Here is the next edition of our regular blog series on ancient coins from the PAS database. In this edition, Dr. Andrew Brown looks at the coinage of the breakaway Gallic empire.
Postumus (AD 260-268)
The capture of Valerian while campaigning in the eastern provinces opened up the Roman empire to potential conflict on a
number of fronts, as well as a period of crisis. Gallienus’ attempts to control the Rhine and Danube regions were less than straightforward and in AD 258 his eldest son, Valerian II, was killed along the frontier. Saloninus was sent to Colonia Agrippina (Cologne) to control Lower Germany where Marcus Cassianus
Latinius Postumus served as governor. Postumus was possibly from Batavia, although this is unclear (but may explain the preference for types depicting Hercules on his coinage, see below) and very little is known of his early life. Saloninus’ control, however, did not last. The military along the Rhine frontier, unhappy at being told to hand over loot they had seized from an invading group of ‘barbarians’ turned on the young caesar and instead declared Postumus emperor. His army proceeded to follow Saloninus to Colonia Agrippina, where they laid siege to the city before the inhabitants gave Saloninus up to be murdered by Postumus’ soldiers. Postumus entered the city victorious and assumed control.
Postumus’ revolt against Gallienus probably occurred in AD 260 (or AD 259). According to Eutropius, Postumus “a man of very obscure birth, assumed the purple in Gaul, and held the government with such ability for ten years” (Eutropius IX.9) and coinage was struck in his name until c.AD 269. In so doing, he established a breakaway Gallic empire centred on the western provinces of Britain, Gaul, Germany, and Spain, that survived for 14 years until the provinces were retaken by the emperor Aurelian. Once emperor, with his capital in Trier, Postumus established all of the basic elements of administration and defence required for the new state. It seems he had little intention to take Rome and so initially the west was left alone by Gallienus, who was otherwise occupied on the Danube. He held
consulships (COS) five times (c.AD 260, 261, 262, 268, 269) and each year after his elevation renewed his Tribunician powers – a total of ten times covering his entire reign from AD 260 to AD 269.
The first few years of the Gallic Empire were relatively stable, but by AD 265 Gallienus made renewed attempts to retake the western provinces (unsuccessfully), along with his cavalry commander Aureolus. Gallienus’ efforts, although achieving limited early successes were largely unsuccessful and Postumus remained in control in the western provinces. Things changed, though, following Aureolus’ revolt against Gallienus in AD 268.
Aureolus had taken Milan and withstood siege by Gallienus. Despite his apparent calls to Postumus to side with him these appear to have been ignored and, subsequently, Gallienus was murdered at the siege. The following year, Postumus himself was subject to insurrection by one of his own governors, Laelian, at Mogontiacum (Mainz), perhaps a result of frustrations by the army that Postumus had not taken advantage of Aureolus’ activities the previous year. Although Postumus was able to quickly put down the usurpation, he refused to let the armies into Mainz to sack the city. This appears to have been his undoing and resulted in his soldiers turning on him and killing him.
Coinage of Postumus
The PAS records 2,297 coins to date that are attributed to Postumus (including 965 coins from the IARCW Welsh data).
During this period the standard coin type seen through the PAS is the radiate that had been introduced initially by Caracalla in AD 215. The early issues of Postumus are generally quite silvery in appearance, much more so than contemporary coinage of Gallienus, with up to c.15-20% silver content. However, the radiates from his last issues of coinage in c.AD 268-269 experience a debasement to c.6-8% silver.
He is distinctive on his coinage, with large beard that is characteristic of the Gallic emperors, radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust. Subtle changes to the portrait as his coinage develops see the emergence of hair curls on his temples and forehead from the middle of his reign (during the second half of his third issue, c.AD 263-265) – the clearest analysis of this is in the Cunetio volume (pp. 46-47, Plates A and B), which illustrates the development of the bust types.
Postumus is the last emperor to produce any significant quantity of the large bronze coin types of the Augustan monetary system – the sestertii, dupondii, and asses of the 1st to 3rd centuries AD. He issued bronze coinage early in his reign, with coins that vary in size and weight up to c.25-30g or more, of which there are c.80 PAS examples to date.
The location of Postumus’ mints has been a subject of relatively extensive debate. One late Postumus issue, from c.AD 268 (see below), references a mint at Cologne, while in 2005 excavations at Trier produced archaeological evidence for the mint here. However, identifying which mint produced his principal issue of coinage (and when), or if just one mint or two were in operation,3 has proven less straightforward. The analysis of the Cunetio and Normanby hoard material by R. Bland, E. Besley, and A. Burnett, which is followed here, suggests the possibility that Postumus’ coinage may have been arranged as follows:
• Principal mint – Probably located at Trier. Seven series or issues of coinage, with debasement from the sixth series onward, struck in two workshops.
• Mint of Cologne – Two series from one workshop, including dated types and coins referencing Colonia Agrippina, c.AD 268-269
• Mint of Milan – Issues struck in the name of Postumus by Aureolus during his revolt at Milan against Gallienus in AD 268. Five issues have been identified.
Laelian (AD 269) and Marius (AD 269)
The year AD 269 was one filled with rebellion and conflict that saw four men, including Postumus, usurp power and vie for control over the breakaway Gallic empire. An initial rebellion against Postumus occurred early in the year at Moguntiacum (Mainz) that, although quickly quashed, was the cause of Postumus’ eventual downfall and led to his death. The rebellion
had been led by Laelian (AD 269) (or Laelianus) who, in his brief period in power, struck a short issue of coinage, examples of which are rarely seen on the PAS. After Postumus’ death, a third man, Marius (AD 269), came to the fore and took control of the Gallic empire for a very brief period of time in the summer of AD 269. This was again short-lived but he did issue coinage from both Gallic mints that had been in operation under Postumus. These too are scarce finds on the PAS. By the end of the year, Marius had been murdered by one of his soldiers and power
had shifted to a fourth individual, Victorinus.
We will look at the coinage of Laelian – struck at one mint in AD 269 – and Marius – struck at both Gallic mints in AD 269. I follow here the basic outline used by E. Besley and R. Bland in their analysis of the Cunetio hoard, the Cunetio and Normanby hoard volumes should be the standard reference when identifying or recording coins of either ruler. The more recent work by J. Mairat should also be noted though, since this has refined the interpretation of this period, particularly for Marius.
Laelian (AD 269)
Postumus’ failure to capitalise on Aureolus’ revolt at Milan in AD 268 may well have contributed to growing unrest amongst his supporters within the Gallic empire. The governor of Germania Superior under Postumus was Ulpius Cornelius Laelianus who, with two legions at his disposal, rebelled against Postumus in early AD 269 at Moguntiacum (Mainz). The revolt was short-lived and Postumus, who had been at Trier when news of the revolt
reached him, quickly re-took the city. This was ultimately the downfall of both men, Laelian clearly suppressed and Postumus subsequently killed by his own troops for not allowing them
to sack the city! It is unclear precisely how long Laelian’s usurpation lasted, but it was clearly brief and we know little more about the man at all. A short issue of coinage was issued from the second Gallic Mint that had been in operation under Postumus, probably at Cologne. His coins are rare, there were just 39 coins in Cunetio and 12 coins from the Normanby hoard, and just 20 examples on the PAS database attributed to him (including the IARCW records). In the analysis for the Cunetio hoard it is noted that Laelian’s coinage can be divided into three but that this likely represents a single issue (with various die varieties) (see Cunetio, p. 61).
Although extremely rare gold coins were struck for Laelian, we are essentially dealing with one radiate type that combines two obverse legends and bust types. The standard reverse type for Laelian is: VICTORIA AVG, Victory advancing right holding wreath and palm (Cunetio nos. 2499- 2501). The obverse type is usually: IMP C LAELIANVS P F AVG, Radiate and cuirassed or radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right. A rare type has an obverse legend that includes all of Laelian’s names and is probably early in his coinage: IP C VLP COR LAELIANVS, Radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust right. There is only one example of this longer obverse legend in Cunetio – Cunetio no. 2499 – and so-far there appear to be no PAS pieces.
Marius (AD 269)
Following Postumus’ death at the hands of his army, one of their own, Marcus Aurelius Marius, was elevated to emperor. Little is known of Marius, although later sources suggest he was originally a blacksmith by trade before rising through the ranks of the military (e.g. Historia Augusta, Lives of the Thirty Pretenders, 8). His reign was brief, probably lasting no more than a few weeks or months in the summer of AD 269. Marius was killed not long after he came to power, supposedly by another scorned soldier who “is said to have added the words, “This is a sword which you yourself have forged.”” (Historia Augusta, Lives of the Thirty Pretenders, 8.7).
Given his short reign, Marius’ coinage is short-lived just like that of his predecessor Laelian. There were 165 coins of Marius in the Cunetio hoard and 91 in Normanby. These were issued from both Gallic mints (Mint I and II) that had been in operation under Postumus, the latter continuing from the latest issues of Laelian with the same right facing Victory type. In the earliest issues there are rare examples of gold aurei, although none are recorded through the PAS and the bulk of Marius’ coinage comprises relatively debased radiates. His bust type is distinctive and can often be separated from the other Gallic emperors.
The PAS database contains 53 records currently attributed to coins of Marius, including 26 IARCW records. This number has not increased over the last couple of years and I suspect there may be other worn or corroded examples recorded amongst the Gallic coinages on the database (perhaps for Postumus or Victorinus) that are not easily identifiable. Marius’ coins do turn up in hoards, although not in huge number, so there is no reason why single finds should not appear in circulation also.
The principal Gallic mint (Mint I) issuing coinage for Marius was the same as that striking under Postumus and probably located at Trier. It operated from two officinae and produced two issues of coinage. The first issue from Mint I has a slightly longer obverse legend with Marius’ names in full – IMP C M AVR MARIVS P F AVG – and with radiate, draped, and cuirassed bust types. There are two reverse types: CONCORD MILIT with clasped hands, and SAEC FELICITAS with Felicitas standing left holding caduceus and cornucopiae. The second issue from Trier has the shortened obverse legend IMP C MARIVS P F AVG but with the same reverse types. There is also a rare issue from Trier with a VICTORIA AVG reverse type that is not represented in Cunetio or in the PAS data.
The second mint striking coinage for Marius initially demonstrates a continuation of the types seen for Laelian and is probably located at Cologne. Coins were produced from one officina with IMP C M AVR MARIVS AVG obverse legend. In Cunetio three issues are identified. Issue 1 comprises coins with Victory reverse types and draped and cuirassed busts. Coins from the second issue continue the Victory types but with cuirassed busts only. Coins of the third issue in Cunetio are solely for the VIRTVS AVG reverse types, again just with radiate and cuirassed busts. There appears to only be one verified PAS example (and
one IARCW record without image).
Coins of both Laelian and Marius are rare as single finds on the PAS and are relatively infrequently seen in hoards too, but the types used are generally limited and as a result often identifiable even on worn examples. It is important that any coins of these emperors are photographed for addition to the PAS database though!
Victorinus (AD 269-271)
The last of the four emperors to usurp power in the Gallic empire in AD 269 was Marcus Piavonius Victorinus. Victorinus was from Gaul and an experienced soldier who rose to prominence under
Postumus, sharing the consulship in Gaul with him in AD 268. He may well have played a role in Marius’ death and in the autumn of AD 269 was proclaimed emperor by the legions at Trier. His empire was slightly smaller than that of his predecessors. Although Britannia and Gaul had declared their support for him, Hispania had not and instead returned to the empire in Rome with Claudius II. Even then, Victorinus’ empire was not without
unrest. Claudius II seized control of Gallic territory east of the Rhone prompting revolt against Victorinus that was finally supressed late in AD 270 following a 7- month long siege at Autun.
Victorinus’ reign was not to last and in early AD 271 he was killed by one of his soldiers in Cologne, apparently after having seduced his wife (see below). The Historia Augusta (Lives of the Thirty Pretenders 7) suggests Victorinus had a son, also Victorinus, named caesar and heir before being killed alongside his father, but there is little evidence for this. Although Victorinus’ reign was brief, he did issue quite a large volume of coinage, with examples seen regularly in Britain as both site finds and hoard coins. For Victorinus, the standard references should be the hoard catalogues of Cunetio or Normanby, which provide the basic structure of his coinage and are more up to date than RIC V.2. In this post I follow Normanby, which is more comprehensive than
Cunetio as it runs later chronologically and so the coinages of Victorinus, Tetricus I and II are more complete.
Coinage of Victorinus
By the mid-3rd century, the overwhelming majority of coinage seen in Britain comprises radiates that are now debased to little more than perhaps 2% silver content. This does not mean that other denominations didn’t circulate – there are examples of mid-3rd century aurei and debased denarii (identified by their laureate bust types) – but these are very rare and generally not present on the PAS database other than in hoard groups (well, the denarii at least!). The AD 270s are when we see a spike in the numbers of single coins recorded as site finds through the PAS (Reece periods 13 (AD 260-275) and 14 (AD 275-296)) as well as a
peak in coin hoarding in Britain with appearance of the largest hoards known from the Roman period, most notably the Cunetio, Normanby, and more recently, Frome, hoards.
Radiates from this period are ubiquitous and, although proportionally more common on urban Roman sites than rural ones, they experienced widespread loss (and therefore recovery)
around the British landscape. The PAS currently records over 58,000 coins from the period spanning AD 260-296 (33,733 coins for Reece Period 13; 24,345 for Reece Period 14), only slightly more than the 54,951 coins in the Cunetio hoard and accounting for c.18% of the PAS total (c.323,000 as of June 2020).4 Of this number, there are currently 5,481 coins of Victorinus recorded on the PAS database. Analysis of hoard groups from Beachy Head, Cunetio, and Normanby since the late-1970s has established and confirmed the organisation of Victorinus’ coinage. Upon taking
control of the Gallic empire, Victorinus, like Marius and Postumus before him, struck at two Gallic mints that can be separated in his coin issues based on their reverse and bust types:
• Mint I – probably located at Trier struck coins in two officinae working concurrently. Coins from this mint have draped and cuirassed bust types (D1 bust types in the standard catalogues).
• Mint II – probably located at Cologne and striking coins in just one officina. Coins from this mint have cuirassed bust types (B1 bust types in the standard catalogues).
On very worn or corroded coins, as many coins recorded through the PAS as site finds from this period tend to be(!), it can sometimes be difficult to identify Victorinus when compared to other Gallic emperors, especially his successor Tetricus I (AD 271-274). However, he has a distinctive pointed beard and nose (although see below for his earliest issues where the bust type of Marius is re-used) and several reverse types that are prolific and regularly seen within both hoarded assemblages and as single site finds. Also remember that this is the period when we get huge numbers of contemporary copies – Barbarous radiates – so it is not uncommon to find irregular examples of Victorinus’ coin types or indeed muled types between him and other contemporary rulers like Tetricus I.
DIVO VICTORINO PIO (AD 271)
In early AD 271, Victorinus was assassinated at Cologne by one of his officers, Attitianus. According to literary sources, this was allegedly in revenge for Victorinus seducing Attitianus’ wife (e.g. Eutropius IX.9; Aurelius Victor 33.12; Historia Augusta Lives of the Thirty Pretenders 6), but there may have been other reasons behind it. Following his death, these sources suggest an important role played by his mother, Victoria (or Vitruvia) in the succession of power. It seems as though she may have contrived, perhaps with a healthy sum of money, to gain the support of the legions and install Tetricus I as the next emperor with his son Tetricus II as caesar. Victorinus was deified and a small posthumous issue of coinage was produced, probably at Cologne and most likely as the first issue from this mint for Tetricus I. It has been suggested that this coinage could even have been struck by Victoria rather than Tetricus himself in the interim between Victorinus’ death and Tetricus’ assumption of power, perhaps as a means to placate or gain the support of the military to Tetricus’ cause.
Two basic types were struck, one with Providentia reverse type, the other with an eagle reverse type, although there are multiple minor varieties. These are all very rare as PAS finds – I can find only one very worn example as a single find that can be
closely identified to one of these types. There are a handful of other database records that suggest Divo Victorino types, but some are without images and others are not closely identifiable. Small numbers of these types do appear in hoards. If you are recording on the PAS and think you have one of these posthumous issues please do photograph it, they are rare coins and warrant an image.
Tetricus I (AD 271-274) and Tetricus II (AD 272-274)
On the death of Victorinus in AD 271, and seemingly after some negotiation by Victorinus’ mother, Victoria, a large portion of the Roman military in Gaul declared their support for the governor of Gallia Aquitania as their new emperor – Gaius Pius Esuvius Tetricus. As we have already seen, he was by no means the sole option presented that year, but after taking power in Trier (perhaps with certain financial backing by Victoria!), any opposition at Cologne from Domitianus was soon removed.
Relatively little is known of Tetricus prior to his elevation as emperor, although he was clearly governor by this stage and likely originally from Gaul. His reign was affected by the constant threat of Germanic invasion and, after Aurelian had restored order in the eastern empire, the might of Rome looking to reclaim
the breakaway western provinces. Tetricus I held consulships and tribunician powers throughout his reign, his gold coinage often referencing these titles, and, perhaps in the face of growing unrest, at some point early in the reign elevated his son, Caius Pius Esuvius Tetricus to caesar and possibly also consul.
The date of Tetricus II’s elevation to power is somewhat complicated. Traditionally, it has been placed at AD 273 based on the numismatic evidence for both Tetricus I and II. However, an inscription from Béziers (France) places Tetricus II as caesar during the second tribunician power of Tetricus I in AD 272. This has been suggested either as an error or alternatively that the inscription was prior to Tetricus receiving his full powers the following year.1 Yet, more recent work by J. Mairat, drawing together the numismatic evidence, indicates the date of Tetricus II’s promotion to caesar in AD 272 is likely the most plausible explanation based on the development of the coinage of both emperors.
This has some implications for the interpretation of the coinage of the Tetrici. The matter is complicated due to the apparent merging of the two mints striking coins in this period: Mint I at Trier and Mint I at Cologne. For R. Bland and A. Burnett writing in
19883, this merging of mints is placed in AD 273. However, new archaeological evidence from Trier, combined with the numismatic evidence, has led Mairat to suggest this happened slightly earlier and prior to Tetricus II becoming caesar, thus in AD 272. In this blog post I have tried to follow where possible elements of the newer outline given by Mairat, since it may well offer a more up to date and clearer picture of the two mints during this period. However, at the end I have also provided a breakdown of the divisions given in Normanby so as to aid recording on the PAS. The Normanby volume remains the standard reference text that should be used when recording coins of these two usurpers through the PAS and it is fine to follow the chronology and development of the mints published there! I think it is useful, though, to be aware that the picture has evolved slightly since the hoard was published (and, indeed, could change
again in the future!).
In AD 274, Tetricus I and his young caesar Tetricus II were faced with the armies of the central Empire and their emperor Aurelian (AD 270-275). They met in the spring of that year at the Battle of Châlons (Châlons-en-Champagne, France). Tetricus’ armies were no match for those of Aurelian and during the course of the bloody battle Tetricus was captured and his armies collapsed. His surrender to Aurelian had perhaps an unusual outcome for the Roman period. There is some suggestion, for example in the, often
unreliable, Historia Augusta (Lives of the Thirty Pretenders 24) that Tetricus had already made a deal with Aurelian for peace prior to the battle, or even invited Aurelian to take back control, but this is unclear. Whatever the case, Tetricus I and II, after being paraded through Rome during Aurelian’s triumph, received no further punishment. Indeed, Aurelian pardoned them! Tetricus I was made governor in southern Italy (possibly Lucania) where he lived out the rest of his life, while Tetricus II and many of the other officials of the Gallic empire maintained their positions and careers. A quite unusual end for a usurper emperor and his son! Of course, what this did bring was an end to the breakaway Gallic state, which had lasted for some 14 years after its creation by Postumus in AD 260. Although this did not bring immediate security and stability to the western provinces, Aurelian’s reign did much to stabilise some of the problems the Roman empire experienced in the 3rd century, not least reunifying what had been lost under Valerian and Gallienus. We will look at Aurelian in a later edition.
Coinage of Tetricus I and II
The coinage of Tetricus I and II in many respects continues what had begun under Victorinus and we are again dealing almost exclusively with debased radiates (although rare aurei and denarii are known). Two mints were in operation – Mint I/Trier and Mint II/Cologne – probably with two officinae in the principal
Mint I and a single officina in Mint II. Like Victorinus, the feature that separates out the two officinae in Mint I for Tetricus I is the bust type (see below), while obverse legends and reverse types typically allow us to separate coins from the two mints. Tetricus II’s coins can be separated from those of Tetricus I not just by different obverse legends, but more clearly by his bust type, which notably depicts him as a young caesar with no beard.
There is a distinct change in production during this period however. It appears that part way through Tetricus I’s issues, and probably coinciding with Tetricus II’s elevation to caesar in AD 272, the two mints combined so that by the end of his reign only one principal mint, probably at Trier, was striking. One side effect of this merging of coin production (and, in fact one of the ways to demonstrate it occurred) is the appearance of hybrid types that
combine various types and issues, and indeed coins of both Tetricus I and II. These do appear as single finds, although it should be noted that there are also a large number of contemporary copies struck in the AD 270s-280s, which means some care has to be taken when identifying what might seem to be a hybrid type as it could well be a barbarous copy! In their analysis of the Normanby hoard, R. Bland and A. Burnett place this merging of the mints contemporary with the 5th issue of Mint I coinage (see below). However, as J. Mairat has identified, the
archaeological and numismatic evidence since their publication (notably from Trier) instead points to the two mints merging slightly earlier with Issue IV in AD 272 when Tetricus II became caesar and Cologne was subsumed as a third officina at the principal mint in Trier.
There are a substantial number of coins of both emperors recorded through the PAS, including a large number of contemporary copies and hybrid types. The Normanby hoard
contained 16,192 coins of Tetricus I and 7,030 coins of Tetricus II, while the PAS has slightly fewer with 7,789 coins of Tetricus I (including 3,207 IARCW records) and 3,254 coins of Tetricus II (including 1,279 IARCW records). I suspect this number will change considerably – there are a lot of PAS records that need attention from this period, not to mention many coins of the Gallic emperors that are not closely identified and others where
the attribution to Tetricus I or II has been confused.
References and further reading:
R. Bland, E. Besley, A.Burnett The Cunetio and Normanby Hoards (Spink 2018), originally published in single volumes: E. Besley and R. Bland The Cunetio Treasure (1983) and R. Bland and A. Burnett The Normanby Hoard and other Roman Coin Hoards (CHRB VIII, 1988).
J. Mairat The coinage of the Gallic Empire (Oxford University DPhil Thesis, 2014)
Work is ongoing to catalogue and publish the Frome hoard. A preliminary analysis can be found in S. Moorhead, A. Booth, and R. Bland The Frome Hoard (British Museum Press, 2010).
R. Bland Coin Hoards and Hoarding in Roman Britain AD 43-c.498 (Spink, 2018)
R. Bland, A. Chadwick, E. Ghey, C. Hazelgrove, and D. Mattingly Iron Age and Roman Coin Hoards in Britain
For the development of Roman coinage in the British landscape see in particular P. Walton and S. Moorhead ‘Coinage and the Economy’ Oxford Handbook of Roman Britain (2016)
R. Bland, ‘The 1973 Beachy Head Treasure Trove of third-century antoniniani’ NC 19, 1979: 61-107
E. Besley and R. Bland, The Cunetio Treasure (1983)
R. Bland and A. Burnett The Normanby Hoard and other Roman Coin Hoards (CHRB VIII, 1988)
J. F. Drinkwater The Gallic Empire. Separatism and Continuity in the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire A.D. 260-274 (Stuttgart, 1987)
The coinage of the Gallic Empire (Oxford University DPhil Thesis, 2014): 19-20