Coin Relief 32 – “Fallen Horsemen” coins

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


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

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

Varieties of ‘Fallen Horseman’

Three varieties of “Fallen Horsemen”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References and further reading

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

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

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

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

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