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 Three

Here is the third edition in a series of blog posts written by our Finds Advisers for ancient coins, Dr. Sam Moorhead and Dr. Andrew Brown. In this series they will explore some of the many (many) ancient coins from the PAS database.

Reece Period 17 (AD 330-48) – The period of Britain’s highest coin-loss

Many of the most common coins found in Britain date to the period AD 330-48 (Reece Period 17). They are all small module nummi (c. 14-18mm in diameter; c. 2 gm) which were struck in enormous numbers.  There are over 43,000 of these pieces on the Database which gives Period 17 the greatest peak on the graph of coin-finds from Roman Britain.

Roman coins on the PAS database by Reece Period (per mill). Period 17 (AD 330-48) has over 18% of the coins found. (Andrew Brown 2019).

These coins are found on sites across England and Wales, as shown. In many ways, this period shows widest coin-use in England and Wales. However, Andrew Brown’s new heat-map shows that the concentrations are in the West Country, East Anglia and in Lincoln up to East Yorkshire.  These are prime agricultural regions in the Roman period, and also today.  We will return to this topic in a later piece.

Left: Sites on which Period 17 (AD 330-48) coins have been recorded on the PAS database in England and Wales. Right: Heat-map showing the areas of highest concentration of finds of Period 17 (AD 330-48) coins in England and Wales. (Andrew Brown 2019).

In addition, several large hoards of these coins have been found in recent years, notably at Seaton in Devon (22,523; IARCH-F95723); Thornbury, near Bristol (11,460 coins; IARCH-E4B3BA) and Snodland in Kent (4,653 coins; PAS-F6F7F5).  It is interesting that there were very few denominations between the nummus and the gold solidus and it is reckoned that the 11,000 coins from Thornbury could represent only one or two gold solidi.

Joint reign of Valerian and Gallienus (AD 253-260; Reece Period 12)

Valerian I (Publius Licinius Valerianus, AD 253-260) came to power in October 253 following the death of Aemilian (AD 253), murdered by his own soldiers at the Pons Sanguinarius (‘Bridge of Blood’) in Spoleto (Italy). Valerian was from a distinguished Roman family and as a former consul was readily accepted as emperor by the Senate. However, he inherited an empire in crisis – ravaged by instability, civil war, multiple short-lived emperors (who invariably met with violent deaths), a resurgent Persia in the east, and the threat of Germanic tribes on the Rhine and Danube. He quickly elevated his son, Gallienus (Publius Licinius Egnatius Gallienus AD 253-268), to co-emperor with the empire effectively divided in half, Valerian to rule in the east and Gallienus in the west.

Top: Silver denarius of Valerian I, minted in Rome. Record ID: WAW-B10155 (Copyright: Birmingham Museums Trust, License: CC-BY). Bottom: Gold aureus of Gallienus, joint reign with Valerian I,  mint of Rome. Record ID: LVPL-BCE783 (Copyright: National Museums Liverpool, License: CC-BY).

Coins of the Joint Reign are not rare finds in Britain but they are far less common than the issues of Gallienus’ Sole Reign (AD 260-268). The PAS records just over 3,000 coins for Reece Period 12 of which two thirds relate to the Joint Reign of Valerian and Gallienus (see here). It should be noted though that a large number of coins currently attributed to Gallienus for the Joint Reign are in fact Sole Reign coins and there are over 1,000 coins from the Welsh IARCW dataset from this period whose details cannot be fully verified at present. This figure is therefore liable to change.

End of the Joint Reign

The Joint Reign of Valerian and Gallienus was one fraught with problems, which ultimately brought it to an abrupt end. Valerian, campaigning in the east against Persia, had some success notably earning titles such as ‘Restorer of the Orient’ (RESTITVT ORIENTIS) and ‘Restorer of the world’ (RESTITVTOR ORBIS), both of which appear on his coins (see above). But this was short-lived. In 260 Valerian was besieged by Shapur I in Edessa and his army was ravaged with plague. He rather foolishly met with Shapur with only a small retinue, which resulted in him being captured and held in captivity for the remainder of his life – the only Roman Emperor for this to have happened to. Supposedly, he was used as a footstool for Shapur to mount his horse and after his death had his skin removed, dyed red, and hung up in a Persian temple as a warning! Gallienus met with similar difficulties in the west. Here, Valerian’s capture weakened his position and rebellion in the east was followed by rebellion in the west, most notably by Postumus in AD 260 who, after the death of Saloninus seized control at Cologne and established a breakaway Gallic Empire. Gallienus’ rule continued in the central Empire until AD 268, but he was never able to fully re-establish the Roman world as it had been previously. 

The coinage of Plautilla c.AD 202-205

Plautilla was the daughter of Gaius Flavius Plautianus who was made Praetorian Prefect by Septimius Severus in AD 197.  In the summer or autumn of 202, Septimius arranged for his eldest son Caracalla to marry Plautilla.  It was not a happy marriage and Caracalla would not eat or sleep with Plautilla and even threatened to murder her when he became sole emperor.  Accounts differ, but either Caracalla framed Plautianus, or Plautianus was plotting to murder Severus and Caracalla.  Either way, on January 22nd 202 Plautianus was executed.  Plautilla was sent into exile on the island of Lipari and, good to his word, Caracalla had her murdered in AD 212, once he had become sole emperor.

Plautilla’s coinage would probably have been struck from the end of AD 202 until the very beginning of AD 205, giving a maximum period of just over two years. Her coins are scarce with only 65 found in England (including some plated denarius copies) on the PAS Database. All but one of these coins are silver denarii, there being a single as (full record here). Also, all but two of the coins are from the Mint of Rome, there being two coins which were definitely struck at an Eastern Mint (sometime named as Laodicea in Syria).

The single copper alloy as of Plautilla recorded on the PAS database, mint of Rome. Record ID: PUBLIC-C7238E (Copyright: Surrey County Council. License: CC-BY).

The coins at Rome are divided into two issues in RIC IV, pt 1 (pp. 269-70, nos. 359-69): Issue I has the obverse legend PLAVTILLAE AVGVSTAE (‘To our Augusta, Plautilla’); Issue II has the obverse legend PLAVTILLA AVGVSTA (‘Plautilla Augusta’).

Left: Rome Issue I type coin with PLAVTILLAE AVGVSTAE legend. Record ID: LIN-493661. Right: Rome Issue II type coin with PLAVTILLA AVGVSTA legend. Record ID: BUC-803AEA. (Copyright: Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

The coins struck at the Eastern Mint also fall into two issues in RIC (p. 270, nos. 370-2): Issue I also has the obverse legend PLAVTILLAE AVGVSTAE; Issue II has the obverse legend PLAVTILLA AVG. The PAS Database has records for most of the 15 or so RIC entries. RIC 364 is only recorded for a gold aureus and RIC 368 for a silver quinarius (half-denarius). Therefore, the PAS Database does not have examples of the denarii RIC 365 (CONCORDIA FELIX) and 366 (DIANA LVCIFERA) from Rome, and RIC 370 (CONCORDIAE) and 371 (HILARITAS) from the Eastern Mint.

Faustina II and a new Coin of British Association

Annia Galeria Faustina Minor, more commonly known as Faustina the Younger or Faustina II (AD 147-175), was the youngest child of Antoninus Pius (AD 138-161) and his wife Faustina the Elder (died AD 141). Born in Rome in c.AD 130, she was the only child of Antoninus and Faustina to survive into adulthood and was initially betrothed to Lucius Verus (AD 161-169), the eldest son of Lucius Aelius (AD 136-138) who had been adopted by Hadrian as his first choice for heir to the Roman empire. Aelius and Hadrian both died in AD 138 and Hadrian’s second adoptive son, Antoninus Pius, was elevated as his successor to the empire. Faustina’s engagement to Verus was called off by Antoninus and instead in April or May AD 145 she was married to Marcus Aurelius (AD 161-180), nephew of Faustina I, who had been adopted by Antoninus and Faustina I as their son – the two being adoptive brother and sister!

Portrait head of Faustina II (Copyright: Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program).

Extensive coinage was struck for Faustina II from AD 147 once she was granted the title of Augusta following the birth of her first child during the reign of Antoninus Pius (Reece Period 7: 194 coins on the PAS including 22 from the IARCW Welsh data) and continued through that of Marcus Aurelius until her death in AD 175 (Reece Period 8: 1075 coins on the PAS including 103 from the IARCW Welsh data). After her death a ‘consecration’ issue was also struck. All of her coinage is from the mint of Rome, with the full range of denominations represented on the PAS, for example the aureus shown below. I think it likely that the total number of coins on the database is actually more than the c.1200 suggested by searches under her name, as there will be many worn bronze coins of this period (particularly dupondii and asses) that can probably be attributed to her.

Gold aureus of Faustina II c.AD 147-161. Record ID: NMS-6C0C82 (Copyright: Norfolk County Council, License: CC-BY).

The IOVI CONSERVATORI nummi of AD 317-24

In AD 313, after the death of Maximinus II at Tarsus, Constantine I (AD 306-37) and Licinius I (AD 308-24) became joint Augusti of the Roman Empire: Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East.  However, relations were never good. In 317, in an attempt to ensure the continuation of their respective dynasties, they agreed to the promotion of Constantine’s two sons, Crispus and Constantine (II), to Caesars, and of Licinius’ son Licinius (II).  Between 317 and 324, when Licinius was finally defeated by Constantine, there was a continued strain in relationships.

After the SOLI INVICTO COMITI coinage, with Sol the Sun God, ended by AD 320, the coinage in Constantine’s realm became generally devoid of religious symbolism with types referring to Victory, the army and the ‘blessings of peace’.  Constantine had taken to Christianity so was not proclaiming pagan gods, but was probably not proclaiming Christianity so as not to alienate the many pagans in the Empire.

Copper alloy nummus of Constantine I, mint of Cyzicus. Record ID: DOR-F9F824 (Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme, License: CC-BY).

Licinius, however, although he signed the ‘Edict of Toleration’ with Constantine at Milan in AD 313, was to favour paganism.  This is seen on the coins struck in his realm, from Heraclea to Alexandria, where Jupiter is pre-eminent.  IOVI CONSERVATORI AVG(G) / CAESS (‘To Jupiter the Protector of our Augusti / Caesars’) and IOVI CONERVATORI (‘To Jupiter the Protector’) are were the most common legends. These coins were struck for Licinius I and II, as well as for Constantine I (shown above) and II and Crispus. This was the last major issue of coins extolling a pagan god struck in the Roman Empire.

Fractional nummi c.AD 307-313 (Reece Period 15)

The establishment of the tetrarchy in AD 293 heralded not just political change but also currency reform. Diocletian’s Edict on maximum prices and currency edict, preserved in part in the Aphrodisias currency inscription (Aphrodisias, Turkey), in AD 301 fixed the maximum prices that could be charged for certain goods or services empire-wide. They also help explain his new currency system, notably the introduction of the silver argenteus and a bronze denomination, the nummus. This bronze coin was valued at 25 commondenarii (or denarii communes) and by c.AD 310 weighed about 4.5g or 1/72 to a (Roman) pound. During the tetrarchic period several mints struck smaller, fractional denominations whose weights suggest they had a value of a half, third, quarter, or perhaps even less in some instances, of a nummus. Several features characterise the fractional nummi, not least their smaller size in relation to full nummi. Many have shortened legends on both obverse and reverse, while the smaller fractions often carry vota legends that celebrate anniversaries of the accession of the tetrarchs. They are thought to have been thrown into crowds as donatives during Imperial celebrations.

A fractional nummus of Diocletian, mint of Trier. Record ID: WMID-991F07 (Copyright: Birmingham Museums Trust, License: CC-BY).

Although generally scarce, and almost completely absent from hoards, fractional nummi have been reported in increasing quantity through the PAS. To date, there are 132 examples from the mints of Trier (like the example above), Ostia, and Rome dating to the Tetrarchic period, the majority dating to between c.AD 307-313.

References and further reading:

  • The standard references for Faustina II should be RIC III or the British Museum Catalogue (BMC) IV
  • A good introduction to this period can be found in R. Abdy ‘Tetrarchy and the House of Constantine’ The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage, 2012: Chapter 31.
  • Good introductions to the fractional nummi can be found in D. Wigg ‘An Issue of Follis Fractions with Denominational Marks by Constantine I at Rome’ https://tinyurl.com/qotqkv2 ; V. Drost, ‘Les fractions du nummus frappées à Rome et à Ostie sous le règne de Maxence (306-312 ap. J.-C.)’ 2011 https://tinyurl.com/sg66zos . The standard references are RIC VI and VII

Coin Relief – Issue Two

Here is the second edition in a series of blog posts written by our Finds Advisers for ancient coins, Dr. Sam Moorhead and Dr. Andrew Brown. In this series they will explore some of the many (many) ancient coins from the PAS database. So grab yourself a cup of tea and enjoy Issue Two!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trajan and Dacia

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

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

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

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

The emperor Carinus (AD 282-5) and Britain

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

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

Carinus and Britain

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

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

Archaeological evidence for Carinus in Britain

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

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

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

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

The quadrans

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

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

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

How did they get here?

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

The Mint of Ostia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References and further reading:

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

B. Woytek, ‘Die Reichsprägung des Kaisers Traianus (98-117) (MIR 14, Vienna, 2010). See also for Dacia and Trajan: https://tinyurl.com/s37b2ya

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

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

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

J. van Heesch Studie over de semis en de quadrans van Domitianus tot en met Antoninus Pius 1979 (in Flemish) here: https://tinyurl.com/t36v66d

J. van Heesch ‘Providing Markets with Small Change in the Early Roman Empire: Italy and Gaul’ Revue Belge de Numismatique 155, 2009: 125-142: https://tinyurl.com/tmr5k4j

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

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

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

V. Drost, Le monnayage de Maxence (2013)

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

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

‘Beyond the Vale of York’ conference – Saturday 11th July, York

On Saturday 11th July a fascinating day conference on coin hoarding will take place in York.  The joint meeting of the Royal Numismatic Society and the British Numismatic Society will discuss hoarding from the Iron Age all the way through to the Stuart kings of the 17th century.  Proceedings will start at 10.20am at the Yorkshire Museum: booking is essential; the event is free, though admission to the museum will apply.

Vale of York hoard
SWYOR-AECB53: Vale of York hoard
Copyright: British Museum.
Licence: CC-BY.

The list of speakers forms a veritable roll call of Portable Antiquities Scheme volunteers, supporters and staff.  Amongst others, Andrew Woods, former Suffolk Finds Liaison Officer, will be discussing recent research on the Vale of York hoard (SWYOR-AECB53), recently returned to York.  Meanwhile, Eleanor Ghey, former Buckinghamshire and London Finds Liaison Assistant, will be talking about her recent work on hoarding in Roman Britain.  There will also be contributions from current volunteers Carl Savage (Lancashire and Cumbria) and Rachel Cubitt (North and East Yorkshire).  For a full list of speakers see the programme.

The phenomenon of hoarding still prompts so many questions, including: Why were hoards deposited? Where were they deposited?  Why were so many left unrecovered? How did all of these aspects change through time?  This conference promises to be an insight into all of these questions, ones evidently close to the hearts of PAS alumnae and volunteers alike!