.
Coinage of Julian is relatively common on the PAS, with c.625 database records. The majority of this is silver coinage (c.550 examples), his nummi far rarer as single site finds in Britain. The standard reference for Julian’s coinage is RIC VIII, although for the siliquae P. Guest’s study of the Hoxne hoard is vital. J.P.C. Kent’s overview of Julian’s coinage (‘An Introduction to the Coinage of Julian the Apostate (A.D. 360-3)’ Numismatic Chronicle,
1959) remains a useful introduction, if superseded somewhat by the contents of RIC and LRBC (Late Roman Bronze Coinage).
Gold and large silver denominations
Gold solidi were struck for Julian as caesar and augustus at numerous mints in both the eastern and western empire. However, these are generally quite rare as British finds there are no examples of single gold coins of Julian recorded through the PAS. Similarly, the larger silver miliarensis although struck for Julian is so far absent from the PAS data. Again, this is perhaps not hugely surprising as the earlier large silver denomination
is far rarer than the smaller siliqua on the PAS, indeed there are only about 20 examples in total as single finds nationally – the Hoxne hoard had just three miliarenses of the period AD 330-348 amongst the 60 examples contained within the hoard.
Julian as caesar under Constantius II, c.AD 355-360
Julian’s recall to Milan by his cousin Constantius II in AD 355 came after a period of study and enlightenment in Athens. He had been spared along with his half-brother Gallus by Constantius during the massacres of AD 337, the two brothers initially placed under the tutelage of Eusebius of Nicomedia, the priest and later Bishop of Nicomedia who had baptised Constantine the Great. Following Eusebius’ death (c.AD 341), they were moved to
Macellum (Cappadocia, Turkey) where they were baptised, received minor orders in the Christian church, and for Julian at least continued with an education that would take him on a
different route. Gallus was made caesar in the east by Constantius in AD 351 and this provided Julian with greater freedoms, particularly after he came of age. In Asia Minor he was exposed to vibrant intellectualism, rhetoric, and philosophy. His study of Neoplatonism under numerous tutors and philosophers, notably Eusebius of Myndus and Maximus of Ephesus, resulted in his gradual shunning of the Christian church and conversion to
Gallus was executed by Constantius in AD 354 with Julian summoned to Milan on similar treasonable charges. The empress Eusebia, Constantius’ second wife, intervened and Julian was allowed to travel to Athens where he continued his studies and was initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries. His return to Milan from Athens the following year resulted, perhaps again with the support of Eusebia, with his elevation to caesar on 6th November.
Constantius was quick to send the new caesar west to deal with Alamanni incursion into Roman territory, where he remained until AD 361. In the face of conflict with various tribes in Germany and Gaul, Julian’s campaigns were successful in restoring order, notably in a significant victory over the Alamanni at the Battle of Strasbourg (AD 357) and in securing
peace with the Chamavi. His rebuilding of Gaul was vital to the western economy and notably to Britain. The restoration of granaries (Amm. 18,2,3) and re-establishment of grain routes between the fertile rural landscapes of Britain and the Rhine (e.g. Julian, Letter to the Athenians; Zosimus 3.5.2; Eunapius fr.12; Libanius, Oratio 18) were central to this, and the course of his rule in the west won him both popular support and from the army.
Julian’s coinage after his elevation to caesar continued many of the Constantinian types from prior to (and subsequently restored after) the Magnentian usurpation. In RIC VIII (p. 45) J.P.C. Kent remarks that the coinage of Julian “down to the death of Constantius presents little of interest”! That said, there are some clear divisions and at least one interesting type that warrants further illustration (see below). For the period up to his declaration as augustus in AD 360 (see below), both silver siliquae and copper-alloy nummi are recorded through the PAS.
Siliquae were struck for Julian as caesar at the western mint of Arles as well as several of the eastern mints from Sirmium to Antioch. There are no silver issues for his period as caesar from Trier or Lyon. The siliqua underwent a weight reduction in c.AD 357 from 3.1g to 2g and in RIC the siliquae issued after this date are termed reduced siliquae. All of the siliquae of Julian on the PAS post-date this reduction, but there is a small issue from Arles (RIC p.223, nos. 255-256) and some of the eastern mints that are of the heavier type – these have a reverse type depicting a star within a wreath (see also Fig. 5). The distinctive feature on his
coins of this period is that he is depicted bare headed and beardless, only gaining both diadem and beard after he becomes augustus. Siliquae of this period struck at Arles after the reduction of c.357 all carry a vota reverse type for Julian and were issued from the third officina (RIC VIII, pp. 223-224, nos. 260, 263-265). Siliquae from the eastern mints are very rare on the PAS for Julian, but there is a single example from the mint of Antioch during his period as caesar.
The bronze coinage of Julian is generally rare on the PAS – there are just 79 database records for nummi covering his entire range of issues as caesar and augustus. Two major types were issued between AD 355-360 for Julian caesar, one a continuation of the FEL TEMP REPARATIO fallen horseman type of the House of Constantine, the other SPES REI PVBLICE, which continues into his period as augustus. It is notable that many of PAS examples of the fallen horseman types are from eastern mints, especially Siscia and Sirmium. A total of 27 coins are recorded on the database, of which at least 5 are contemporary copies, but at least 8 have been identified as eastern mint coins (Cyzicus = 1; Sirmium = 3; Siscia = 4). The SPES REI PVBLICE type is less common, with just 14 examples, again four of these have been identified as eastern mint coins (Siscia = 1; Thessalonica = 1; Sirmium = 2).
Julian as augustus and co-ruler with Constantius, c.February AD 360-November AD 361
Julian’s growing popularity led to increased tension with Constantius. The emperor himself was facing renewed threat from Shapur II in the east and ordered a substantial portion of
Julian’s troops to march east and assist. Not only did the army refuse to march, but in Paris in February AD 360 they proclaimed Julian as augustus (for the second time!). He accepted and
although made attempts to reconcile (including issuing coinage in Constantius’ name in the western mints) effectively usurped power and placed himself in direct conflict with the emperor. Julian travelled to Vienne later that year, openly celebrating his quinquennalia (5th anniversary) in November AD 360 with games and his adoption of the diadem as augustus for the first time, as well as presiding over the celebration of Epiphany in January AD 361 – Kent notes this that this may have been his last public appearance in a Christian church (RIC VIII, p. 16). Much of AD 360-361 was spent with the two men posturing. Julian still
acknowledged Constantius as the senior partner, but this was not reciprocated – Constantius stirred insurrection in Gaul, while supporters loyal to him also took Aquileia. Just as it seemed that the empire was once again heading towards civil war, Constantius died (3rd November AD 361) while campaigning in Cilicia against Shapur, not before naming Julian his heir and therefore sole ruler of the empire (Amm. 21.15.3). Julian in turn marched triumphally into Constantinople on the 11th December AD 361 to assume his position as emperor.
The coinage of Julian’s joint rule with Constantius and running in to his sole reign as augustus recorded through the PAS is essentially formed of silver siliquae that usually carry vota reverse types. These were struck at several mints, but for the period that he is augustus (c.AD 360-363) the examples recorded on the PAS database are almost exclusively from the mints of Trier, Lyon, and Arles. The two primary references for these silver issues should be RIC VIII and P. Guest The Late Roman Gold and Silver Coins from the Hoxne Hoard (2005). Julian still appears looking young, beardless, and in a change from his period as caesar now wears a diadem that marks his position as augustus, as in the example above.
Julian as augustus, December AD 361-June AD 363
By AD 362 Julian had travelled east to Antioch, his first laws issued there by the 28th of July, and he became consul for the 4th time at the city on the 1st of January AD 363 (Amm. 23.1.1).
Shapur II remained a threat and Julian’s focus of attention was on securing his eastern frontier, indeed he left Antioch on the 5th March AD 363 for the last time to campaign in Persia. However, the city was one of very mixed fortune for Julian. His policies empire wide attempted to revive and encourage worship of the traditional pagan gods of the Roman world and limit (although tolerate) the role of Christianity, fuelled in no small measure by his education and Neoplatonist thinking. In a largely Christian Antioch this met with resistance and even public criticism. He had grown his beard, a sign of his pagan and philosophical beliefs, and this begins to be depicted on his coinage as well as becoming a source for scorn by the Antiochenes. Indeed, in reaction to this, Julian himself writes his satirical Misopogon (‘Beard-hater’), his own take on (and shove back at) the Antiochenes dislike of him for his beard and philosophies!
Leaving the city in March AD 363, he led the Roman legions to face Persia. In battle at Samarra on the 26th of June, Julian received what was to be a fatal blow from a spear (there is some suggestion this may not have been a Persian spear…!). After his death he was buried at Tarsus and then at some stage later his remains were removed to Constantinople. The pagan revival was over!
The coinage from this last phase of Julian’s reign brings in several distinct changes. Again, the bulk of material on the PAS is silver, although there is an important, but rare, group of nummi. Most clear in his latest coinage is the gradual presence of an increasingly large beard in his portraiture, and this is a useful diagnostic tool not just for very worn coins of Julian (other contemporary rulers are depicted clean shaven) but also in placing them late in Julian’s reign as augustus.
Copies of Julian’s siliquae are common finds on the PAS. Silver coinage from prior to the weight reduction in c.AD 357 is relatively rare in Britain, but the reduced weight coins of
Constantius and Julian are amongst the most commonly recorded as single finds. It is from this period that we see the most copies of siliquae reported, in particular plated copies, gradually petering out into the later 4th century. One of the reasons for this is that in AD 366 an edict by Valentinian resulted in the tightening up of silver purity in the coinages with mintmarks now including the letters PS (pusulatum) to indicate their purity. After this date,
copies appear to be of good quality silver rather than plated – a phenomenon extremely well demonstrated by the West Bagborough hoard (Somerset) dating to c.AD 368-369. This had
58 good quality silver copies amongst the 681 coins and only one plated copy.4 This switch from plated copies to silver copies means that if you are recording a plated siliqua it is far more likely to be from the period of Constantius and Julian prior to the Valentinian edict in AD 366. There are more than 70 coins of Julian recorded as copies amongst the c.550 PAS examples.
The coinage of Jovian, c.AD 363-364
Julian’s death while on campaign against the Sasanian King
Shapur II in June AD 363 left the Roman army in a precarious position. After his departure from Antioch, Julian crossed the Euphrates, dividing his forces so that part of his army (led by Procopius, who was to usurp Valens in c.AD 365-366) joined up with Armenian troops at Media, the remainder heading down the Euphrates to DuraEuropas. The ultimate aim was the Persian capital of Ctesiphon, which the two elements of his army reached in May AD 363. Although Julian’s army forced those at Ctesiphon back into the heavily fortified city, he was unable to take the city and despite having perhaps the largest Roman army ever assembled on Persian soil (some 65,000-80,000 or 90,000 soldiers) found himself stuck between a large Persian army led by Shapur and the Tigris. A hasty retreat involved conflict at Samarra, where Julian received the wound that would lead to his death.
The army had to make a quick decision over who was to take the role of their commander and emperor. They chose Flavius Jovianus, who had travelled on the Mesopotamian campaign as
part of the Imperial bodyguard and was son of Varronianus who had been Constantius II’s comes domesticorum (commander of the Imperial bodyguard). Jovian was born in Singidunum (Belgrade, Serbia) in AD 331 and had two sons, one named Varronianus, by his wife Charito. His first act as newly appointed emperor was to try and affect the withdrawal of the Roman army – now tiring and short of supplies – from deep within Mesopotamia. What resulted was a largely humiliating truce that, while ensuring safe passage for his army, also ceded large areas of the eastern provinces to Shapur, as well as all interests in Armenia. Jovian reached an enraged Antioch by October AD 363 before heading back towards Constantinople. In Ancyra (Ankara) in December AD 363 he and his infant son, Varronianus, assumed the consulship for AD 364, but shortly afterwards disaster struck. On the 17th February at Dadastana he was found dead, apparently suffocated by the fumes of his brazier in his tent.
Jovian ruled for just eight months, but two important elements arose from his brief reign that had longer lasting effects on the empire. The first was a reversal of the religious policies instigated by Julian’s pagan revival. This saw the re-establishment of Christianity as the Roman state religion and the support of the Nicene Creed, the end of Christian persecution, as well as a restoration of the anti-pagan laws from prior to Julian’s reign. The
second change came with his death when the eastern and western armies were unable to find unity in terms of a single leader to rule as emperor. Instead, the elevation of Valentinian I
(AD 364-375) and subsequently his brother Valens (AD 364-378) brought about a new form of imperial co-rule not dissimilar to that seen in the early 4th century with the Tetrarchy, one
brother as augustus in the east (Valens), the other in the west (Valentinian). It also brought about the start of a new dynasty, which we will look at in a later blog post.
For such a short reign, Jovian’s coinage is understandably limited both in volume and range of coin types. A lot of his coinage is from the eastern mints (Alexandria, Antioch, Cyzicus,
Nicomedia, Constantinople, Heraclea, Thessalonica), but word of the new emperor reached the western mints relatively quickly and so there are also coins from Sirmium, Siscia, Aquileia, Rome, Lyon, and Arles. There are just 41 coins of Jovian recorded through the PAS, 28 of these are siliquae, the remainder nummi.
Like Julian before him, Jovian’s gold coinage is very rare in Britain. Solidi were probably struck at the eastern mints relatively soon after he became emperor, with Antioch amongst the earliest, and often continue types struck by Julian. There are no single examples of Jovian’s gold coinage recorded through the PAS and they are rare as hoard coins too. However, an example did recently appear in a hoard from Norfolk.
The larger silver miliarensis was also struck under Jovian. Miliarenses are generally rare as British finds anyway and there are no examples of Jovian on the PAS. One type struck at Arles (Fig. 4), with RESTITVTOR REI P reverse, became a standard reverse type empirewide (in silver and bronze) under Valentinian and Valens (RIC VIII, p. 49).
The majority of Jovian’s coins on the PAS are silver siliquae, numbering 28 in total (including three plated copies). A total of 14 of the regular coins show signs of clipping to the edges of the flan. Although siliquae were struck at numerous mints for Jovian, eastern mint coins are rare as PAS finds and the majority of his silver is from Arles.
Two obverse legends are used and appear to follow a sequence beginning with D N IOVIANVS P F AVG and then changing to D N IOVIAN-VS P F AVG. Kent (RIC VIII, p. 202; see also LRBC p. 42) notes this sequence is demonstrated by the vota reverses that are the exclusive type used for Jovian’s reign. In the earliest examples the standard type for Julian – VOT/V/MVLT/X (or on some coins from Constantinople VOT/V/MVL/X) – appears alongside a type from Arles with VOT/X/MVLT/XX (Fig. 10). This seems to represent reuse of a reverse proper to Julian (possibly either mules with Julian’s types or even from the same dies? Or perhaps even irregular copies. See RIC VIII, p. 54, 202) and so presumably
appears early in his reign once word reached the mint of him becoming emperor. The relative scarcity of Jovian’s siliquae is perhaps attested Hoxne, which has just 41 examples amongst the 14,565 coins within the hoard. Most of these (32 coins) were from the mint at Arles and, indeed, both RIC and Hoxne suggest that no siliquae were struck for Jovian at Trier or Lyon. As we shall see below, the PAS data has perhaps changed that view.
Distribution of Jovian’s coinage
The distribution of Jovian’s coinage (Fig. 20) recorded through the PAS is interesting. A small spread of siliquae is emerging around the Wash, although this is still relatively limited in quantity. In contrast, the bulk of both siliquae and nummi are found in the south west, notably Wiltshire. This in many respects mirrors the distribution of coinage seen for Julian and it may be that Jovian’s examples reflect a similar focus and exploitation of the rural
landscape of the south west following Julian’s restoration of the grain trade to the Rhine. Of course, we still have a relatively small number of coins of Jovian so this distribution may well change as more examples come to light.
References and further reading
P. Bastien Le Monnayage de Magnence (350-353), 1983
P. Guest, The Late Roman Gold and Silver coins from the Hoxne Treasure, 2005
R. Bland and X. Loriot, Roman and Early Byzantine Gold Coins found in Britain and Ireland, 2010
S. Caza, ‘Redating Nepotian’s Usurpation and the Coinage of Magnentius’ KOINON I, 2018: pp. 64-80
S. Moorhead and D. Stuttard, The Romans who Shaped Britain, 2012, p. 203