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Webb Carausius Coinage


Carausius struck gold, silver, and bronze. His gold coins are very rare, only twelve varieties being known, of which eight a.re of British and four of Continental origin. There are in the British Museum two aurei bearing the bust and name of Maximian, and the reverse legend SALVS AVGGG [Pl. I. 6], which were issued from the London mint by Carausius; one of these was found in the Thames.

The workmanship of the aurei of Carausius is very good, especially in the case of the British pieces. Their diameter is usually from 18 to 20 millimeters, but the weight is considerably less than that of the gold coins of the contemporary Roman Emperors, the average being 66·3 grains as compared with 80·1 of Diocletian and 81·1 of Maximian. The two gold pieces issued by Carausius in the name of Maximian, weigh respectively 66·1 and 66·5 grains; their style is very similar to the aurei issued by the Roman Emperor himself, but the fact that they are of the average weight adopted by Carausius and far below that of Maximian, contributes interesting evidence in support of the accepted theory that all the coins which bear reference to the alleged triumvirate were issued by Carausius.

The Emperor is usually laureate on his aurei and denarii, and radiate on his bronze pieces.

In view of the fineness of the workmanship of the gold pieces, it may be assumed that their issue did not commence till Carausius was well established on the throne, and that they were not struck earlier than 290.

There are somewhat over one hundred varieties of the silver coinage of Carausius recorded. Seven of them bear a London mint-mark, about seventy of the remainder bear the mark RSR, or some probably blundered variety of it, such as RXR, RCR, or SR., and several others, though without mint-mark, or so badly centered that the exergual space does not appear on the flan, or with mint­marks X, XX, XX>, XXX, VVV, or a thunderbolt, suggest by their style and fabric that they may safely be attributed to the mint which used the mark RSR, or to imitators of its issues. Two denarii, above mentioned, bearing respectively the reverse legends VBERITA AV. and VBERITAS AVG. and the mint-mark R.S.R., which were found at Rouen, appear to be imitations, by local engravers, of British models. Two denarii have been published as bearing the exergual mark C, but it has not been possible to verify them. There is one in the Hunter Collection with the reverse legend CONCORDIA MILITVM which has a crescent in the exergue, and it may well be that the two coins referred to bear this mark and not a true c. At any rate, it· is certain that the mark c on silver coins is of extreme rarity, if it exists at all, and that by far the greater part of the silver issue came from the mint which used the mark RSR. The localities in which the mints were situated will be considered below.

The metal employed varied from a very base alloy to fine silver. The workmanship shows an equal amount of variety; some pieces, probably of the earlier issues, are of very poor, almost barbaric execution, while a number of them, which may be attributed to the later years of the reign, are of good design, struck on large flans of fine metal well centered, and altogether of creditable execution. This silver issue is the most remarkable numismatic feature of the period. The Roman mints issued hardly any true silver from the reign of Septimius Severus down to the improvement of the coinage carried out by Diocletian; its place was taken first by coins of base white metal, and afterwards, if at all, by bronze coins covered with a thin wash of silver or tin. Diocletian did not issue silver before 294, -and probably not till 296. It is, therefore, to the credit of Carausius that he should have coined so considerable a quantity of silver money; not in imitation of any contemporary Roman coinage, but because he, at an earlier date than even the astute Diocletian, appreciated the public need of it. It is clear from the evidence of various hoards that, although the issue of true silver had been so long suspended, there was still a considerable number of ancient denarii in circulation. The Germans and other Northern tribes always rejected the base metal issues, and Carausius may have found the need of a good silver coinage in his dealings with them. The average weight of his denarii is much greater than that of the pieces issued by Diocletian and his colleagues; the best silver are of superior appear­ance, and the types are much more varied.

The bronze issues from the British mints are extra­ordinarily varied both in size, style, and type, and are frequently defective in mechanical execution, the coins being often irregular in shape and thickness, and not infrequently bearing legends which are blundered or inconsistent with the type employed. In size they vary from 17 to 25 millimeters-that is, they are all of the sizes which are comprised in the somewhat inaccurate numismatic term "third brass."3 The sestertius and dupondius had long died out, and the issue of the new bronze coin, which is commonly known as the follis, had not commenced. It seems possible, how­ever, to trace a persistent division of the British bronze pieces into two sizes, a division which is obscured by the great irregularity of the issues of Carausius, but becomes much clearer in the reign of Allectus. Under Carausius are found a very large number of pieces which do not, as a rule, exceed 19 millimeters in diameter, and generally bear a short-necked, thick-set bust with a trite reverse type, most commonly PAX AVG, but sometimes SALVS, SECVRITAS, VICTORIA, etc. They are mostly without a mint-mark, but occasionally bear one of London, and seem to have something of a style of their own, and to be hardly fit to compete on even terms with the larger pieces, of which the majority exceed 20 millimeters in diameter. In view of the large issue of silver above mentioned, the fineness of the gold, and the beauty and interest of many of the bronze types which were struck by Carausius after the peace, we may reasonably infer that he gave great and increasing attention to bis coinage, and although the point may be obscured by the issues of illiterate and unskillful moneyers, it is reasonable to conclude that any marked difference between one class of bis pieces and another was ma.de advisedly and for a definite purpose. Some of the incompetent moneyers may have been unauthorized, some may have been makeshifts at the commencement of his reign, but although many badly struck pieces are found among the smaller class of bronze, still that class comprises a great number of coins of very respectable British workmanship evidently issued by competent and authorized engravers.

The similar but much more clearly marked division under Allectus has been discussed in a paper on the coinage of that Emperor,4 and it has been suggested that his bronze coins may have passed current at two values, the smaller, always marked Q, at half the value of the latter, which are never so marked. If this view be accepted, it may reasonably be applied also to the coins of Carausius, though the irregularities in size and weight in his issues are so considerable that the suggestion could hardly have been made had it not arisen from the examination of the more accurate and better struck coins of his successor.

3. To this there is one exception. A piece of 26 mm. in the York Museum is there considered as a "second brass." (See Fig. 1, p. 57.) The size of its bust and lettering show that it is not merely an AE on a large flan.

4. Num. Chron., 1906, Part II. pp. 131-183.

Webb, P.H. The reign and coinage of Carausius. (London, 1908).

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