THIRD CENTURY IMITATIONS
The late third century saw an epidemic of coin copying, particularly, but not exclusively, in Britain and Gaul. These copies were based on the prevalent coin of the time the radiate base silver denomination known today as the antoninianus. The copies vary hugely in both quality of execution, some being so good that they can almost be mistaken for the prototypes while others one can only guess at the prototype, and also in module, again some being larger and heavier than the prototype others being only a fraction of the size/weight.
These coins are most popularly known as "barbarous radiates", and that is a name I don't like. I prefer to call them "local radiates" reflecting that they are not:
1. made by barbarians
2. made in barbarian territory
3. always crudely or barbarously made
When were they made (and I suppose also why were they made)? This question has, I think, no simple answer in as much as the imitations of the Gallic coins can be divided into different phases, each with its own reason.
Initially there are struck (occasionally cast) copies made for the purpose of ancient fraud. These copies are of good size and style and frequently plated. Designs used are contemporary with the prototype issue as they are designed to blend in with the regular issues and pass un-noticed. The 1986 Stevenage hoard, terminating with coins of 263 AD contained 66 irregular Postumus coins, approximately 10% of the total for that emperor.
As you move into the early 270's striking copies makes way for cast coins of the Gallic rulers but this phenomenon doesn't last long. Again being cast from originals the suspicion must be that they were produced not out of necessity but rather for fraudulent purposes.
By far the largest group of copies are struck coins of the later Gallic emperors but also including coins of the legitimate emperors, in particular the deified series of Claudius II. The production of these coins appears to go on until the 280's (very rarely imitations of Probus are encountered) and they seem to be produced as a reaction against the shortage of official coin reaching northern Gaul and Britain.
One can speculate why there was such a shortage of official coinage after Aurelian's reform of 274. Some have seen it as a punishment to those territories supporting the Gallic rulers. However, surely the authorities would have wanted to replace the rebel's coinage with new as a way of erasing the memory of the regime, rather than enhancing it.
I prefer to think that it had something to do with Aurelian closing the mint at Trier and transferring operations down to Lyon. That left no mint operating in Northern Gaul, Germany or Britain with an economy that had a devalued monetary system needing large amounts of coin. Low value, high volume goods are expensive to transport and this may be one explanation for the shortage of new coin . This may have been done in order to separate the manufacture and supply of money away from the rebellious garrisons of Britain and Rhineland.
Because of the use of old coin designs and the paucity of new official coin it does cause problems when trying to date coin hoards from the period 274 through to 286 and the revolt of Carausius. Many hoards seem to terminate in 274 AD. The imitations cannot be fixed to a particular date within the 274-286 window on the basis of style as the die engraving is a matter of artistic competence rather than a stylistic degradation, neither can they be dated on the basis of module as the size will also be dictated by the availability of metal.
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