Postumus, Emperor of Gaul

An interesting side trip in a journey through Roman history is presented by the Gallo-Roman Empire that controlled much of Europe from 260 (some say 259) to 273 AD. Whether Marcus Cassianus Latinius Postumus and his successors are considered usurpers against the legitimate Roman Emperor or the saviors of the Roman way of life against German encroachment is a matter of opinion. Rome hit a low point when the Emperor Valerian was captured (eventually killed) by the Persians. Gallienus, son and heir of Valerian, was occupied with other wars and other usurpers in the East. Postumus was declared Augustus and established an independent state in Gaul, Britain and Spain. Whether this was his idea or forced upon him by soldiers who hated Gallienus is unclear. For the next decade he ruled well and was successful in campaigns against the Germans along the Rhine. His popularity with the people and armies prevented efforts of Gallienus to restore the lost provinces to the Empire. The history of the Gallic Empire is poorly recorded. What few written histories exist were products of a much later date and are, in many details, contradictory of each other. This is one area in particular where numismatic evidence is very useful in filling in the blanks of our knowledge of the period. Coin of Postumus were produced at three mints: Cologne, Milan (under Aureolus) and the main mint of the early years which RIC assigns to Lugdunum. Other references list this mint as Trier.

Postumus - Silver (Billon) Antoninianus
HERC PACIFERO - early 260's AD
Hercules with olive branch, lionskin and club
Lugdunum mint - 22 mm diameter - 3.5g.
Cohen 101, RIC 67
Postumus - Silver (Billon) Antoninianus
SALVS AVG - early 260's AD
Aesculapius with staff/serpent
Lugdunum mint - 20 mm diameter - 3.5g.
Cohen 336, RIC 86

During the 260's the Roman silver coins continued the progressive debasement that had been underway for over two centuries. Coins finally passed the point where a silver appearance was lost. Coins of Gallienus range from about 25% silver and grey appearance to about 5% silver. These would have appeared wholly copper if it were not for a thin wash of silver added to the surface. Coins of Postumus also declined in quality during the decade but always seem to have been superior to the issues of Gallienus of that same year. It appears that maintaining a sound currency was important to Postumus and could have been part of the reason he was held in high regard as a ruler.

Postumus - Bronze double sestertius - Lugdunum mint - 34mm diameter - 20.5g.
Hercules with club, lionskin and bow - Cohen 94, RIC 131v (with bow)

In addition to the gold and silver coins, Postumus issued a wide variety of bronze issues in several denominations including the double sestertius introduced at Rome by Trajan Decius. Inflation and weight reduction are found with these just as in the silver. Many double sestertii of Postumus are found overstruck on earlier sestertii (usually of the Antonine period). Workmanship is not good by old standards but good compared to the miserable chunky bronzes of Gallienus at Rome. The Gallic bronzes are struck on broad (but thinner) flans and show interesting artwork and types. Many lack the SC found on most Roman bronzes but, considering Postumus' status as a usurper, it is more noteworthy that some bronzes do bear this mark of Senatorial authority. The Featured coin is typical of specimens commonly available. The reverse honors Hercules of Deuso (a town in the Rhine region that may have been either the place of Postumus' birth or where he was declared Augustus). Hercules played a major role among the types used by Postumus including a few reminiscent of those of Commodus which we previously Featured. This specimen is imperfectly struck on a ragged flan but I can not identify anything that proves it was overstruck on another coin.

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(c) 1997 Doug Smith