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Webb Carausius Numismatic Evidence


Some amount of additional historical information may be collected from the coins of Carausius and his successor. The existing pieces of Carausius are proportionately more numerous and varied in type than those of Allectus, even after allowance is made for the fact that the former. Emperor reigned more than twice as long as the latter, and the area over which they are found is somewhat wider. The greater number of pieces of both reigns are found in Central and Southern England and in Wales. A very few coins of Carausius have been met with in Scotland, but, it is believed, none of Allectus. In the northern counties of England, the coins occur with sufficient frequency to show that both Emperors bore sway there. Northern France has produced a few coins of Carausius of British fabric, a considerable number of which are undoubtedly from a Continental mint, and a very few of Allectus, whose pieces are all of British origin. Coins of Allectus are rarely if ever found else­where on the Continent, while those of Carausius have been found in very small numbers in other parts of France, and one of them is recorded to have been dug up so far away as Westphalia. This distribution is exactly in accordance with what we may deduce from history as to the extent of the dominions of the two Emperors. The two most important discoveries have been those at Rouen in 1846, and at Blackmoor, near Selborne, Hants, in 1873. The former consisted of 210 coins of Carausius, all of continental fabric, and there is little doubt they were issued from a mint which for a short time operated in Rouen itself. This question will be more fully discussed in connection with the attempt which is made hereafter to distinguish the issues of the various mints.

Nothing has at present been discovered to indicate with certainty the date at which the Rouen mint operated, but two silver pieces found in that city with reverse legends VBERITA AV. and VBERITAS AVG suggest by their style that they are imitations by a Rouen moneyer of British types, and it may therefore be assumed that they were not struck very early in the reign, especially as their British prototypes are of good workmanship. The portrait of the Emperor on the Rouen coins differs so greatly from that on the British issues that we may imagine that his personality was not familiar to the local engraver. These coins appear to have circulated somewhat freely in the north of France, and, as · above mentioned, several minor discoveries of them have been made in that district, though British struck coins are but rarely found there. On the other hand, the English hoards only contain Continental pieces in very small numbers, and though the available information upon the point is meagre, there is some ground for believing that they occur only in hoards deposited in the latter years of Carausius or in the reign of Allectus. The suggestion that the mint at Rouen was established after the defeat of Maximian’s expedition in pursuance of an arrangement that the coasts of the English Channel were to be held by Carausius, may perhaps therefore be put forward, but must be regarded as speculative. It may .be urged in its favour that the issue cannot have taken place before the flight of Carausius into Britain, as so indisputable an evidence of his intention to usurp would hardly have escaped the notice of Maximian and his historians, and would have been a conclusive justification of the Emperor's attempt to destroy the culprit. On the other hand, it is probable that Rouen, owing to its greater distance from Britain and its inland situation, was not so strongly held by the British as Boulogne, and that the Roman power was re-established there before the fall of the latter town. When Mamertinus delivered his Panegyric in April 289, Maximian was yet unbeaten, and was apparently operating from the direction of the German rivers. Boulogne is believed to have fallen in 292, and Carausius' power was at its zenith between these dates. There is evidence to be gathered from the coins that the flight to Britain and the assumption of the purple pieces of the EXPECTATE VENI types, but some of them are very fine.

The coins afford abundant corroboration of the con­clusion of peace with Diocletian and Maximian, and show that Carausius himself believed, or at least asserted, that he was a duly adopted colleague of those two Emperors. The fine and scarce piece bearing the three portraits with the legend CARAVSIVS ET FRATRES SVI, and the more numerous coins bearing the name of Carausius on the obverse and reverse legends, referring to the alleged triumvirate as PAX AVGGG, PIETAS AVGGG, and so forth, of course refer to this event. The recognition by the other two Emperors seems, however, to have been grudging and incomplete; for though pieces bearing their names and effigies with reverse legends terminating in AVGGG exist in small numbers, they are all of British mintage, and there is no doubt that they were issued by Carausius, probably in self-assertion, and not by the express authority of Diocletian or Maximian. The work was very carefully done, and a Continental style of portrait and type was adopted in preference to that which distinguishes the British fabric. Carausius in this, as in other matters, proved himself competent and thorough. That Allectus put forward no similar preten­sion to joint sovereignty may be deduced from the fact that these plural types are almost wanting in his reign, the one or two exceptions being probably blunders.

The great frequency with which Carausius used the type PAX AVG suggests that he had, in fact, concluded a peace, or peaces, which he considered very honourable and advantageous. As many of these coins are of very rough workmanship, they should probably be attributed to the early years of the reign before the failure of Maximian's expedition, and may therefore refer to the alleged treaties with the Picts and Scots. There a.re no coins which can be interpreted as referring to victories over those turbulent nations.

Coins inscribed CONCORDIA AVG and CONCORDIA MILITVM are common; those bearing the legend CON­CORDIA AVGG a.re believed to exist; but there is no record of any reading CONCORDIA AVGGG. The Concordia type, therefore, probably refers to peace and agreement in the island and not with the Romans.

Certain coins bearing the reverse legends VICTORIA GERM and GERMANICVS MAX V (type, 8, trophy between two captives) contain an historical allusion which is not yet satisfactorily explained. Probus settled some of his German captives in Britain, and it has been suggested that these pieces celebrate victories over them. It seems unlikely that these settlers were in sufficient force to challenge the great power of the Emperor, or that a victory over them would have been of sufficient import­ance to be commemorated by an issue of coins.

Another explanation which has been offered is that the Emperor desired to commemorate his early successes under Probus or some victories over German tribes in Batavia. Perhaps this view is based on the statement of the Panegyrist that the land of Batavia was " once seized by various tribes of Franks under a son of Batavia; " but there seems no sufficient ground for believing that this passage refers to Carausius. It is more probable that the victories referred to were gained over German pirates, or that the coins were mere imitations of the issues of earlier Emperors.
The great Blackmoor hoard of 29,802 coins found in two earthen pots near Woolmer Common, on property of the Earl of Selbome, between Liss and Alton, in Hampshire, is very interesting, and throws some light on the history of the period. The earliest pieces were two of Gordian Pius. There were single specimens of Philip I, Otacilia, Trebonianus Gallus and Volusian, a few of Valerian, and of later Emperors, as follows:

Gallienus 3,475                      Severina 14
Salonina 331                          Tacitus 206
Saloninus 7                            Florian 18
Postumus 331                        Probus 431
Laelianus 8                            Carus 12
Victorinus 5,450                     Carinus 24 
Marius 60                               Magnia Urbica 2
Tetricus I 10,195                    Numerian 14
Tetricus II 3,833                     Diocletian 75
Claudius Gothicus 4,213        Maximian Herculeus 53
Quintillus 188                        Constantius Chlorus 1
Aurelian 175

Of Carausius there were 545, comprising about 160 varieties, of which no less than 117 were then unpub­lished; and of Allectus 90, comprising 10 varieties, of which three were unpublished.

There are abundant signs that a battle took place in Roman times in the vicinity of the place where this hoard was found, and its composition lends the greatest probability to the conjecture of the late Lord Selbome, that it was the military chest of Allectus buried at his last fight. Asclepiodotus had landed near Portsmouth, and may well have been encountered by the British forces here on his march to London. The appearance of the one coin of Constantius Chlorus is not inconsistent with this view, for it bears his title of Caesar, which had been conferred on him in 292, and not that of Augustus, which he obtained in 305.

A little hoard of very similar date was found not far away, on property of Lord Barrington, at Watchfield, in Berkshire, in 1905. Its twenty-three coins were divided as follows: Gallienus, 1 ; Victorinus, 3 ; Tetricus I, 3 ; Tetricus II, 2 ; Claudius Gothicus, 1 ; Maximian Herculeus (struck by Carausius), 1; Carausius, 6; and Allectus, 6. The coin bearing Maximian's effigy bore the reverse legend, VIRTVS AVGGG, and a London mint- mark, and one coin of Allectus was an unpublished variety. The depositor of this hoard may well have lost his life in the disturbances consequent on the downfall of Allectus at no great distance away. A very notable find at Amiens comprised six British-struck coins of Carausius and ten of Allectus. The recent Llandudno find of some five hundred coins of Carausius awaits description.

The portrait of Carausius on his British-struck coins throws some light on his character, and possibly on his origin, for it does not suggest a man of Latin race. A round head, covered, it would appear from some speci­mens, with curly hair, a low forehead, heavy eyebrows, straight nose, firm mouth, and massive jaw, with a short, thick curly beard, rests on a neck which is often depicted as so burly and deep towards the chest as almost to amount to a deformity. The portrait is much less conventional and more convincing than those on most contemporary Continental issues, and the engraving of the dies was often spirited and artistic, though the mechanical skill of the workmen was at first deficient, and many coins were badly struck and of irregular shape. The face is that of one "vilissime natus" perhaps, but shrewd, energetic, determined, and by no means devoid of humour and kindness. On one piece (pl. IV. 11] his beard projects, and his appearance is quite that of a jovial sailor. He would appear to have been of middle age when he came to the throne, and of immense physical strength. His one existing full-face portrait (pl. II. 14] is, however, disappointing and unpleasing, and it is difficult to reconcile it with the more familiar profile. On one point his coins are almost the only source of information now available. None of the ancient writers have informed us what names other than that of Carausius were borne by him, but most modem authors have styled him Marcus Aurelius Valerius Carausius. The attribution of the name Valerius is probably based on a misreading by Dr. Stukeley of two coins, both of the Colchester mint, published in his Medallic History of Carausius, pls. vi. 1 and xxvi. 7, with legends IMP C M AVR V CARAVSIVS P AVG. PAX AVG. and IMP M AVR V CARAVSIVS P AV. PAX AVGGG. respec­tively. The former belonged to Sir Hans Sloane, whose coins found their way into the British Museum, the latter to Dr. Parker, who, Stukeley says, gave it to St. John's College, Cambridge. The most careful search has been made for these coins, but they cannot be found, nor has any similar inscription been published since Stukeley's time. Inspection of his Pl. vi. shows a vacant space between the v and the following c, and it seems very likely that what he read as v was part of the letter M., for the Bodleian Library contains a coin bear­ing the reverse legend VIRTVS AVGGG, with the obverse legend IMP C M AVR M CARAVSIVS P AVG., while Sir John Evans and Major Mowat have both published coins reading IMP C M AV M CARAVSIVS P F AVG. PROVID AVGGG., and M. Lucien Naville one bearing a similar obverse legend with the reverse PAX AVGGG.

It may be noted that coins reading IMP C M CARAVSIVS, etc., are not uncommon, and, in the majority if not in all cases, they are of good style and issued at the Colchester mint, though they are not associated, as those bearing AV. or AVR. and the second M. generally are, with reverse types referring to the alliance of the three Emperors. It therefore seems probable that Carausius originally bore a praenomen commencing with the letter M, and adopted the names Marcus Aurelius after the peace, out of compliment to Maximian, who also bore them. The name Carausius does not appear elsewhere in Roman history except in the case of another British ruler, whose date is stated by Mr. Arthur Evans to have been circa 343 A.D. It was probably of Celtic origin, and it would not therefore be surprising to find that the Emperor's original praenomen was Celtic rather than Latin. There is evidence that this was actually so. The Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society for 1875 contain a record by Mr. Haverfield of the discovery near Carlisle of a Roman milestone bearing Carausius' name. This discovery has been discussed by Major Mowat in the Revue Numismatique for 1896, and by Sir John Evans in the Numismatic Chronicle for 1905. The milestone, which is about six feet high, appears to have been originally erected by Carausius, and afterwards inverted and used again by Constantine the Great. The inscription at one end is, so far as now legible and germane to the present question, IMP C M AVR MAYS CARAVSIO INVICTO AVG, and on the other FL VAL CONSTANT[I]NO NOB CAES (VAL ligate).

Major Mowat considers MAVS to be an abbreviation of Mausaeus, or Mausaius, which name in the form MAVSIIOS is found on a Gaulish coin in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and this explanation seems satisfactory. He suggests that the reversing of the milestone shows that Carausius' successor denied any official character to his public acts, and so far as possible destroyed all traces of his reign. This view finds some support in the fact that coins of Carausius are not commonly found with those of Emperors of later date than Allectus.

The title "Invictus," which appears on the milestone, is found on a few coins of Carausius, and is quite common on those of Allectus.

The foregoing pages contain such ancient information as to the interesting period of which they treat as appears to be available, and the reader can form his own opinion as to the reliability of the various statements. Should he desire to see what lengths fancy and enthusiasm may lead historians, he is referred to Genebrier's Histoire de Carausius (1740), to Stukeley's Medallic History of Carausius (1757), and to the History of Carausius by their vitriolic contemporary critic, Richard Gough, who says in his advertisement, "Every Research after Truth has degenerated into Contest for an Hypothesis. Of all Inquirers after it Antiquarians, to whose Discoveries some Deference is presumed to be due, should quarrel least, much less should they substitute Fancy and Invention to that Fiction and Obscurity they labour to banish." An attempt has been made in the compilation of these notes to avoid these most reprehensible faults.

It may, however, be permissible to conclude that Carausius was a more than ordinarily competent and successful usurper, and that his conduct shows not only military and naval skill of a very high order, with which he is credited even by his adversaries, but also great political astuteness, and probably considerable power of consolidating and governing his country.

The coinage of a country was, at any rate in early times, an almost unfailing index to its progress and prosperity: if this be true of the British Empire of that long bygone day, we may fairly believe that Carausius evolved order from chaos, and that his government was intelligent and so successful that even his murder was not sufficient to destroy the edifice which he had con­structed. There is ground for believing that he was a popular ruler, that his murderer proved both less kindly and less capable, and that the British people were not displeased to see Allectus fall before Constantius Chlorus, especially as the· latter appears to have shown clemency and moderation after his victory.

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

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