Coin Relief – Issue Fifteen

Welcome to the next edition of Coin Relief. In this issue, Dr. Andrew Brown takes a look at a turbulent period of Roman history when a succession of usurpers destabilised the empire…and of course minted some coinage!

Usurpers c.AD 258-272

“It was the public destiny that in the time of Gallienus whosoever could, sprang up to
seize the imperial power”

Historia Augusta Lives of the Thirty Pretenders 10

The passage above from the often-inaccurate Historia Augusta, which cast Gallienus in a rather unfavourable light, emphasises the problems faced by the empire in the middle of the 3rd century. As we have seen previously, during the reigns of Valerian I and Gallienus things began to unravel. Pressures external and internal to the empire resulted in insurrection on a number of occasions, perhaps most evident in the emergence of the breakaway Gallic Empire by Postumus in AD 260. Valerian’s capture in the east was undoubtedly a factor in this, the vacuum it created spurring rebellion east and west that Gallienus (often unsuccessfully!) attempted to deal with.

Between the period of Valerian and Gallienus’ rise to power in AD 253 and Aurelian finally providing some stability, uniting the empire again before his death in AD 275, Roman authority was usurped on a number of occasions at both ends of the Roman
world. Indeed, in more than once instance this resulted in the emergence breakaway states and the creation (or attempted creation) of new dynasties. A by product of this was the appearance of coinage in the name of numerous individuals who did not hold power in Rome or who were not officially recognised as emperors by Rome. There were not quite the ‘Thirty Pretenders’ suggested by the Historia Augusta, but there were enough for it to be a major destabilising problem for the empire in the 3rd century.

What is curious about all of these episodes of usurpation is their emergence on the frontiers of the empire. It was in these regions where individuals with certain standing and support (notably of the military) could wrest authority from Rome and were perhaps
far enough removed from the Emperor and his legions to do so. It may be, though, that this was as much an effort to stabilise conditions close to home as it was any real attempt to take on the might of Rome proper. We have looked previously at one of these breakaway states, the Gallic Empire,  and it is notable that Postumus in particular stopped short of pushing to take Rome when the opportunity might have been there, seemingly content to consolidate the regions under his control. We might see something similar at the opposite end of the empire in the east too – at least for a time!

During this period, then, we are dealing with a central authority in Rome, with five emperors (and their families) in power:

We have already looked at the Gallic Empire, focused on the western provinces and with seven usurpers who issued coinage:

However, these were not the only individuals to usurp Roman authority during this period. On the Danube frontier and in the eastern provinces, faced with similar destabilising effects of incursion and Valerian’s defeat by the Persians, similar grabs for
power were made, often with the support of the local populace and the legions. Their coinages are much more limited due to their comparatively restricted periods of autonomy and, from a PAS perspective, much rarer given that they are far removed from the province of Britannia, which was under the control of the Gallic Empire until AD 269. On the Danube, there was revolt in AD 258 or 260 against Gallienus by Regalianus and his wife Sulpicia Dryantilla. Meanwhile, in Syria Valerian’s capture resulted in Macrianus Major and his sons Macrianus Minor and Quietus assuming power, before being ousted themselves by Septimius Odaenathus in AD 261. He established a new Palmyrene dynasty in the east that was turned into an empire by his wife Zenobia who succeeded him as regent with their young son Vabalathus in c.AD 267.

The Roman empire (red), with the Gallic (green) and Palmyrene (yellow) empires (Image: Andrew Brown).

he numbers of coins present in a British context for any of these usurpers is understandably small given where they usurped power and their short periods of rule. Nevertheless, some
examples do turn up, so it is perhaps worth having a quick look at who produced coinage other than the Gallic usurpers in this period that might crop up either in hoarded assemblages or as single finds.

Regalianus and Sulpicia Dryantilla, AD 260

The instability created by external threat and then Valerian’s capture in AD 260 was felt in particular on the frontiers. We have previously seen that while Valerian campaigned in the east, Gallienus was engaged with incursion along the Danube and Rhine frontiers in the mid to late AD 250s. In AD 258 he installed his eldest son, Valerian II, who was himself still only a teenager, at Sirmium (Serbia) in an attempt to stabilise the situation there while Gallienus focused on the Rhine. As a young caesar, Valerian II may well have been in the charge of one Ingenuus, apparently the governor of Pannonia and Moesia, or at least in command of the military here. The death of Valerian II in AD 258 put Ingenuus in a potentially perilous position but he was soon declared
emperor by the Moesian legions. His usurpation was swiftly dealt with, though, and Gallienus’ general Aureolus defeated Ingenuus at the Battle of Mursa – precisely when this occurred is a matter for debate, possibly as early as AD 258 or following Valerian I’s capture in AD 260.

Ingenuus issued no coinage, suggesting his rule was brief. He was by no means the first to usurp power in the Danube region though – a decade earlier Pacatianus (AD 248) had done just that against Philip II – and he was quickly followed by another,
Regalianus. Regalianus may have been a Dacian promoted to the position of dux Illyrici by Valerian I, before being declared emperor by the remnants of Ingenuus’ forces to continue the revolt – the Historia Augusta jokingly suggests his authority to rule as ‘king’ derived from his name: “Rex, regis, regi, Regalianus” (Historia Augustus 10)! It seems as though Regalianus had a successful campaign against the Sarmatians in AD 260, before
being killed by a coalition of his own troops and the Roxolani (a Sarmatian people).

Regalianus elevated his wife Sulpicia Dryantilla to augusta and coinage was issued for both. There are very few of these extremely rare coins known and the number of types represented to date are limited to a handful of examples (see RIC V.2, pp. 586-
588). These are very often overstruck on earlier coin types, for example Severan denarii, and appear quite crude and varied in terms of their manufacture. This is likely indicative of a rushed and ultimately short-lived output of coinage, perhaps more of an emergency coinage than anything else. Their general distribution close to Regalianus’ seat of power in Carnuntum (Austria) points to his control not extending much if at all outside Pannonia. As we might expect for such a rare coinage there are so far no PAS examples. Of course, there is always the possibility one might turn up in the future!

Radiates of Regalianus (left, BM:1920,0425.1) and Sulpicia Dryantilla (right, BM:1928,0205.1), c.AD 260 (Copyright: The British Museum).

Macrianus and Quietus, c.AD 260-261

Valerian’s defeat at the Battle of Edessa and subsequent capture by the Sassanid Persians led by Shapur I in AD 260 proved the tipping point in Syria too. In the face of an invading Persian army, two of Valerian’s officials who held sway with the purse strings
and the military assumed control: Callistus, or Ballista, who had been Valerian’s praetorian prefect; and Fulvius Macrianus or Macrianus major, who controlled the Imperial treasury as rationibus. They conspired to elevate Macrianus’ two sons, Titus
Fulvius Iunius Macrianus or Macrianus minor and Titus Fulvius Junius Quietus, to power. Macrianus and Quietus were duly proclaimed as co-rulers by the legions in AD 260.

An initial push by Macrianus major and Ballista prevented further incursion into Syria by Shapur’s Persian forces, who had already captured several Syrian towns and notably sacked Antioch. Valerian’s failed campaign had left something of a military vacuum in the region, which Macrianus and his sons were able to inherit and gain an element of control over. The final expulsion of the Persians, however, came with the
Palmyrene king Odaenathus (more on him further below). By the end of AD 260, the Macriani controlled a large portion of the eastern empire, with their influence extending from their base in Syria as far south as Egypt with her grain supplies that were so
important for Rome – indeed, Roman provincial coins were struck at Alexandria for both sons.

It is at this point that they divided their forces. Macrianus major and Macrianus minor marched west to confront Gallienus, who was at this time engaged with incursion in northern Italy by the Juthungi. They met his armies commanded by the general
Aureolus in Pannonia in AD 261 where they were heavily defeated, the two men either killed in battle or afterwards at the hands of their own forces. Quietus, however, remained in Syria with Ballista, presumably with the intent to keep control of the eastern territories. News of his father and brother’s deaths, though, resulted in power slipping from his grasp. Quietus sought refuge in Emesa, but was besieged by Odaenathus – who remained loyal to Gallienus – and was finally killed by the inhabitants of Emesa as Odaenathus approached the city.

Although both Macrianus minor and Quietus were short-lived rulers, they did strike coinage, perhaps in two eastern mints (in addition to the provincial issues noted above). Only ten radiate types are listed in RIC V.2 (pp. 580-583) for Macrianus and 11 for Quietus, so their small issues should be identifiable if they appear for recording through the PAS. At present, I can find no examples of single coins recorded through the PAS for either Macrianus or Quietus. This might at first glance seem unsurprising, however, both brothers are represented (admittedly in very small quantity!) in hoarded groups of later-3rd century date in Britain. Ten coins are present in the Cunetio hoard (8 of Macrinus and 2 of Quietus; Cunetio nos. 1917-1924) and single examples do
occasionally appear in larger assemblages (e.g. Normanby, in contrast to Cunetio, has just one coin of Quietus – Normanby no. 582)4. Given that they do appear in a small number in hoards, it is quite plausible that the odd example might turn up in wider
circulation amongst the thousands of radiates recorded in England and Wales.

Radiate of Quietus, Eastern mint. Record ID is WILT-D0A939 (Copyright: The British Museum, License: CC-BY).

Odaenathus, Zenobia and Vabalathus, C.AD 260-272

While the Macriani had attempted to use Valerian’s defeat as a means of establishing their own rule in the eastern (and perhaps wider) empire, Odaenathus remained loyal to Gallienus as client king in Palmyra. Palmyra, an oasis town whose prominence and wealth had been built on its position as a key trading centre, lay within Roman Syria but retained a degree of autonomy from Rome. Odaenathus was from a prominent Palmyrene family and by c.AD 251 attained senatorial rank along with his elder son, Septimius Hairanes (or Hairan), perhaps later granted further powers in Syria by Valerian.

The Persian victory over Valerian, and the latter’s death, in c.AD 260, afforded new opportunity for Odaenathus, who appears to have manipulated the position to his benefit while maintaining fealty to Rome. Initially, as noted above, he was able to pull together an army of Palmyrenes and, if we are to believe the literary sources, Syrian peasants, who faced the Persian army fresh from defeating Valerian and sacking Antioch. Although Macrianus and his sons had been able to hold off any further Persian advance, the Palmyrene army pushed the Persians out of Syria and Mesopotamia, driving them back as far as the Persian
capital of Ctseiphon and securing once again the eastern territories for the empire. Odaenathus followed this up by returning to Emesa where he ousted Quietus and Ballista
after Macrianus’ death.

These two events, purportedly conducted under the auspices of the empire and for the good of Rome, earned him position and great honours from Gallienus. Not only was the Palmyrene triumph celebrated with a Victory in Rome in AD 263, but Odaenathus was given several titles, apparently including corrector totius orientis (‘corrector/restorer of the whole
east’) and dux Romanorum (‘Commander of the Romans’) – Gallienus appears to have accepted his position and loyalty in the east, even if Odaenathus remained a client king subservient to the emperor. Odaenathus extended his control to cover large portions of the eastern empire, including Syria, Arabia, and parts of Anatolia. He was seemingly declared ‘King of Kings’ in the east and retained military and political sway within the region while remaining a vassal to Rome. While on campaign in Anatolia in c.AD 267, Odaenathus was assassinated along with his eldest son, Hairan, although precisely where, why, or by whom remains unclear! What he had managed to achieve, though, was some stability in the east through the reclamation of Roman territories lost to Persia and the maintained security of the eastern frontier, as well as the foundations for a new Palmyrene empire.

This latter empire was short-lived but emerged in AD 267 upon Odaenathus’ death with his wife Zenobia7. As the de facto ruler of the Palmyrene Kingdoms she became (for a brief period of time!) one of the most powerful leaders in the ancient world and is
remembered in classical (and more recent) sources as a formidable and charismatic figure compared to the likes of Cleopatra. She acted as regent for her 10-year-old son Lucius Julius Aurelius Septimius Vabalathus, who inherited his father’s regnal titles – he too was ‘King of Kings’ – although Zenobia’s usage of Roman official titles caused some friction with Rome
since they were not hereditary in the same way. It was Zenobia, though, who for the next few years consolidated control in Syria from her base in Palmyra and probably also at Emesa and Antioch. Where Odaenathus had managed to create an environment for a Palmyrene dynasty to succeed him, it was  Zenobia who as able to expand this to a full-blown empire. In the west, Gallienus had been killed in AD 268 and his successor, Claudius II was engaged in conflict with the Goths on the Danube frontier, giving Zenobia freedom to expand her control in the east. In Palmyra, she initially sought to develop the city into a centre of learning and culture, something approaching Alexandria or Antioch. Claudius’ death in AD 270 was followed by the brief reign of Quintillus (AD 270), before Aurelian came to power and sought in the first instance to deal with the problems on the northern frontiers, before turning to look east.

It appears as though initially Aurelian may have been accepting of Zenobia’s position and that Zenobia herself maintained Palmyra’s role, at least outwardly, as a client kingdom of the Roman empire. As we shall see below, this is perhaps reflected on the coinage of this period. But this began to change in AD 270. Zenobia expanded her territory within Syria and then into Arabia, before amassing a Palmyrene army of c.70,000 to invade Egypt, where she was declared ‘Queen of Egypt’. The following year, Zenobia’s empire expanded further to encompass Galatia and Ankara in Antolia, reaching its fullest extent by AD 271.
It was at this point that the relationship with Rome collapsed. Zenobia and Vabalathus took the titles of augusta and augustus respectively, in clear usurpation of Roman authority. By the spring of AD 272, Aurelian’s forces had reached Anatolia and pursued the retreating Palmyrenes back to Antioch, Emesa, and finally Palmyra itself. Aurelian laid siege to the city and Zenobia attempted to flee in order to seek aid from Persia, but was captured along with her son Vabalathus and the city ceded to the emperor. It seems as though both were spared, to be paraded in Rome at Aurelian’s triumph alongside the Tetrici and she may well have lived out her remaining days in the city or its environs. Palmyra herself suffered a similar demise. A further insurrection by the population in AD 273 led Aurelian to raze the city and
effectively remove its control over the eastern empire. What was once the capital of a fledgling eastern empire separate from and sandwiched in between Rome and Persia had come to a relatively swift end from which it never fully recovered.

Coins were struck for both Zenobia and Vabalathus at an eastern mint, probably Antioch, as well as from provincial mints (e.g. Alexandria). There are few types issued for either ruler, with just two radiate types for Zenobia and eight for Vabalathus (RIC V.2, pp. 584-585). There are no examples yet of Zenobia on the PAS, which is not surprising given the small volume of coinage reaching the province from eastern mints, particularly for short-lived issues, although there is an example in the British Museum collection.

Radiate of Zenobia, c.Ad 272 (BM:1974,1001.3, copyright The British Museum).

The Zenobia coin above clearly depicts her as empress (augusta), the Juno Regina reverse type characteristic of issues seen for imperial women. In this respect it represents a clear depiction of intent and usurpation of power from Rome. Contrastingly, the situation is slightly different for Vabalathus. Upon Aurelian’s accession to power in AD 270, the number of officinae at the Antioch mint (now under Palmyrene control of course) striking coinage increases from eight to nine. The mint at this time produces coins that depict Vabalathus on one face (probably the reverse) and Aurelian on the other (probably the obverse). Aurelian appears as the augustus and while Vabalathus is the Palmyrene prince (or king?) he is clearly a junior party in the relationship – the coinage in this issue does not give him official title as emperor. What this appears to be is an acknowledgement of Aurelian’s authority and so Vabalathus’ position, much like his father, as vassal to Rome. A situation that clearly changed with Zenobia’s coinage (see above) and the later issues of
Vaballathus where he appears as augustus.

Radiate of Vabalathus with Aurelian, c.AD 270. Record ID is DENO-42ED11 (copright: Derby Museums Trust, License: CC-BY).

There are no examples of Vabalathus’ later coinage on the PAS. However, perhaps surprisingly, there are three coins from his issue with the Aurelian obverse type. These are listed as part of the Imperial series in RIC V.1 (p. 308) with the coinage of
Aurelian rather than Zenobia and Vabalathus (RIC V.2, pp. 584-585). The unusual titles at the end of Vabalathus’ legend – VCRIMDR – have been interpreted as reading Vir Clarissimus Rex IMperator Dux Romanorum (Most illustrious, king, leader of
the army, leader/commander of the Romans) and perhaps demonstrate at this stage (c.AD 270) Vabalathus and Zenobia’s continued acknowledgement of Aurelian’s authority.

Aurelian and reunification

Aurelian’s defeat of the Palmyrene empire in AD 272 was the beginning of stability and a reunification of the Roman world. The eastern provinces had returned and by AD 274 the
breakaway Gallic empire in the west was also brought under control. In the brief period of time from the reigns of Valerian and Gallienus through to Aurelian – less than two decades –
the Roman empire had suffered external threat, internal instability, fracture, usurpation, and had witnessed the appearance of numerous individuals as rival claimants to power. Where Gallienus, Claudius II, and Quintillus had struggled to keep the empire intact, Aurelian was able to unify the provinces and introduce a number of other reforms to aid in the restoration of the empire after the difficulties of the 3rd century (although it was perhaps only later, at the turn of the 4th century, that order was more fully restored). We will look at Aurelian in a future edition.

One thing to keep in mind with the multiple individuals, whether Gallic usurpers, emperors in Rome, or kings in the east, is that their coinages are often quite limited in volume given their
short periods of rule and in provinces far removed from Britain – particularly so for the individuals looked at in this edition. However, it is worth keeping an eye out for them, particularly when recording coins through the PAS, since they could well be hidden amongst the large numbers of radiates or hoard groups that appear within the province. While Macrianus and Quietus might be most likely, a double headed radiate could well be
Vabalathus, and we can still hope for a first Regalianus or Zenobia…!

References and further reading:

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 a more detailed analysis (in German) of the coinages during Gallienus’ reign: R. Göbl Die Münzprägung der Kaiser Valerianus I./Gallienus/Saloninus (253/268), Regalianus (260) und
Macrianus/Quietus (260/262). (MIR Bd. 36. Vienna, 2000).

For Vabalathus and Zenobia see also:
http://www.ric.mom.fr/en/home

A good read on Syria generally is T. Bryce Ancient Syria: A Three Thousand Year History (OUP, 2014);

See also, for example, K. Butcher Roman Syria and the Near East (2003).

Zenobia and her life has stimulated huge interest in the arts and prompted a large volume of written output that I can’t go in to here, ranging from classical sources through well-known passages by the likes of Edward Gibbon (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – “Zenobia, the celebrated queen of Palmyra and the East”), to more modern histories. 

Coin Relief – Issue Fourteen

Welcome to another edition of our regular blog on ancient coins. In this edition Dr. Andrew Brown takes a break from the coins to look at another type of round object: medallions.

Roman medallions are extremely rare objects and to date there are perhaps half a dozen examples that have been identified. The term “medallion” is generally used to refer to struck coin-like objects that, although issued by the Roman mints, differ from standard denominations in circulation in a number of ways.

Bronze medallions were initially struck using dies for sestertiidupondii, and asses, but notably have larger (and often heavier) flans, often with modified or thickened rims to frame the imagery, and characteristically often omit the SC that should appear on official coinage in circulation. Some, particularly in the Neronian period, have enlarged flans with concentric grooves and are termed “pseudo-medallions”.

Medallion of Nero, c.AD 66, from The British Museum collections (BM: 1844,1008.18, copyright The British Museum).

By the 2nd century, notably with Hadrian, this had developed into an art form in its own right, with specific medallic dies used for the production of these special pieces. Often, the types seen on medallions are not represented otherwise in Roman coinage and the dies are often more elaborate or well-executed and the objects themselves larger and heavier.

Medallion of Hadrian c.AD 117-138, from The British Museum collections (BM: 1872,0709.899, copyright The British Museum).

In some instances, notably at the end of the 2nd century with Commodus, bimetallic medallions appear that incorporate elaborate edges or rims of the flans to distinguish them from the normal bronze coinage in circulation. These elaborate presentation pieces were not just confined to bronze, however. Large, multiple denominations in gold and silver also appear from the 1st century onward, although perhaps most notable at the end of the Roman period, that did not circulate as normal currency but would have had a medallic function much like the bronze types.

In their imagery, too, the range of types represented in particular on bronze medallions perhaps reflected contemporary events or more complex scenes relevant to the contemporary Roman world (or in some instances her history) that their intended audience would have understood. These were valued, therefore, not for their instrinsic metal content, like the large silver and gold multiples in the later Roman period, but for their status as a gift from the emperor and the direct link this created with him. The recipients of these miniature works of art would likely have been of some status themselves, particularly during the early-2nd century with Hadrian when the production of medallions was at its artistic peak. In the later Roman period, the gold and silver multiples come to the fore.

Medallion of Gordian III, AD 238-244, with a view of the Flavian Amphitheatre (Colosseum), from The British Museum collections (BM: R.5048, copyright The British Museum).

Medallions are rare finds but they can usually be identified as a result. The handful of PAS examples to date means it is unlikely there will be huge numbers appearing, but it is always possible! When dealing with very worn bronze coins, the size of the flan, possible finishing to the edge of the coin, and the lack of SC on the reverse are clues that what you have may be a medallion rather than a normal bronze denomination.

The earliest example recorded to date through the PAS belongs to a series of medallions struck during the reign of Antoninus Pius between c.AD 140-143. These depict various scenes from Roman history and mythology and are often seen as commemorative medallions celebrating the 900th anniversary of the foundation of Rome (in AD 148). However, analysis of this series by C. Rowan suggests that they should instead be seen as components of a broader tradition begun with Hadrian that highlights an interest in the past and Rome’s early history.

Medallion of Antoninus Pius, AD 140-143. Record ID is SUSS-5C54B2 (Copyright: Sussex Archaeological Society, Licence: CC-BY-SA).

In the PAS example we see the Capitoline Triad of Jupiter, Juno Regina and Minerva, who were worshipped in the three cellas of Rome’s oldest temple – the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (“Jupiter Best and Greatest“) on the Capitoline Hill. They formed an integral component of Roman state religion with the temple located at the heart of Rome itself. Little remains on the Capitoline Hill of the temple today, although parts of the podium are visible in the Capitoline Museum. A range of other examples appear, some, like this example from the BM collection that depicts the Aesculapian snake coming ashore at Tiber Island (Insula Tiberina) where the Sanctuary to Aesculapius was constructed, carrying types that are otherwise not known on Pius’ coinage.

Medallion of Antoninus Pius AD 140-143 depicting the Aesculapian snake, from The British Museum collections (BM: 1853,0512.238, copyright The British Museum).

Medallions struck in this period are not just confined to Pius himself though and a range of examples appear for the wider Imperial family, often with quite wonderfully executed and unusual types.

For Marcus Aurelius as caesar under Pius, a remarkable medallion was recorded from London in 2014. The reverse depicts Apollo in his guise as Apollo Salutaris (god of healing or well-being), a type that notably appears on mid-3rd century coinage at a time when the Empire was suffering from outbreaks of plaque. A medallion of Pius with this type is known and was struck from the same reverse die as the PAS example, but the combination for Marcus as caesar is otherwise unknown.

Medallion of Marcus Aurelius as caesar c.AD 139-161. Record ID is LON-8553C1 (copyright: Museum of London, Licence: CC-BY-SA).

At the end of the Antonine period, and with his Hercules complex, in full swing, comes this wonderful medallion of Commodus from Lincolnshire (below), recorded on the the PAS at sold at auction in 2010.  The appearance of TR P XVIII in the reverse legend indicates that this medallion was struck in the last few weeks of Commodus’ reign from 10th December AD 192, when his tribunician powers were renewed, to his death on the 31st December AD 192.

Medallion of Commodus, AD 192. Record ID is FASAM-1C2AB3 (All rights reserved, Licence: CC-BY-SA).

There are two striking features that can be highlighted in this medallion, apart from its preservation and crafstmanship. Most obvious is the clear allusion to Commodus’ association and identification with Hercules. Not only do we see Commodus self-styled as Hercules and his first labour – the Nemean Lion. It belongs with a group of medallions that reference the cult of Hercules towards the end of Commodus’ reign, including examples in the BM collection.

Medallion of Commodus AD 192, from The British Museum collections (BM: 1872,0709.405, copyright The British Museum).

The second point of interest in both of the examples of Commodus above is that the medallions are bimetallic. Here we can see the use of one alloy (copper) at the core with a different (in this case brassier) alloy forming an outer rim. This would have clearly marked them as exceptional and different from the standard bronze coinage in circulation at the time and not for use as currency in the same way as the regular large bronze denominations would have been. These bimetallic medallions are exceptional – they cluster particularly during the reign of Commodus, although there are earlier and later examples, the majority of 2nd century medallions are simply bronze and often identified based on the lack of SC seen on sestertiidupondii, and asses. It is not clear how these bimetallic pieces were originally struck. That their components could potentially become separated is apparent in an example of Severus Alexander in the BM collection.

Medallion core of Severus Alexander c.AD 224, from The British Museum collections (BM: 1992,0509.365, copyright The British Museum).

The most recent medallion recorded through the PAS, of Severus Alexander, was discovered in Yorkshire in 2019 and is the only example on the database dating to the first half of the 3rd century AD. The reverse type emphasises the fidelity/loyalty of the Roman army (FIDES MILITVM) to Alexander, while the appearance of Jupiter as his protector (Jupiter Conservator) appeaers not only on this series of medallions but a number of other contemporary coin issues dated. Analysis of these types by C. Rowan notes that their appearance on Alexander’s coinage in AD 231 might highlight the importance of the military in his accession to power at a time when it appears some had also revolted against him in the east.

Medallic as of Severus Alexander c.AD 231. Record ID is  YORYM-AED2AF (copyright: York Museums Trust, Licence: CC-BY).

The lack of SC in exergue, combined with its size (28.5mm in diameter and 9.86g in weight) suggest this is a medallic as. In the standard as issue the same reverse type is known but with the addition of the SC. Interestingly, two examples of this medallic type are present in the British Museum collection, both from very similar, if not the same, dies. This is perhaps not surprising given the rarity of these medallions, but it is interesting all three are in Britain. The reverse type also appears on a wonderful medallion featuring Alexander and Julia Mamaea.

Larger bronze denomination from the second half of the 3rd century are generally rare as PAS finds – they essentially disappear as single finds with Gallienus and Postumus, and for Reece Periods 13 and 14, the PAS has records for perhaps c.100 examples of sestertiidupondii, and asses (amongst the more than 50,000 records for this period). The medallion of Gallienus from North Yorkshire recorded in 2006 is therefore quite an exceptional find, with another example of this type in the Münzkabinett in Berlin.

Medallions continue to be struck into the later 3rd century and at the end of the period those of Carausius and a returning Constantius I nicely encapsulate the breakaway Britannic Empire between AD 286-296. Sam is working on the new RIC for Carausius and Allectus and so the more definitive account will come with his volume! However, it is worth noting the unique examples of Carausius in the BM that provide an unprecedented direct reference to Virgil and which perpetuate Carausius’ image as perhaps more Roman than the Romans! One carries the legend RSR in exergue, while the other  I.N.P.C.D.A . G.
de la Bédoyère has interpreted these combined legends as references to Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue (IV.6-7)11, reading: Redeunt Saturnia Regna (the Golden Age returns) and Iam Nova Progenies Caelo Demittitur Alto (Now a new progeny is sent down from heaven above). Carausius’ new state did not last for all that long, however, and the wonderful Arras Medallion from the Beaurains hoard sees a triumphant Constantius I arrive in Britain on horseback in AD 296 to greet a kneeling London personified and retake the province for the Roman empire. These are exceptional objects from this period and while an example of this quality has not yet been reported through the PAS, we can speculate that a very worn bronze coin recorded from Lancashire in 2016 could possibly represent a medallion of Carausius. It will be fascinating to see if other examples appear in the future – Britain, after all, is perhaps the most likely place for them to turn up! 

Two gold 1¼ soldii of Licinius I, AD 313-315 of the type sometimes referred to as “money medallions” or simply “multiples”. Left: WILT-D86FB6 (copyright: Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, Licence: CC-BY). Right: NARC-A1A418 (copyright: Northamptonshire County Council, Licence: CC-BY).

In the 4th century, there are no examples on the PAS of medallions as such, although we do have two coins that are multiple denominations of solidi struck for Licinius I. As we have already seen in previous blogs, slightly heavy miliarenses were struck in the 4th century (at 60 to the pound) but alongside these much larger coins appear as multiples (multipla) of the standard silver and gold denominations. The two gold coins on the PAS are just fractionally larger than a normal solidus, at about 1¼ of a solidus. However, examples of multiples several times the weight of a normal denomination are known (up to a 72-solidus piece with Tiberius II in the 6th century AD!) – these are sometimes termed ‘money medallions’ or simply ‘multiples’. Gold and silver multiples had replaced the bronze medallions of earlier periods but likely had a similar function as donatives or diplomatic gifts as much as part of the regular coinage . We have yet to see a really large example on the PAS. They are extremely rare, but do keep a look out for them, and indeed, any other potential earlier bronze medallions if recording through the scheme – it is possible there are some out there….!

Standard references when dealing with medallions:

H.A.Grueber, BMCRM / Roman Medallions in the British Museum (1874)

F. Gnecchi, I medaglioni Romani (3 vols.; 1912)

J.M.C. Toynbee, Roman Medallions (1944) – online here
http://numismatics.org/digitallibrary/ark:/53695/nnan8359

More recent useful contributions include:
P.F. Mittag, Römische Medaillons. Caesar bis Hadrian (2010)

N. Schindel and B. Woytek ‘Nero and the Making of the Roman Medallion’ NC 171, 2011: 109-20

C. Rowan ‘Showing Rome in the Round: Reinterpreting the ‘Commemorative Medallions’ of Antoninus Pius’ Antichthon 48, 2014



Coin Relief – Issue Twelve

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)

Aureus of Postumus c.AD 260-269 from the British Museum collection (BM: 1864,1128.141, copyright: Trustees of The British Museum).

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.

Postumus and his large beard, on a radiate c. AD 260-269. Record ID is BH-8C320A (Copyright: St. Albans District Council, Licence: CC-BY).

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.

Top to bottom: Radiate from the Principal (Trier) Mint, YORYM-B2A242 (Copyright: York Museums Trust, Licence: CC-BY), GLO-C5C477 (Copyright: Bristol City Council, Licence: CC-BY); Radiate from the Cologne Mint; Radiate from the Milan mint, HAMP-169920 (Copyright: Winchester Museum Service, Licence: CC-BY).

Laelian (AD 269) and Marius (AD 269)

Left: Aureus of Laelian (BM: B.10309, copyright: Trustees of The British Museum). Right: Aureus of Marius (BM: 1860,0329.12, copyright: Trustees of The British Museum).

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).

Radiate of Laelian c.AD 269 from the Cunetio hoard (BM: 1980,0710.1, copyright: Trustees of The British Museum).

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.

Top row: Radiates of Marius from the principal Gallic mint (Mint I), issues 1 and 2 (BM: 1983,0101,2502.1, copyright: Trustees of The British Museum; BUC-8E60A4, copyright: Buckinghamshire County Museum, Licence: CC-BY).
Bottom row: Radiates of Marius from the Cologne mint (Mint II), issues 1, 2 and 3 (ASHM-67D7B4, copyright: Ashmolean Museum, Licence: CC-BY; BM: 1964,0701.138, BM: R.1114, both copyright: Trustees of The British Museum).

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)

Aureus of Victorinus c.AD 269-271, from the British Museum collections (BM: 1864,1128.144, copyright: Trustees of The British Museum).

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.

Radiate of Victorinus, AD 269-271, Mint I/Trier, Issue III. SUR-B89041 (Copyright: Surrey County Council, Licence: CC-BY).

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).

Radiate of Victorinus, AD 269-271, Mint II/Cologne, Issue II. WILT-D0295A (Copyright: Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, Licence: CC-BY).

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)

Aureii of Tetricus I (left) and Tetricus II (right), both from the British Museum collections (BM: 1841,0726.1130 and BM: 1864,1128.150, copyright: Trustees of The British Museum).

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

Radiate of Tetricus I, AD 271-274, Mint I/Trier. DENO-B09040 (Copyright: Derby Museums Trust, Licence: CC-BY).

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. 

Radiate of Tetricus II, AD 272-274, Mint I/Trier. DOR-8C9944 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Licence: CC-BY).

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
(Oxbow, 2020).

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

Coin Relief – Issue Eleven

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 father and son duo Macrinus and Diadumenian.

Macrinus and Diadumenian, AD 217-218

Macrinus (left, BM: R.12689) and Diadumenian (right, BM: 1956,0502.7) as depicted on coins from the collections of The British Museum.

When Julius Martialis dispatched a caught short Caracalla in April AD 217, the assassination brought to an end a period of political intrigue and plotting. Suggestions of conspiracy against Caracalla had already appeared in Rome and although letters were sent by the military commander, Flavius Maternianus,
to warn Caracalla they never reached him. At the centre of the coup appears to have been Marcus Opellius Macrinus, a Mauretanian of the equestrian class who by AD 217 had served under Caracalla as the praetorian prefect and was one of the party accompanying the emperor on the fateful day in April AD 217. Martialis had been killed by a spear from Caracalla’s bodyguard while fleeing the assassination, while Macrinus played at lamenting the emperor’s death. The problem was that Caracalla had no heir, the succession of the empire was
uncertain and so Rome stood once again on the brink of crisis.

However, on the 11th April AD 217, the legions in Syria declared Macrinus emperor, prompting a brief and not hugely noteworthy reign of less than two years, with Antioch as his base. Macrinus elevated his young son, Marcus Opellius Diadumenianus, to caesar – Diadumenian was just 8 years of age – Macrinus adopting the name Severus and Diadumenian the name Antoninus in order to create links with previous dynasties and so
establish some legitimacy. Descriptions of Macrinus paint him as a less than successful or admired ruler, although he was the first of non-senatorial rank to become emperor. He was “the son of most obscure parents, so that he was very appropriately likened to the ass that was led up to the palace by the spirit; in particular, one of his ears had been bored in accordance with the custom followed by most of the Moors. But his integrity threw even this drawback into the shade.” (Cassius Dio, LXXIX.11).

Early in his reign Macrinus had ordered Julia Domna to leave Antioch, but she had refused and starved herself to death. Of pressing importance was the military conflict Caracalla had placed the empire in with Parthia. Macrinus and his army met the Parthians in a huge and bloody battle at Nisibis (Mesopotamia) in the autumn of AD 217 that ultimately resulted in Macrinus acceding to pay a huge and humiliating peace settlement to Artabanus, apparently with bribes and gifts amounting to 200 million sesterces!1 He was consul in AD 218 and attempted to alleviate some of Caracalla’s policies, but perhaps unwisely tried to undo some of the military reforms of his predecessor. By May AD 218, Julia Maesa, sister of Julia Domna, contrived to gain support from the unhappy military for her grandson, Elagabalus, who was declared emperor by the legions at Emesa on the 16th May. Macrinus’ response was to elevate Diadumenian, now just 9 years old, to augustus at the end of April – a title never officially confirmed by the senate. On the 8th of June AD 218, forces loyal to Elagabalus attacked and defeated Macrinus outside Antioch. He fled. Diadumenian had been sent for his own safety to the Parthian court, but was captured and executed at Zeugma. Macrinus himself was caught in Cappadocia, executed, and his head sent as a trophy to Elagabalus!

Elagabalus marched into Antioch and was soon recognised as emperor. Macrinus and Diadumenian had importantly lost the support of the military and were soon declared public enemies by the senate, subject to damnatio memoriae. In describing this period in RIC (IV.2, p. 1), Mattingly, Sydenham, and Sutherland note that although “the reign of Macrinus contributed little to the glory of Imperial Rome, in contrast with the venomous tyranny of
Caracalla and the degrading buffoonery of Elagabalus, it must rank as an interlude of sane, if not brilliant, statesmanship”!

Macrinus, AD 217-218

Coinage of Macrinus is understandably limited in a British context given his short reign. The PAS has just 32 records (including 10 IARCW records) for Macrinus, 22 of which relate to
denarii, 9 for his bronze coinage, and one possible radiate although this is from the IARCW dataset and therefore impossible to confirm. This is a pattern that we might expect to some extent. Silver formed the core of Macrinus’ coinage, with limited quantities of bronze and very rarely gold, struck at the mint of Rome.

Denarius of Macrinus with the obverse legend: IMP C M OPEL SEV MACRINVS AVG. Record ID is WAW-69E393 (Copyright: Birmingham Museums Trust, Licence: CC-BY).

All of Macrinus’ coinage carries the same obverse legend, such as the example above, incorporating his adopted name of Severus: IMP C M OPEL SEV MACRINVS AVG (or slightly longer CAES on the bronze coinage). Two distinct bust varieties are represented, the first with cropped hair and beard, replaced later in September AD 217 with an older face and long beard. It is unclear why the early types show a younger bust, but it may have been that the only images of Macrinus available to die engravers in Rome at the start of his reign were outdated to be replaced later.

Examples of Macrinus’ coinage development. Clockwise from top left: denarius with TR P legend (BM: R.15520, Trustees of the British Museum); denarius with TR P COS legend (BM: 1946,1004.973, Trustees of the British Museum); denarius with TR P II COS legend (DOR-13C047, Somerset County Council); as with TR P II COS II legend (WILT-C95B51, Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum). All Licence CC-BY.

The development of Macrinus’ coinage is based largely on the reverse types, for which there are both dated and undated types, that follow Macrinus’ various imperial titles. A relatively typical range of types appear, including those that reference the fidelity of the military (FIDES MILITVM), Jupiter as the emperor’s protector, and various personifications (e.g. Annona, Felicitas, Fides, Salus, and Securitas). The development outlined in RIC IV.2 is as follows:

TR PApril to December AD 217
TR P COSApril to December AD 217
TR P II COSDecember AD 217
TR P II COS IIJanuary to June AD 218

Diadumenian, AD 217-218

Diadumenian’s coinage is even rarer than that of his father. There are just 10 identified Roman imperial coins recorded through the PAS, 9 of which are denarii and include 3 IARCW records. Silver forms the bulk of Diadumenian’s coin issues, less frequently bronze coinage (with 1 PAS example), and very rarely gold.

Denarius of Diadumenian, AD 217-218, showing the young prince bare headed, and between military standards on the reverse. Record ID is FAPJW-39A993 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Licence: CC-BY).

Much like Caracalla and Geta, Diadumenian became caesar at a young age and as such is depicted bare headed as a young boy. The obverse legends that appear on Diadumenian’s coinage are slightly more varied than that of his father and include examples both with his new name Antoninus and without:

Silver coinage:
M OPEL DIADVMENIANVS CAES
M OPEL ANT DIADVMENIAN CAES

Bronze coinage:
M OPEL DIADVMENIANVS CAES
M OPEL ANT DIADVMENIAN CAES
M OPEL ANTONINVS DIADVMENIANVS CAES

Reverses are essentially limited to two types with several variations. The most frequently seen, and represented by 9 of the PAS examples, is Diadumenian as the young prince – PRINC IVVENTVTIS – standing with and between a variety of military standards. The second is SPES PVBLICA – the ‘hope of the public’.

Left: As with PRINC IVVENTVTIS reverse, record ID LANCUM-38EE96 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Licence: CC-BY). Right: Denarius with SPES PVBLICA reverse, record ID ESS-FFFC33 (Copyright: the finder, Licence: CC-BY).


Coin Relief – Issue Ten

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 Geta and Caracalla – a tale of sibling rivalry that did not end well for one of the brothers…

Geta (AD 198-212)

Denarius of Geta c.AD 198-200. Record ID is LVPL-287532 (Copyright: National Museum Liverpool, Licence: CC-BY).

The youngest son of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna,
Publius Septimius Geta, was born in Rome on the 7th March
AD 189. Conflict with his older brother, Caracalla, was a constant problem for Geta as well as the extended imperial family, with Julia Doman often acting as intermediary between the two. Ultimately, this would prove Geta’s undoing but not before he had served for some time alongside his father and brother in office as caesar and then augustus. When Severus became emperor in AD 198, he immediately promoted Caracalla to co-ruler with Geta as the more junior caesar. Geta continued as caesar for more then a
decade, as consul in AD 205 and again in AD 208, before
heading off to campaign in Britain with the imperial family.

During the British campaigns, Geta remained in York in charge of the civil administration of both the province and the empire while Severus and Caracalla campaigned north of Hadrian’s
Wall. Victory brought with it a new title, Britannicus, for each of the male rulers and for Geta in AD 209 elevation to the status of augustus, perhaps much to the resentment of his brother.
Cassius Dio (LXXVII.15) recounts how Severus’ dying words were designed to bring the brothers together to rule the empire jointly. However, this hope soon disappeared. After Severus’ death at York in February AD 211, the two brothers grew increasingly apart and at conflict with one another. Supporters of each rallied around their favourite and the imperial palace at Rome was even divided in two in an attempt to enable the brothers to co-exist and co-rule. Caracalla sought to take sole control of the empire and, after an initial failed attempt, assassinated Geta in his mother’s arms in late December AD 211 (see Herodian 4.3-4.4).
Following the murder, Caracalla proceeded to purge not only Geta and his name and image from history – his damnatio memoriae – but also all those who supported or were even
remotely linked to Geta! The number of deaths is put at 20,000 by Cassius Dio (LXXVIII.4.1), although this may be somewhat inflated. Whatever the number, numerous monuments, sculptures, and smaller objects like coinage were subject to the removal of Geta’s image or name. Hardly the peaceful joint rule Severus could have imagined!

Coinage of Geta

Much like we have already seen with Septimius Severus and Julia Domna, Geta’s coinage follows quite well-defined chronological developments that typically allow for the relatively close identification of individual coin types. One of the difficulties on very worn coins is separating out those of Geta and his brother Caracalla, who as young caesars appear very similar! I follow RIC IV.1 here for Geta and this is a useful starting point for identifying whether the coin you have is one or other of the caesars, particularly if the legends are not visible or only partly visible.

The PAS has 332 records for Geta (including 51 IARCW records), of which 318 are for denarii, again highlighting the paucity of bronze coinage during the Severan period. Coins of the mint of Rome remain the most prolific within the PAS dataset, numbering 237 identified records, but this is not the sole mint that issued for Geta.

Denarius of Geta c.AD 200-202, Mint of Rome. Record ID is WILT-3B7D64 (Copyright: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, Licence: CC-BY).

Coins were also struck at an eastern mint, probably Laodicea ad Mare, until c.AD 203 but these are rare compared to
their Rome counterparts in Britain – there are fewer than 15 examples currently identified on the PAS database, although I suspect there may be others that need reattribution from Rome
to the Eastern mint. Although gold was struck there are no PAS examples.

Denarius of Geta c.AD 198-200, Eastern Mint. Record ID is BH-0F3387 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Licence: CC-BY).

Geta’s coinage essentially falls into three periods: with Geta as caesar until AD 209; after his elevation to augustus in AD 209 and before the death of Severus in AD 211; finally, as co-ruler with Caracalla between AD 211 and his death (probably in December of that year or early in AD 212). In RIC IV.1 this is divided based on the development of the obverse legends combined with the award of his various imperial titles – Geta was consul (COS) in
AD 205 and AD 208, held tribunician powers (TR P) for a second time in AD 210, then again in AD 211 and AD 212, was augustus (AVG) from AD 209, and assumed the title BRIT in AD 210.

Caracalla (AD 196-217)

Bust of Caracalla from the British Museum collections (BM: 1805,0703.102, copyright: Trustees of the British Museum).

Lucius Septimius Bassianus was born in Lyon on the 4th April AD 188 as the first son of Septimius Severus and Julia Domna. Better known to history as Caracalla, a nickname afforded him supposedly due to a type of Gallic hooded cloak that he regularly wore (Epitome De Caesaribus 21). At the age of just 8 years old, he was elevated by his father to caesar and, two years later, to augustus and co-ruler of the Roman empire. As we have seen in previous blogs, Caracalla was very much a key figure in the imperial family and the new dynasty being created by Severus, following his father on campaign and serving the empire particularly in matters military. In AD 202 he was forced into marriage with Plautilla, who he appears to have disliked hugely – after her father was executed for treason in AD 205, she was banished to Lipari and then murdered, possibly on Caracalla’s orders in AD 211. His conflict with Geta was a continual problem, though, and while the two tolerated one another during Severus’ lifetime, after his death in AD 211 Caracalla acted swiftly and had his brother murdered by the end of that year or the beginning of AD 212.

During his early life and alongside Severus, he was consul three times, first in AD 202, and then with Geta in AD 205 and 208. A fourth consulship was taken in AD 213 after Severus’ death, and each year from AD 198 he held the power of the tribune (tribunicia potestas). Campaign and victory of sorts with Severus in Britain from AD 208-211 brought additional honours with the tile Britannicus, which appears on his coinage for several years.
Following Geta’s death and the expunging of his brother from history, Caracalla left Rome to campaign in Gaul in c.AD 213 and was to never return. He became popular with the military, in part due to his preference to march amongst and alongside them. Perhaps equally persuasive were his political machinations that prompted two key changes in AD 212. The first was his constitutio antoniniana (the Antonine Constitution) that awarded all free men of the empire full Roman citizenship (and also provided him with a bigger pool of tax payers and soldiers!). The second was his increase of military pay by about 50%. As we shall see this in turn had a knock-on effect for the development of Roman coinage. Successful campaigns in Gaul in AD 213 led to the senate awarding him the title Germanicus Maximus and were followed by his move east into Asia Minor and then onto Alexandria. During this time (c.AD 213-215) he began to fixate on the history and mythology of Alexander the Great, according to Cassius Dio (LXXVIII.7) going so far as to suggest that “he must call his hero
“the Augustus of the East”; and once he actually wrote to the senate that Alexander had come to life again in the person of the Augustus, that he might live on once more in him, having
had such a short life before”! He appears to have become increasingly erratic and when in Alexandria in AD 215, after having visiting the tomb of his hero Alexander, he snapped. A
violent massacre ensued with Caracalla’s men murdering thousands of unarmed civilians. After Alexandria, Caracalla campaigned in the east first in Armenia and then against
Artabanus V in Parthia, culminating in underhand tactics by Caracalla that enabled Roman forces to expand east of the Tigris in AD 216 before returning to Edessa (Şanlıurfa, Turkey)
to over winter. On the 8th April AD 217, the emperor was travelling from Edessa to Carrhae (Harran, Turkey) and stopped to relieve himself. At which point, unguarded, an assassin,
Martialis (probably at the order of Macrinus, who plotted to take Caracalla’s place as the next Roman emperor), killed him with a single sword blow.

 The Baths of Caracalla in Rome (Copyright: Andrew Brown).

Caracalla’s ashes were returned to Rome and placed in the
Mausoleum of Hadrian, Julia’s following shortly afterwards. He
was not subject to damnatio memoriae like his brother had
been and was in fact later deified by Elagabalus. Caracalla is often seen as something of a cruel tyrant as a result of his actions around the empire. At times of poor health, insecure and unstable, and notably affected by his hero worship of Alexander. He was also regarded as a soldier in all that that entailed (good and bad!), but as a result a poor leader of the empire at large. He did widen citizenship, military pay, reform Roman coinage, and
notably completed the monumental construction of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. But these latter elements are often overlooked against the backdrop of his character and the historical events of his lifetime.

Coinage of Caracalla

Caracalla’s coinage is quite lengthy, covering the period from his elevation as caesar in AD 196 to his death in AD 217. The PAS has 927 records for coins of Caracalla in the various phases of his life (including 166 IARCW records), the majority of which are for his silver coinages although there are c.40 bronze coins from this period too but so far no gold. As with the other Severans, plated and base metal copies are common and we are dealing largely with issues from the mint of Rome but with some Eastern mint coins, probably from Laodicea, during the early years of his rule under Severus until c.AD 202/203.

There are too many types to explore individually, however a useful feature are the many coin types that provide key dates relating to his various titles and offices. After AD 198 he took tribunician powers each year (TR P to TR P XX in AD 217), with consulships (COS) in AD 202, 205, 208, and 213. These dated types are less common on the PAS database than types which do not carry any specific reference to dates or titles, but they do
provide a framework for his entire coinage. For the undated series, the development of the obverse legends and types (based on what is known from the dated issues) allow us to place them within broad periods throughout his reign. So we see his development from a very young caesar of just 8 years old, to a young man in his 20s by the time of the British campaigns, and finally a slightly stern and bearded soldier at the end of his life.

The first coinages of Caracalla were struck in c.AD 196-198 during the period of Severus’ rise to power and with the threat of the likes of Clodius Albinus in the background. Severus’ elevation of Caracalla to caesar in AD 196 ultimately prompted conflict with Albinus but this also secured the empire. Caracalla takes the imperial name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus rather than his birth name on his coinage and this is a demonstration of Severus’ attempts to create a new dynasty with links to the Antonines of the previous century. As caesar, Caracalla is a young boy, depicted bare headed, and with types that reflect his position as prince and
soon to be augustus.

Base denarius of Caracalla c.AD 196-198, showing him as a bare-headed young boy. Record ID is GLO-1DA4F1 (Copyright: Bristol City Council, Licence: CC-BY).

Septimius elevated Caracalla to augustus at the age of just 10 years old in AD 198. On the early phases of his coinage as co-emperor, Caracalla is still depicted as a young boy, but the
distinctive feature is the appearance of a laureate rather than bare head that marks him as augustus. This can also be a useful diagnostic tool in separating worn coins of Caracalla and Geta. The early issues of this period are rare as PAS finds, particularly those short groups of coins with longer and/or dated legends between AD 198-200.

Denarius of Caracalla c.AD 199, depicted as a young boy with a laureate on his head. Record ID is DUR-972D60.

The increase in military pay in AD 212, combined with the continued debasement of the denarius, prompted the introduction in c.AD 215 of a new silver denomination. The presence of a radiate crown on the bust type (for empresses, the obverse type rests on a crescent), referencing the sun god Sol, has led this coin to be called a radiate, although it is unclear what the coin was actually called in antiquity. What we can say is that it was likely a double denomination – hence the radiate crown in much the same was the dupondius with radiate crown was valued at two asses – and so probably a double denarius. Interestingly, it contained far less than twice the quantity of silver of the denarius! Over the course of the next half century, the radiate would become the dominant coin type but experienced huge debasement from the coins issued initially by Caracalla that were of quite good silver content, to coins with little more than 1-2% silver by the AD 270s. These are surprisingly rare coins on the PAS given the volume of radiates that appear in later periods. There are fewer than 20 examples, of which 7 are IARCW Welsh records.

Radiate of Caracalla c.AD 216, depicting him with the radiate crown that gives the coin its modern name. Record ID is SWYOR-B92118 (Copyright: West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, Licence: CC-BY).

References and further reading:

D. Calomino Defacing the Past: Damnation and Desecration in Imperial Rome (2016), Chapter 5

R. Abdy ‘The Severans’ in The Oxford Handbook of Greek
and Roman Coinage (2012)

Coin Relief – Issue Ten

Here is the next edition in our series of Roman coin blogs written by Dr. Andrew Brown and Dr. Sam Moorhead. They explore the many Roman coins recorded on the PAS database.

AD 193 – The year of the five emperors

By the end of AD 192, the emperor Commodus’ megalomania was readily apparent. Self-styled as Hercules the son of Zeus (see figure left: BM R.15096), his god complex saw him rename the months of the year after his twelve names, rename Rome itself as Colonia Commodiana with him as its second founder, and he was furthermore declared a living god. His exploits in the arena as both gladiator and embodiment of Hercules shocked Rome while many in power grew increasingly fearful for their positions. The situation was volatile and after declaring his intention to begin the new year (AD 193) as both consul and gladiator, events came to a head. A coup on the 31st December AD 192 manufactured by Quintus Aemilius Laetus, commander of the praetorian guard and Eclectus, the imperial chamberlain, saw Commodus’ concubine, Marcia, administer poison in an attempt to depose him and install Pertinax as the new emperor. Commodus was violently sick and to ensure the coup was successful the conspirators sent Narcissus, Commodus’ wrestling partner, to strangle him in the bath.

Commodus’ death brought about the end of the Antonine dynasty and he was subject to damnatio memoriae, with his name and image removed from all variety of monuments and objects. His death also ushered in a period of civil unrest within the empire. With no direct successor, rule fell first to Pertinax and then a series of four other rival claimants during the year AD 193 before Septimius Severus was able to wrest control and introduce an element of stability.

We have already seen in a previous post the coinage of Clodius Albinus, but in this edition we will look briefly at three of the other rivals to imperial power from the ‘year of the five emperors’ – Pertinax, Didius Julianus, and Pescennius Niger. The fifth, Septimius Severus, will be looked at in greater detail.

Publius Helvius Pertinax (January 1st-March 28th AD 193)

Denarius of Pertinax dating to AD 193. Record ID is OXON-4C2792 (Copyright: Oxfordshire County Council, License: CC-BY).

The son of a freed slave, Publius Helvius Pertinax was born in Alba Pompeia (Liguria) on the 1st of August AD 126. In his mid-30s he embarked on a military career that saw him serve under Lucius Verus in the Parthian Wars, at York with the Legio VI Victrix, and in the Marcommanic Wars under Marcus Aurelius. He subsequently held office as governor of Moesia, Dacia, Syria, and, between AD 185-187, of Britain. His time in Britain involved the (successful) suppression of a mutiny but in the end he asked to leave, apparently because “the legions were hostile to him because he had been strict in his discipline” (Historia Augusta,
Pertinax, 3.10). Between AD 188-189 he was proconsul in Africa but at the time of Commodus’ assassination he held the office of urban prefect and consul in Rome.

Pertinax’s reign was a brief one. The conspirators in Commodus’ assassination rushed him that same night first to gain the support of the praetorians – which he did with an offer of 12,000 sestertces a head! – and then to the senate, where, after feigning reluctance to accept, he was installed as augustus. Pertinax’s problem was that he had failed to grasp that “one cannot with safety reform everything at once” (Cassius Dio, LXXIV.10). His policies alienated many, especially the praetorians who it seems only received half of the 12,000 sestertii they were promised! Mattingly in his commentary in RIC (IV.1 pp. 5, 13) describes
Pertinax as weak but well-meaning, a sort of ‘second Galba’. It seems that he was regarded as somewhat ungenerous and not of great ability (e.g. Cassius Dio, LXXIV.12). An initial plot to overthrow him was made by the praetorians in early March AD 193, but on the 28th a contingent of 2-300 soldiers arrived at the imperial residence and demanded what had been promised to them. Pertinax, rather than fleeing, attempted to reason with them. This backfired though and he was stabbed to death by the assembled mob. At the age of 66 he had ruled for just 87 days.

A poorly-preserved sestertius of Pertinax, dating to AD 193. Record ID is PUBLIC-5BF776 (Copyright: retained by illustrator, License: CC-BY-SA).

Given his very brief period in power, Pertinax’s coinage is equally limited in volume. There are just 39 types listed in RIC IV.1 although Mattingly does note (p. 3) that despite this there is an element of originality to the types represented. Rome is the only mint represented and obverse legends are usually either IMP CAES P HELV PERTIN AVG or IMP CAES P HELV PERTINAX AVG.
The PAS data is equally sparse. Coins of Pertinax are not common in Britain and there are just 14 examples recorded on the PAS database (including 2 IARCW records). The majority of these – 11 coins – are denarii, with the remaining three poorly preserved sestertii.

Marcus Didius Severus Julianus (28th March-1st June AD 193)

Pertinax’s murder by the praetorians left no clear successor as emperor. So began one of the most bizarre and notorious successions in Roman history. Marcus Didius Severus Julianus
was born in Milan in AD 133 or 137 to parents of Milanese and North African descent. He was raised within the household of Marcus Aurelius’ mother Domitia Lucilla. By AD 172 he had risen through the ranks to command the Legio XXII Primigenia in Germany before sharing the consulship with Pertinax in AD 175. As governor of Dalmatia, Germany Inferior, Bithynia, and then Africa he increased his standing and political position. By the time of Pertinax’s death, therefore, he was in an ideal position to assume power.

Sestertius of Didius Julianus dating to AD 193. Record ID is KENT-CF6FE2 (Copyright: Kent County Council, License: CC-BY).

However, the transition of power on the 28th March was far from straightforward! The praetorians held sway and at their camp two rival candidates for emperor, Julianus and Pertinax’s father-in-law Titus Flavius Sulpicianus engaged in a bidding war, an auction, to buy the imperial throne (Cassius Dio, LXXIV.11). Julianus as the high bidder at 25,000 sesterces per praetorian (although paying 30,000) effectively bought control of the empire
from the praetorians. The manner in which the empire had changed hands made Julianus hugely unpopular. He had been elevated by the praetorians (a second Otho to Pertinax’s Galba!), but even their support soon disappeared. More of a problem was in the border provinces where outrage at the auction of imperial power resulted in three rival claimants as emperor. We have already seen the coinage of Clodius Albinus, who declared himself emperor with the support of the legions in Britain. The Syrian legions in their turn proclaimed Pescennius Niger as their emperor by mid-April (see below). More pressing for Julianus,
though, was the governor of Upper Pannonia, Lucius Septimius Severus, who declared himself emperor on the 9th April with the support of the legions on the Rhine and Danube. Severus was able to postpone conflict with Albinus by offering him position as caesar while he turned to deal with Julianus in Rome. Julianus attempted to slow Severus’ advance through political pressure in the senate and with the military support of the praetorians.
However, as Severus closed in on Rome, support for Julianus disappeared and on 1st June AD 193 the senate sentenced him to death.

Julianus’ coinage is very small in quantity and variety given he ruled for little more than two months. He essentially has one issue of coinage divided in two based on obverse legends that
initially read IMP CAES M DID IVLIAN AVG and subsequently have the addition of his name Severus (IMP CAES M DID SEVER IVLIAN AVG), perhaps in an attempt to align with or appease Septimius Severus. There are three main reverse types across all of Julianus’ denominations and with the addition of coinage for his wife Manlia Scantilla and daughter Didia Clara there appear to have been five officinae at the mint in Rome during this period.
PAS examples are, like those of Pertinax, rare – there are just four denarii and five sestertii for Julianus plus one contemporary copy that is possibly muled with a type of Severus.

Plated copy of a denarius of Didius Julianus dating to AD 193. Record ID is HESH-4E4964 (Copyright: Birmingham Museums Trust, License: CC-BY).

The coinage of Julianus’ wife and daughter are rarer still than those of Julianus. There are currently two sestertii and one denarius of Scantilla of which only one sestertius has an
image (WILT-D0772D). To date no examples of Didia Clara have been reported, although there are a number of worn bronze coins of this period that could be either of the two (but equally either
Crispina or Julia Domna).

Gaius Pescennius Niger (April AD 193 – April/May AD 194)

Denarius of Pescennius Niger dating to AD 193-194. Record ID is BUC-9298E5 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

As governor of Syria since AD 191, Gaius Pescennius Niger was declared emperor by his legions after Pertinax’s death and Julianus’ purchase of imperial power. His power base was in Antioch and as popular opinion in Rome turned against Julianus many sought support and assistance from Niger (Historia Augusta, Pescennius Niger, 2-3). However, Niger was slow to act. Severus reach Rome following Julianus’ death and so any attempt by Niger to consolidate his power was immediately hampered. With Clodius Albinus temporarily removed as a threat, Severus turned instead to deal with Niger’s threat to his power from the
east.

Severus’ legions marched east towards Asia Minor where Niger had secured the Taurus mountains north of his capital at Antioch and Byzantium further west. Severus gained important victories however at Cyzicus and Nicaea, pushing Niger back to the Taurus. A decisive battle took place near Issus, close to the Cilician Gates, in the spring of AD 194 with Niger’s army suffering heavy defeat. In his attempt to flee to Parthia, Niger was captured and beheaded, his head was sent to Rome and Severus pushed on into Mesopotamia to campaign against those who had sided with Niger.

Denarius of Pescennius Niger dating to AD 193-194. Record ID is PUBLIC-C27DF1 (Copyright: Stephen Auker, License: CC-BY).

Niger was apparently a distinguished figure, an excellent soldier, a disciplinarian, “but as an emperor, unlucky” (Historia Augusta, Pescennius Niger, 6.10). His name ‘Niger’ was purportedly due to his very black neck that was in stark contrast to the rest of his body! Niger struck no bronze coinage but issued silver and, rarely, gold. This was mostly from the mint of Antioch, although it seems as though the provincial mints of Alexandria and Caesarea
were also used. The types issued by Niger are more extensive and with a greater range of influences resultant from his position in the eastern half of the empire. They were also struck for longer than both Pertinax and Julianus combined! Given their eastern output and the fact that Albinus, allied to Severus, was active in the western empire, it is not surprising that his coinage is hugely rare in Britain. There are just two coins recorded through the PAS (BUC-9298E5 and PUBLIC-C27DF1).

Septimius Severus (AD 193-211)

Septimius Severus (statue in The British Museum collections, BM: 1802,0710.2)

In the Roman provinces the death of Pertinax and purchase
of imperial power by Didius Julianus was met with outrage. We have already seen how this led to declarations of support behind new emperors in both Syria and the western empire. The Roman legions on the Rhine and Danube frontiers instead turned to Lucius Septimius Severus (AD 193-211), the governor of Upper Pannonia, who was declared emperor at Carnuntum in early April AD 193.

Severus was born in Leptis Magna (Libya) on the 11th April AD 145 to a distinguished provincial family that had Roman origins and maintained familial connections within the political sphere of Rome. He attained senatorial rank under Marcus Aurelius in AD 162 before returning to Leptis when the Antonine plague struck Rome in AD 166. During the AD 170s he held various civil and military offices, notably as quaestor, then legatus to his cousin the proconsul of Africa, and Tribune of the plebs in Rome. He married Julia Domna in AD 187 by whom he had two sons,
Lucius Septimius Bassianus (better known as Caracalla)
(AD 198-217) and Publius Septimius Geta (AD 209-212). In AD 190 he was made consul for the first time and the following year (AD 191) governor of the province of Upper Pannonia.

After being declared emperor by the legions on the Rhine, Severus and his army were quick to turn their attention to Rome and the assassins of his friend and colleague Pertinax. He gained the support of the senate from Ravenna and “rode up to the gates [of Rome] on horseback dressed in cavalry uniform…the whole army, infantry and cavalry alike, accompanied him in full ceremonial armour” (Cassius Dio 74.1). To avenge Pertinax’s
death, prior to his ceremonial entry into Rome Severus disbanded the Praetorian Guard and executed those responsible for the assassination. He then took Pertinax’s name as part of his own imperial titles and deified the dead emperor, while establishing a new military presence in the form of a renewed Praetorian Guard populated with forces loyal to his cause. With Clodius Albinus installed in the west as caesar and for the time being not a threat, he turned to deal with Pescennius Niger in the east.

Severus’ coinage

Coins of Septimius Severus are common finds recorded through the PAS. There are over 1,800 database records for Severus alone (including 282 IARCW records), with the majority (1,648 records) for denarii struck during his reign. Severus’ reign is defined by his campaigns first in the east against Niger and the Parthians, and then in the west against Albinus and in Britain. During this period, he cultivated a large army and by AD 197 had probably doubled military pay. The corresponding need for extensive silver to pay his soldiers led to a decrease in the silver content of the denarius down to about 40% by AD 196.1 As a consequence, there is a proliferation of often quite base silver coinage and this is reflected in the PAS data, plausibly also affected by Severus’ expedition to Britain at the end of his life that would have brought with it the army, the imperial court, and “an immense amount of money” (Cassius Dio 76.12). A by-product of this is the appearance in quite large number of contemporary copies
of Severan denarii recorded through the PAS, either as base or plated coins, which are generally lacking in the same volume within contemporary hoards. In contrast to the silver, bronze coinage is comparatively limited in quantity. Britain
experiences a period of minimal supply of bronze coinage from the end of the 2nd century as a result of a drop in production of bronze from the mints with the need for extensive silver coinage throughout the empire. This makes bronze denominations much less common as single finds in Britain. Indeed, there are, for example, only 144 PAS records for sestertii of Septimius Severus. On the Roman limes on the Rhine, and probably also in Britain, this in turn prompts the appearance of cast lightweight bronze coinages – Limesfalschungen – to fill the need for smaller bronze denominations.

Mints

Rome was the major mint producing silver and bronze coinage throughout Severus’ reign, and coins from the workshops here are those most frequently recorded through the PAS.

Denarius of Septimius Severus minted in Rome, dating to AD 194. Record ID is GLO-1C4C7A (Copyright: Bristol City Council, License: CC-BY).

However, Severus’ eastern campaigns against Niger in AD 193-194 resulted in silver coinage from several eastern mints at least until he moved his forces west in AD 196. This presumably reflects his need to pay a large army! Four eastern mints have been identified as in operation during this period:
• Alexandria (Egypt) – production continued here from the period of Niger’s rule into that of Severus. Denarii from the mint at Alexandria are distinctive in that the eyes of the portrait are very prominent (‘bug-eyed’). Coins issued until c.AD 196.
• Laodicea ad Mare (Turkey) – this appears to have been the result of a move of the mint to here from the Syrian capital of Antioch by Severus in response to the Antiochenes harbouring Niger. Coins issued until c.AD 203.
• Emesa (Syria)/Caesarea in Cappadocia (Turkey) – denarii typically identified as being from Emesa, Syria, the home of Julia Domna, now instead appear to be from Caesarea (which was in use under Niger).
• A series of revived eastern silver cistophori with Latin legends struck in Asia – there are no examples of these types on the PAS. Struck until AD 198.

Left to right: Denarius from the Alexandria mint (NARC-69EEE5, CC-BY); Denarius from the Laodicea mint (WAW-220CD2, Birmingham Museums Trust, CC-BY); denarius from an unidentified Eastern mint (HAMP-06AA78, CC-BY)

Julia Domna, Caracalla, and Geta

Coins were also struck during Severus’ lifetime for the other members of the Imperial family – his wife Julia Domna (AD 193-217) and two sons, Caracalla (AD 198-217) and Geta (AD 209-212). In this blog post we will look at Severus’ coins alone, but will turn to the other members of his family in future editions. It is worth noting here that there are issues from Severus’ reign that depict the imperial family as a whole, some proclaiming AETERNIT
IMPERI – ‘Eternity of the Empire’ – pointing to the establishment of the new imperial dynasty. There is just one example of this type, for Julia Domna and her sons, recorded through the PAS.

Gold coinage

Gold coinage from the Severan period is also rare on the PAS. There is just one example for Severus, a fractional gold denomination (quinarius) that is previously unlisted in RIC.

Gold quinarius of Septimius Severus, minted in Rome and dating to AD 202-10. Record ID is HAMP-474144 (Copyright: Hampshire Cultural Trust, License: CC-BY).

Julia Domna (AD 193-217)

While serving as legate in Lyon, Septimius Severus “made inquiries about the horoscopes of marriageable women,
being himself no mean astrologer; and when he learned that there was a woman in Syria whose horoscope predicted that she would wed a king… he sought her for his wife” (Historia Augusta, Life of Septimius Severus 3.9). The woman in question was Julia Domna. She was born c.AD 160 in Emesa (Homs, Syria), the youngest daughter of Gaius Julius Bassianus, a wealthy member of the Syrian Arab aristocracy and High Priest of Syro-Roman sun god Elagabal in Emesa. Julia Domna was one of several
influential women in the Severan dynasty who held much sway over the course of events in the early-3rd century. Her elder sister, Julia Maesa, would go on to become the grandmother of two Roman emperors, Elagabalus (AD218-222) and Severus Alexander (AD 222-235).

Denarius of Julia Domna, dating to AD 193-196. Record ID is BUC-E21FC2 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Julia married Septimius Severus in Lyon in AD 187, with Caracalla born the following year and Geta in AD 189. The marriage appears to have been a happy one. Julia accompanied
Severus everywhere while he was on campaign, earning her the title of mater castrorum (‘mother of the army camp’) in much the same way as Faustina II in the previous century and as empress played an important role in politics, intrigue, patronage of philosophy and intellectualism. While in York during Severus’ British campaigns, Julia appears to have influenced local fashion while maintaining a lively relationship with the British women, the wife of the Caledonian Argentocoxus remarking “We fulfil the demands of nature in a much better way than do you Roman women; for we consort openly with the best men, whereas you let
yourselves be debauched in secret by the vilest.” (Cassius Dio LXXVII.16.5). After Severus’ death, Julia travelled with her sons back to Rome to place the urn containing his ashes in the Reports of her adultery, for example, in the Historia Augusta (Life of Septimius Severus 18.8) may well have been affected by Plautianus’ stirring an ill will against her – see Cassius Dio LXXV.15.6, LXXVIII.24.1. Her role remained political and influential but now as a foil attempting to maintain a balance between her warring sons. This was ultimately unsuccessful
and in December AD 211 Caracalla conspired to murder his brother in his mother’s arms. Julia remained a key political figure for the remainder of Caracalla’s rule until his assassination in AD 217 while campaigning against the Parthians in the east. Julia was at Antioch and, suffering from breast cancer and with the threat of Macrinus (AD 217-218), conspirator to the murder of Caracalla and his successor, starved herself to death in AD 217.3

Coinage of Julia Domna

The coinage of Julia Domna is extensive and struck throughout the reigns of Severus, Geta, and Caracalla. Reverse types highlight her role as empress, as mother of the imperial dynasty and of the empire itself, as well as the various deities to which she is associated. Coins were struck at the mints in operation under Severus – in RIC IV.1 (pp. 57-58) one eastern issue is assigned to Emesa on the basis of her familial ancestry in the city, although as we have seen with Severus this may now more plausibly be attributed to Caesarea. There is often little difference, other than stylistic, between the issues for Julia, which can make identification problematic, although some types are specific to one or other mint. RIC, followed here, is the best starting point – the majority of PAS finds are from Rome.

As with Severus’ coinage there is a proliferation of silver, including base and plated examples, and in contrast relatively smaller quantities of bronze coinage. The PAS has 716 records for coins of Julia Domna (including 107 IARCW Welsh records), of which 636 are for denarii. There is no gold of Julia to date on the PAS database.

Julia is often identifiable on her coinage through her distinctive bust type with hair waved and pulled up into a chignon at the back of her head. She is usually depicted draped and on the radiate coinage after AD 215 rests on a crescent as is typical of empresses for this coin type. Julia’s coinage is divided into three main groups in RIC IV.1:

  • AD 193-196 – types with obverse legend IVLIA DOMNA AVG
  • AD 196-211 – types with obverse legend IVLIA AVGVSTA
  • AD 211-217 – types with obverse legend IVLIA PIA FELIX AVG
Top to bottom: IVLIA DOMNA AVG obverse (BUC-E21FC2, PAS, CC-BY); IVLIA AVGVSTA obverse (HAMP-01AE53, Hampshire Cultural Trust, CC-BY); IVLIA PIA FELIX AVG obverse (SWYOR-FCA7A1, West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, CC-BY).

References and further reading: 

S. Moorhead and D. Stuttard The Romans who Shaped Britain, 2012

H. Gitler and M. Ponting, ‘The Silver Coinage of Septimius Severus and His Family, 193-211 AD: A Study of the Chemical Composition of the Roman and Eastern Issues’, Galux 16, Milan 2003

D. Walker, ‘The Roman Coins’ in B. Cunliffe ed. The Temple of Sulis Minerva at Bath, 1988: 281-358

R. Abdy, ‘The Severans’ in The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage 2012: 502

Coin Relief – Issue Nine

Here is the next edition in a series of blog posts written by Dr. Sam Moorhead and Dr. Andrew Brown, the PAS Finds Advisers for Roman and Iron Age coins.

Other 4th century silver denominations

As we saw in the last edition of Coin Relief, during the second half of the 4th century the silver siliqua became the standard silver denomination in circulation and recorded through the PAS. However, this was by no means the only silver coin struck during the 4th century. Indeed, even the nummus contained a percentage of silver (perhaps initially a notional c.5%) within its alloy. In this edition we will look at three other coin types struck in good silver during this period that although appearing in much smaller quantity on the PAS also constitute important components of 4th century Roman coinage.

Argenteus

Argenteus of Diocletian c.AD 300. British Museum coin B.1474 (Copyright: Trustees of the British Museum).

Diocletian’s currency reforms in c.AD 294 introduced a new silver denomination, the argenteus (literally ‘silvery’ or ‘of silver’). On the incomplete Aphrodisias currency inscription of c.AD 301 the value of the denarius argenteus (‘silver denarius’) is fixed at 100
denarii communes (‘common denarii’; now more a unit of account that is perhaps represented by small billon coins with laureate busts) – four times the value of the newly introduced
nummus. This high value silver denomination contained a substantial percentage of silver and was struck at 96 to the Roman pound until c.AD 313. On some argentei (such as the one above) this value of 1/96 of the pound is explicitly represented by the reverse legend XCVI. The argenteus was a relatively short-lived phenomenon and it is no-longer struck after c.AD 310-313 once inflation increased the bullion value of silver. The argenteus is a rare coin generally, but especially so in Britain and within the material recorded through the PAS (see this search). Indeed, from the early period of the Tetrarchy, there are just two examples on the PAS (ESS-C83012 and WILT-CA45F1) but both are contemporary copies of the same type for Diocletian. The PAS data also includes several examples from a small group of base silver coins struck at Trier at the end of the period argentei were issued, c.AD 310-313. These contain perhaps as much as c.25% silver and are regarded as either highly silvered (or silver washed) nummi or base/pseudo argentei. They are struck for Constantine I, Licinius I, and Maximinus Daia, each with a distinctive reverse type.

Miliarensis

Alongside the appearance of the siliqua in the AD 320s was a larger silver denomination struck at about 4.5g or 72 to the Roman pound and called a miliarensis. This was in circulation contemporary with the siliqua although is much less common as a single find or indeed in hoards – Hoxne had just 60 examples. The term scrinium a miliarensibus appears in later Roman documents and has plausibly been linked to these larger silver coins we call miliarenses, so-called due to their value at 1/1000 of a pound of gold. A heavier silver coin struck at about 60 to the Roman pound or c.5.4g is also known and termed a ‘heavy
miliarensis’. This is a much rarer coin – there are none in Hoxne but there is one PAS example (HAMP-2197A7). The majority seen as single finds, though, are of the lighter weight variety. In total, the PAS records 20 single examples of miliarenses, covering the entire period of their production and usage with examples in Reece Periods 16-21 (see this search). The majority cluster around Reece Periods 18 (4 coins) and 19 (10 coins) and it is interesting to note that of those, one is of uncertain Reece period, two lack images with mints identified, coins from the eastern mint of Thessalonica are the most frequently found (albeit only with 5 examples!).

Half siliqua

Half siliqua of Arcadius dating to AD 395-402. Record ID is HAMP-03C5B0 (Copyright: WInchester Museums Service, License: CC-BY).

While the majority of siliquae recorded through the PAS are full weight coins, fractional half siliquae were also struck in the late-4th century at the western mints of Trier, Milan, Rome, and Aquileia. These circulated alongside the siliqua and miliarensis but are rare in both hoards (Hoxne has just 5 examples) and as single finds. They can be separated from the siliquae due to their size and weight (up to c.1.5g), but also the types represented and the mintmarks on the coins themselves. Whether they functioned as currency in the same way as the other silver denominations of this period is unclear and it is possible they had a more donative or ceremonial function (see R. Bland, 2010: p. 206). The first example of a very rare anonymous issue from the House of Constantine (BERK-4AF264) recorded in Britain appeared on the PAS database in 2014. To date, this is exceptional within the PAS data and the remaining examples all belong in the period from c.AD 367-402. A good starting point for these fractional siliquae is the articles by S. Bendall and R. Bland but there is also brief discussion of the type in P. Guest’s Hoxne volume (Guest, 2005: pp.
44-45).

Only one coin has been identified on the PAS as a half siliqua with full legends on obverse and reverse attributed to a specific ruler (HAMP-03C5B0), although there are examples from hoards. It carries a Victory reverse type with the legend VICTORIA AVGG – the Victory type is the most typical for the smaller denominations, although there are other known examples too. Note that on this coin the mintmark is shortened to just MD for Milan rather than MDPS. In his analysis of Hoxne, Guest (2005: pp. 44-45) noted how it was originally assumed that the lack of PS in the mintmark would mean these types were not struck from the refined silver of the siliquae. However, examination of the metallurgy suggested this was not the case and they are struck from good silver. The remaining three coins belong to a group of anonymous half siliquae that distinctively do not display the name of the ruler, simply a vota reverse legend and mintmark. Roger Bland’s
(2010) analysis of anonymous half siliquae notes that the vota reverse may be significant in terms of dating these issues, potentially linking it to the 10th anniversary of Theodosius I (c.
AD 388-389) or the 10th anniversary of Arcadius (and 15th of Theodosius, c. AD 392-393). He suggests the second of these is perhaps most likely, but their precise date of issue or reason for issue is still not entirely certain. This type is issued from the two mints of Trier and Aquileia. At Trier the obverse has a helmeted bust of Roma left, while the reverse contains either an X or XV within a wreath. In contrast, coins from Aquileia have the bust facing right and with the vota XV. One coin of this type, from Trier, was identified in Hoxne (Hoxne no. 759) and a nice example appeared in a hoard from Somerset in 2010 (SOM-6E89B0), but these are still not common coins (see this search for all examples on the PAS database).

Coin Relief – Issue Eight

Here is the next edition in a series of blog posts written by Dr. Sam Moorhead and Dr. Andrew Brown, the PAS Finds Advisers for Roman and Iron Age coins.

The Siliqua

In c.AD 323-325 Constantine I reintroduced silver coinage that experienced widespread usage throughout the 4th and into the 5th centuries AD. The smaller of two silver coin types, initially struck at about 3.1g. is commonly known as a siliqua. This is a modern numismatic term that relates to the ancient unit of weight in gold of the carat – c.0.19g. The name is adopted from the seed of the carob tree (Siliqua Graeca) to relate to the smallest weight in the Roman system. In reality, the original name for this denomination is unclear and siliqua is used as convention rather than based on any historical truth.

As we have already seen with the coinage of Julian, the weight of the siliqua was reduced in c.AD 357 to a coin of about 2g. In RIC the lighter coins from after this reform are termed reduced siliquae, although this is again a modern numismatic
convention. Throughout this piece I will use the term siliqua in reference to these small silver coins – the majority are later 4th century in date and the few recorded pre-AD 357 coins on the PAS are in any case hugely rare in Britain! A second reform to the siliqua occurred during the Valentinian period, c.AD 366, that refined the purity of the silver content, after which the letters PS (pusulatum) appear in mintmarks to indicate the reformed silver
denomination.

There are 2,311 siliqua recorded to date on the PAS, covering the period from the c.AD 330s until the early-5th century AD. A study of these coins up until 2010 by R. Bland, S. Moorhead, and P. Walton is a key contribution to understanding siliquae recorded as single finds in Britain. The current piece covers the coins currently on the PAS from Reece Periods 17-22, c.AD 330-445, with an additional decade of recorded material. This is by no means a
comprehensive re-working of Bland, Moorhead, and Walton – there are many database records that require further work and refinement – but I have attempted to provide an overview of the volume of material for each period by emperor, mint, and distribution, as well as some of the key reverse types that might appear during recording.

Siliquae are not uncommon finds, appearing notably in the rural British landscape in the late 4th century. They experience increased copying (both plated and of good quality silver) in the
last few decades of the century and by the 5th century experience extensive clipping of the flan (see below). They are also hoarded, sometimes in large number, perhaps most notably in the Hoxne hoard – discovered in a Suffolk field in 1992 and containing 14,565 siliquae, both regular and irregular.

Reece Period 17: AD 330-348

Siliqua of Constantine II, c. AD337-340. Record ID: FASAM-B403E1 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Siliquae from prior to the weight reduction of c.AD 357 are rare as single finds in Britain and indeed there was only a single example of Constantius II within the Hoxne hoard (Hoxne no.
81). A total of 13 coins have so far been identified within the PAS material that belong in Reece Period 17 running up to AD 348. All are of the sons of Constantine, with Constantius II (AD 323-361) the most prolific (seven coins) amongst a very small total. These early fullweight coins appear to have been removed from circulation relatively quickly and they only appear in very small quantity in hoarded assemblages. As might be expected, the Gallic mints are best represented with seven coins in total (5 from the mint of Trier and 2 from Arles), with just single examples from Rome, Siscia, and Constantinople. None of the coins from this period on the PAS appear clipped and all that have been imaged appear to be regular issues of the official mints. This is currently the earliest siliqua on the PAS, struck not long after the introduction of the denomination in the AD 320s. 

This is currently the earliest siliqua on the PAS, struck not long after the introduction of the denomination in the AD 320s. Odd single examples of types from the AD 340s are recorded for Constantine II and Constantius II, however the most frequently seen reverse type for this period is VICTORIA DD NN AVGG depicting Victory advancing left holding wreath and palm – there are 9 examples currently identified on the PAS, such as CAM-4FAB91 and BERK-A6C946.

Reece Period 18: AD 348-364

Siliqua of Constantius II dating to c.AD 353-355. Record ID is SUR-8F6F7A (Copyright: Surrey County Council, License: CC-BY).

In contrast to the preceding period, Reece Period 18 sees a sudden increase in the volume of siliquae seen and recorded through the PAS. Almost without exception these post-date the reduction in weight of the siliqua between c.AD 355-357, the majority of coins issued by Constantius II (212 coins) and Julian (as both caesar and augustus – 550 coins), with smaller totals for Jovian (28 coins). A single siliqua is so far known for Magnentius, which pre-dates the weight reduction (BERK-3722F9). This is perhaps not unexpected, since the siliqua was produced in far greater quantity after c.AD 355 and in fact it is in Reece Period 18 that we see the largest totals of any period in Britain. The Gallic mints of Trier, Lyon, and Arles make up all but 12 of the so-far identified examples on the PAS, Arles alone comprising 43% of the total. Of this number, at least 90 coins are probably contemporary copies (the majority plated) and of those records with images (575 coins) at least 130 (c.22%) show some evidence of clipping.

There are only a handful of Reece Period 18 siliquae that are of the heavier pre-AD 357 weight standard, including the sole example of Magnentius on the PAS. At Lyon the Victory type of Reece Period 17 continues on the reduced weight standard, with almost 50 PAS examples (IOW-B45BF0), but the majority of siliquae from this period have reverses with vota legends within wreaths celebrating the anniversaries of Constantius, Julian, and Jovian (BERK-DDABD3 and GLO-9E8F6A).

Reece Period 19 – AD 364-378

Siliqua of Valentinian I dating to AD 364-375. Record ID is SUR-1025E2 (Copyright: Surrey County Council, License: CC-BY).

The Valentinian period (Reece Period 19) sees a continuation of quite large numbers of siliquae in use, albeit reduced from the initial burst of activity at the end of the Constantinian period. Valens followed by Valentinian I appear most frequently and it is the two VRBS ROMA issues with reverse depicting Roma seated left on a throne or cuirass from the mint of Trier that is by far the most common type, comprising more than 200 examples (see below). Trier is the dominant mint in this period – a feature also noted in the Hoxne coins and after c.AD 366 we see the addition of the letters PS (pusulatum) on mintmarks to indicate the
official improvement of the silver content (e.g. TRPS at Trier or MDPS at Milan). Within the PAS data the western mints are again prolific, although it is worth noting that eastern mint coins do still appear, notably for Valentinian I, albeit in smaller quantity. Copies are more limited in number (c.40 coins) but now approximately 40% of the regular coins demonstrate some evidence for clipping.

Lyon and Arles struck short issues with the RESTITVTOR REIP (‘Restorer of the State’) reverse type for Valentinian and Valens between AD 364-367 (at least 110 PAS examples). There are also small numbers of coins with vota legends, notably from Rome (WILT-7B8A43) as well as a Victory type for Valentinian II following his father’s death in AD 375. A large proportion of the coins from this period relate to the two VRBS ROMA issues from Trier. Trier was by this time the principal mint in Gaul striking silver, exclusively so by the end of the period (silver disappears at Arles and Lyon between AD 375-378). The first VRBS ROMA issue, struck between AD 367-375, depicts Roma seated left on a throne. A second VRBS ROMA issue was struck following Valentinian’s death in AD 375 but this time Roma is seated on a cuirass. The diagnostic details are explored in RIC and Hoxne and these should be your reference when recording coins of this period.

Reece Period 20: AD 378-388

Siliqua of Theodosius I dating to AD 379-83. Record ID is HAMP-8F4137 (Copyright: Winchester Museums Service, License: CC-BY).

Following Valens’ death in AD 378, Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II ruled as augusti. Magnus Maximus’ usurpation against the augustus in the west, Gratian, in AD 383 led to the former assuming power with his son Flavius Victor and issuing siliquae from Trier, Aquileia, and (after AD 387) Milan in his and the names of the other two augusti between AD 383-388. Gratian was killed during Maximus’ rise to power in AD 383 and so his
coinages disappear at this time; a 6-year-old Arcadius had been elevated to augustus by his father, Theodosius I, at the start of that year. 

Trier is the dominant mint again, particularly during the period of Maximus’ usurpation, followed by the Italian mints of Milan and Aquileia. The output from the mints of
Lyon and Rome was smaller at this time and this is reflected in the very few PAS examples from each. Although there are even fewer copies during this period, clipping increases again
to almost 50% of the total.

Until Maximus’ usurpation, a CONCORDIA AVGGG reverse type was struck for Theodosius I (HAMP-8F4137), a VICTORIA AVGGG type for Valentinian II (YORYM-754EAF), and a VIRTVS ROMANORVM type for Gratian (SUSS-D0CCA4) as specific reverses for each emperor. At Lyon and Rome the VRBS ROMA types seen in Reece Period 19 continue – with cuirass at Lyon and with throne at Rome, the former only running until AD 383, not striking silver under Maximus.  The VIRTVS ROMANORVM type, specific to Gratian to begin with, extends to all of the emperors and the mints of Trier, Lyon, Aquileia, and Milan from the period of usurpation onward (DEV-A02090). This type accounts for over 170 of the PAS examples from this period (c.65%). There are many minor variants within and between the mints – the Hoxne catalogue is by far the best source for this issue.

Reece Period 21: AD 388-402

Siliqua of Arcadius dating to AD 388-402. Record ID is WILT-7B0682 (Copyright: WILT-7B0682, License: CC-BY).

After Maximus’ usurpation was ended, Valentinian II was restored as ruler in the west with Thoeodius and Arcadius in the east. Valentinian’s suicide in AD 392 resulted in a second period of usurpation, by Eugenius (between AD 392-394) and Theodosius’ elevation of his second son, Honorius, to augustus in AD 393. Theodosius’ death in AD 395 ultimately left the empire ruled by Arcadius in the east and Honorius in the west.

By AD 388 the mint at Aquileia had disappeared and although Trier and Lyon struck silver in some quantity – the latter particularly during Eugenius’ usurpation – both ceased operation
by AD 395. Milan became the main source for siliquae after this period until it too closed in AD 402. The majority of siliquae recorded on the PAS from this period are from Milan (c.62%) and many demonstrate extensive clipping – at least 70% of examples have some evidence of clipping (see below). Copies are again prevalent (c.50 coins) and many of these are also clipped.

Trier and Lyon strike VRBS ROMA issues similar to Reece Period 20 with Roma seated on a cuirass (WILT-7B0682), at Lyon this is also struck for Eugenius, while at Milan there are vota issues for the augusti (GLO-1E37D9). The most prevalent reverse type in this period, however, is VIRTVS ROMANORVM (PUBLIC-EC8194 and WILT-10C298) with a similar type to the VRBS ROMA issue, depicting Roma seated left on a cuirass, struck at Trier and then (after c.AD 397) Milan. This accounts for well over 80% of the recorded siliquae on the PAS from Reece Period 21 (in Hoxne, Guest (2005, p. 74) notes that the second Milan VIRTVS ROMANORVM issue makes up just under a third of the entire hoard, more than 4,600 coins). Coins from both mints are very similar, but there are stylistic differences to both obverse and reverse type that allow for identification even on very clipped coins – Hoxne is again the best source for this.

Reece Period 22: AD 402-445

Siliqua of Constantine III dating to c.AD 407-408. Record ID is SF-DAC220 (Copyright: Suffolk County Council, License: CC-BY).

The closing of the mint at Milan in AD 402 effectively stopped the supply of siliquae to the western provinces and particularly Britannia. Silver was now issued in small quantity by the
imperial court, but it did not extend far – there are only 8 coins of this period in the Hoxne hoard (whose terminal coins date to c. AD 407/408).

By AD 402 the British garrisons had been stripped and withdrawal of Roman interest in the province was in full swing. With renewed threat from Gaul, a new usurper was elected in
Britain, Constantine III (AD 407-411), who proceeded to face the challenge head on and took what remained of the British armies across the channel. In Rome, the Visigothic invasion had pushed Honorius to Ravenna and in AD 410 Rome was sacked by Alaric. If we are to believe Zosimus, the Roman administration in Britain had already been expelled by this time, perhaps in AD 409. Although Constantine was tolerated for a time by Honorius (who had his own problems to deal with!), this didn’t last long and he was executed in AD 411 after defeat at Arles.

For a brief period of time Constantine struck siliquae at Lyon but in relatively small quantity. Only two examples are recorded in Hoxne and there is just one, incomplete, coin on the PAS
(SF-DAC220). These very rare siliquae have a reverse type reading VICTORIA AAAVGGGG, references four augusti (Honorius, Arcadius, Theodosius II, and Constantine III) and date the issue to before Arcadius’ death in AD 408 (se Guest, 2005: p. 76).

Clipping

The phenomenon of clipping silver siliquae is a characteristic, and specifically British, phenomenon at the end of the 4th century and into the 5th century AD. Small quantities of the
edge of the coin flan are removed while respecting the imperial portrait, thereby seemingly enabling the original coin to remain in circulation. In his study of the Hoxne hoard, P. Guest (2005: chapter 7) explored the phenomenon at length and highlighted the various ‘clipping factors’ evident on the coins within the hoard in order to analyse the development of the phenomenon through time. In the image below examples of several PAS coins (regular and irregular!) demonstrate these various levels of clipping.

“Clipping factor” of Roman siliquae, after Guest, 2005: p.111, fig. 7.

When clipping occurred has been a subject of discussion8
. It appears to have been a 5th century phenomenon related to the cessation of supply to Britain after AD 402 and many hoards of this and slightly later date, like Hoxne, have extensive quantities of clipped siliquae. Siliquae hoards from Terling (c.AD 404) and Stanchester (c.AD 406) are unclipped and suggest that clipping began after this date and plausibly after Constantine III’s rise to power. Interestingly, a hoard of clipped siliquae found in the Pyrenees is perhaps evidence of Constantine’s army in Gaul after AD 407. The silver from clipping may well have been used
either as bullion or to top up the currency in circulation after the regular supply ceases in AD 402 (see Abdy, 2013; Guest, 2005). This may have continued for some time after AD 402 with clipped regular coins and copies circulating together, some copies even subject to clipping themselves (IOW-E24202).

Copies of siliquae appear as early as Reece Period 18 when the majority are plated. After the Valentinian reform to the silver, copies tend to be good quality silver and later also the subject of clipping. By the 5th century it may be that clipping was semi- if not an official process in Britain due to the lack of coin supply.10 Whichever may have been the case, it is apparent that towards the end of the 4th century and into the 5th clipping increases. Analysis of the PAS data by R. Bland, S. Moorhead, and P. Walton in 2013 demonstrated that the quantity of clipping increased from c.25% in Reece Period 19 to 40% (Reece Period 19), 55% (Reece Period 20), and finally 77% (Reece Period 21). A brief analysis of current PAS records in the figure below shows that this general trend has been maintained, with clipping becoming increasingly common on coins produced later in the 4th century.

Overview of clipping on coins recorded through the PAS.

This, I hope, provides a brief introduction to this commonest of 4
th century silver types. There is much detail for the wide variety of individual types produced during the 4th century that cannot be looked at in detail here. The Hoxne volume is vital in this regard, although RIC remains important too. When recording these coins through the PAS it is important to note whether the coin is clipped or not, the more this data is recorded the more we can add to the hoard evidence and understand the use and circulation of these coins in the 4th and 5th centuries AD.

Coin Relief – Issue Seven

Welcome to the seventh 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. In this special edition, Andrew reflects on what all of the numismatic information on the database can tell us about Roman coinage in Britain.

What does it all mean?

Our Daily Coin Relief blogs until now have focussed specifically on the numismatic details of the coins themselves and their position against the backdrop of Roman history. The mass of information that has been gleaned from individual coins recorded through the PAS in the last two decades is remarkable. New coin types and variants of known types have emerged on an almost yearly basis and the PAS database now represents the largest dataset of its kind anywhere in the world. The question that springs to mind, though, is what does this all mean? It’s all very well having hundreds of thousands of objects, but what is this telling us about Roman coinage in Britain?

I thought it might be useful to take stock slightly in this edition and have a brief look at what the data contained within the PAS material is beginning to tell us. This will be an introductory, high level look at the Roman data to give a flavour of what the database contains and what we can do with it. There is much work to do on the minutiae of the individual coins, but we can begin to interpret what is already present on the PAS database. This is in large part thanks to both the willingness of finders to record and the hard work of Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs), volunteers, interns, and public recorders in physically recording the material through the PAS.

Figure 1: All Roman coins on the PAS database up to May 2020.

Some high-level statistics

By the end of 2005, there were just over 34,000 Roman coins recorded through the PAS (Fig.2). Since then, extensive reporting and recording has resulted in a huge increase in the volume of material seen within England and Wales so that by 2020 there are over 320,000 Roman coins on the PAS database covering almost every part of the country (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Roman coins recorded through the PAS: Left – up to the end of 2005 (blue dots); Right – up to the end of 2019 (red dots, with the material up to 2005 in blue superimposed)

As of today (May 12th 2020), the database holds details of 323,741 Roman coins contained within 291,991 database records – the largest group from the more than 500,000 coins on the PAS and the largest single category of object nationally. Every year between 10-20,000 new records are created and, thanks in no small measure to the work put in by Sam to encourage all Roman coins to be recorded, this means that it is not just the really spectacular that is recorded but more often than not the corroded, worn, and bashed around ‘grots’ that form the majority! This dataset also includes over 52,000 coins imported from the Welsh IARCW (Iron Age and Roman Coin finds from Wales)[1] project in 2010 – an excellent resource but complicated somewhat on the PAS database due to its mix of single finds, excavated site finds, and hoard coins. Indeed, you will have noticed that Sam and I sometimes exclude the IARCW data from searches because of this complicating factor, particularly so for more statistical surveys like this where the Welsh data tends to skew the results.

To the single finds we can also add hoard groups, recently subject to comprehensive examination by a joint AHRC funded British Museum and University of Leicester project exploring patterns of hoarding, deposition and the landscape setting of hoarded material within Britain.[2] The known hoard assemblages have been integrated with the PAS database, under the prefix IARCH, with nearly 3,000 Roman examples recorded to date.

This is a lot of data to break down in a sensible way! However, even at a very basic level, a glance at the individual coins as dots on a map (Fig. 1) reveals some distinct features. For example, there are very obvious absences of Roman coins in some parts of the country – notably the urban landscapes of the Midlands, the north west, and London, affected by the modern landscape which prevents the recovery of archaeological material. Equally, the national parks (e.g. Exmoor, Peak District, Lake District, North York Moors, etc.) are blank spots due to restrictions on metal detecting in these areas. In contrast, there are also some features that appear to be genuine reflections of the ancient landscape. Notable is the seeming paucity of coins running between Kent and Sussex – this is in fact the location of an ancient woodland, the Andredes Weald. However, perhaps even starker is the very clear dividing line between the north east and north west of England running along the Pennines (Fig. 3).

IFigureeeeFigure 3: Roman coinage in the north of England represented on the PAS.

Analysis of the coin assemblages from these regions indicates that the relatively small quantity of coinage in the north west (PAS coins from Cumbria, Cheshire, and Lancashire total 2,272 database records) contains comparatively more early Roman coins by percentage and therefore likely related to early Roman military activity. In contrast, the much large number of Roman coins recorded in the north east (PAS totals from Yorkshire number 16,817 database records), particularly those of late Roman date, points to this region experiencing extensive rural activity in the late Roman period (we’ll come back to this in passing below). Already at this very high level of analysis the extensive data contained within the PAS is demonstrating features of the Roman landscape that are only visible through our ability to fully record and map the material.

We can perhaps break this down a little further and consider the Roman coinage by modern parish and look at the volume of finds for each parish in England as of end of 2018 (I’m excluding the Welsh data here as the IARCW material introduces huge biases) (Table 1).

Table 1: PAS Roman coins by parish (up to end 2018).

Although this table needs updating to take into account the material from 2019-2020, what it shows at a glance is the huge impact recording has on our knowledge of the Roman landscape. Most striking are the parishes with greater than 500 or 1,000 coins, the latter almost three times the number recorded in 2011. Many of these sites, particularly those with smaller numbers at present, would have been otherwise unknown.

If this data is in turn plotted visually (Fig. 4), we can begin to see where the concentrations of material are to be found nationally. Traditional interpretations of the Roman landscape often highlight early military and urban activity, notably in the west and north. However, what we can clearly see simply by plotting those parishes where more than 20 Roman coins have been reported is that there is extensive activity in the rural areas of England. This is especially so in the south west, East Anglia, Lincolnshire, and Yorkshire – a distribution pattern that until relatively recently would have been unheard of. The band of material running south west to east appears to reflect intensive late Roman activity, likely in relation to the rural landscape and economy (see Fig. 15 below). One important point to note, too, is that in his study of 140 Roman sites (see below), Roman numismatist Richard Reece suggested that coin use was extremely limited in the east of England (Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire). What the PAS data demonstrates immediately is that this was far from the case!

Figure 4: Map of England with parishes recording more than 20 PAS coins plotted. Darker blue parishes are 20 coins, moving to bright green with more than 1,000. The heat map beneath demonstrates at a schematic level the concentrations of coins generally (as of end of 2018).

Of course, one thing this map does not take into account is the internal breakdown of the coinage by type or period. Equally, the high concentrations of finds from places like Wiltshire and East Anglia also reflect the accessibility to the modern arable landscape by metal detectorists (and the resultant larger numbers of finds). We’ll come back to this a little below.

Applied numismatics

Although the growth of the PAS database provides a huge volume of material, this also means that at times finding an individual coin, particularly one that is of a relatively standard type or is poorly preserved, becomes more of a challenge. When explored in its entirety, though, this data can give us a different insight into coin use and loss within the province of Britannia and begin to resolve some of the issues noted above with regard to biases in the dataset and the refinement of distributions (e.g. by period, coin type, etc.). This is an important point to note – we are dealing with coin loss around the province, which will be affected by a number of factors both ancient and modern. By recording the full range of material that is being found (not just the nice silver and gold!) we can begin to see a bigger picture and start to interpret what this might mean locally, regionally, or nationally, on top of the vital numismatic detail provided by the individual coins.

The last few decades witnessed extensive work on Roman coinage in Britain and the various potential methods to interpret it, notably by the likes of numismatists John Casey[3], Richard Reece[4], and more recently by Sam Moorhead[5] and Philippa Walton[6]. The application of approaches that are more archaeological and interpretive in nature to large coin datasets – ‘applied numismatics’ – rather than purely numismatic has meant we can begin to look at large assemblages of coins on individual sites (or indeed larger areas) and elucidate key pieces of information about site usage, character, and longevity.

Reece’s work has been particularly significant in this regard. He divided Roman Britain into 21 distinct chronological periods (Fig. 5) – Reece Periods – based on the development of Roman coinage. By doing this he was able to drop individual coins into their correct period and therefore compare individual sites to one another based on the frequency of coins from one or other period. This approach was exemplified in his 1991 study looking at 140 sites from Roman Britain, the results of which suggest, for example, that sites with peaks of early Roman coinage are likely related to Roman military activity, sites with more radiate coinage from Reece Periods 13 and 14 (c.AD 260-296) may reflect more urban activity, and sites with extensive 4th century nummus coinage likely demonstrate rural activity within the landscape.

Figure 5: Reece periods as defined by Richard Reece.

The PAS database allows us to attach a Reece Period to an individual coin so that, even when worn beyond being able to identify an individual ruler or coin type, we can very often place it within its correct Reece Period. This in turn enables comparison with other Roman material both at a local level and nationally. By looking at the PAS dataset as a whole we can create a PAS ‘mean’, an average of the coins on the database with an associated Reece Period that demonstrates the peaks and troughs of coin loss within the Province (Fig. 6). It should be noted that this analysis uses per mill (per 1,000) rather than percent to help avoid discrepancies when comparing sites with potentially widely varied numbers of coins.

Figure 6: The PAS ‘Mean’ based on Roman coins recorded through the PAS with associated Reece Period data up to May 2020. The PAS ‘Mean’ based on Roman coins recorded through the PAS with associated Reece Period data up to May 2020. 

What this graph demonstrates is that the PAS assemblage has very distinct peaks in the late Roman periods, notably Reece Periods 13 and 14, then again in Reece Periods 17 and 19, whereas the early material is comparatively poorly represented. The coins from Reece Periods 17 and 19 in particular demonstrates the very ‘rural’ nature of the PAS dataset, in part reflecting what we have seen in Fig. 4 and the distribution of coin finds nationally.

Once we have this national PAS mean, we can then use it to compare individual sites or regions to see where they deviate and therefore what this might tell us about that specific site or landscape. As noted above, peaks in Reece Periods 13 and 14 tend to be associated with urban activity, whereas the later peaks in Reece Periods 17 and 19 are typically linked to the development of the Roman rural landscape. If a site, therefore has a peak in one or other (or indeed an early peak linked to Roman military activity) this helps characterise its nature.

Some preliminary examples

At a very basic level, applying Reece Period to analysis to PAS coin assemblages is a quick and relatively straightforward way to characterise our dataset. If nothing else, thinking about how an assemblage is formed helps to understand an individual site and its position within the landscape. It can also aid in highlighting oddities and/or discrepancies in the data! At a national level we can also look at the spread of, for example, early Roman coinage to demonstrate those areas most affected by early Roman activity and what this might in turn tell us about the province.

Beginning with this national perspective some interesting results can be gained simply by grouping the coins by broad periods. Taken as a whole, if we plot all PAS coins to date by modern administrative district (county, unitary authority, etc.) the result we get in Fig. 7 demonstrates what at first glance seems like a huge area of Roman activity particularly in Norfolk and Suffolk, as well as Hampshire, Lincolnshire, Wiltshire, and Yorkshire.

Figure 7: PAS coins by modern administrative district excluding the IARCW data (c.271,000 coins). Greater density is demonstrated by darker reds.

This is reflected in a similar way if we look at the volume of Roman coins recorded by individual FLO region (Fig. 8). Again, the concentrations are in south west, East Anglia, Lincolnshire, and Yorkshire. What this initially seems to suggest is that, while you are certainly more likely to find and record a Roman coin in these regions, that Roman activity was most intensive here. However, we can begin to get slightly different perspectives if we interpret the coin data in different ways.

Figure 8: Roman coins recorded through the PAS by FLO region as percentages of the total number of PAS Roman coins.

The distribution changes dramatically if we consider the number of Roman coins as a percentage of the total number of Roman objects (coins and everything else!) recorded by each FLO region (Fig. 9).

Figure 9: Roman coins by FLO region as a percentage of the total number of Roman objects recorded.

Now we see the concentrations shift, most notably moving away from East Anglia to regions like Devon, which exhibit a higher percentage of coins amongst the Roman material reported. If you are recording finds in these regions, this means you’re more likely to see Roman coins – surely a win for everyone?!

This is all well and good, but what we are really seeing here is a reflection of the processes of recovery and recording. The large volumes of material from the east of England, for example, mean that there are always going to be larger numbers of Roman coins in these areas. Thinking about some of the approaches noted above using Reece Period analysis to refine this dataset slightly, is it possible to reveal a little more detail that is more pertinent to the ancient Roman landscape?

If I take the three broad groupings noted above – ‘Early Roman’ coinage (Reece Periods 1-11), Radiate coinages (Reece Periods 12-14), and nummi (Reece Periods 15-21) – to roughly correspond to early military(?) activity, urban activity with the radiates, and rural activity with the nummi, we get some interesting results.  Plotted as simple quantities (by modern administrative district) the image is almost identical for each and this reflects where we see the most material found and reported nationally (Figs 10-12). Not essentially that helpful in interpreting the Roman landscape other than to highlight where we might expect the largest number of finds.

Figure 10: ‘Early’ Roman coinage on the PAS, Reece Periods 1-11.
Radiate coinages (left; Reece Periods 12-14) and nummi (right; Reece Periods 15-21) recorded through the PAS.

However, if we look at this data proportionally as percentages of the total within each administrative district a very different picture emerges (Figs. 13-15).  For the early period, the shift is remarkable. The areas with the highest percentages of early coin types are in the far south west – Cornwall and Devon – the west of England, Wales, and up into the north west. East Anglia is comparatively poorly represented. It is notable, too, that the regions with the highest percentages in this instance are also those that are affected in particular by early (and in some cases extended) Roman military and urban activity. It might therefore be expected to some extent for these regions to exhibit higher volumes of early material.

Figure 13: ‘Early’ coinage on the PAS (Reece Periods 1-11) by percentage.

In the radiate period of the 3rd century, the picture again shifts. The south and south east are proportionally better represented by this stage, but there are still noticeable concentrations in the south and west, albeit on a more restricted scale than in the previous period.

Figure 14: Radiates (Reece Periods 12-14) on the PAS by percentage.

In the Late Roman period of the 4th century we can clearly see a band of material running from Wiltshire east and north to East Anglia, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. This reflects similar conclusions reached by Philippa Walton (2012) in her study of the numismatic data for Roman Britain and correlates with the sudden growth of the rural landscape during the 4th century AD. What we are seeing by separating the material in this way, even with three very rough, broad periods, is not only the shift in coin distribution but also in patterns of Roman coin loss and by extension potentially the changing use (or at least focus) of the landscape during the Roman period.

Figure 15: Nummi (Reece Periods 15-21) recorded through the PAS by percentage.

Although this is a very cursory glance at three quite broad periods, the same principles can be applied to individual sites, landscapes, and the national picture, to produce some very interesting and emerging data. Recent work completed by Sam and I on the Roman coinage of Devon[7] as part of a collaborative project with the University of Exeter, for example, has allowed us to apply these same methods to a wider region. Here, we have been able to compare, for example, the coins from Devon to those of Cornwall by Reece Period (Fig. 16), highlighting that the two are quite different in their coin use and loss during the Roman period – Cornwall is much better represented in the early Roman period and Devon in the late. Similarly, we have been able to compare the data from individual sites and areas within the county to demonstrate the development of the Roman landscape here as demonstrated by its coinage. More to follow on this in due course!

Figure 16: The Roman coinages of Cornwall and Devon on the PAS by Reece Period (per mill).

You will have no doubt also seen the maps that Sam and I have used at various times to demonstrate the distribution of different coin types or periods represented within the PAS data. This is the next stage of analysis that I am working on slowly at the moment, looking at how the coinage relates to the landscape as much as modern administrative districts. Hopefully, by looking at the breakdown of material by Reece Period or coin type we can begin to refine some of the broad patterns noted above.

Of course, all of this is entirely dependent on the fantastic work being carried out in reporting and recording the coins on the PAS database! It really is important that in doing so Reece Periods are attached to the coin records where possible. As I mentioned above, with more than 320,000 coins it can be very difficult to work the data into a meaningful output (at least, in a short space of time!), but by attaching this all important data we can relatively quickly interpret the material – sometimes even with maps like the above!

This has been only a very small foray into a vast topic. In a later edition I hope to come back to it again and perhaps look at one or two examples in greater detail of how we can use the PAS data to explore individual sites within their landscapes. In the meantime, keep doing what you are doing in terms of recording the material – and don’t forget the Reece Period!

References and further reading:

[1] P. Guest and N. Wells, Iron Age and Roman Coins from Wales, (Moneta 66), 2007

[2] R. Bland, A. Chadwick, E. Ghey, C. Haselgrove, D. Mattingly, Iron Age and Roman Coin Hoards in Britain Oxbow, 2020.

[3] See for example Casey, Understanding Ancient Coins: An introduction for Archaeologists and Historians, London, 1986; J. Casey ‘The interpretation of Romano-British site finds’ in J. Casey and R. Reece Coins and the Archaeologist, 1974.

[4] Multiple contributions, notably R. Reece, Coinage in Roman Britain, 1987; R. Reece Roman Coins from 140 Sites in Britain (Cotswold Studies vol. IV), 1991; R. Reece, The Coinage of Roman Britain, 2002; R. Reece, Roman Coins and Archaeology: Collected Papers (Moneta 32), 2003.

[5] See for example S. Moorhead ‘Roman coin finds from Wiltshire’ in P. Ellis ed. Roman Wiltshire and After, 2011; S. Moorhead, A History of Roman Coinage in Britain, 2013; with P. Walton: S. Moorhead and P. Walton ‘Roman Coins recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme: A Summary’ Britannia 42, 2013; S. Moorhead and P. Walton, ‘Coinage at the end of Roman Britain’ in F.K.Haarer et. al AD 410: The History and Archaeology of Late and Post-Roman Britain, 2016; S. Moorhead and P. Walton ‘Coinage and the Economy’ in TheOxford Handbook of Roman Britain, 2016; S. Moorhead and P. Walton ‘Coinage and Collapse? The contribution of numismatic data to understanding the end of Roman Britain’ Internet Archaeology 41: http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue41/index.html

[6] See notably P. Walton Rethinking Roman Britain: Coinage and Archaeology, (Moneta 137), 2012; See also above contributions with Sam Moorhead.

[7] A. Brown and S. Moorhead ‘The Roman Coins from Exeter and its Hinterland’ in S. Rippon ed. Exeter: A Place in Time (Forthcoming, 2020)

Coin Relief – Issue Six

Welcome to the sixth 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.

Magnentius and Decentius, c. AD 350-353

The western Roman empire by AD 348 had been placed under the control of Constans, his brother Constantius II controlling the east. Constans’ rule, however, was met with increasing discontent and on the 18th January AD 350 his commander of the Jovian and Herculian legions (what had been the Praetorian Guards), Flavius Magnus Magnentius, appeared at a celebration dressed in imperial robes and was declared emperor. Constans fled to the foothills of the Pyrenees, but was chased to Helenae (Elne), captured, and then murdered with Magnentius seizing power. Magnentius is said to have been born at or near Ambianum (Amiens) and possibly of a British father and Frankish mother. He
was an experienced soldier and upon usurping Constans sought to establish his own rule in the western half of the empire, quickly gaining the support of many provinces including Britannia. Brief resistance was met by Vetranio in Illyria and Nepotian in Rome (see below), but although Magnentius attempted to create an alliance of sorts, or at least recognition of his position, with Constantius, the bigger threat to Magnentius (and his eventual downfall) was ultimately with the emperor in the east.

In AD 351 Constantius elevated Gallus to caesar (15th March 351) and Magnentius in turn promoted his brother, Magnus Decentius, to caesar in the west. On the 28th of September AD 351 the armies of Constantius and Magnentius met on the battlefield at Mursa (Croatia) in a bloody episode that saw more than 50,000 dead and forced Magnentius to retreat to the western provinces and take stock. Magnentius maintained control over Gaul, but he was soon
forced to withdraw from the parts of northern Italy he had previously gained (notably mints at Rome and Aquileia). Decentius for his part was positioned probably in Trier. This was not to last, though. In the summer of AD 353, Constantius pushed back and in the decisive Battle of Mons Seleucus (France) Magnentius was defeated, retreating to Lyon where he was besieged by Constantius’ forces before committing suicide on the 11th of August. News of his suicide reached Decentius who, possibly now ejected from Trier (see below), followed suit a few
days later. The brief period of usurpation was over by August AD 353.

The coinage of Magnentius and Decentius on the PAS is relatively common, with over 3,500 recorded examples. The standard references for recording these types should be RIC VIII or LRBC, although the study by P. Bastien of Magnentius coinage is significant.

Gold coinage

After the introduction of the solidus by Constantine I in c.AD 309-310 gold coinage reappears amongst Roman coin finds in Britain. By the AD 350s, when Magnentius and Decentius usurp power, solidi are still rare, only really being found in any volume later in the 4th century (and notably in hoarded assemblages, such as Hoxne). R. Bland and X. Loriot identified just eight British finds of Magnentian solidi, to which we can add two PAS examples, one struck at Trier from the Isle of Wight and the other an issue of the
Aquileia mint from Suffolk (see images above, both copyright Portable Antiquities Scheme, License CC-BY). These remain extremely rare coins.

Silver coinage

Silver siliqua of Magnentius dating to AD 350. Record ID is BERK-3722F9 (Copyright: Trustees of the British Museum, License: CC-BY).

Although both silver denominations, the miliarensis and siliqua, were struck for Magnentius and Decentius these are extremely rare as single finds. There is just one PAS example for Magnentius  and none for Decentius – fewer coins than for the gold issues!

Bronze coinage

Bronze nummus of Magnentius dating to c.AD 352-353, with Christian symbolism on the reverse. Record ID is BUC-D15D97 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

The bronze coinages of Magnentius and Decentius are interesting in a number of ways, not least their introduction of some completely new types and the first extensive use of overt
Christian symbolism on some reverse types. Coins were struck at the western mints of Amiens – possibly Magnentius’ birthplace and opened by him by c.AD 350 – Trier, Lyon, and Arles and until Magnentius lost Italy in September AD 352 also in Rome and Aquileia.

The coinage of Julian the Apostate, c.ad 355-363

Portrait of Julian on a silver siliqua, YORYM-1BE09C (Copyright: York Museums Trust, License: CC-BY).

The death of Constantine I in AD 337 prompted turmoil and, at the hands of Constantius II, the massacre of many of Constantine’s extended family while Constantius and his
brothers secured their position within the empire. Born in 
c.AD 332, Flavius Claudius Julianus along with his brother, Gallus, survived the purge (perhaps with some help from the Empress Eusebia) due to their young age. As we will see below, he was removed from public life, but given an extensive education in Asia Minor and Greece that allowed him to learn about philosophy, particularly Neoplatonism, and eventually shun the Church in an attempt to revive paganism within the empire. He also grew a beard! This earned him the name ‘Apostate’. But he was more than just a pagan. He was a philosopher, a writer, a
military commander, and in his brief reign sought to bring
change to the empire. His pagan revival was ultimately not
successful, but it is curious to note that upon his death in June AD 363 the Constantinian dynasty, so rooted in its Christian ideals, also came to an end.

Coinage of Julian is relatively common on the PAS, with c.625 database records. The majority of this is silver coinage (c.550 examples), his nummi far rarer as single site finds in Britain. The standard reference for Julian’s coinage is RIC VIII, although for the siliquae P. Guest’s study of the Hoxne hoard is vital. J.P.C. Kent’s overview of Julian’s coinage (‘An Introduction to the Coinage of Julian the Apostate (A.D. 360-3)’ Numismatic Chronicle,
1959) remains a useful introduction, if superseded somewhat by the contents of RIC and LRBC (Late Roman Bronze Coinage).

Gold and large silver denominations

Gold solidi were struck for Julian as caesar and augustus at numerous mints in both the eastern and western empire. However, these are generally quite rare as British finds there are no examples of single gold coins of Julian recorded through the PAS. Similarly, the larger silver miliarensis although struck for Julian is so far absent from the PAS data. Again, this is perhaps not hugely surprising as the earlier large silver denomination
is far rarer than the smaller siliqua on the PAS, indeed there are only about 20 examples in total as single finds nationally – the Hoxne hoard had just three miliarenses of the period AD 330-348 amongst the 60 examples contained within the hoard.

Julian as caesar under Constantius II, c.AD 355-360

Julian’s recall to Milan by his cousin Constantius II in AD 355 came after a period of study and enlightenment in Athens. He had been spared along with his half-brother Gallus by Constantius during the massacres of AD 337, the two brothers initially placed under the tutelage of Eusebius of Nicomedia, the priest and later Bishop of Nicomedia who had baptised Constantine the Great. Following Eusebius’ death (c.AD 341), they were moved to
Macellum (Cappadocia, Turkey) where they were baptised, received minor orders in the Christian church, and for Julian at least continued with an education that would take him on a
different route. Gallus was made caesar in the east by Constantius in AD 351 and this provided Julian with greater freedoms, particularly after he came of age. In Asia Minor he was exposed to vibrant intellectualism, rhetoric, and philosophy. His study of Neoplatonism under numerous tutors and philosophers, notably Eusebius of Myndus and Maximus of Ephesus, resulted in his gradual shunning of the Christian church and conversion to
paganism.

Gallus was executed by Constantius in AD 354 with Julian summoned to Milan on similar treasonable charges. The empress Eusebia, Constantius’ second wife, intervened and Julian was allowed to travel to Athens where he continued his studies and was initiated into the Eleusinian Mysteries. His return to Milan from Athens the following year resulted, perhaps again with the support of Eusebia, with his elevation to caesar on 6th November.
Constantius was quick to send the new caesar west to deal with Alamanni incursion into Roman territory, where he remained until AD 361. In the face of conflict with various tribes in Germany and Gaul, Julian’s campaigns were successful in restoring order, notably in a significant victory over the Alamanni at the Battle of Strasbourg (AD 357) and in securing
peace with the Chamavi. His rebuilding of Gaul was vital to the western economy and notably to Britain. The restoration of granaries (Amm. 18,2,3) and re-establishment of grain routes between the fertile rural landscapes of Britain and the Rhine (e.g. Julian, Letter to the Athenians; Zosimus 3.5.2; Eunapius fr.12; Libanius, Oratio 18) were central to this, and the course of his rule in the west won him both popular support and from the army.

Julian’s coinage after his elevation to caesar continued many of the Constantinian types from prior to (and subsequently restored after) the Magnentian usurpation. In RIC VIII (p. 45) J.P.C. Kent remarks that the coinage of Julian “down to the death of Constantius presents little of interest”! That said, there are some clear divisions and at least one interesting type that warrants further illustration (see below). For the period up to his declaration as augustus in AD 360 (see below), both silver siliquae and copper-alloy nummi are recorded through the PAS.

Siliquae

Siliqua of Julian dating to AD 355-60. Record ID is IOW-5FDAB0 (Copyright: Portable Antiquites Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Siliquae were struck for Julian as caesar at the western mint of Arles as well as several of the eastern mints from Sirmium to Antioch. There are no silver issues for his period as caesar from Trier or Lyon. The siliqua underwent a weight reduction in c.AD 357 from 3.1g to 2g and in RIC the siliquae issued after this date are termed reduced siliquae. All of the siliquae of Julian on the PAS post-date this reduction, but there is a small issue from Arles (RIC p.223, nos. 255-256) and some of the eastern mints that are of the heavier type – these have a reverse type depicting a star within a wreath (see also Fig. 5). The distinctive feature on his
coins of this period is that he is depicted bare headed and beardless, only gaining both diadem and beard after he becomes augustus. Siliquae of this period struck at Arles after the reduction of c.357 all carry a vota reverse type for Julian and were issued from the third officina (RIC VIII, pp. 223-224, nos. 260, 263-265). Siliquae from the eastern mints are very rare on the PAS for Julian, but there is a single example from the mint of Antioch during his period as caesar.

Nummi

Nummus of Julian caesar c.AD 355-360. Record ID is PUBLIC-A279D5 (Copyright: Lindsey Bedford, License: CC-BY-NC-SA).

The bronze coinage of Julian is generally rare on the PAS – there are just 79 database records for nummi covering his entire range of issues as caesar and augustus. Two major types were issued between AD 355-360 for Julian caesar, one a continuation of the FEL TEMP REPARATIO fallen horseman type of the House of Constantine, the other SPES REI PVBLICE, which continues into his period as augustus. It is notable that many of PAS examples of the fallen horseman types are from eastern mints, especially Siscia and Sirmium. A total of 27 coins are recorded on the database, of which at least 5 are contemporary copies, but at least 8 have been identified as eastern mint coins (Cyzicus = 1; Sirmium = 3; Siscia = 4). The SPES REI PVBLICE type is less common, with just 14 examples, again four of these have been identified as eastern mint coins (Siscia = 1; Thessalonica = 1; Sirmium = 2).

Julian as augustus and co-ruler with Constantius, c.February AD 360-November AD 361

Julian’s growing popularity led to increased tension with Constantius. The emperor himself was facing renewed threat from Shapur II in the east and ordered a substantial portion of
Julian’s troops to march east and assist. Not only did the army refuse to march, but in Paris in February AD 360 they proclaimed Julian as augustus (for the second time!). He accepted and
although made attempts to reconcile (including issuing coinage in Constantius’ name in the western mints) effectively usurped power and placed himself in direct conflict with the emperor. Julian travelled to Vienne later that year, openly celebrating his quinquennalia (5th anniversary) in November AD 360 with games and his adoption of the diadem as augustus for the first time, as well as presiding over the celebration of Epiphany in January AD 361 – Kent notes this that this may have been his last public appearance in a Christian church (RIC VIII, p. 16). Much of AD 360-361 was spent with the two men posturing. Julian still
acknowledged Constantius as the senior partner, but this was not reciprocated – Constantius stirred insurrection in Gaul, while supporters loyal to him also took Aquileia. Just as it seemed that the empire was once again heading towards civil war, Constantius died (3rd November AD 361) while campaigning in Cilicia against Shapur, not before naming Julian his heir and therefore sole ruler of the empire (Amm. 21.15.3). Julian in turn marched triumphally into Constantinople on the 11th December AD 361 to assume his position as emperor.

Siliqua of Julian dating to AD 360-3, mint of Lyon. Record ID is LEIC-2048D5 (Copyright: Leicestershire County Council, License: CC-BY).

The coinage of Julian’s joint rule with Constantius and running in to his sole reign as augustus recorded through the PAS is essentially formed of silver siliquae that usually carry vota reverse types. These were struck at several mints, but for the period that he is augustus (c.AD 360-363) the examples recorded on the PAS database are almost exclusively from the mints of Trier, Lyon, and Arles. The two primary references for these silver issues should be RIC VIII and P. Guest The Late Roman Gold and Silver Coins from the Hoxne Hoard (2005). Julian still appears looking young, beardless, and in a change from his period as caesar now wears a diadem that marks his position as augustus, as in the example above.

Julian as augustus, December AD 361-June AD 363

By AD 362 Julian had travelled east to Antioch, his first laws issued there by the 28th of July, and he became consul for the 4th time at the city on the 1st of January AD 363 (Amm. 23.1.1).
Shapur II remained a threat and Julian’s focus of attention was on securing his eastern frontier, indeed he left Antioch on the 5th March AD 363 for the last time to campaign in Persia. However, the city was one of very mixed fortune for Julian. His policies empire wide attempted to revive and encourage worship of the traditional pagan gods of the Roman world and limit (although tolerate) the role of Christianity, fuelled in no small measure by his education and Neoplatonist thinking. In a largely Christian Antioch this met with resistance and even public criticism. He had grown his beard, a sign of his pagan and philosophical beliefs, and this begins to be depicted on his coinage as well as becoming a source for scorn by the Antiochenes. Indeed, in reaction to this, Julian himself writes his satirical Misopogon (‘Beard-hater’), his own take on (and shove back at) the Antiochenes dislike of him for his beard and philosophies!
Leaving the city in March AD 363, he led the Roman legions to face Persia. In battle at Samarra on the 26th of June, Julian received what was to be a fatal blow from a spear (there is some suggestion this may not have been a Persian spear…!). After his death he was buried at Tarsus and then at some stage later his remains were removed to Constantinople. The pagan revival was over!

Siliqua of Julian dating to AD 361-363, showing Julian with his pagan beard. Record ID is GLO-9E8F6A (Copyright: Bristol City Council, License: CC-BY).

The coinage from this last phase of Julian’s reign brings in several distinct changes. Again, the bulk of material on the PAS is silver, although there is an important, but rare, group of nummi. Most clear in his latest coinage is the gradual presence of an increasingly large beard in his portraiture, and this is a useful diagnostic tool not just for very worn coins of Julian (other contemporary rulers are depicted clean shaven) but also in placing them late in Julian’s reign as augustus.

Contemporary copies

Copies of Julian’s siliquae are common finds on the PAS. Silver coinage from prior to the weight reduction in c.AD 357 is relatively rare in Britain, but the reduced weight coins of
Constantius and Julian are amongst the most commonly recorded as single finds. It is from this period that we see the most copies of siliquae reported, in particular plated copies, gradually petering out into the later 4th century. One of the reasons for this is that in AD 366 an edict by Valentinian resulted in the tightening up of silver purity in the coinages with mintmarks now including the letters PS (pusulatum) to indicate their purity. After this date,
copies appear to be of good quality silver rather than plated – a phenomenon extremely well demonstrated by the West Bagborough hoard (Somerset) dating to c.AD 368-369. This had
58 good quality silver copies amongst the 681 coins and only one plated copy.4 This switch from plated copies to silver copies means that if you are recording a plated siliqua it is far more likely to be from the period of Constantius and Julian prior to the Valentinian edict in AD 366. There are more than 70 coins of Julian recorded as copies amongst the c.550 PAS examples.

Contemporary plated copies of siliquae of Julian from the PAS database.

The coinage of Jovian, c.AD 363-364

Portrait of Jovian on a silver siliqua dating to AD 363-4, SUSS-F74487 (Copyright: Sussex Archaeological Society, License: CC-BY).

Julian’s death while on campaign against the Sasanian King
Shapur II in June AD 363 left the Roman army in a precarious position. After his departure from Antioch, Julian crossed the Euphrates, dividing his forces so that part of his army (led by Procopius, who was to usurp Valens in c.AD 365-366) joined up with Armenian troops at Media, the remainder heading down the Euphrates to DuraEuropas. The ultimate aim was the Persian capital of Ctesiphon, which the two elements of his army reached in May AD 363. Although Julian’s army forced those at Ctesiphon back into the heavily fortified city, he was unable to take the city and despite having perhaps the largest Roman army ever assembled on Persian soil (some 65,000-80,000 or 90,000 soldiers) found himself stuck between a large Persian army led by Shapur and the Tigris. A hasty retreat involved conflict at Samarra, where Julian received the wound that would lead to his death.

The army had to make a quick decision over who was to take the role of their commander and emperor. They chose Flavius Jovianus, who had travelled on the Mesopotamian campaign as
part of the Imperial bodyguard and was son of Varronianus who had been Constantius II’s comes domesticorum (commander of the Imperial bodyguard). Jovian was born in Singidunum (Belgrade, Serbia) in AD 331 and had two sons, one named Varronianus, by his wife Charito. His first act as newly appointed emperor was to try and affect the withdrawal of the Roman army – now tiring and short of supplies – from deep within Mesopotamia. What resulted was a largely humiliating truce that, while ensuring safe passage for his army, also ceded large areas of the eastern provinces to Shapur, as well as all interests in Armenia. Jovian reached an enraged Antioch by October AD 363 before heading back towards Constantinople. In Ancyra (Ankara) in December AD 363 he and his infant son, Varronianus, assumed the consulship for AD 364, but shortly afterwards disaster struck. On the 17th February at Dadastana he was found dead, apparently suffocated by the fumes of his brazier in his tent.

Jovian ruled for just eight months, but two important elements arose from his brief reign that had longer lasting effects on the empire. The first was a reversal of the religious policies instigated by Julian’s pagan revival. This saw the re-establishment of Christianity as the Roman state religion and the support of the Nicene Creed, the end of Christian persecution, as well as a restoration of the anti-pagan laws from prior to Julian’s reign. The
second change came with his death when the eastern and western armies were unable to find unity in terms of a single leader to rule as emperor. Instead, the elevation of Valentinian I
(AD 364-375) and subsequently his brother Valens (AD 364-378) brought about a new form of imperial co-rule not dissimilar to that seen in the early 4th century with the Tetrarchy, one
brother as augustus in the east (Valens), the other in the west (Valentinian). It also brought about the start of a new dynasty, which we will look at in a later blog post.

Jovian’s coinage

For such a short reign, Jovian’s coinage is understandably limited both in volume and range of coin types. A lot of his coinage is from the eastern mints (Alexandria, Antioch, Cyzicus,
Nicomedia, Constantinople, Heraclea, Thessalonica), but word of the new emperor reached the western mints relatively quickly and so there are also coins from Sirmium, Siscia, Aquileia, Rome, Lyon, and Arles. There are just 41 coins of Jovian recorded through the PAS, 28 of these are siliquae, the remainder nummi. 

Like Julian before him, Jovian’s gold coinage is very rare in Britain. Solidi were probably struck at the eastern mints relatively soon after he became emperor, with Antioch amongst the earliest, and often continue types struck by Julian. There are no single examples of Jovian’s gold coinage recorded through the PAS and they are rare as hoard coins too. However, an example did recently appear in a hoard from Norfolk.

Solidus of Jovian, c.AD 363-364, from hoard NMS-102704 (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

The larger silver miliarensis was also struck under Jovian. Miliarenses are generally rare as British finds anyway and there are no examples of Jovian on the PAS. One type struck at Arles (Fig. 4), with RESTITVTOR REI P reverse, became a standard reverse type empirewide (in silver and bronze) under Valentinian and Valens (RIC VIII, p. 49).

The majority of Jovian’s coins on the PAS are silver siliquae, numbering 28 in total (including three plated copies). A total of 14 of the regular coins show signs of clipping to the edges of the flan. Although siliquae were struck at numerous mints for Jovian, eastern mint coins are rare as PAS finds and the majority of his silver is from Arles.

Two obverse legends are used and appear to follow a sequence beginning with D N IOVIANVS P F AVG and then changing to D N IOVIAN-VS P F AVG. Kent (RIC VIII, p. 202; see also LRBC p. 42) notes this sequence is demonstrated by the vota reverses that are the exclusive type used for Jovian’s reign. In the earliest examples the standard type for Julian – VOT/V/MVLT/X (or on some coins from Constantinople VOT/V/MVL/X) – appears alongside a type from Arles with VOT/X/MVLT/XX (Fig. 10). This seems to represent reuse of a reverse proper to Julian (possibly either mules with Julian’s types or even from the same dies? Or perhaps even irregular copies. See RIC VIII, p. 54, 202) and so presumably
appears early in his reign once word reached the mint of him becoming emperor. The relative scarcity of Jovian’s siliquae is perhaps attested Hoxne, which has just 41 examples amongst the 14,565 coins within the hoard. Most of these (32 coins) were from the mint at Arles and, indeed, both RIC and Hoxne suggest that no siliquae were struck for Jovian at Trier or Lyon. As we shall see below, the PAS data has perhaps changed that view.

Distribution of Jovian’s coinage

The distribution of Jovian’s coinage (Fig. 20) recorded through the PAS is interesting. A small spread of siliquae is emerging around the Wash, although this is still relatively limited in quantity. In contrast, the bulk of both siliquae and nummi are found in the south west, notably Wiltshire. This in many respects mirrors the distribution of coinage seen for Julian and it may be that Jovian’s examples reflect a similar focus and exploitation of the rural
landscape of the south west following Julian’s restoration of the grain trade to the Rhine. Of course, we still have a relatively small number of coins of Jovian so this distribution may well change as more examples come to light.

References and further reading

P. Bastien Le Monnayage de Magnence (350-353), 1983

P. Guest, The Late Roman Gold and Silver coins from the Hoxne Treasure, 2005

R. Bland and X. Loriot, Roman and Early Byzantine Gold Coins found in Britain and Ireland, 2010

S. Caza, ‘Redating Nepotian’s Usurpation and the Coinage of Magnentius’ KOINON I, 2018: pp. 64-80

S. Moorhead and D. Stuttard, The Romans who Shaped Britain, 2012, p. 203