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Webb Carausius Preface


"Carausius and Allectus tried,
From two eight eight to three nought nought,
To set the Roman power at naught."
                                                                                       INCE and GILBERT.

THE information vouchsafed by the above lines is meagre and chronologically incorrect, but it comprises all that is usually taught us of an interesting and instructive period in the history of our land—a period which offers, says Dr. Stukeley, "an important instance of the power of Brittain, under proper counsel and the favour of Providence, as to its natural and naval strength. For ten years together it was able to withstand the whole effort of the Roman Empire by sea, was mistress of all the coast of Gaul: this when the Empire was in the height of its greatness, under Diocletian and Maximian, two subtle, active, and warlike princes."

It may be that the following pages will prove not entirely without interest to the general reader, at a time when the revival of pageantry has given some historical bent to the public mind, and when the sufficiency of the sea power of Britain is of the most vital importance. Carausius looms dimly through the mist of ages, a romantic and strenuous figure, knowing the true secret of his country’s power, and writing a stirring chapter in her annals; _

How much of the misery of the dark ages might the world have been spared had he lived out his full span, consolidated his kingdom, and left behind him a strong and civilized northern state, ready to grasp the sceptre which fell from the hand of the Roman Empire when at last it crashed into ruins? To numismatists, I venture to hope that the Catalogue at least may be of service, for it comprises a large number of previously unpublished types and varieties, and collects much information which has hitherto been scattered. The index to the Catalogue is prepared in such a manner as to show at a glance which mints employed the various types.

The coinage of the reign is marked with strong individuality, and is so extraordinarily varied that, although the result of the examination of thousands of specimens of it is here tabulated, it is certain that the list is by no means complete, and that many further varieties exist in private collections, and will occur in boards which are yet undiscovered.

To Sir John Evans, President of the Royal Numismatic Society, and to my brother Fellows of that Society; to M. Adrien Blanchet, President of the Société Francaise de Numismatique; to Mr. Carlyon Britton, President of the British Numismatic Society; to Mr. Grueber, Mr. G. F. Hill (whose suggestion originated the work); to Major Mowat, Professor Oman, and M. Naville and others,—my warmest thanks for much information, assistance, and advice are due, and are heartily rendered. Commendatore Francesco Gnecchi generously furnished me with casts of the whole of his large collection of coins of the period; and M. Babelon, Dr. Regling, Dr. Sauvage, Mr. Forrer, and others did me similar services.

I have also to thank the Right Hon. the Earl of Selborne, Mr. George Macdonald, Mr. J. W. Brooke, and many others for most kind hospitality and for the opportunity of making a detailed examination of their private collections or those in their custody. To all this assistance, so freely rendered, what measure of success may have been attained is due.

I am tempted to add a few remarks on a most unscientific subject, that of the price at which specimens of the coins described can now be obtained. No gold coin of Carausius has been offered at auction in recent years. One may guess that a fine specimen would bring more than £100, for an aureus of Allectus, whose gold is slightly less rare, was sold in Paris a few years since for 1900 francs, or say, allowing for the auctioneer’s commission, which on the Continent is paid by the buyer, £80.

Silver coins are sometimes seen in the auction-room and in the cabinets of the dealers, but, even so, they are among the rarest of Roman denarii. The Montagu Sale in 1897 comprised three such pieces: one in poor condition was sold for £3 15s., while the other two, both extremely fine, fetched respectively £8 12s. 6d. and £16 108. Other recorded prices fall mostly within these limits, and I should estimate the value of a fine specimen of no special rarity to be from £6 to £8. The value of the bronze coinage varies according to the rarity, and still more according to the condition of the specimens. A beautifully patinated PAX AVG is recorded to have been sold privately for 80 francs in Paris a few years since, but it afterwards changed hands in London for about £2. Very fine pieces are offered by dealers at as much as from £1 to £2 each, and some justification for this may be found in the Bizot Sale (1902), where a PAX AVG of Carausius and a VIRTVS AVG of Allectus, both very fine, were sold together for £2 88. These prices are, however, quite exceptional, and a record of many sales shows that rare and fine coins may be bought at auction for 5s. each, and poorer and more common specimens as low as Is. An examination of the cost of a private collection of over 100 coins, all in fair or good condition, but bought with reference rather to rarity than to fineness, shows an average price of 3s. 35d. About one-third of them were bought at auction at an average price of about 1s. 303.; the remainder were obtained from dealers at an average of about 48. each. Coins of Allectus, other than the galley types, are somewhat scarcer than those of Carausius, and are also better executed, and they therefore fetch somewhat higher prices than those above mentioned. Those of Carausius bearing the busts and inscriptions of Diocletian and Maximian may be considered as worth from 5s. to 15s. Finally, the collector should bear in mind that unique pieces both of Carausius and Allectus are so numerous that they do not produce the competition, and therefore the prices, which would be attained by great rarities of other reigns.

March, 1908.

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

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