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Author Topic: Revolt of Nepotian: 351 instead of 350 AD?  (Read 6758 times)
curtislclay
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« on: April 15, 2010, 10:57:19 am »

In a talk at the Chicago Coin Show, Rosemont, IL, at 11 AM on 24 April, I will be exploring the possibility that the revolt of Nepotian at Rome should be assigned not to 350, as stated by the ancient chronographers and hence accepted by all modern scholars, but to the following year, 351.

That redating would solve many problems, though unfortunately I have not yet found any undeniable proof that it must be correct!

Magnentius issued a substantial number of bronze medallions at Rome before the revolt of Nepotian, that is, on the traditional chronology, between 28 Feb. and 1 June 350. However I have been able to show from the imperial titles on second-century bronze medallions that virtually all of them were struck in Nov.-Dec. of each year, but dated ahead to 1 Jan. for use as New Year’s gifts. I think third- and fourth-century bronze medallions, and then the contorniates, were overwhelmingly produced at the same time of the year for the same purpose. Thus a substantial issue of bronze medallions by Magnentius in March-May 350 would be highly anomalous. But if Nepotian actually rebelled in 351, then Magnentius’ first issue of bronze medallions could be assigned to late 350 and New Year’s 351, as expected. It was this difficulty with the medallions that first suggested to me the possibility of redating Nepotian’s revolt.

The sequence of the coinage shows that Magnentius elevated his brother Decentius to the Caesarship immediately after the revolt of Nepotian, and therefore, it would appear, in June or July 350. That early dating causes some problems, however. For example, if Decentius became Caesar in summer 350, why did he not assume the ordinary consulship with Magnentius on 1 Jan. 351, following a long established tradition for newly appointed Caesars of mature age? The fasti show that Decentius instead assumed the consulship with Magnentius only on 1 Jan. 352, suggesting that his elevation to the Caesarship, and hence Nepotian's revolt against Magnentius, occurred in the course of 351, not 350!

Questions and objections from Forvm members will be welcomed, either here or in person from those who can attend the talk!
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Curtis Clay
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« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2010, 08:31:09 pm »

Rick Witschonke of the ANS has recently sent me scans of an important article concerning this problem, namely D. Gricourt, Une maiorina inédite de Decénce, Cahiers Numismatiques 85, 1985, 72-76.

Gricourt publishes the first coin of Decentius to be coupled not only with the Roma seated type of Nepotian, but with Nepotian's legend too, VRBS ROMA, making it really impossible to propose that there was a nine-month gap between the end of Nepotian's coinage and the beginning of Decentius', as John Kent argued!

Moreover, this article turns out to be quite important to me for two other reasons.

First, I hadn't realized that there are two ancient sources which strongly support my idea that the revolt of Nepotian belongs to 351 not 350!

A. Aurelius Victor: Constantius persuaded Vetranio to abdicate and took over command of his army [25 Dec. 350]. But the harsh winter weather and the impassable Alps made him postpone his invasion of Italy. Meanwhile at Rome Nepotian revolted and was suppressed by Magnentius after ruling for 28 days. Even before then, anticipating the civil war, Magnentius had made his brother Decentius Caesar and put him in charge of Gaul, and Constantius had made Gallus Caesar [15 March 351] and given him command of the East. In a war that lasted over two years, Constantius then defeated Magnentius and Decentius and made them commit suicide [first battle between Constantius and Magnentius: Mursa, 28 Sept. 351].

B. Epitome de Caesaribus: Vetranio proclaimed himself emperor after Magnentius' revolt, but Constantius quickly persuaded him to abdicate [25 Dec. 350]. Constantius proclaimed Gallus Caesar [15 March 351], and Magnentius made Decentius Caesar and gave him command over the provinces north of the Alps. Around this time Nepotian made himself Augustus in Rome, but Magnentius suppressed the rebellion on the 28th day. Then Constantius won a victory over Magnentius at Mursa [28 Sept. 351].

Aurelius Victor and the Epitome have so many similarities that they are thought to derive from one and the same lost history. But it seems clear that that history narrated the events of Magnentius' reign in this order:

Abdication of Vetranio [25 Dec. 350]. Winter and Alps prevent Constantius from immediately invading Italy.

Caesarship of Gallus [15 March 351]; Caesarship of Decentius, around the same time.

Revolt of Nepotian.

Battle of Mursa [28 Sept. 351].

I hadn't realized this, but Gricourt points it out in a footnote, whereupon I checked the two texts on the internet!

Second, the possibility of moving Nepotian's revolt to 351 occurred to Gricourt too, but because of the weight of tradition, he couldn't accept it!

p. 76 in his article: If Magnentius made Decentius Caesar in spring 351 as Kent thought, then we would have to redate the usurpation of Nepotian too to the early months of 351. "But that would contradict the assignment of Nepotian's revolt to 350 in the Consularia Constantinopolitana, which seems indisputable and which was accepted as fact by both Kent and Bastien."

So Gricourt had the solution to the problem in his hand, but couldn't accept it simply because the ancient chronographer, surely in error as I think, assigned Nepotian's revolt to 350 rather than 351. Gricourt should have considered that the same chronographer assigns the abdication of  Vetranio to 351, a clear error for 350, as was realized by modern historians centuries ago, and which everybody has accepted ever since. Similarly if the testimony of ancient sources is so unimpeachable, shouldn't Gricourt have accorded more weight to Aurelius Victor and the Epitome's dating of Nepotian's revolt to between 15 March and 28 Sept. 351, instead of merely commenting in his footnote 4 that these authors epitomize the confusion prevalent in the surviving written sources?

So I am beginning to think that my redating of Nepotian's revolt from 350 to 351, since strongly confirmed by Aurelius Victor and the Epitome, is absolutely correct, rather than just a possible alternative!

 

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Curtis Clay
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« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2010, 08:57:12 pm »

I'm always glad to learn something new, and I thank Dr. Clay for this new information.
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« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2010, 09:05:02 pm »

Kudos, Curtis! I hope that you will publish your findings, and submit a transcript of your lecture in Chicago for those of us unable to attend. This is another example of how careful numismatic scholarship is able to write, or in this case, correct written history.  Archaeological research relies heavily upon coins to date their findings, and your expertise in this field lends credence to the importance of numismatics as a part of the larger picture of historical erudition.

Congratulations on your findings!
Regards,
Danny
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curtislclay
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« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2010, 02:32:48 am »

This is another example of how careful numismatic scholarship is able to write, or in this case, correct written history.

Thanks for your praise!

You remind me of a passage in Eckhel's wonderful Preface to his Doctrina Numorum, which I try to follow as well as I can.

"In my choice of material I shall strive for brevity, in order to place some limits on a work that could treat so many matters. I have tried to achieve brevity in various ways, by omitting material that is of no importance, or far fetched, or boring, or inappropriate"... Thus I will not describe or comment on the trite types such as Victoria and Spes that are repeated reign after reign but contribute nothing to our knowledge. "No less inappropriate is the annoying diligence of many authors, who in their explication of coins assume duties that are not theirs, and bore the reader with extensive treatments of historical or mythological topics, ignoring the fact that the purpose of numismatic scholarship is not to give lessons in history or mythology, but rather to correct, illustrate, or enrich with additional examples, the various facts that we already know in each of those disciplines."

This goes on for two more pages, every sentence so right and so beautifully and concisely written (the Latin is much simpler and more powerful that my attempted translation!) that they bring tears to my eyes when I read them, ending with the assurance that brevity must not be overdone, and that he will not hesitate to treat matters in detail when those details are needed to present the history of the question and the evidence and arguments relevant to its resolution. "Therefore far from fearing the censure of scholars when I treat matters in detail, I am confident that I will earn great gratitude from them on that account."

Rick Witschonke and the editor with whom he spoke hope that I will be able to publish these Magnentian arguments in an article in the American Journal of Numismatics.
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Curtis Clay
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« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2010, 07:13:23 am »

Dear Dr. Clay,

You make an excellent and convincing arguement and I look forward to reading the fullsome account in the AJN one day.  (My 2009 volume just arrived and I am waiting an oportune time to begin reading it.)  Thank you for sharing it with us now.

While I knew very little about Nepotian, the common dating of Decentius' Caesarship to 350 had always bothered me.  Even the simple fact of his scarcity in the early coinage of this period had made me favour the 351 dating.  Your highlighting the texts of Aurelius Victor and Epitome de Caesaribus has helped put this all in context.

Thanks.

Shawn
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SC
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« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2010, 04:29:37 pm »

Dear Dr Clay,

Your knowledge is captivating and your passion highly contagious. I sincerely thank you for sharing all this with us. To read you makes me want to know more!

Regards,
Ignasi
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curtislclay
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« Reply #7 on: April 21, 2010, 03:44:34 pm »

Thanks, Shawn and Ignasi!

An example of the astonishing compactness of Eckhel's Latin: I needed twelve words in English,

"the various facts that we already know in each of those disciplines", 

to translate just three words of the original text,

"utriusque artis praecognita"!
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Curtis Clay
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« Reply #8 on: April 30, 2010, 06:24:59 pm »

Here, copied from a message I just posted on Moneta-L, are an expansion of my argument regarding the date of Decentius' Caesarship, plus summaries of two further arguments that I made at CICF but have not mentioned above:

Second, how could Nepotian have revolted in the course of 350, when the
Chronographer of 354's list of urban prefects records that Magnentius'
candidate Fabius Titianus was prefect of Rome continuously from 27 Feb. 350
to 1 March 351? In 351, in contrast, a certain Caelius Probatus was prefect
for 26 days between 12 May and 7 June, two days less than the recorded
28-day length of Nepotian's usurpation. I surmise that Probatus was
Nepotian's urban prefect, giving us exact dates for the usurper's reign, 10
May-7 June 351. The urban prefect whom, according to Aurelius Victor,
Nepotian killed during his rebellion, will then have been Probatus'
predecessor Aurelius Celsinus. Followers of the 350 chronology for
Nepotian's revolt, since no serving urban prefect can have died in that
year, have had to accuse Victor of error and propose that he meant instead
the praetorian prefect!

Third, the coinage of the mint of Rome shows that Magnentius must have made
his brother Decentius Caesar precisely during the revolt of Nepotian: coins
of Decentius appear immediately after the revolt, taking over Nepotian's
Roma seated reverse type, but Decentius was absent from the coinage before
the revolt. Followers of the 350 date for Nepotian's revolt, above all
Pierre Bastien, have had to conclude that Decentius became Caesar c. July
350, but this assumption brings problems. Aurelius Victor and the Epitome
report that Decentius became Caesar at around the same time that Constantius
Gallus became Caesar, and for that second promotion we have the date 15
March 351. Moreover Decentius shared the consulship with Magnentius on 1
Jan. 352, as though he had only been made Caesar in the course of 351, not
on 1 Jan. 351, as we would expect if he was made Caesar in July 350. On the
new chronology these problems disappear: Decentius was made Caesar in
May-June 351, during the revolt of Nepotian, so indeed at around the same
time as Gallus, who was promoted on 15 March 351, two or three months
earlier; and the year of Decentius' consulship with Magnentius was indeed
the one immediately following his promotion to the Caesarship.

Finally, the postponement of Nepotian's revolt from June 350 to May-June 351
allows for a much evener and more likely distribution of the coinage of
Magnentius at the mint of Rome over the thirty-one month period from 27 Feb.
350 to 26 Sept. 352 when he and Nepotian were recognized as emperors there.
On the old chronology, two of the three main issues of bronze coins and,
according to Bastien's specimen counts, about 60% of the total volume of the
bronze coinage, were all produced between 27 Feb. and c. mid-July 350,
during only the first four and one-half months or approximately 15% of the period in question, meaning that only one main issue and 40% of the coinage was issued during the remaining 85% of the period. Thus on this chronology the rate of production of bronze coins at the mint of Rome was approximately eight and one-half times higher during the first four and one-half months of this period than it was during the remaining  twenty-six and one-half months! On the new chronology the production of the first two issues and 60% of the coinage extended from 27 Feb. 350 to c. late June 351, over a period of 16 months, leaving the remaining 15 months of the period for the production of the third issue and about 40% of the volume of the bronze coinage. In other words on this chronology the mint of Rome produced bronze coins at approximately a constant rate over the whole period in question.

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Curtis Clay
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« Reply #9 on: May 01, 2010, 09:49:08 am »

Dr. Clay:

Do you have anything similar on Silbannacus?
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curtislclay
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« Reply #10 on: May 07, 2010, 06:11:24 pm »

Silbannacus is entirely unknown to the written and inscriptional sources, so our knowledge of him, who he was, when and where he revolted, is wholly dependent on his surviving coinage.

Quite different from Nepotian, for whom we have not only his coinage, but literary sources telling us quite a bit about his descent from the house of Constantine and his rebellion at Rome against Magnentius.

Sylviane Estiot has written a very important article about Silbannacus, my offprint of which I have misplaced so have to report from memory. She publishes the second known coin of this usurper, from the same obv. die as the first coin in BM, but with a different rev. type.

The first coin was said to have been found in France, so the usual assumption was that Silbannacus revolted in Gaul and set up his mint there, probably late in the reign of Philip I to judge from the silver composition and the style. See RIC, pp. 66-7 and 105.

Estiot raises her own flag of revolt, though numismatic and bloodless: no, the style of Silbannacus's two coins is that of the mint of Rome, not a provincial mint, and the second coin uses a reverse type that was then taken over by Aemilian. So I presume Estiot proposed (I can't really remember) that Silbannacus raised a brief revolt against Aemilian at Rome after Gallus and Volusian, marching to oppose Aemilian's invasion of Italy, were murdered by their own soldiers at Interamna.
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« Reply #11 on: May 09, 2010, 09:05:40 am »

S. Estiot scenario is that after Gallus and Volusian have been murdered by their own soldiers, Aemilian went back to Rome where the Senate recognized him as emperor (june or july AD 253). Meanwhile Valerian is acclaimed as emperor by his troops and then crosses the Alps to fight Aemilian, who left Rome to meet him in Spolete. For that Aemilian left in Rome part of his troops, one of his lieutenants being Silbannacus. At the same time Gallienus, who has been raised to the rank of Caesar by the Senate arrives to Rome behind Aemilan, who is, as Gallus and Volusian before him, murdered by his own soldiers (september AD 253).
In Rome, the soldiers remained loyal to Aemilan, raised Silbannacus to the rank of Augustus for one or two weeks before Valerian and Silbannacus finally join later in september.

NB : this is a quick "summarized" translation of S. Estiot cited by Curtis Clay. Sorry if it's not as clear as the original

Hope that helps
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curtislclay
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« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2013, 09:20:25 pm »

In a paper read at a conference in 2006, which has just recently been published (2011), Michel Festy presents an excellent analysis of the literary evidence for the date of Nepotian's rebellion, and correctly favors 351 over 350.

The dating to 350 in the Consularia Constantinopolitana, Festy says, has been accepted without question since c. 1700 when it was advocated by the historian Tillemont. The different account of the Latin epitimators, assigning the revolt to 351, has always been rejected without serious consideration.

Festy has some hesitation about accepting the new date, however, because the numismatists, Bastien, Kent, and Gricourt, all accept 350 without question. Festy supposes that was because of numismatic evidence, when in fact the numismatists have merely been following Tillemont and the Consularia Constantinopolitana, just like everybody else!

Festy will probably be happy to learn that the actual numismatic evidence, namely the medallions of Magnentius and the large volume of ordinary coinage produced by the mint of Rome before the rebellion of Nepotian, strongly favors placing the revolt in 351 rather than 350.

I suggested that Celius Probatus, attested as being Urban Prefect from 12 May to 7 June 351, was Nepotian's appointee, allowing us to calculate the exact dates of Nepotian's usurpation. Festy attempts to preserve the 3 June date given by the Consularia Constantinopolitana for the beginning of the rebellion, by proposing that Probatus was instead Magnentius' prefect at the time of Nepotian's rebellion, whom Nepotian is said to have killed. So Nepotian rebelled outside of Rome on 3 June 351, then captured Rome and killed Probatus on 7 June.

Now the next recorded prefect, Clodius Adelfius, served from 7 June to 18 December 351, so cannot have been Nepotian's appointee, since his rebellion only lasted 28 days. Festy suggests that Adelfius was Magnentius' appointee, either declared prefect on 7 June even though the city was then in Nepotian's power, or appointed after Nepotian's suppression but whose term of office was then backdated to 7 June, expunging from the record the city prefect that Nepotian had doubtless appointed.

Festy's reconstruction seems possible, and of course it would be nice to preserve the attested 3 June date for the beginning of Nepotian's revolt. I think I would still prefer to reject that date, and view Probatus as being Nepotian's appointee. It seems unlikely to be mere coincidence that Nepotian's revolt lasted 28 days, while Probatus was prefect for 26 days, at just around the time when we know the rebellion took place!
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Curtis Clay
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« Reply #13 on: January 06, 2013, 01:21:55 pm »


Although it seems to me that Silbannacus is very far from Nepotian and the very interesting discussion of his pronunciamiento by Curtis, as Silbannacus has popped up in this thread ... here is the link to Revue Numismatique 151, 1996, where my article has been published - in French alas (p. 105-117 ; the related plates XV-XVI are to be found at the end of the RN 2006 volume):
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/issue/numi_0484-8942_1996_num_6_151
S. Estiot
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« Reply #14 on: October 22, 2017, 04:01:07 pm »

I had never looked at this sub forum before because I never considered myself an advanced collector. My loss. Anyway, I have updated the information for my Nepotian to 351. Thank you, Curtis Clay, if many years too late.
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