Probus, summer 276 - September 282 A.D.
From the collection of Evan Rankin
Ancient Roman coins of Probus for sale in the Forum Ancient Coins consignment shop.
Marcus Aurelius Probus was the son of a soldier and himself a simple soldier at the beginning of his career. By the reign of Aurelian he was one of the Empire's foremost generals. After the death of Tacitus he was declared emperor and after the murder of Florian he was left undisputed master of the Roman world. He embarked on a series of economic revival programs bringing great peace and prosperity to the empire. Tragically mutinous soldiers, enraged at being employed on public building projects, murdered him.
Severus Probus was a native of Sirmium
. His father was originally a gardener, who by entering the army rose to the rank of a military tribune.
Probus obtained the same office at age twenty-two and distinguished himself so much by his probity, valor, intrepidity, moderation and clemency, that at the death of the emperor Tacitus, he was invested with the imperial purple by the voluntary and uninfluenced choice of his soldiers. His election was universally approved by the Roman senate and the people.
Probus, strengthened on his throne by the affection and attachment of his subjects, marched against the enemies of Rome in Gaul and Germany. Several battles were fought, and after he had left 400,000 barbarians dead in the field, Probus turned his arms against he Sarmatians. They achieved the same successes and since he had successfully quelled and terrified to peace the numerous barbarians of the north, he marched through Syria against the Blemmyes in the neighborhood of Egypt and defeated them with great slaughter.
The military character of the emperor was so well established, that the king of Persia sued for peace by his ambassadors and attempted to buy Probus' favor with the most splendid presents. Probus was feasting upon the most common food when the ambassadors were introduced. Without even casting his eyes upon them, he said that if their master did not give proper satisfaction to the Romans, he would lay Persia as desolate and as naked as the crown of his head. As he spoke, the Emperor took off his cap and showed the baldness of his head to the ambassadors. His conditions were gladly accepted by the Persian monarch.
Probus retired to Rome to convince his subjects of the greatness of his conquests, and to claim from them the applause which their ancestors had given to the conqueror of Macedonia or the destroyer of Carthage. His triumph lasted several days, and the Roman populace was long entertained with shows and combats. But the Roman empire, delivered from its foreign enemies, was torn by civil discord, and peace was not re-established until three usurpers had been severely defeated. While his subjects enjoyed tranquility, Probus encouraged the liberal arts, he permitted the inhabitants of Gaul and Illyricum to plant fines in their territories and he himself repaired the 70 cities in different parts of the empire which had been reduced to ruins.
He also attempted to drain the waters which were stagnated in the neighborhood of Sirmium, by conveying them to the sea by artificial canals. His armies were employed in the laborious undertaking, but as they were unaccustomed to such toils they soon mutinied and fell upon the emperor as he was passing into one of the towns of Illyricum. He fled into an iron tower which he himself had built to observe the marshes but was soon overpowered and murdered. He was fifty years old and reigned six years.
The news of his death was received with the greatest consternation. Not only his friends, but his very enemies deplored his fate. Historia Augusta reports (though it is likely fiction) that the very army which had murdered him erected a monument over his body, and placed upon it this inscription:
Hic Probus imperator et vere probus situs est, victor omnium gentium barbararum, victor etiam tyrannorum.
Here lies Probus, emperor and man of true probity, conqueror of all barbarian nations, conqueror of usurpers as well. (Historia Augusta, Life of Probus 21.4 :
as translated in the Loeb; emended by R. W. Burgess)
Note: Note the pun in the emperor's name and his description as 'Probus'. The author loved puns on names, even bad ones like this. The phrase 'victor omnium gentium barbararum' is real and was used on inscriptions and coins as an imperial title. One should beware of all biographies of usurpers and third century emperors that rely on the HA: most of it is humorous fiction that even scholars have trouble disentangling from fact
Born: ~ 232 CE.
Reign: Summer 276 - September 282 CE.
Rarity of Denominations, Average Weights of Well Preserved Coins, Mints, and Other Information
Gold binio (double aureus
R6 Two distinct sizes: 5.18 - 5.31 grams, 6.35 grams1
R7 Range 1.94 - 3.17 (only 4 specimens)1
C1 3.73 grams, average
3.12% silver, range 2.24% - 5.2% silver1Silvered denarius
R1 Silvered quinarius
Copper as R2
Note: The rarity scale here includes three main ratings from C (common), to S (scarce), to R (rare). Within each rating numbers from 1-10 are may be used to indicate increasing degrees of rarity with 1 the most common and 10 the least common.
1. Luis C. West, Gold and Silver Standards in the Roman Empire, Numismatic Notes and Monographs, #94, ANS, NY, 1941.
Imperial: Antioch, Cyzicus, Lugdunum, Rome, Siscia, Serdica, Ticinum, Tripolis
ERIC - PROBUS
Fake Coin Reports
Coins of Probus
De Imperatoribus Romanis
Discussion Board Search
Alföldi, A. Siscia. Heft V: Verzeichnis der Antoniniane des Kaisers Probus. (Budapest, 1939).
Bastien, P. Le monnayage de l'atelier de Lyon. De la réouverture de l'atelier par Aurélien à la mort de Carin (fin 274 – mi-285). Numismatique Romaine IX. (Wetteren, 1976).
Cohen, H. Description historique des monnaies frappées sous l’Empire Romain, Vol. 6: Macrianus to Diocletian & Maximianus. (Paris, 1886).
Mattingly, H. Sydenham and Webb. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol V, Part II, Probus to Amandus. (London, 1933).
Pink, K. “Der Aufbau der Römischen münzprägung in der Kaiserzeit: VI/1. Probus” in Numismatische Zeitschrift 73 (1949).
Robinson, A. Roman Imperial Coins in the Hunter Coin Cabinet, University of Glasgow, Vol. IV. Valerian I to Allectus. (Oxford, 1978).
Sear, D.R. Roman Coins and Their Values, Volume Three, The Accession of Maximinus I to the Death of Carinus AD 235 - AD 285. (London, 2005).
Dictionary of Roman Coins
PROBUS (Marcus Aurelius). – This illustrious Emperor was born at Sirmium (Sermiel), in Pannonia, A.D. 232. His father’s name was Maximus, of an obscure family; that of his mother is not known. Eminently favoured by nature, from the dawn of manhood, his look was noble, his carriage majestic, and his inclinations heroic. Valerian, discovering his rising merit, made him a military tribune, at an unusually early age. In the reigns of Claudius II , of Aurelian and Tacitus, he displayed his valour and skill; as rendering himself formidable in Africa, Egypt and the Gallic provinces; the Rhine, the Danube and the Euphrates also bore witness to his warlike triumphs over the foes of the empire. Prefect of the East, at the period of the death of Tacitus, he was about 44 years of age when he ascended the imperial throne; “in the full possession of his fame, of the love of the army and of mature mental and bodily vigour” (A.D. 276). After having vanquished Florianus , he was confirmed in his title by the Senate, who in homage to his exploits and to his virtues confirmed upon him at once the name of Caesar, Augustus, Pontifex Maximus, the Tribunitian power and the Proconsular command. Thus honoured by “the Conscript Fathers”, he was no less acknowledged by the whole empire, and his reign was a succession of victories and useful labors. He strengthened the Rhaetian frontier; made the Goths feel the keen edge of the sword, and induced them to seek his alliance; broke the power of the Sarmatians in the north and the Isaurians in the east; defeated the Blemmyes and constrained the King of Persia to sue for peace. The retracing his steps westward, Probus delivered Gaul from an invasion of the barbarous tribes of Germany – drove back the Franks into their morasses; and carrying his arms into the German fastnesses, built a wall from the Rhine to the Danube. Victor in all these expeditions and encounters both with foreign and domestic enemies, he enjoyed triumphal honours at Rome in A.D. 279; on which occasion as is shown by his coins, redistributed the congiarium, and treated the people with magnificent shows . In quelling the subsequent revolt of Saturninus, Proculus and Bonosus who had severally usurped the purple under his reign, he used his good fortune with remarkable moderation and humanity. Many and stupendous were the works which this ever active Prince caused to be affected by the labour of his soldiers, after having restored peace to the world. But the treaty between Rome and Persia having been broken by “the Great King”, Probus prepared for war again and on a grand decisive scale ; but his rigid and exact discipline, and certain expressions which had unguarded escaped him respecting the military, provoked his own troops to mutiny, and they assassinated him on the march, in the month of August A.D. 282. Probus had reigned six years and four months; and his death was deplored, not only by the Senate and people, but also by the very soldiers, whose discontent at his severity, and jealousy of his preference for civil over military government, had promoted this murderous attack on the life of their Emperor. His superior genius, both in the council and in the field, had indeed placed him on a level at least with the best and ablest princes of the Roman Empire; and the eulogium inscribed on his tomb at his native town of Sirmium, where he died , fell far short of justice to his memory, in designating him merely as the vanquisher of the barbarous nations: for his wisdom, probity , good morals and disinterestedness, had established for him a more valid claim to be called “the Father of his Country” than could ever be truly advanced for and Augustus or even a Trajan.
Probus is styled on his coins – IMP C PROBVS PIVS AVG – IMP CAES M AVR PROBVS P F AVG – PERPETVVS IMP PROBVS – PROBVS INVICTVS – BONVS IMP PROBVS INVICT AVG.
The gold and silver of this Emperor are rare; his brass money of the third form is extremely common. Beauvais states that the Abbe DE Rothelin had formed a set of them, amounting to no less than two thousand in number, with differences. One of the most interesting, with the reverse of VIRTVS PROBI AVG, Probus on horseback spearing an enemy is given here.
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Vopiscus, in his life of Probus (c. ii.), relates that this Emperor was called Gothicus, and also by the other cognomina of Parthicus, Sarmaticus, and Francicus, by the senate. None of these honorary appellations, however, are to be found on his coins. But we do read on some if his medals VICTORIA GERMANICA, and also VICTORIA GOTHICA. By Strada she is known. Moreover, in the room of his other more usual titles, we see on some coins of this prince VIRTVS PROBI INVICTI AVG, with his head radiate and javelin right, and a shield in his left hand. Another piece of Probus’ money is inscribed VICTORIOSO SEMPER.
The wife of this Emperor appears on coins, but her name is unknown. Mionnet describes a very rare bronze medallion, on the obverse of which are the heads side by side (accolées) of Probus et Uxor. By Strada she is called Julia Procla; but Tristan, from whom Strada quotes, does not profess to have discovered the name.
Beauvais says “By his wife PROCLA, Probus had several children, whose names are not known. All that is certain is that they established themselves in the city of Rome.”