Coin Relief – Issue Three

Here is the third edition in a series of blog posts written by our Finds Advisers for ancient coins, Dr. Sam Moorhead and Dr. Andrew Brown. In this series they will explore some of the many (many) ancient coins from the PAS database.

Reece Period 17 (AD 330-48) – The period of Britain’s highest coin-loss

Many of the most common coins found in Britain date to the period AD 330-48 (Reece Period 17). They are all small module nummi (c. 14-18mm in diameter; c. 2 gm) which were struck in enormous numbers.  There are over 43,000 of these pieces on the Database which gives Period 17 the greatest peak on the graph of coin-finds from Roman Britain.

Roman coins on the PAS database by Reece Period (per mill). Period 17 (AD 330-48) has over 18% of the coins found. (Andrew Brown 2019).

These coins are found on sites across England and Wales, as shown. In many ways, this period shows widest coin-use in England and Wales. However, Andrew Brown’s new heat-map shows that the concentrations are in the West Country, East Anglia and in Lincoln up to East Yorkshire.  These are prime agricultural regions in the Roman period, and also today.  We will return to this topic in a later piece.

Left: Sites on which Period 17 (AD 330-48) coins have been recorded on the PAS database in England and Wales. Right: Heat-map showing the areas of highest concentration of finds of Period 17 (AD 330-48) coins in England and Wales. (Andrew Brown 2019).

In addition, several large hoards of these coins have been found in recent years, notably at Seaton in Devon (22,523; IARCH-F95723); Thornbury, near Bristol (11,460 coins; IARCH-E4B3BA) and Snodland in Kent (4,653 coins; PAS-F6F7F5).  It is interesting that there were very few denominations between the nummus and the gold solidus and it is reckoned that the 11,000 coins from Thornbury could represent only one or two gold solidi.

Joint reign of Valerian and Gallienus (AD 253-260; Reece Period 12)

Valerian I (Publius Licinius Valerianus, AD 253-260) came to power in October 253 following the death of Aemilian (AD 253), murdered by his own soldiers at the Pons Sanguinarius (‘Bridge of Blood’) in Spoleto (Italy). Valerian was from a distinguished Roman family and as a former consul was readily accepted as emperor by the Senate. However, he inherited an empire in crisis – ravaged by instability, civil war, multiple short-lived emperors (who invariably met with violent deaths), a resurgent Persia in the east, and the threat of Germanic tribes on the Rhine and Danube. He quickly elevated his son, Gallienus (Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus AD 253-268), to co-emperor with the empire effectively divided in half, Valerian to rule in the east and Gallienus in the west.

Top: Silver denarius of Valerian I, minted in Rome. Record ID: WAW-B10155 (Copyright: Birmingham Museums Trust, License: CC-BY). Bottom: Gold aureus of Gallienus, joint reign with Valerian I,  mint of Rome. Record ID: LVPL-BCE783 (Copyright: National Museums Liverpool, License: CC-BY).

Coins of the Joint Reign are not rare finds in Britain but they are far less common than the issues of Gallienus’ Sole Reign (AD 260-268). The PAS records just over 3,000 coins for Reece Period 12 of which two thirds relate to the Joint Reign of Valerian and Gallienus (see here). It should be noted though that a large number of coins currently attributed to Gallienus for the Joint Reign are in fact Sole Reign coins and there are over 1,000 coins from the Welsh IARCW dataset from this period whose details cannot be fully verified at present. This figure is therefore liable to change.

End of the Joint Reign

The Joint Reign of Valerian and Gallienus was one fraught with problems, which ultimately brought it to an abrupt end. Valerian, campaigning in the east against Persia, had some success notably earning titles such as ‘Restorer of the Orient’ (RESTITVT ORIENTIS) and ‘Restorer of the world’ (RESTITVTOR ORBIS), both of which appear on his coins (see above). But this was short-lived. In 260 Valerian was besieged by Shapur I in Edessa and his army was ravaged with plague. He rather foolishly met with Shapur with only a small retinue, which resulted in him being captured and held in captivity for the remainder of his life – the only Roman Emperor for this to have happened to. Supposedly, he was used as a footstool for Shapur to mount his horse and after his death had his skin removed, dyed red, and hung up in a Persian temple as a warning! Gallienus met with similar difficulties in the west. Here, Valerian’s capture weakened his position and rebellion in the east was followed by rebellion in the west, most notably by Postumus in AD 260 who, after the death of Saloninus seized control at Cologne and established a breakaway Gallic Empire. Gallienus’ rule continued in the central Empire until AD 268, but he was never able to fully re-establish the Roman world as it had been previously. 

The coinage of Plautilla c.AD 202-205

Plautilla was the daughter of Gaius Flavius Plautianus who was made Praetorian Prefect by Septimius Severus in AD 197.  In the summer or autumn of 202, Septimius arranged for his eldest son Caracalla to marry Plautilla.  It was not a happy marriage and Caracalla would not eat or sleep with Plautilla and even threatened to murder her when he became sole emperor.  Accounts differ, but either Caracalla framed Plautianus, or Plautianus was plotting to murder Severus and Caracalla.  Either way, on January 22nd 202 Plautianus was executed.  Plautilla was sent into exile on the island of Lipari and, good to his word, Caracalla had her murdered in AD 212, once he had become sole emperor.

Plautilla’s coinage would probably have been struck from the end of AD 202 until the very beginning of AD 205, giving a maximum period of just over two years. Her coins are scarce with only 65 found in England (including some plated denarius copies) on the PAS Database. All but one of these coins are silver denarii, there being a single as (full record here). Also, all but two of the coins are from the Mint of Rome, there being two coins which were definitely struck at an Eastern Mint (sometime named as Laodicea in Syria).

The single copper alloy as of Plautilla recorded on the PAS database, mint of Rome. Record ID: PUBLIC-C7238E (Copyright: Surrey County Council. License: CC-BY).

The coins at Rome are divided into two issues in RIC IV, pt 1 (pp. 269-70, nos. 359-69): Issue I has the obverse legend PLAVTILLAE AVGVSTAE (‘To our Augusta, Plautilla’); Issue II has the obverse legend PLAVTILLA AVGVSTA (‘Plautilla Augusta’).

Left: Rome Issue I type coin with PLAVTILLAE AVGVSTAE legend. Record ID: LIN-493661. Right: Rome Issue II type coin with PLAVTILLA AVGVSTA legend. Record ID: BUC-803AEA. (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

The coins struck at the Eastern Mint also fall into two issues in RIC (p. 270, nos. 370-2): Issue I also has the obverse legend PLAVTILLAE AVGVSTAE; Issue II has the obverse legend PLAVTILLA AVG. The PAS Database has records for most of the 15 or so RIC entries. RIC 364 is only recorded for a gold aureus and RIC 368 for a silver quinarius (half-denarius). Therefore, the PAS Database does not have examples of the denarii RIC 365 (CONCORDIA FELIX) and 366 (DIANA LVCIFERA) from Rome, and RIC 370 (CONCORDIAE) and 371 (HILARITAS) from the Eastern Mint.

Faustina II and a new Coin of British Association

Annia Galeria Faustina Minor, more commonly known as Faustina the Younger or Faustina II (AD 147-175), was the youngest child of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-161) and his wife Faustina the Elder (died AD 141). Born in Rome in c.AD 130, she was the only child of Antoninus and Faustina to survive into adulthood and was initially betrothed to Lucius Verus (AD 161-169), the eldest son of Lucius Aelius (AD 136-138) who had been adopted by Hadrian as his first choice for heir to the Roman empire. Aelius and Hadrian both died in AD 138 and Hadrian’s second adoptive son, Antoninus Pius, was elevated as his successor to the empire. Faustina’s engagement to Verus was called off by Antoninus and instead in April or May AD 145 she was married to Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180), nephew of Faustina I, who had been adopted by Antoninus and Faustina I as their son – the two being adoptive brother and sister!

Portrait head of Faustina II (Copyright: Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program).

Extensive coinage was struck for Faustina II from AD 147 once she was granted the title of Augusta following the birth of her first child during the reign of Antoninus Pius (Reece Period 7: 194 coins on the PAS including 22 from the IARCW Welsh data) and continued through that of Marcus Aurelius until her death in AD 175 (Reece Period 8: 1075 coins on the PAS including 103 from the IARCW Welsh data). After her death a ‘consecration’ issue was also struck. All of her coinage is from the mint of Rome, with the full range of denominations represented on the PAS, for example the aureus shown below. I think it likely that the total number of coins on the database is actually more than the c.1200 suggested by searches under her name, as there will be many worn bronze coins of this period (particularly dupondii and asses) that can probably be attributed to her.

Gold aureus of Faustina II c.AD 147-161. Record ID: NMS-6C0C82 (Copyright: Norfolk County Council, License: CC-BY).

The IOVI CONSERVATORI nummi of AD 317-24

In AD 313, after the death of Maximinus II at Tarsus, Constantine I (AD 306-37) and Licinius I (AD 308-24) became joint Augusti of the Roman Empire: Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East.  However, relations were never good. In 317, in an attempt to ensure the continuation of their respective dynasties, they agreed to the promotion of Constantine’s two sons, Crispus and Constantine (II), to Caesars, and of Licinius’ son Licinius (II).  Between 317 and 324, when Licinius was finally defeated by Constantine, there was a continued strain in relationships.

After the SOLI INVICTO COMITI coinage, with Sol the Sun God, ended by AD 320, the coinage in Constantine’s realm became generally devoid of religious symbolism with types referring to Victory, the army and the ‘blessings of peace’.  Constantine had taken to Christianity so was not proclaiming pagan gods, but was probably not proclaiming Christianity so as not to alienate the many pagans in the Empire.

Copper alloy nummus of Constantine I, mint of Cyzicus. Record ID: DOR-F9F824 (Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Licinius, however, although he signed the ‘Edict of Toleration’ with Constantine at Milan in AD 313, was to favour paganism.  This is seen on the coins struck in his realm, from Heraclea to Alexandria, where Jupiter is pre-eminent.  IOVI CONSERVATORI AVG(G) / CAESS (‘To Jupiter the Protector of our Augusti / Caesars’) and IOVI CONERVATORI (‘To Jupiter the Protector’) are were the most common legends. These coins were struck for Licinius I and II, as well as for Constantine I (shown above) and II and Crispus. This was the last major issue of coins extolling a pagan god struck in the Roman Empire.

Fractional nummi c.AD 307-313 (Reece Period 15)

The establishment of the tetrarchy in AD 293 heralded not just political change but also currency reform. Diocletian’s Edict on maximum prices and currency edict, preserved in part in the Aphrodisias currency inscription (Aphrodisias, Turkey), in AD 301 fixed the maximum prices that could be charged for certain goods or services empire-wide. They also help explain his new currency system, notably the introduction of the silver argenteus and a bronze denomination, the nummus. This bronze coin was valued at 25 commondenarii (or denarii communes) and by c.AD 310 weighed about 4.5g or 1/72 to a (Roman) pound. During the tetrarchic period several mints struck smaller, fractional denominations whose weights suggest they had a value of a half, third, quarter, or perhaps even less in some instances, of a nummus. Several features characterise the fractional nummi, not least their smaller size in relation to full nummi. Many have shortened legends on both obverse and reverse, while the smaller fractions often carry vota legends that celebrate anniversaries of the accession of the tetrarchs. They are thought to have been thrown into crowds as donatives during Imperial celebrations.

A fractional nummus of Diocletian, mint of Trier. Record ID: WMID-991F07 (Copyright: Birmingham Museums Trust, License: CC-BY).

Although generally scarce, and almost completely absent from hoards, fractional nummi have been reported in increasing quantity through the PAS. To date, there are 132 examples from the mints of Trier (like the example above), Ostia, and Rome dating to the Tetrarchic period, the majority dating to between c.AD 307-313.

References and further reading:

  • The standard references for Faustina II should be RIC III or the British Museum Catalogue (BMC) IV
  • A good introduction to this period can be found in R. Abdy ‘Tetrarchy and the House of Constantine’ The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage, 2012: Chapter 31.
  • Good introductions to the fractional nummi can be found in D. Wigg ‘An Issue of Follis Fractions with Denominational Marks by Constantine I at Rome’ ; V. Drost, ‘Les fractions du nummus frappées à Rome et à Ostie sous le règne de Maxence (306-312 ap. J.-C.)’ 2011 . The standard references are RIC VI and VII