Coin Relief 35 – Maximinus I and Maximus

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

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

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

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

The coinage of Maximinus

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

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

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

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

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

Dated Coins

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

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

AD 235: IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG with early portrait

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

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

AD 236: IMP MAXIMINVS PIVS AVG with later portrait

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

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


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

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

The coinage Maximus

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

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

Coins struck for Diva Paulina

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

Contemporary Copies

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

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

References and further reading:

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

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

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

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