Coin Relief – Issue Thirteen

In this issue, Dr. Andrew Brown takes a break from emperors to celebrate the recent PAS milestone by looking at where it all began with coin recording… 

New beginnings and records!

As many of you will be aware, the PAS hit a milestone recently with the announcement of the 1.5 millionth object recorded through the Scheme! Sadly, this wasn’t a coin(!), but nevertheless an interesting Papal bulla of Innocent IV (AD 1243-1254) that can be seen on the database here. In light of this achievement and the collaborative effort it represents between finds, volunteers, interns, museums, FLOs and the PAS, I was curious to see where it all began for the Roman coinage and some of the “records” that have emerged over the last two decades of the Scheme’s existence. 

Where it all began…

The very first Roman coin on the PAS was a silver miliarensis of Constantius II (AD 323-361) recorded from Kent on the 12th May 1998 by Richard Hobbs (now the Weston Curator of Roman Britain at the British Museum). Although the record lacks an image (it was created prior to the Scheme having a centralised database), it is identified as being of the same dies as an example in the British Museum collection and so we have a good idea of what the coin is. See the original record here.

Miliarensis of Constantius II c.AD 350-355, of the same type as the first Roman coin recorded on the PAS database (British Museum collections BM: B3939, copyright: The British Museum).

The first Roman coin recorded with an image is from a few days later, the 27th May 1998. This time, a horribly worn probable sestertius from Wakefield (Yorkshire) with a large piercing evident on the line drawing that accompanies the record! Remarkably typical for a large proportion of Roman coins we see every year reported through the Scheme, especially the early bronze coinage, which very regularly is poorly preserved to the point where identifying features are now lost. One of the few PAS examples with a drawing though, I suspect! See the full record here.

Sestertius(?) of unclear type, c.AD 41-260. Obverse and reverse types are illegible but it is possibly mint of Rome. Record ID is NLM108 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

From the north west though, we see the first Roman coin record with a photograph – a denarius of Julia Soaemias, the mother of Elagabalus, recorded on the 10th June 1998. It seems to belong to a small group of Severan denarii reported to the PAS from the area of Kendall, Cumbria, which includes a much rarer coin of Julia Aquilia Severa, the second wife of the emperor Elagabalus – there appear to be only three other examples of her coinage on the database to date. See the full record here.

Denarius of Julia Soaemias, c.AD 218-222. Record ID is LVPL50 (copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY). 

Oldest to newest

It is quite surprising that a search of the database reveals over 25 coins that were issued prior to 300 BC! Bearing in mind that Iron Age coinage does not really appear in Britain prior to the 2nd century BC, these are something of an anomaly. The majority of these early coins are Mediterranean types associated with the various Greek and North African city-states that emerged by the mid-1st millennium BC, but how and why they appear in Britain is a subject for discussion. Many of the genuine coins recorded are likely to be more recent losses from antiquarian or military activity, particularly since the 18th century, rather than genuine ancient losses that were circulating around the time they were struck. Others are clearly more modern copies and souvenirs of travels to the Mediterranean region. Distinguishing what is a genuine ancient loss in this regard is highly problematic, despite the range of types seen from around the Mediterranean region.

Origins of Greek and Roman Provincial coins recorded through the PAS (copyright: Andrew Brown).

For some of these coin types there is increasing evidence that they could have reached Britain in antiquity, albeit some time after they were struck. The Siculo-Punic coinages of Sicily and North Africa for example, of which here are almost 30 PAS examples, have a quite similar pattern of distribution in Britain to the earliest cast bronze potins of the British Iron Age, which may suggest they could have been associated with various mechanisms of trade etc. over a long period of time that brought them to Britain.

Distribution and heat map of British potins (left) and Siculo-Punic bronze coinage (right) recorded through the PAS (as of 2019). Note the concentration in both examples in the south east and especially Kent (copyright: Andrew Brown).

There are examples that do appear to be genuine losses in Britain though and in recent years these have included coins from the Greek city-state of Massalia (Marseilles) (below left, full record here) and a wonderful drachm of Alexander III (“The Great”) found in Berkshire in 2019 wrapped in a lead sheet (below centre, full record here). Could it have a votive element or perhaps it circulated to Britain amongst other later silver coinage? There is extensive British coinage at the end of the Iron Age, which I will not go in to detail about here as this deserves proper treatment in its own right. Somewhat surprisingly however, the earliest Roman coin is a Republican bronze semuncia from Kent reported in 2019 that was issued earlier than many of the more than 46,000 Iron Age coins on the PAS (below right, full record here). Its findspot and preservation suggest it could well be a genuine ancient loss from a time when Britain was not integrated with the Roman world and from a period when we would not expect to see Roman silver in any volume let alone bronze coinage.

In contrast to the earliest ancient coins, the latest ones are harder to classify or quantify. We have seen in previous blogs that Roman coinage appears in Britain until at least the 5th century AD, but there are also some examples issued in the Mediterranean that reach British shores at a much later date. Gold continues into the post-Roman period, amongst the latest examples of official gold on the PAS being a semisses of Justin II from Gloucestershire (below left, full record here). Unofficial coinages like the example of Julius Nepos from the Isle of Wight also begin to appear more regularly (below right, full record here).

Increasing examples of Byzantine bronze coins have also been recorded through the PAS. Although these have in the past been interpreted as modern losses, their recovery on sites with known contemporary archaeology and their distribution within Britain is instead pointing to some of these coins being genuine ancient losses. Sam Moorhead has done much work on these coins and is currently updating their number and distribution nationally.

Follis of Heraclius, c.AD 629-631. Record ID is BERK-A366F7 (copyright: Oxfordshire County Council, License: CC-BY).

Some records!

Out of curiosity I wondered what “records” were contained within our database records. By that, I mean those coins that hold the record on the PAS database for being, for example, the biggest or smallest seen! This is by no means comprehensive but it does give all of you reading this a challenge to have a search and see what else you can find (or indeed other examples that might knock the ones listed below off their perches!).

The smallest Roman coins on the PAS measure as little as c.5mm in diameter and are mostly contemporary copies of late-3rd and 4th century date, or chopped up nummi of Magnentius and Decentius. Examples that can be identified to proper types include the coin below from County Durham which measures just 6mm in diameter!

Copper alloy Barbarous radiate c.AD 275-285. Record ID is DUR-0CE268 (copyright: Durham County Council, License: CC-BY).

In contrast, some of the early bronze Roman coins can get as big as almost 40mm in diameter. The largest I can find that can be securely identified to type and scale being this double sestertius of Trajan Decius – a whopping 37.96mm in diameter compared to the tiny radiate above.

Double sestertius of Trajan Decius c.AD 249-251. Record ID is SUR-A56AE5 (copyright: Surrey County Council, Licence: CC-BY).

Although this may seem a slightly unhelpful comparison, it really does demonstrate the range of material that is found and recorded by FLOs, their interns, volunteer and finders on a regular basis. The material is by no means uniform or even in some cases remotely comparable, which makes the job of identifying what you have often all the more difficult. To give an idea of the scale we are talking about in the two coins above, the figure below illustrates the two coins at the same scale and the difference is quite incredible!

While the smallest coins recorded on the PAS can weigh fractions of a gram (the radiate above weighs just 0.4g), the largest early bronze coins can be over 30g. The largest I can find with an image on the database so far is sestertius of Antoninus Pius from West Sussex which at 32.87g is 82 times heavier than the little radiate! Of course, these both circulated at slightly different points during the Roman period, but the difference is huge.

The heaviest Roman coin on the PAS database – a sestertius of Antoninus Pius. Record ID is SUSS-7DFC31 (copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Licence: CC-BY).

One of the most travelled coins on the database is perhaps the silver drachm of one of the “western satraps”, the Kshaharata King Nahapana dating to c.AD 119-124. It’s origin in the Saurashtra Peninsula of Western India means that it has travelled several thousand miles to reach Britain. Silver coinage from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is also recorded through the PAS, and there are currently at least 22 identified Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian, Indo-Parthian, Western Satrap, Kushan, and Kushanshah coins on the database. It is still unclear whether any (or which) of these coins are ancient losses or the result of modern colonial activity.

Drachm of Nahapana c.AD 119-124. Record ID is DENO-1080E2 (copyright: Derby Museums Trust, License: CC-BY).

The commonest emperor represented within the PAS data is Constantine I (AD 306-337) with over 18,500 records attributed to him (example below left). However, given coinage was issued in his name for over 30 years, this is perhaps a little misleading. In fact, the most prolific emperor within the PAS data is probably Claudius II (AD 268-270), for which there are over 6100 records for the coinage issued during the two years of his reign (example below centre). In contrast, one of the rarest is Nigrinian (AD 283-285), for whom there is just one PAS coin (below right).

Some statistics

In a previous blog post we looked at the current state of play in terms of the database and the Roman coinage, but it might be worth a quick recap here just to tie together the milestone of 1.5 million objects recorded through the PAS. Of this number, there are currently 324,329 Roman coins within 293,196 database records. Nummi are the most commonly seen denomination, with over 165,000 examples, of which 44,039 alone belong to Reece Period 17 (AD 330-348), which remains the most prolific period of coin use and loss in Britain. The mint of Trier is most common for nummi – with over 23,800 examples – the London mint currently has almost 7,000 coins attributed to it. After nummi, radiates are the next most common (almost 70,000 coins) followed by denarii (almost 16,000 examples). Statistically, you are more likely to see Roman coins in the east of England (Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire), the south west (Wiltshire and Hampshire), and Yorkshire, than you are the Midlands, the far south west (Cornwall and Devon) and the north west.

Map of Roman coinage in England (excluding Welsh IARCW data) by parish with more than 20 coins. The heatmap beneath demonstrates the concentrations of recorded material. Note that these are also the areas where it is easier to recover within the modern landscape so there may be biases in this regard (copyright: Andrew Brown).

Thank you!

The work we are able to do on ancient coinage in Britain has been affected hugely by the material recorded through the PAS. Coinage accounts for a third of all PAS records, and Roman coinage forms two thirds of that total. Without the ongoing support of finders willing to report their coins and the continued hard work of FLOs, their volunteers and interns to record them, we would not be able to do everything we currently do. The PAS data is dramatically changing how we view the numismatic landscape and it is only through the continued recording of material that we can continue to develop new understanding of all periods of coin use within Britain. We are fortunate to have a dataset unparalleled anywhere worldwide – and a substantial component of the 1.5 million finds currently recorded on the
PAS database. Thank you and keep doing what you do!

Coin Relief – Issue Three

Welcome to the third edition in our series of blog posts written by our Finds Advisers for ancient coins, Dr. Sam Moorhead and Dr. Andrew Brown. In this series they are exploring some of the many (many) ancient coins from the PAS database. So pop the kettle on and settle down for this bumper edition (thanks to the Easter break)!

The Coinage of Gaius “Caligula”, AD 37-41

Caligula was the youngest son of Germanicus (died AD 19) and Agrippina Senior (died AD 33), and nephew of Tiberius (AD 14-37). He succeeded Tiberius in AD 37 at the age of 25. His actual name was Gaius, but he was nicknamed Caligula because when he was a child he would dress up as a soldier and wear the half-boot (caliga). After a good start to his reign he apparently became insane (possibly due to illness) and he became more and more depraved and autocratic, until he was murdered by some Praetorian Guards on January 24th, AD 41. It should be remembered that Adminius (or Aminius), one of Cunobelinus’ sons and King of Kent, fled to Caligula to seek aid against his brothers Caratacus and Togodumnus. This resulted in Caligula’s abortive expedition to Britain; his army apparently mutinied because they did not want to cross “Ocean” and instead Caligula had his men pick up seashells on the French coast and claimed a victory over “Ocean”!

Silver denarius of Caligula struck in honour of Agrippina the Elder, Mint of Rome, AD 40. Record ID WILT-EF1610 (Copyright: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, License: CC-BY).

The coinage of Caligula is quite rare in Britain. There are almost 70 pieces on the database, such as the example above, (and a couple of Renaissance and modern forgeries – see SUR-EE2CC8 and LIN-EE6103).  Dio Cassius tell us that bronze coins of Caligula were melted down (as part of what we would call today Damnatio Memoriae):

‘… but [the Senate] hated the memory of Gaius so much that they decreed that all the bronze coinage which had his likeness stamped upon it should be melted down.’ (Dio Cassius 60 22 3)

There is a debate about how feasible this would have been, but it is interesting that the bronze portrait asses of Caligula (see NCL-14D845 below)) are really quite rare and that the Agrippa asses, albeit most of the British finds are later copies, are really quite common (see SF-9D508E and BH-CC3384 below). This has been fully explored by Andrew Burnett who believes that not only the portrait base-metal coins of Caligula were withdrawn, but also quite probably the gold and silver. 

An as and two contemporary copies. SF-9D508E (Copyright: Suffolk County Council), BH-CC3384 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme), NCL-14D845 (Copyright: All rights reserved). All License: CC-BY.

Silver coins of Caligula

In all, there are only 16 denarii on the Database. This small number is not merely due to the fact that he only ruled for just over three years. The PAS finds come out at only around 5 coins per year; for Tiberius, the number is over 10 coins per year, which is way more (even if it does include some plated copies).  This might support the supposition, noted above, that his silver coins might have also been subject to demonetisation. It is also worth noting that any Caligulan denarii that did survive would have been removed from circulation quite swiftly after AD 64 when Nero reduced the fineness and weight of the denarius.It is not known for certain where Caligula’s gold and silver coins were struck.  The famous numismatist, Harold Mattingly (editor of RIC and BMC), reckoned that the earliest denarii were struck at Lugdunum (Lyon) where they had been struck under Tiberius; these early coins give Caligula a bare head. Then, possibly within a year, the mint was moved to Rome where the emperor was depicted with a laureate head.  Some dispute Mattingly’s hypothesis and claim that the mint of Lugdunum continued to strike for longer; two later dies, with Caligula laureate, were found near Lugdunum.  However, in assessing the evidence, C. H. V. Sutherland (author of the revised RIC volume I) still follows Mattingly’s interpretation, which is what I use here.

Fortuna

Fortuna (also Fors or Fors Fortuna) was the Roman goddess and personification of fortune, chance, or luck (good and bad!) and the counterpart to the Greek goddess Tyche. A goddess of fertility as bringer of the annual harvest, of female fecundity, gambling, and of military success[2], she was the daughter of Jupiter.[3] Shrines and temples were dedicated to her in various locations and to her various guises. Notable are temples in Rome to Fortuna Muliebris (Fortune of Women), Fortuna Huiusce Diei (Fortune of this day), and an early temple next to the Tiber, later twinned with Mater Mutata (possibly in the forum Boarium), supposedly patronised by Rome’s sixth king, Servius Tullius (575-535 BC), giving her an additional role as a kingmaker.

Copper-alloy as of Domitian dating to c.AD 18 with Fortuna depicted on the reverse. Record ID SF-5A1BE1 (Copyright: Suffolk County Council, License: CC-BY).

Important oracular cult centres appeared to her at Antium (Anzio, Italy) and Praeneste (Palestrina, Italy), the latter in her role as Fortuna Primigenia where she was worshipped as a mother-goddess (her cult also adopted at Rome). A statue here was described by Cicero as:

of the infant Jupiter, who is represented as sitting with Juno in the lap of Fortune and reaching for her breast, and it is held in the highest reverence by mothers” (Cicero, De Divinatione 2.85).

An urban festival of Fors Fortuna was celebrated in Rome on the 24th June with participants travelling down the Tiber by boat to her shrine, but she is also associated with other festivals such as those of Fortuna Virilis (1st April) and Fortuna Publica (5th April), Ovid talks of the latter noting that “he who shall say, “On this day of old the temple of Public Fortune was dedicated on the hill of Quirinus” will tell the truth” (Fasti, 4.375-376).Fortuna features extensively on Roman coinage from the Republican period through to the first few years of the 4th century AD, most notably in the 1st-3rd centuries AD. Typically her attributes include a rudder and cornucopiae, sometimes a globe or a wheel, and occasionally other elements such as ears of corn, a baton, caduceus, etc. Numerous altars to Fortuna exist from Roman Britain – from the bathhouse at Risingham fort, in Manchester where she is Fortuna Conservatrix (Fortuna the protector), and Vindolanda where she is Fortunae populi romani (Fortune of the Roman People). She is also prominent on Roman coins recorded through the PAS, with 1,115 records that reference her, including the one pictured above.

The Coinage of Eugenius (AD 392-394).

From AD 379 to AD 392, Valentinian II was the ruler in the West, effectively taking orders from Theodosius I (AD 379-395). One of the key characters in the Roman court in the West was Arbogast, a Frankish general in the service of Rome. Tensions between Valentinian II and Arbogast grew, until Valentinian was found hanging dead in his bedroom. Foul play was suspected, but Arbogast claimed it was suicide. In Valentinian’s place, Arbogast appointed Eugenius, a former teacher of rhetoric and grammar, as emperor in the West. Eugenius was the last Roman emperor to support paganism, allowing the re-dedication of the Temple of Venus and Rome (next to the Roman Forum) and the return of the Altar of Victory to the Senate House (Curia).

The Temple of Venus and Rome viewed from the Colosseum (Copyright: Sam Moorhead).

Eugenius moved east in 393, occupying Milan and taking control of the mint there and in Rome and Aquileia. He sent an embassy to Theodosius I in Constantinople asking for acknowledgement as an emperor, but Theodosius bided his time, made his son Honorius Augustus in the west, and mustered an army. After a two-day battle at Lake Frigidus, Eugenius and Arbogast were defeated; both lost their lives.

The Coinage of Eugenius

Eugenius inherited the mints of Trier, Lyon (Lugdunum) and Arles (Arelatum) when he became emperor. He struck gold, silver and bronze at Trier and Lyon, but only bronze at Arles. He struck gold and silver at Milan, but only bronze at Rome and Aquileia. There are no gold coins for Eugenius on the PAS Database, but there are silver and bronze pieces which will be discussed by mint. The standard reference for Eugenius’ coinage is Roman Imperial Coinage IX (1933); for the bronze coinage, Late Roman Bronze Coinage (1961) is also useful. The more recent publication of the coins from the Hoxne hoard (2005) is also extremely helpful for the silver coins. 

The Portrait of Eugenius

A silver siliqua of Eugenius, Mint of Trier, AD 392-4. Record ID DOR-1C9031 (Copyright: Julie Shoemark, License: CC-BY).

Eugenius’ pagan leanings are clearly apparent as he is depicted bearded on all of his coins.  He has a full, pointed, beard on most of his portraits at Trier and Lyon (see the example above); at Milan, it can be slightly more rounded. He also has a long, and sometimes ‘Roman’, nose. His portrait should not be confused with that of Julian (AD 360-3) which is also sometimes bearded, but the beard tends to be less pointed; also note that Julian’s siliquae have Vota reverses so can be easily distinguished from the figurative reverses of Eugenius which all show Roma seated left.

Clipping

A heavily clipped silver siliqua of Eugenius, Mint of Trier, AD 392-4). Record ID WILT-FFC437 (Copyright: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museums, License: CC-BY).

Many of Eugenius’ siliquae are clipped, some heavily (see the example above). This is especially the case for coins found in hoards which terminate with AD 397-402 or Constantine III (AD 407-11) issues, notably the Hoxne Hoard. When the clipping of siliquae occurred has been much debated. There was some slight clipping in the fourth century, but it began in earnest after AD 402; in fact, Andrew Burnett and Richard Abdy believe it really became endemic after AD 407.[2] What is interesting is that, because a number of the Eugenius pieces on the PAS Database were apparently lost or discarded before the period of endemic clipping, a quite high proportion of them are unclipped or lightly clipped. The reason for clipping is not entirely clear, but it does appear to have been carried out at a time when silver stocks were probably dwindling. There are many contemporary copies of late Roman siliquae found in Britain and when tested they have the same fineness of silver as the official issues, suggesting that clippings could be used to make new coins. This also suggests that an official authority was involved in the process, a supposition possibly supported by the fact that the clipping never encroaches on the image of the emperor. Also, it is possible that clippings were melted down to make ingots (such as those found in the Coleraine Hoard, on display at the British Museum).

Eugenius Coins on the PAS Database

There are no gold coins for Eugenius on the PAS Database, but there are around 50 silver siliquae from the Mints of Trier, Lyon and Milan.  These are often quite well preserved and generally easy to attribute to mints. There are also about 50 bronze nummi (which includes 36 Welsh IARCW records, all for coins from the excavations at Caerwent where thousands of late-4th century nummi were found in hoards and as site-finds).  These nummi are normally poorly preserved and identifying a coin as being of Eugenius can be a challenge; identifying a mint is even more difficult and very few coins can be attributed to mints.

The semis

Semis of Nero, c.AD 65. Record ID HAMP-F2E09F (Copyright: Hampshire Cultural Trust, License: CC-BY).

In the early Imperial period, the smallest bronze denomination in circulation was the quadrans. However, it was not the only small bronze issue in use and alongside it we see the slightly larger semis. As its name implies, this was valued at a ‘half’ (semis = half), in this instance a half as, so with twice the value of the quadrans but still needing 800 for the equivalent to a gold aureus! Semisses are small brassy coins (c.15-20mm in diameter and up to c.5g in weight), giving them greater intrinsic value than the coppery quadrans despite them being similar in size – a factor that can be very difficult to distinguish on worn or corroded examples. There are, however, various features that allow for the separation of the two, even if there often remains some difficulty in ascribing a coin to one or other denomination.


Bronze semisses are known from the Republican period, at which point they were usually struck with a bust of Saturn on the obverse and a ship’s prow on the reverse, importantly carrying a letter S to denote the semis value. These are very rare as British finds though, so we are essentially dealing here with coins ranging from the reign of Augustus (31 BC-AD 14) through to Hadrian (AD 117-138). Like the quadrans, the semis is rare as a British find. To date, there are c.80 examples identified nationally with 35 PAS examples such as the one above from Hampshire, although I am sure there are more to be found or that have been attributed to other denominations (especially the quadrans) in site reports/publications and within the PAS data. For the latter, I think it likely that there could be very worn examples recorded as asses. Typically, a semis will be smaller in size and weight than an as, but unlike the quadrans usually carries an Imperial portrait on the obverse.

The Silver Coinages of Domitian struck at Rome (AD 72-96)

The Flavian Emperors (AD 69-96)

When Vespasian became emperor in AD69, he made his sons Titus and Domitian junior emperors (Caesars).  When Titus became emperor (AD 79-81), Domitian remained a Caesar under him. Finally, upon Titus’ death in AD 81, Domitian became senior emperor (Augustus) until his death in AD 96.  This Flavian Dynasty (AD 69-96) is a coherent coinage which makes up Reece Period 4 (AD 69-96). The standard reference is now Roman Imperial Coinage II (2nd edition, 2007), although if you have the first edition of RIC it can be used, making sure you note it is the first edition. This piece will cover the c. 590 silver denarii for Domitian, struck at Rome, on the PAS Database, of which around 35 or more are contemporary copies.  The base-metal (aes) coinage of Domitian will be considered in a separate Daily Coin Relief.

Three Periods of Coinage for Domitian

One can split the coinage in Domitian’s name into three clear groupings:

  • 1: AD 72-79: The coinage of Domitian as Caesar under Vespasian
  • 2: AD 79-81: The coinage of Domitian as Caesar under Titus.
  • 3: AD 81-96: The coinage of Domitian as Augustus

Roman Imperial Titles used in the Flavian Dynasty

It is essential to understand the variety of imperial titles used at this time.  They are vital for differentiating between different coinages and for dating issues precisely.  Most of the titles were abbreviated and can be listed as follows:

CAES, CAESARCaesar or Junior Emperor
AVG, AVGVSTVSAugustus or Senior Emperor
COSConsul
COS DESConsul Designate (nominated before taking office)
IMPImperator – Victorious General
TR P, POTTribunicia Potestas – Power of the Tribune
P MPontifex Maximus – Chief Priest
CENS PCensoria Potestate – Power of the Censorship
CENS P (for Domitian)Censor Perpetuus – Censor in perpetuity
P PPater Patriae – Father of the Fatherland

1: The Coinage of Domitian as Caesar under Vespasian (AD 69-79)

Silver denarius of Domitian as Caesar under Vespasian, Mint of Rome, AD 76-7. Record ID BERK-05983F (Copyright: Oxfordshire County Council, License: CC-BY).

Coins for Domitian were not struck by Vespasian until AD 72. Domitian has a quite full face, like his father and brother, but his features are more youthful. These coins are quite scarce with around 64 specimens on the PAS Database, such as the one above.

2: Domitian as Caesar under Titus (AD 79-81)

Silver denarius of Domitian as Caesar under Titus, Mint of Rome, AD 80. Record ID LEIC-F9034E (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Under Titus, Domitian continues to rule as a junior emperor (Caesar). These are the rarest group of Domitian’s coins with around 36 of his coins on the PAS Database from this period, including the one above.  Again, his face is quite full, in the style of his brother Titus.

3: Domitian as Augustus (AD 81-96)

Silver denarius of Domitian as Augustus, Mint of Rome, AD 82-3. Record ID KENT-79B46E (Copyright: Kent County Council, License: CC-BY).

The vast majority of silver coins of Domitian on the PAS Database come from his reign as Augustus – over 450 (like the example above).  After the early issues, his youthful portrait fairly rapidly becomes more mature and often thinner.

Some other denarius types of Domitian’s reign

There were a number of other scarcer types struck by Domitian after AD 83. In AD 88, Domitian celebrated the Secular Games (normally held every 100 or 110 years – a saeculum). Augustus had held the Games in 17 BC; Claudius decided to hold them in AD 47 to mark the 800th anniversary of the foundation of Rome. Domitian appears to have calculated his saeculum from the Games of Augustus, ignoring those of Claudius.  Domitian struck a few different types for the Games, a number of which are quite common such as the one below found in Lancashire.

Silver denarius of Domitian, Mint of Rome, AD 88. Record ID LANCUM-9E316B (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC)

Gaius Julius Caesar was born on the 12th July 100 BC to an aristocratic Roman family of the gens Julia. The Julii claimed descent to the foundation of Rome, the kings of Alba Longa, and ultimately the Trojan hero Aeneas through his son Iulus (Ascanius). As the son of Venus, Aeneas gave the Julii divine origins, vividly portrayed on the shield wrought for Aeneas by Venus’s husband Vulcan that displayed the story of Rome’s origins to Augustus (Virgil, Aeneid 8.624-728) and in Caesar’s own eulogy to his aunt Julia in 69 BC while he was questor (Suetonius, Divus Julius 6). Caesar was a brilliant and respected military leader, politician, and diplomat, not always liked in the Senate but with huge support amongst the plebeian class. A historian and renowned orator, even respected in this regard by his opponents like Cicero (Suetonius, Divus Julius 55). Of course, he was the first Roman leader to make landfall in Britain too! Ultimately, he is remembered as a statesman, and deified dictator, whose assassination brought about the collapse of the Roman Republic. From a numismatic perspective he is best remembered as being the first living Roman to be depicted on Rome’s coinage.

Denarius of Julius Caesar, c.48-47. Record ID SF-21F6E1 (Copyright: Suffolk County Council, License: CC-BY).

Coinage of the Roman Republic is not uncommon on the PAS database and there are approximately 2,000 denarii recorded (like the example above), the majority of which likely reached Britain after the Claudian invasion. For Caesar himself, 76 examples have been identified to date (this includes 14 IARCW records). The majority fall into two clear types that should be readily identifiable. References to Caesar are common after his death, notably on the coinage of Augustus who claims descent through Caesar as his adopted son. The standard reference for Caesar’s coinage should be Crawford’s Roman Republican Coinage (RRC) (1974).

The Reformed Coinage of AD 348-50

This piece looks at the major reform of the coinage in AD 348. In an earlier edition, I discussed the bronze coinage of Reece Period 17 (AD 330-48). The last issue, dated in RIC VIII to AD 347/8 was of small module nummi with the VICTORIAE DD AVGGQ NN Two Victories reverse.  These coins had an average weight of 1.67g (with quite some leeway) with around 0.4 to 0.9% silver content. It is quite possible that the increasingly small size of the nummus prompted the major currency reform of AD 348.

The reforms of AD 348 introduced three new denominations. They are all called nummi on the PAS Database, but RIC VIII uses the terms AE2a, AE2b and AE3 to differentiate between the pieces, which are listed below.  The reform of the coinage coincided with the 1100th anniversary of the foundation of Rome in 348 and all the coins have the legend FEL(icium) TEMP(us) REPARATIO which translates colloquially as ‘Happy days are here again’.  The appearance of the phoenix on several types underlines the theme of the rebirth of Rome. Nearly all the coins were struck for Constantius II (AD 337-61) and Constans (AD 337-50), although a few issues crept into 350-1 when Magnentius usurped in the West (see Fig. 4). The vast majority of coins found in Britain are from the mint at Trier, with others from Lyons, Arles, Rome, Aquileia and Siscia; mints further east are rarely represented in British finds.

1 The Highest Denomination:

Copper-alloy nummus of Constans, Mint of Trier, AD 348-50. Record ID SOM-7E5E1E (Copyright: Somerset County Council, License: CC-BY).

Nummus (AE2a): FEL TEMP REPARATIO; Emperor standing left on galley, being steered by Victory, holding standard and Phoenix or Victory on globe. (Example above)

Nummus (AE2a): FEL TEMP REPARATIO; Soldier advancing left, spearing fallen horseman.

These coins are normally around 22mm in diameter and weigh between 4 and 6g (av 5.37g) (probably 60 to the pound) and contain between 2.5 and 3% silver. There are around 700 of the ‘galley’ types (including contemporary copies) and probably fewer than 30 of the ‘fallen horseman’ types on the PAS Database.

2 The Middle Denomination:

Copper-alloy nummus of Constantius II, Mint of Heraclea, AD 337-61. Record ID SUSS-3BD57 (Copyright: Sussex Archaeological Society, License: CC-BY).

Nummus AE2b: FEL•TEMP•REPARATIO; Soldier advancing right, holding spear, leading small figure from hut under tree.

Nummus AE2b: FEL TEMP REPARATIO; Emperor standing left, holding standard, with Chi-Rho on banner, in right hand and resting on shield with left; to his left, two bound captives. (Example above).

This coin is normally around 20mm in diameter and weighs between 3 and 5g (av 4.25g) (probably 72 to the pound) and contained between 1 and 1.5% silver. There are around 465 of the ‘Soldier and hut’ type, but only two of the ‘Emperor and Captives’ type on the PAS Database.

3 The Lowest Denomination:

Copper-alloy  nummus of Constans, Mint of Trier, AD 348-50. Record ID OXON-F4E416, License: CC-BY).

Nummus (AE3): FEL•TEMP•REPARATIO; Phoenix standing right on globe or rocky mound (Example above)

This coin is normally around 17-19mm in diameter and weighs between 2 and 3g (av 2.68g) (probably 120 to the pound) and contained between 0.2 and 0.4% silver (which might be residual rather than intentional). There are around 630 of the Phoenix on globe type and around 345 of the Phoenix on rocky mound type on the PAS Database.

It is quite possible that the ratio of the values of the three denominations was 1 : 2 : 4, although we cannot know for certain.

Gallienus Sole Reign (AD 260-268)

Silver Radiate of Gallienus (sole reign), Mint of Rome, AD 260-268. Record ID HAMP-4B1284 (Copyright: Winchester Museums Service, License: CC-BY).

Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus was born in c.AD 218, the son of Valerian and Mariniana. As we saw in a previous edition, he became caesar and then co-emperor following his father’s rise to power, ruling in the west with his wife Salonina and sons Valerian II and Saloninus. But these were difficult times and the empire was in crisis. With Valerian’s capture in AD 260 by the Sasanians, power shifted to Gallienus. However, the eight years of his sole reign was from the outset fraught with instability and usurpation, on every front if we are to believe the (not entirely reliable!) Historia Augusta (‘The Lives of the Thirty Pretenders’) (see below). These troubled times of plague, civil war, and invasion, eventually caught up with Gallienus. In AD 268, while in Milan dealing with the usurpation of one of his former generals, Aureolus, he received a fake message one night telling him the enemy were attacking, leaving his tent without protection he was killed by his own men. Gallienus was deified by his successor Claudius II, but was not always thought of highly in the Roman world!

The period of Gallienus’ Sole reign (AD 260-268; Reece Period 13), sees the start of a huge increase in the volume of coinage reported through the PAS and in hoarded assemblages. The fineness of the radiate coinage notably drops with Gallienus and his contemporaries, particularly at the mint of Rome where what should be silver coins are now often poorly produced and very base even if from the official mint. This was a problem not resolved until later under Aurelian and subsequent emperors.

For the Sole Reign, there are almost 4,000 records for Gallienus on the PAS, with an additional 541 for his wife Salonina. However, there are some problems with this dataset that we are working to resolve – most notably there are many coins in either the Joint or Sole reign for Gallienus and perhaps even more so for Salonina that are in the wrong place. This is a huge task to work through (so any help you may be able to give on your own records is of course very welcome), but hopefully will help to standardise what we do have and make the data slightly clearer.

The standard references for Gallienus’ Sole Reign should the Cunetio or Normanby hoard volumes and RIC V part 1. We hope to add Frome to this in due course!

Gallienus’ coinage

The coins we see as metal detected finds from Gallienus’ Sole Reign can be quite poorly preserved. This is affected hugely by the debasement of the radiate in this period and the problems with the Rome mint coinage in particular. Coins from Rome form about 90% of total numbers we see, with smaller quantities from the mints of Milan and Siscia – these are often slightly better quality, but less commonly recorded.

Gallienus was not the only ruler issuing coinage during this period. In the east, Valerian’s capture in 260 led to usurpation by Macrianus Major and his sons Macrianus Minor and Quietus, supported by Ballista who had been Valerian’s Praetorian Prefect. The two Macriani travelled west to enforce their claim to the empire, but were defeated by Gallienus’ general, Aureolus. Meanwhile, Quietus remained in the east with Ballista, but was killed by Odeanathus of Palmyra, the founder of the Palmyrene Kingdom. Coins were issued by Macrianus and Quietus, although these are hugely rare in Britain. There are examples of Quietus from hoard groups, including one recently recorded from Harbridge, Hampshire. It is worth keeping an eye open for them just in case!

Radiate of Quietus (AD 260-261). Record ID WILT-D0A939 (Copyright: Trustees of The British Museum, License: CC-BY)

Bigger problems were faced in the west though. Revolt by the Roman military commander Ingenuus in Pannonia was supressed by Gallienus’ general Aureolus in AD 260. This was followed by usurpation from Regalianus, a Dacian general the same year – Regalianus and his wife Sulpicia Dryantilla issued coinage during their brieRadf usurpation, although these are hugely rare and there are none so far on the PAS. Regalianus himself was killed quite quickly by his own troops. Most significant, however, was the revolt by the military commander Postumus in Gaul, who, after Valerian’s capture had killed Gallienus’ son Saloninus in Cologne and was recognised as emperor by both the military and the Gallic provinces including Britain. Postumus established a breakaway Gallic state that survived from AD 260 until 269 and also had support from Gallienus’ general Aureolus, who himself revolted against Gallienus in 268! We will look at Postumus and the Gallic Empire in a subsequent blog post.

The POP ROMANVS “Dedication of Constantinople” nummi of AD 330

Copper-alloy nummus of the House of Constantine Constantinople, AD 330. Record ID LANCUM-395FE7 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

These small coins in good condition normally have a diameter of around 13-14mm and weigh about 1g.  However, PAS pieces can have diameters down to 12mm and the weights are often between 0.5 and 1g.

The mintmark CONS tells us that these pieces were struck at Constantinople. The dating of the coins has been subject to much discussion. In LRBC (1960), the coins are dated to AD 341-6, but in the later RIC VIII (1981), John Kent dates them to the year of the dedication of Constantinople (Constantine’s new eastern capital) in AD 330. This is the date which we adopt, placing them at the start of Reece Period 17.

There are only two types. Both have the obverse of POP ROMANVS with the bust of the Genius of the Roman People. One reverse type, thought to be honouring Rome, shows a bridge over a river (presumably the Tiber) (RIC VIII, p. 448, no. 21) (Figs. 1-6). The other, thought to be honouring Constantinople, shows a star in a wreath (RIC VIII, p. 448, no. 22) (Figs. 7-12).The coins were struck in all 11 workshops (officinae) at Constantinople, each one being given a Greek letter, as shown in the table below:

It is suggested that these coins were struck to distribute at the celebrations surrounding the dedication of the City of Constantinople in AD 330.  They are very common, being struck in all of the workshops, and are the only coins struck at Constantinople which arrive in any numbers in Britain. Other pieces from Constantinople are rarely found here.

References and further reading:

A. M. Burnett, ‘The authority to coin in the late Republic and the early Empire’, Numismatic Chronicle 1977, pp. 37-63.

A good introduction to Fortuna and her cults can be found in R. Joy Littlewood ‘Fortuna’ Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome (2010), Vol 1, pp. 210-212

See Roman Inscriptions of Britain (RIB) nos. 575, 1210, and 1684. RIB records 37 inscriptions that mention Fortuna (https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/ ).

P. Guest, The Late Roman Gold and Silver Coins from the Hoxne Treasure (British Museum Press 2005). This is an extremely useful book.

I summarise the arguments for the dating of clipping in S. Moorhead, ‘The Coinage of the Later Roman Empire, AD 364-498’, in W. Metcalf (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage (2012), pp. 612-4

As with the quadrantes, the work of J. van Heesch is again a good starting point: J. van Heesch Studie over de semis en de quadrans van Domitianus tot en met Antoninus Pius 1979 (in Flemish) here: https://tinyurl.com/t36v66d ; see also J. van Heesch ‘Providing Markets with Small Change in the Early Roman Empire: Italy and Gaul’ Revue Belge de Numismatique 155, 2009: 125-142: https://tinyurl.com/tmr5k4j

E. Besly and R. Bland, The Cunetio Treasure (British Museum, 1983) – recently republished in a combined volume with the Normanby Hoard by Spink: R. Bland, E. Besley, and A. Burnett, The Cunetio and Normanby Hoards (Spink, 2018). See also R. Göbl Die Münzprägung der Kaiser Valerianus I./Gallienus/Saloninus (253/268), Regalianus (260) und Macrianus/Quietus (260/262). (MIR Bd. 36. Vienna, 2000)