Revolt of Aureolus

An Emperor Without Coins?

Were you to ask a number of 'experts' on Roman history to list all the Emperors, it is quite likely that each of their lists would be slightly different. The variations would result from differences of opinion on which of the numerous usurpers would make the list. In the first century, few would list Clodius Macer who issued coins but failed to make the list of Suetonius (else 'The Thirteen Caesars'). The second century saw Pescennius Niger and Clodius Albinus who would make nearly every list. The third century is where the matter becomes difficult. There are rulers who issued coins but are otherwise unknown to history. Here we see the numismatic remnants of a ruler who left no coins in his own name. Whether it is appropriate to consider Aureolus actually an 'Emperor' is very much a matter of opinion. He certainly was an important figure of the day. Gold coins formerly attributed to him are now considered modern fakes.

Postumus by Aureolus - Bronze antoninianus - 267-268 AD - Milan mint

Aureolus was Master of the Horse, commander of the Roman cavalry, under Gallienus. He was responsible for the defeat of the Macriani usurpers and was left in charge of the West while Gallienus was occupied with the East. He later revolted against Gallienus who besieged him at his headquarters at Milan (Mediolanum). During the siege, Aureolus, although declared Augustus by his troops, announced his loyalty to Postumus and issued coins from the mint at Milan in the name of Postumus. While besieging Aureolus, Gallienus was murdered by a group of his staff officers who appointed Claudius II Augustus. Postumus was unable to save Aureolus, possibly due to his being occupied with the revolt of Laelianus at Mainz. Milan fell to Claudius II and Aureolus was executed. Coins issued during this revolt tend to be small and crude even by the reduced standards of that period. They are distinguished from other coins of Postumus by the use of an officina (workshop) letter (P, S or T) in the reverse exergue and by a strong tendency (there are exceptions) to the mention of the cavalry (EQVITVM or AEQVITVM) in reverse legends.

Postumus by Aureolus - Bronze antoninianus - 267-268 AD - Milan mint

Our second example shows this crude workmanship particularly well. Note the semicircular die crack on the reverse (11 o'clock to 7 o'clock) as well as the serious flan crack and tiny flan. Considering the circumstances of their production while the city was under siege, we can understand signs of stress at the mint. The coins are not common but finding a really nice example that will satisfy most collectors will be a task. The coins are almost never full legend or particularly attractive. The examples shown here are typical.

Milan served as a mint both before and after this period. Under Gallienus and Claudius II workmanship was similar to the crude issues of Aureolus. Perhaps we were being too kind mentioning that the siege was a factor? Below, left, is a Milan antoninianus of Salonina, wife of Gallienus, which has attracted some attention among collectors. The reverse, Augusta in Pace, has been suggested as evidence that Salonina was Christian. It is true that Gallienus ended the persecutions of Valerian but we have no proof that this tolerance was inspired by anything as extreme as a Christian empress. This certainly is a subject that would benefit from the discovery of new evidence.

Salonina, wife of Gallienus c.267 AD
AE Antoninianus - Milan
Claudius II Gothicus c.268 AD
AE Antoninianus - Milan

On the right is an example of the continuation of coinage at Milan. The legend referring to the cavalry is gone; Claudius II was not a specialist in this area. Among the conspirators that toppled Gallienus, however, was another Master of the Horse, Aurelian, soon to succeed Claudius and destined to become one of the strongest rulers of this turbulent period.

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith