Coin Relief 28 – Nummi of the House of Valentinian

Welcome to the latest edition of Coin Relief. This time Dr. Andrew Brown examines the nummi of Reece Period 19.

Reece Period 19 nummi – House of Valentinian, c.AD 364-378

In this blog post we will look at the bronze coinage of the House of Valentinian struck between AD 364-378 (Reece Period 19) that was in circulation alongside the siliquae and solidi examined in previous editions. These appear in large quantity in Britain and with the exception of the Constantinian nummi of AD 330-348 (Reece Period 17) are the most well-represented of all the 4th century coins on the PAS. At least 26,836 bronze coins from this period have been recorded to date on the PAS database, many of which can be identified to type and mint, if not ruler. Their distribution is significant and appears to provide good evidence for the exploitation of the agrarian landscape by the Roman administration – we will look at this in more detail below.

By the middle of the 4th century, nummi struck and used around the Roman world still contained small quantities of silver. Production of these adulterated1 nummi ceased with the joint reign of emperors Valentinian I (AD 364-375) and Valens (AD 364-378) in AD 364, and a law of April AD 371 recalled to the mint and outlawed any adulterated coins remaining in circulation altogether. Nummi of the House of Valentinian – initially the joint reign with Valentinian I and Valens, subsequently including Gratian (AD 367-383) and, after Valentinian I’s death, Valentinian II (AD 375-392) – are therefore essentially base metal coins struck from alloys of copper, in some mints like Arles and Lyon perhaps containing increasing quantities of lead. Although there are some larger AE1 and AE2 denominations briefly in circulation, as
well as much smaller AE4 types, these are practically non-existent as PAS finds. We are essentially dealing with three key AE3 types that make up almost all of the known PAS examples: GLORIA ROMANORVM, SECVRITAS REI PVBLICAE, and GLORIA NOVI SAECVLI (see below). These were struck in relatively large volume, the GLORIA NOVI SAECVLI type solely for Gratian at the mint of Arles, but the other two types empire-wide at all mints operating during the Valentinianic period and for all issuers. It is notable that eastern mint coins are rare, with the exception of the mint of Siscia, which has an unusually high showing in this period – you are quite likely to see Siscia mint coins from Reece Period 19 within the PAS data. If you are recording or identifying Valentinianic coinage, being familiar with these three key AE3 types should allow you to identify almost every coin you are likely to see!

When dealing with coins of this period RIC IX is the standard reference, although LRBC is equally useful and perhaps more accessible. One thing to keep in mind with the mintmarks
listed in LRBC is that the officina letters in the field can sometimes be transposed (usually for the GLORIA ROMANORVM type) – check the notes section at the back of LRBC if you
have a coin where the mintmark doesn’t at first seem to be the correct way around!

AE 1 – RESTITVTOR REI PVBLICAE, Emperor standing facing, head right, holding standard and Victory on globe

Nummus of Valentinian I, c.AD 364-367 (British Museum, BM: B.3814).

The largest of the Valentinianic copper-alloy denominations measures about 25mm in diameter and was struck largely in the eastern half of the empire from the mints of Rome eastward. These had a short life span, probably going out of circulation by AD 371 and are rare with no examples yet recorded through the PAS.

AE 2 – GLORI-A ROMA-NORVM, Campgate with S above

Nummus of Valentinian I, c.AD 367-375, with campgate ( Münzkabinett der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, object no. 18269491, License: CC-BY-BC-SA 3.0 EN).

An AE2 sized nummus measuring c.22mm in diameter was struck at the mints of Trier and Constantinople with campgate reverse type. This is again a rare type not to be confused with
Constantinian campgate types of the AD 320s or much smaller Theodosian types of the AD 380s. The distinctive feature is the S above the campgate on the reverse. There do not appear to be any PAS examples of this coin type yet.

AE3 nummi

The PAS dataset still requires some editing but, to date, a total of 10,863 AE3 nummi have been assigned to on of the three key reverse types. I think it likely that this will be possible for the majority of Valentinianic nummi, however, particularly those with images.

While the GLORIA NOVI SAECVLI type was struck solely in the mint of Arles for Gratian, the other two reverse types were struck across the empire and for all four emperors. Those coins with mints currently identified on the PAS database demonstrate that the western mints of Lyon and Arles are by far the most common, followed by Siscia, Aquileia, Trier and Rome. However, the mints east of Aquileia are so far extremely rare.

Mints represented on the PAS database for the GLORIA ROMANORVM and SECVRITAS REI PVBLICAE reverse types.

GLORIA ROMANORVM, Emperor advancing right holding standard and dragging captive

Nummi of Valentinian I, showing the emperor dragging a captive. Record IDs: BM-A98006 (Portable Antiquities Scheme), DENO-FCB54D (Derby Museums Trust) and KENT-B615E4 (Kent County Council), all License CC-BY.

The mints of Lyon and Arles are best represented for the GLORIA ROMANORVM (‘the Glory of the Romans’) type. A useful diagnostic tool lies in those coins with mintmarks containing the officina number in the field: those with the letters OF (for officina) to the left of the emperor are for the mint of Arles, while those where the O and F are split either side of the emperor are for the mint of Lyon. As with all coins of this period, the eastern mints are rare, with the exception of Siscia, which has quite a large showing and a wide, varied range of mintmarks – LRBC is really useful here.

Arles (Arelatum) was known by its dynastic name Constantia from AD 353 until the end of the 4th century. Coins in this period with mintmarks containing CON or CONST are therefore for Arles and not Constantinople (which uses CONS). The latter is very rare in Britain and there are very few PAS examples. If you have nummi from the Valentinian period with mintmarks containing CON, therefore, they are almost certainly going to be for Arles rather than Constantinople – the two shouldn’t be confused!

SECVRITAS REI PVBLICAE, Victory advancing left holding wreath and palm

The Securitas type with Victory reverse is the most frequently seen of the Valentinian bronze types recorded to date on the PAS – at least amongst those that have had a reverse type securely attributed to them. It should be noted here that there are other similar types with Victory reverse in the latter half of the 4th century that are much rarer and shouldn’t be confused with the Valentinian period coin. The two most commonly confused with the Securitas type are as follows:

The Reece Period 17 coin is usually c.15-16mm in diameter and is very rare on the PAS. The type is included in R. Reece and S. James Identifying Roman Coins (Spink, 1986, 1994, 2000)), p. 37, but is not at all common in Britain. There are numerous examples of this type being selected instead of the Valentinian type on the PAS, but it is far more likely that nummi
depicting Victory advancing left are of the latter type.

This type, for Reece Period 21, was highlighted in a previous edition. Although the Victory type is similar, it shouldn’t be confused with the Valentinian Securitas type – the Theodosian coin is much smaller, at c.14mm or less and the distinctive feature is often the GGG of AVGGG at the end of the reverse legend.

GLORIA NOVI SAECVLI, Emperor standing facing, head left, holding standard and leaning on shield

The third standard type of Valentinianic nummi seen in Britain is that with GLORIA NOVI SAECVLI (‘the Glory of the new age’) reverse type. This is struck solely for Gratian between AD 367-375 and only in the third workshop at the mint of Arles. All coins of this issue carry mintmarks for the third officina that are either OF III or TCON. The type is unique to Gratian so should be easily identifiable.

Nummus of Gratian, c.AD 367-375. Record ID BERK-9014E9 (Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Alongside the Securitas and two Gloria reverse types, there are a number of rarer AE3 sized types that appear during this period, some of which are also present on the PAS database. These form just a small percentage of the totals of Reece Period 19 nummi recorded, but it is worth illustrating them in case other examples turn up.

RESTITVTOR REI P, Emperor standing facing holding standard and victoriola

A smaller, AE3 version of the RESTITVTOR REIPVBLICAE reverse type, with legend abbreviated to RESTITVTOR REI P, was issued early in the reigns of Valentinian I and Valens. Struck at most mints empire-wide, the type should not be confused with either the larger AE1 coin or earlier issues of Magnentius. These are not common coins on the PAS, there are fewer than 30 PAS examples identified to date, most probably from the western mints.

Nummus of Valentinian I, c.AD 364-367. Record ID BH-DDC7C5 (St. Albans District Council, License: CC-BY).

GLORIA ROMANORVM, Victory advancing left holding wreath and palm

This type with Gloria Romanorvm legend but Victory reverse type is only struck at the mint of Trier. It is much rarer than the standard Gloria or Securitas types – I can find no more than
about 10 examples that have been securely identified to date on the PAS. Do be careful when recording these coins, they could easily be confused with the Securitas types and it is likely
there could be others that have been identified as such.

Nummus of Valens, c.AD 367-375. Record ID is LON-AD9CF4 (Museum of London, License: CC-BY).

A(nother!) usurper – Procopius, c.AD 365-366

We have seen, particularly in the 3rd century but also in the mid-4th century, the relatively common incidence of usurpation, notably during the transition of power between one ruler and the next. The start of the Valentinian period was no different. With the death of Jovian in February AD 364, Procopius, the maternal cousin of Julian II (and therefore of the Constantinian dynasty) and part of his retinue in the east, was arrested in Caesarea (Kayseri, Turkey) by soldiers loyal to the new emperors, Valentinian I and Valens. However, Procopius managed to flee east with his family and, securing the support of two legions there, proclaimed himself emperor in September AD 365. Two decisive battles against the forces of Valens followed and resulted in his defeat. On the 27th May AD 366, following his capture by
Valens, Procopius was executed in a rather gruesome manner – Ammianus (XXVI.9.1-10) suggests he was simply beheaded on the spot. However, other sources, like Socrates (Ecclesiastical History 4.5), recount that his legs were tied to bent trees, which when they sprung back to an upright position tore him in half!

Coins of Procopius are understandably very rare in Britain. He ruled for just a short period of time and only struck coinage at the mints of Constantinople, Cyzicus, Heraclea, and Nicomedia. The reverse legend for the bronze coinage is invariably REPARATIO FEL TEMP and a distinctive feature of Procopius’ issues are the use of a left instead of right facing bust – he is also bearded much like his cousin Julian. If you have a nummus of this period with a left facing bust, therefore, do check to see whether it is Procopius as this is highly likely! To date there appear to be only two securely identified coins of Procopius recorded through the PAS.

Nummus of Procopius, c.AD 365-366. Record ID BERK-39C186 (Berkshire Archaeology, License: CC-BY).

Valentinianic nummi in Britain

One of the most interesting things about the Reece Period 19 bronze coinage is what it potentially tells us about Roman Britain. Sam has done much work on this over several decades, most notably with regard to Roman Wiltshire. During the Valentinianic period, areas of the west country in particular appear to have become increasingly wealthy, notably areas like Wiltshire and Hampshire (and urban centres like Cirencester) have produced large quantities of nummi. This isn’t confined to the south west, though, and there is a very clear swathe of material spreading east into East Anglia and north as far as Yorkshire. In
continental Europe, high concentrations of bronze coinage in this period have been linked to military activity and Roman officialdom and the situation in Britannia has been interpreted
in a similar way. A combination of factors suggest that the areas with high volume of Valentinianic bronze coin losses reflect Roman military activity within the province likely also associated with agricultural production and the collection of the annona militaris – a tax levied in foodstuffs to support the legions during their campaigns. The fortification of key centres, like Cunetio (Mildenhall) in Wiltshire, might provide evidence for this, particularly at a time when Count Theodosius, sent by Valentinian himself, sought to restore order within the province and secure Roman interests. Similarly, we might see this reflected in the presence of other important groups of objects, such as zoomorphic late Roman belt buckles likely associated with Roman military activity and local officialdom, that are found in the same areas as the high concentrations of nummi. 

After Julian had restored order in Gaul in the late-AD 350s with significant victories over the Alamanni and peace with the Chamavi, there are various literary sources that highlight the importance of his rebuilding projects and the restoration of the granaries here. Ammianus (XVIII.2.3) states that “He also replaced burnt out granaries with new ones, so that they could house the corn which was regularly shipped from Britain”; Libanius (Oratio
18.82-3) that “In the past, grain was shipped by sea from Britain and up the Rhine”; and Eunapius (fr. 12) that “without the acquiescence of the Chamavi it is impossible to transport the supplies of grain from the island of Britain to the Roman garrisons”. The extent to which grain appears to have been transported across the channel from Britain is highlighted by
Zosimus (3.5.2), who recounts that “Julian built 800 vessels, larger than fast galleys, which he sent to Britain to bring back grain” and by Julian himself in his Letter to the Athenians where he tells us that “…a complete fleet of many ships had arrived from Britain. I had got together a fleet of 600 ships, 400 of which had been built in less than ten months, bringing them all together into the Rhine”.

What the literary sources suggest is the importance of the grain supply from Britain to Gaul and the Rhine, with potentially several hundred vessels plying across the channel carrying the all important resources needed for the Roman garrisons in Gaul.
It is quite plausible that the clear growth in bronze coin use and loss, the fortification of key settlements like Cunetio, and the presence of other objects that suggest military and administrative
control in the British landscape, like the zoomorphic Roman buckles, reflects this continued importance of the annona militaris and the transportation of grain from Britannia to Gaul during the Valentinianic period. There is still more work needed to clarify the precise nature of this activity in Britannia, but the PAS data is providing vital corroborating evidence to other
archaeological material and the patterns that Sam has been able to identify since the 1980s.

References and further reading:

S. Moorhead ‘The Coinage of the Later Roman Empire, 364-498’ in W. Metcalf ed. The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage (OUP, 2012): 615

S. Moorhead ‘Roman coin finds from Wiltshire’, in Ellis, P. (ed.)
Roman Wiltshire and After (Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, Devizes, 2001), 85-105; S. Moorhead and D. Stuttard The Romans Who Shaped Britain (2012): 226-227; S. Moorhead A History of Roman
Coinage in Britain (2013)

J.-P. Callu ‘The distribution and the role of bronze coinage from AD 348 to 392’ in C. King (ed.) Imperial Revenue, Expenditre and Monetary Policy in the Fourth Century AD (BAR International Series 76, 1980): 105-

S. Moorhead, 2001; 2012; P. Walton Rethinking Roman Britain: Coinage and Archaeology (Moneta, 2012)