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:

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 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:

Bronze coinage:

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 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

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.


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

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

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

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

Julia Domna, Caracalla, and Geta

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

Gold coinage

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

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

Julia Domna (AD 193-217)

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

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

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

Coinage of Julia Domna

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

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

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

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

References and further reading: 

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

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

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

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

Coin Relief – Issue Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silver coins of Caligula

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


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

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

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

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

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

The Coinage of Eugenius (AD 392-394).

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

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

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

The Coinage of Eugenius

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

The Portrait of Eugenius

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

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


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

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

Eugenius Coins on the PAS Database

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

The semis

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

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

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

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

The Flavian Emperors (AD 69-96)

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

Three Periods of Coinage for Domitian

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

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

Roman Imperial Titles used in the Flavian Dynasty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3: Domitian as Augustus (AD 81-96)

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

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

Some other denarius types of Domitian’s reign

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

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

Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC)

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

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

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

The Reformed Coinage of AD 348-50

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

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

1 The Highest Denomination:

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

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

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

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

2 The Middle Denomination:

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

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

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

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

3 The Lowest Denomination:

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

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

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

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

Gallienus Sole Reign (AD 260-268)

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

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

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

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

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

Gallienus’ coinage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References and further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fenwick Treasure

This week marks five years since the discovery of a hoard of fine gold and silver Roman jewellery that lay hidden under the floors of a department store on Colchester’s High Street for nearly 2000 years.

The hoard included amongst the jewellery, coins of the Republic era, most of which were silver and had been kept in a small bag, as well as the remains of a wooden jewellery box and a silver jewellery box.

The jewellery found as part of the Fenwick Hoard
Rights Holder: Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service 
CC License: All Rights Reserved

The treasure was found on the 20th August 2014 during the last week of excavations at Williams and Griffin department store undertaken by Colchester Archaeological Trust. Adam Wightman, who was supervisor of the site, discovered the treasure which is believed to have been buried in a pit beneath the floor of a house that once stood in the place of the department store. As it was discovered beneath the Boudican destruction debris, the layer of burnt material from the time of the revolt against the Romans, it is believed that the hoard was concealed on receipt of the news of the imminent arrival of the British tribal warriors before the house was destroyed by fire.

The jewellery contents of the hoard include gold armlets, silver bracelets, a silver chain, a copper-alloy amulet necklace, gold finger rings, gold and pearl earrings, and a glass intaglio. A recurring motif among the jewellery is that of a panther which offers a possible connection to the name of the owners who are believed to have been both male and female. Along with the coins and containers, the jewellery objects have been identified as being manufactured in Italy, the date of which predates their burial by more than a generation.

As the hoard contained more than ten pieces, some of which were precious metals and all of which were over 300 years old, the objects within qualified as treasure and the hoard subsequently went on display at Colchester Museum. 

The record for the hoard can be viewed here:

Iron Age and Roman Mirrors from East Anglia

Iron Age Mirrors

Iron Age mirrors were elaborately-decorated discs of polished bronze with decorative handles, such as the famous Desborough mirror. In 2010, Jody Joy catalogued 58 examples, mainly from southern England. The earliest mirrors from East Yorkshire date from about 400 BCE, but most others are 1st century BCE-1st century CE.

Decorated Iron Age mirror, Desborough, Northants. (©Trustees of the British Museum 1924,0109.1, used under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license).

Mirrors are very rare in East Anglia (Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire), home of the Iceni people, although the area has one of the highest recovery rates of Iron Age artefacts nationally. Mirrors are unknown from Norfolk or Cambridgeshire, except for a possible handle from Thetford (NHER: 5853). Three handle fragments have been found in eastern Suffolk: at Akenham (SHER: AKE006), Badingham (SHER: BDG033) and Westerfield (PAS: SF6712). This may reflect the lack of Iron Age burials, the most common location for mirror finds. By contrast, Essex, which is richer in Iron Age burials, has at least ten mirrors. The absence of mirrors in this period suggests that local communities may have been selective about adopting their near neighbours’ artefacts and practices, as well as more exotic imports from Gaul and the Mediterranean, which began to be available through contact with the Roman Empire in the 1st century BCE.

Distribution of Iron Age and Roman mirrors in East Anglia (source: Author).

Mirrors have often been described as important status symbols, buried with wealthy women for the afterlife. However, some skeletons have been interpreted as female based on the presence of mirrors in graves, rather than scientific analysis, and many burials were poorly recorded during antiquarian excavations. No mirrors have yet been categorically associated with a male individual, but occasionally have been found in graves that also contained weapons, considered male belongings. Mirrors can also be regarded as marking ‘difference’ rather than status.

Finds relating to personal adornment and grooming practices greatly increase in the Late Iron Age. Mirrors could be part of both private acts of grooming and public performance. Looking at your own reflection in a mirror is a natural response to greater interest in the body. Social norms and ideals were changing and this could have affected relationships between people.

Mirrors may have had uses beyond personal grooming, perhaps used in rituals of divination. A mirror can be used to see behind or beyond the person, even to communicate over large distances. It can catch and reflect light outwards. The surface may also replicate the otherworldly, shimmering boundary of water, relating back to an earlier prehistoric tradition of depositing metalwork in watery places.

Changes over time and space can be seen. These may reflect different groups’ responses during the early contact period with the Roman empire. In East Anglia, as we have seen, they are extremely scarce. Large, intricately-decorated mirrors were abandoned by people in the southeast, yet continued in more westerly parts of Britain. A few Roman mirrors were already in use during the Late Iron Age, suggesting that some people had a range of options. The deliberate choices of material, size, style and decoration perhaps signalled identity, group allegiance or exchange networks.

Roman Mirrors

Roman mirrors were small, circular or rectangular, sometimes set within ornamental cases. They often have moulded decoration or punched ring-and-dot patterns around the outer edge of one face. Roman mirrors were made from ‘speculum’: a brittle, highly-tinned copper alloy. This material fragments easily and is often found in small straight-edged chips. Mirrors with handles date to the mid-1st to early 2nd century CE. Like many other forms of material culture, they fade from the archaeological record in the 3rd century CE.

Roman mirror fragment showing tinned surface and ‘snapped’ edges (source: PAS LEIC-111FE3, Leicestershire County Council, under CC BY 2.0 licence).

It is thought that all Roman mirrors were imported, suggesting local manufacture ended after the conquest, although some people continued to use and be buried with their Iron Age mirrors. Perhaps imported mirrors were superior in reflectiveness, or were less valuable and more available than the ornate one-off Iron Age types. The two types of mirror may simply have been used in different social situations.


Table: Roman mirror fragments by county.

Unlike Iron Age examples, Roman mirrors are widespread in East Anglia. Using data from the PAS and the county Historic Environment Records (HERs), 156 Roman mirror fragments were recorded (original database including HER records closed April 2017, PAS records updated January 2019). Norfolk produced 104 fragments, with clusters from parishes with religious and/or urban centres of the period, including Caistor St Edmund (6), Walsingham (22), Wicklewood (26) and Wighton (5). At the important local capital of Venta Icenorum (modern Caistor St Edmund), a decorated circular mirror was found pre-1894 just outside the walls (Norfolk Museums Service: 1894.76.717, for image see!/?q=Caistor) and part of a hinged bronze mirror was excavated in 1957 at the nearby temple (NHER: 9787), which may suggest ritual use. Two joining fragments were excavated within the town itself during Donald Atkinson’s investigations in 1929.

Joining fragments of a circular mirror, Caistor St Edmund (source: Norfolk Museums Service 1929.152.M17, Author’s photo).

In Suffolk, there were finds from the Romano-British small towns at Pakenham (6) and Wixoe (5), along with Scole, on the modern border with Norfolk (6). There were several mirrors recorded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including a ‘speculum’ from Felixstowe (SHER: FEX092) and circular mirrors from Long Melford (SHER: LMD020) and Herringswell (SHER: HGWMISC). Cambridgeshire has very few records of either Iron Age or Roman mirrors, which may be due to historical differences in reporting practices between the counties.

Distribution of Roman mirrors (source: PAS 2019).

Roman mirror finds on the PAS database are highly concentrated in the Eastern counties. The lack of Iron Age mirrors in the region makes this concentration even more unusual. Recovery bias is an important factor to be considered. During data collection in the Norfolk HER, I noted that a small number of metal-detectorists regularly reported speculum fragments. Plotting mirror fragment findspots confirmed this. The distribution is skewed heavily in favour of three key detectorists. Almost one third of mirror finds reported in Norfolk were made by Finder 1, another third by Finder 2, while Finder 3 found seven pieces all in the same parish. The concentrations reflect their search areas and ability to recognise mirror fragments by their distinctive sharp ‘snapped’ edges and the highly-tinned metal. The Suffolk and Cambridgeshire finds did not show any notable recovery bias.

Roman mirror finds showing detectorist hotspots in Norfolk (source: Author).

This demonstrates that the knowledge of individual metal-detectorists has an important effect on the artefacts recovered and reported. Training for other finders (and recorders) would surely increase the known quantities and coverage. This pattern, while unusable for distribution analysis, other than to confirm that people were using Roman-style mirrors in Norfolk, is telling of the processes of recovery for metal-detected finds. It is worth remembering that one mirror can shatter into many fragments, so the numbers of whole mirrors would be considerably smaller. This finding may also have a bearing on excavated and museum finds: mirror fragments are hard to recognise, although once you know what to look for, they are unmistakeable!

Roman mirror case with bust of Nero, Coddenham (©Trustees of the British Museum 1838,0331.1, used under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license).

Representations on Roman tombstones often show women holding a mirror, with attendants helping them dress or doing their hair. However, two circular cases containing convex mirrors were found in a cremation urn at Coddenham in Suffolk in 1823. On the outside are motifs based on a coin of Nero. One case shows the emperor’s head in profile, and the other an ‘imperial Adlocutio’, an image of the emperor addressing his assembled troops. This ‘male’ and military symbolism indicates that the use of mirrors in the Roman period was not restricted to women. Adlocutio imagery is also found on brooches deposited at the Romano-British shrine at Hockwold-cum-Wilton, suggesting a religious connection.

Stanley Avenue, Norwich

In continuity with Iron Age funerary practices, there are very few early Roman burials in northern East Anglia, although the southwestern area, particularly Cambridgeshire, shows a different tradition had taken hold. Perhaps some local communities were resistant to the practice of burial in the early part of the occupation, while others embraced it. Interestingly, a few early Roman burials do include mirrors.

Density of Late Iron Age and early Roman burials in East Anglia (source: Author).

Two cremation burials from Stanley Avenue, Norwich (NHER: 550) date to around 65-70 CE, a few short years after the turbulent time of the Boudican revolt. In one, the cremated remains of an adult human (interpreted as female) and bones from the right-hand-side of a pig were accompanied by coins of Nero (64-66 CE), a blue glass bead, and a circular copper alloy mirror. The latter had a highly-polished surface, a decorative border and handle, and was found with the remnants of its wooden case. The mirror had been deposited while the bones were still hot from the cremation pyre, and the case, despite being charred, retained traces of Pompeiian red paint.

The second cremation also included adult human and pig bones, and a fragmentary Thistle brooch, dating from the early to mid-1st century CE. With both cremation burials were flagons and platters. Do these materially wealthy burials show us that people in the Iceni territory were adopting the traditions and belongings of their conquerors?

These burials may represent a hybrid ceremony which combined elements of both local Iron Age and imported Roman traditions. The inclusion of the mirror in a cremation burial with pig bones was an Iron Age practice, but the material culture is distinctively Roman and probably imported. In this scenario, the mirror may be understood as an indicator of difference rather than status. This woman and her companion were being marked in death by their community, for despite the introduced materials, there is nothing to suggest that they themselves were not local. The revived practice of burial and the imported objects would have been distinctive, perhaps representing the ‘otherness’ of those individuals, or a way for their community to rationalise the political turbulence of the invasion and rebellion.

Natasha Harlow, University of Nottingham, 2019.

Further Reading

For more information on sites with NHER codes see Norfolk Heritage Explorer, SHER codes see Suffolk Heritage Explorer and PAS object records see

Allason-Jones, L. 1989. Women in Roman Britain. London: British Museum Press.

Anon. 1951. Roman Britain in 1950. Journal of Roman Studies 41(1-2): 120-145.

Davies, J. 2011. Closing Thoughts, 103-105 in J. Davies (ed.) The Iron Age in Northern East Anglia. BAR British Series 549. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Davies, J. 2014. The Boudica Code, 27-34 in S. Ashley and A. Marsden (eds.) Landscapes and Artefacts. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Eckardt, H. 2018. Writing and Power in the Roman World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eckardt, H. and Crummy, N. 2008. Styling the Body in Late Iron Age and Roman Britain. Montagnac: Monique Mergoil.

Gregory, T. 1991. Excavations in Thetford 1980-1982, Fison Way. East Anglian Archaeology 53. Gressenhall: Norfolk Museums Service.

Gurney, D. 1986. Settlement, Religion and Industry on the Fen-edge. East Anglian Archaeology 31. Gressenhall: Norfolk Museums Service.

Gurney, D. 1998. Roman Burials in Norfolk. East Anglian Archaeology Occasional Paper 4. Gressenhall: Norfolk Museums Service.

Harlow, N. 2018. Belonging and Belongings: Portable Artefacts and Identity in the Civitas of the Iceni. Unpublished PhD thesis: University of Nottingham.

Hutcheson, N. 2004. Later Iron Age Norfolk. BAR British Series 361. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Joy, J. 2007. Reflections on the Iron Age. Unpublished PhD thesis: University of Southampton.

Joy, J. 2009. Reinvigorating Object Biography. World Archaeology 41(4): 540-556.

Joy, J. 2010. Iron Age Mirrors. BAR British Series 518. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Whimster, R. 1979. Burial Practices in Iron Age Britain. Unpublished PhD thesis: Durham University.


All maps credited to the author contain OS data © Crown Copyright and Database Right (2017) Ordnance Survey (Digimap/Opendata Licence). Roman road and coastline map layers were kindly provided by Katherine Robbins (adapted from Ancient World Mapping Centre 2012, DARMC Scholarly Data Series 2013, English Heritage, Fenland Survey 1994, and Norfolk Archaeological Trust 2012–6).