Politics, Succession and Death

Tacitus - 275-276 AD - Silvered antoninianus
Cyzicus mint, 4th workshop - 4.4g
SPES PVBLICA KA D- Victory & Emperor
As this is being written, the United States is preparing for the mid-term election of 1998. This election will not select a President, merely those who may well sit in judgment of the President. Whenever events have prevented a President from serving out his term, the US system has provided clearly for the order of succession. This is a matter that Rome never worked out in a satisfactory manner. Tacitus became emperor some months following the death of his predecessor, Aurelian. History is weakly recorded for this period and the exact details of his reign are far from certain. It appears that Tacitus appointed his half brother Florian to the post of Praetorian Prefect and unsuccessfully nominated him to be consul. Tacitus was a highly respected Senator whose selection was the last real exercise of power by that body. Written histories, not contemporary with the events but all that have survived, suggest Tacitus was an old man. His coin portraits paint a younger picture. In any event, he soon died (possibly of natural causes, a rarity in the Third century!). Florian had himself proclaimed Emperor but lacked strong support in the Senate or with the armies. Being brother of a respected man was no guarantee of success.

Our knowledge of the events of Florian's reign are more clear since it was so brief. A legion under the command of Probus proclaimed their leader Emperor. Probus delayed the battle for superiority leaving the army standing ready in the heat. The larger army under Florian decided that their lot would be improved if Florian died and voted with a sword. Exactly what made the Senate resist the proposed consulship or the army unwilling to support what appeared to be a winnable battle is less than certain but, by the rules of Roman succession, Probus won.

Florian - April-June 276 AD - Silvered antoninianus - Serdica mint, 2nd workshop - 4.0g

Our coin of Florian is noteworthy in several respects. The reverse is a type listed for the mint at Serdica. Providentia stands between two military standards facing Sol holding a globe and raising the other hand. The obverse legend is made less ordinary by completely spelling out the name Annius. Commonly legends at the start of a reign spell out more of the ruler's name. This long legend is listed in RIC only for the mint of Cyzicus on gold coins but the style and fabric of the coin suggests the attribution to Serdica is correct. The coin is thickly silvered with the high points carefully traced by wear. The portrait seems rather sour faced. Perhaps the die cutter sensed that Florian had no reason to smile.

Probus - 276 AD - Silvered antoninianus
Ticinum mint, 6th workshop - 3.8g
As a footnote here we copy a coin also shown on the Probus page. While from a different mint (Ticinum), it dates to very soon after the death of Florian. Mint personnel did not yet know the proper appearance of Probus and continued using the face of Florian. Ticinum is noteworthy for slim portraits of Probus quite different from this bull necked rendition. This slowness to change to a new portrait is really quite common on Roman coins. It is most commonly found when the Emperor was proclaimed at a location far from the mint site. Word that it was necessary to change the ruler shown on coins arrived considerably before word on the appearance of the new man. Quite an interesting collection could be made of coins with mismatched portraits. The same soldiers that 'elected' Probus in 276 would kill him in 282. Probus must have been a better Emperor than Florian; he lived longer during a period when 'electors' used swords rather than ballot boxes.

A second footnote: One day after posting the original version of this page this page, I attended a coin show and found this Probus antoninianus that is a match for the Florian shown above. It is also from Serdica, workshop B and shows the same reverse a bit more clearly. Probus was well known in Serdica since he was the commander of troops on the Eastern borders so the problem of knowing his appearance was not the problem it was in the West. Still the style of the two coins is similar suggesting the possibility they were cut by the same hand. The Probus may date only a few weeks after the Florian so the similarities of the coins are easily explained. Attention to these little details is what makes collecting fun to me. Some of you would be more interested to hear that the Florian sold for four times the Probus despite its lesser condition. In this one contest, numismatic price, Florian wins.

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(c) 1998 Doug Smith