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 Thirteen

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

New beginnings and records!

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

Where it all began…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oldest to newest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some records!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some statistics

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

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

Thank you!

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

Coin Relief – Issue 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

Stay At Home Activities: Roman Coins

There is more to a Roman coin than first meets the eye! As well as being used to buy things, coins were an important publicity tool for the
emperor. They showed people what the emperor looked like and often celebrated important victories or other achievements.

Below you can see what emperor Hadrian (AD117-138) chose to put on his coin. What would you put on your coin if you were emperor?

Emperors used the reverse of the coin to say something about themselves. On this coin, Hadrian has chosen the figure of Pax who represents peace. Other emperors chose their favourite gods or goddesses. Some chose military or religious symbols, or something relating to one of their victories. The wolf and twins image was also popular because it represents the foundation of Rome, capital of the Roman Empire. What symbol would you choose to say something about you?

There are over 273,000 Roman coins recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme database. You can view them all here. Once you’ve had a look, why not download our activity sheet below and have a go at designing your own Medieval penny? You can share your results with us on Instagram by tagging @findsorguk, or on our PAS Craft Activities Board on Pinterest.