Coin Relief – Issue Two

Here is the second 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. So grab yourself a cup of tea and enjoy Issue Two!

The coinage of the emperor Clodius Albinus (AD 193-7)

Clodius Albinus was probably governor of Britain when Commodus was murdered in AD 192. He was certainly governor in AD 193 after the short reigns of Pertinax and Didius Julianus. After the death of Pertinax, in 193, Albinus was one of three contenders for the throne, along with Septimius Severus and Pescennius Niger. In order to neutralise Albinus, Severus offered him the role of junior emperor (Caesar), an offer which Albinus accepted. Severus then marched East and defeated Niger, thus securing the Empire for himself, with Albinus as his Caesar.

Head of Clodius Albinus(?) from Lullingstone Villa in the British Museum (Room 70).

There are no inscriptions or other direct pieces of evidence for Clodius Albinus as governor in Britain, but at Lullingstone Villa (Kent) two marble busts were found in the cellar of the villa during excavations.  It has been argued by scholars, such as Martin Henig, that one of these busts might in fact be Pertinax (who was governor in Britain from AD 185 to 187). However, Richard Abdy has recently suggested that this head is in fact of Clodius Albinus, and I have to say that I agree with him (having published it as being of Pertinax in the Romans Who Shaped Britain!). Lullingstone has always been a rather odd ‘villa’, being too small to be a major residence.  I would argue that it was possibly a retreat or a hunting lodge for the Roman Governor of Britain (like Chequers is for the Prime Minister now).

The coinage of Clodius Albinus as Caesar under Septimus Severus (c. AD 193-5)

Coins were struck in gold, silver and copper-alloy for Albinus, alongside issues for Severus, at the mint in Rome from AD 193 to c.AD 195. On the coins, Albinus is given the name Decimus Clodius Septimius Albinus, emphasising his subordination to Septimius Severus.

On the PAS Database there are 74 coins of Clodius Albinus.  Of these, 64 were struck when he was Caesar under Septimius Severus. (We will come to the coins struck when he was Augustus later). The most common coin of all the early issues is a denarius which features Minerva, such as the example below.

Silver denarius of Clodius Albinus as Caesr (c.AD 193-5) (Reece Period 10), Mint of Rome with Minerva on the reverse. Record ID BERK-5EDB2B, copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, license: CC-BY.

On the PAS, there are around 50 denarii of Albinus as Caesar, but a few are plated or base metal copies.  Of the 42 official coins, 29 (69%) are of this Minerva type.  It is interesting to compare the spread of types on the PAS Database with the 92 Albinus denarii contained in the Shapwick Hoard (Somerset; tpq AD 224) of 9,238 coins.   Table 1 shows a comparative breakdown of the coins. The Minerva type is also the most common type in the Shapwick Hoard, but with a lower proportion (50%).

Trajan and Dacia

Often coins recorded through the PAS hint at or provide direct links to the wider Roman world. This can be anything from depictions of the Emperors, through to places, key events, battles, and even architecture. Good examples of this are seen in the coinage of Trajan (AD 98-117), particularly in relation to his two military campaigns in Dacia – the landscape of modern-day Romania and Moldova, notably around the Carpathian Mountains (Transylvania) – in AD 101-102 and AD 105-106. Dacia, with her king Decebalus, was considered a potential threat to Rome as well as a source of great natural wealth, particularly gold. Trajan’s victorious Dacian Wars resulted in the southern half of Dacia being annexed as the Roman province of Dacia Traiana in AD 106, rejuvenated the Roman economy, and brought Trajan glory. His triumph instigated 123 days of celebrations with Roman games that involved 10,000 gladiators and even more wild animals!

Marcus Ulpius Traianus (AD 98-117). Record ID is PUBLIC-6A513E (copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Coins of Trajan are not uncommon. The PAS has over 3,200 examples for Trajan alone, like the example above. This search will bring up all examples. It also holds records of much rarer examples of coins struck for his wife Plotina (2 examples), sister Marciana (5 examples), and niece Matidia (1 example).

Examples of coins of Marciana, Matidia and Plotina from the PAS database (Copyright: Oxfordshire County Council, Royal Institution of Cornwall and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

The emperor Carinus (AD 282-5) and Britain

Carinus was the son of Carus (AD 282-3). Initially, he was a junior emperor (Caesar) under his father, but in autumn 283 he was raised to the rank of Augustus, as seen on the example below. Whilst Carus and his other son, Numerian, were campaigning in the East, Carinus remained in Rome and governed the Western Empire. He even had to suppress the revolt of Julian of Pannonia in 285. Carus died campaigning in Mesopotamia in late 283, and Numerian was murdered the following year. Carinus continued to rule and even gained an initial victory against Diocletian in 285; however, he was murdered shortly afterwards.

Copper-alloy radiate of Carinus as Caesar (AD 282-3), PRINCIP IVVENT, Mint of Siscia (RIC V, pt 2 no.197var). Record ID is WILT-D8E15C (Copyright: South Wiltshire Museum, License: CC-BY).

Carinus and Britain

We know from an inscription found near Ostia (port of Rome) that Carinus (and Numerian) took the title Britannicus Maximus. This does indicate that there was a military campaign in Britain around AD 284 which was either conducted by Carinus or officers in the province on his behalf (a governor or legionary legate). However, a poem by Nemesianus strongly suggests that Carinus might have been present in person, as it refers to ‘wars under the north star’ which strongly suggests Britain:

Soon I shall gird myself with a better lyre to record your [Carinus and Numerian] triumphs, sons of the most gallant deified Carus, and will sing of our coast beneath the twin boundaries of the world and the subjugation by the brothers’ divine spirit of the peoples that drink the Rhine and Tigris and the distant start of Arar [Saône] and the source of the Nile at its origin; nor shall I be silent about, first, the wars which you with successful hand lately completed under the north star, Carinus, almost outstripping your divine parent….’

Archaeological evidence for Carinus in Britain

An inscription, dedicated to Carinus as Caesar (AD 282-3) on sandstone was found near the Roman villa at Clanville in Hampshire. It might be part of a milestone, but this is not certain. Because he is titled Caesar, this might predate the campaign in Britain. It is interesting to note that his name is spelt with a K, Karinus. This occasionally occurs on his coins as: KARINVS, PRINCIPI INVVENTVT.

One of the most spectacular Roman coins on the PAS Database is a gold aureus of Carinus found in Nottinghamshire in 2006. Three other specimens of this coins with this reverse type are recorded in RIC; only one other is known which shares the same obverse type. What is interesting is that of the ten known finds of gold coins in Britain, from the period AD 268-85, one is of Divus Carus, one of Carinus as Caesar, two of Carinus as Augustus and one of Carinus and Numerian. This little spike in gold coin-loss requires some discussion. In the later Roman period, gold coinage was to become increasingly controlled by the imperial court and one can argue that the finds of gold coins might indicate an imperial presence.2 Therefore, this group of gold coins of Carus’ dynasty in Britain might indicate that Carinus was indeed present for the military campaign in the Province.

Gold aureus of Carinus as Augustus (AD 283-5), Mint of Siscia. Record ID is DENO-3B3AF6 (Copyright: the finder, License: CC-BY-SA).

There are only seven coins of Carinus as Caesar under Carus on the database. From late AD 282, Carinus struck coins as Augustus and there are twelve of these on the database. There is a certain irony that, although Carinus might have campaigned in Britain, his coins are very rare as single finds. 

The quadrans

The smallest Imperial bronze denomination of the Roman period was the quadrans. Valued at just one quarter of an as (or 1,600 to a gold aureus!) it was clearly of very low denomination, arguably more of a token coinage, but still circulated during the 1st-2nd centuries AD. Entrance to public baths may have cost a quadrans (e.g. Martial 3.30, 8.42) and there is the famous, probably apocryphal, account by Petronius of a miserly Trimalchio who built his fortune by being “prepared to use his teeth to extract a quadrans from a dung-heap” (Satyricon 43)! These small coins (c.15-20mm in diameter; 2-3g in weight) usually do not carry an Imperial portrait on the obverse (see example below) and when in very worn condition can easily be confused with later 3rd or 4th century bronzes. They appear in the Republican period and survive until the coinages of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-161).

quadrans of Claudius (AD 41-54), Mint of Rome. Record ID is BERK-897F8B (Copyright: Oxfordshire County Council, LicenseL CC-BY).

Quadrantes are rare as British finds and are not commonly found outside Italy, especially north of the Alps (although see below). A key analysis of the quadrans and its circulation in Britain was published by Frances McIntosh and Sam Moorhead in 2011 and identified 34 examples, nine of which were PAS finds. By 2020 this number has increased to 72, with at least 17 PAS examples. This is a substantial increase, particularly given that recent analyses of the Trajanic and Hadrianic coinages has now reclassified some of these small bronze coins (notably Hadrianic examples on the PAS) as semisses.

How did they get here?

Fascinating work by Fleur Kemmers, looking at the evidence from Nijmegen, has demonstrated that quadrantes did find their way outside Italy and occasionally in large numbers. In Britain the evidence suggests that these small coins did not enter general circulation and if they did, this was not widespread. There are absolutely no examples amongst the 12,595 coins from the Sacred Spring at Bath. Quadrantes also make up just a fraction of 1% of contemporary bronze coinage recorded through the PAS. But a potential military link noted in Gaul and the presence of coins moving in batches does raise some possible explanations. Frances McIntosh and Sam Moorhead noted this likelihood in their 2011 article, concluding that the quadrantes seen in Britain are likely the result of the movement of Roman military into the province, with clusters in the south east, south west and the north where military activity was concentrated. 

The Mint of Ostia

Ostia was the port of Rome since Roman Republican times and it remains one of the best-preserved Roman towns, ranking alongside Pompeii and Herculaneum in many ways. It was the hub for most of the imports into Rome, most importantly the grain supply which came from Sicily and North Africa. In its heyday, in the 2nd century AD, the wealth of the town is shown by numerous building projects, most notable being the construction of large, multi-storey tenement blocks (which remain the best preserved in the Roman Empire).

The mint at Ostia was only operational for a few years, around AD 308/9 to 313. It was founded when the emperor Maxentius (AD 306-12) closed down his mint in Carthage and moved it back to Ostia. Maxentius was then to lose control of Carthage and North Africa, when Domitius Alexander (308-11) took control of the region. At the same time, Constantine I was pressing from the north, having control of all the mints north of the Alps. This left Maxentius hemmed into Italy with only the mints of Ticinum (Pavia), Aquileia, Rome and, now, Ostia as well. The PAS Database has 45 coins from the mint of Ostia, but 13 of these are from Welsh hoards (IARCW prefix), so I am only concerned with the 32 single finds from England.

Copper alloy nummus of Maxentius (AD 306-12). Copyright: Trustees of The British Museum.

Coins of Maxentius are really quite rare in Britain, there only being 34 recorded from England on the PAS Database. In fact, Vincent Drost (a former Deputy National Finds Adviser for Ancient Coins and the world authority on the coinage of Maxentius) states that they are generally rare north of the Alps. This is probably because Constantine was his implacable enemy and Maxentius’ coins were quite possibly outlawed in Constantine’s territory. Of the 34 coins from England on the PAS Database, only three were struck at Ostia, and only one has an image. This is why I illustrate an example in the British Museum collection, above.

The “legionary” denarii of Mark Antony, c.32-31BC (Reece Period)

In the build up to the decisive Battle of Actium on the 2nd September 31 BC between the combined forces of Mark Antony and Cleopatra on the one hand and Octavian (the future emperor Augustus1) on the other, Antony struck vast quantities of silver denarii to pay his troops. These were struck in their tens of millions either at travelling mints in Greece or possibly at Patrae, his winter headquarters. So-called because they refer directly to the individual Roman legions, the legionary denarii are by far the most common Republican coin type seen in Britain, in part because of the sheer volume issued but also because they circulated some several centuries after Actium. Indeed, the Shapwick Hoard2 of more than 9,000 denarii buried in c.224 AD contained 260 legionary denarii, now some 250 years old! The PAS records c.415 examples as single finds, with many more identified amongst hoard groups.

Denarius of M. Antonius, travelling mint, c.32-31BC. Record ID is WMID-9AFA16 (Copyright: Birmingham Museums Trust, License: CC-BY).

The legionary denarii are a standard, distinctive type that is easily recognisable. The obverse references Antony and his titles, while the reverse depicts legionary standards and names an individual legion or cohort. For example, the coin above names LEG XX. There are 39 varieties of this coin type (including seven rare gold aurei varieties), naming 23 legions, three that also have honorary titles, the Praetorian cohorts, and the speculatores.

The legionary denarii notably have lower silver content than other denarii of this period – a fact noted in antiquity by Pliny in his Natural History (33.192). This resulted in them staying in circulation for an extended period of time as they were not hoarded or removed from circulation for their silver in the same way as other issues. Combined with the volume struck, this is why we see so many as British finds. It also means that very often they are extremely worn. If you see a denarius that is almost a flat, blank disc of silver with very little detail in relief (like the example below), take a close look as there is a very good chance it is a legionary denarius. 

A typical worn legionary denarius as a British site find. Record ID is SWYOR-EB33B (Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, License: CC-BY).

References and further reading:

R. Abdy and S. Minnitt, ‘Shapwick Villa, Somerset’, in Coin Hoards from Roman Britain XI (2002), pp. 169-233.

B. Woytek, ‘Die Reichsprägung des Kaisers Traianus (98-117) (MIR 14, Vienna, 2010). See also for Dacia and Trajan:

S. Moorhead and D. Stuttard, The Romans who Shaped Britain (2012), p. 172.

A. R. Birley, The Roman Government of Britain (2005), pp. 367-8.

R. Bland and R. Loriot, Roman and Early Byzantine Gold Coins found in Britain and Ireland (2010), pp. 20 and 359.

J. van Heesch Studie over de semis en de quadrans van Domitianus tot en met Antoninus Pius 1979 (in Flemish) here:

J. van Heesch ‘Providing Markets with Small Change in the Early Roman Empire: Italy and Gaul’ Revue Belge de Numismatique 155, 2009: 125-142:

C. King ‘Quadrantes from the river Tiber’, Numismatic Chronicle, 1975: 56-90

F. McIntosh and S. Moorhead ‘Roman quadrantes found in Britain in light of recent discoveries recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme’ British Numismatic Journal 81, 2011: 223-229

R. Abdy Roman Imperial Coinage volume on Hadrian (RIC II.3)

V. Drost, Le monnayage de Maxence (2013)

Abdy, R., Brunning, Richard, Webster, C.J. ‘The discovery of a Roman villa at Shapwick and its Severan coin hoard of 9238 silver denarii’ Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2001

F. Kemmers @Quadrantes from Nijmegen: small change in a frontier province’, Revue suisse de Numismatique, 155, 2009, p.125-142.