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Magnentius, 18 January 350 - 10 August 353 A.D.

Ancient Roman coins of Magnentius for sale in the Forum Ancient Coins consignment shop.

Flavius Magnus Magnentius was born in Samarobriva (Amiens), Gaul. Some sources state that Magnentius ' father was a Briton and his mother a Frank and he may have once been a slave owned by Constantine the Great. He was a man of studious habits, powerful in conversation, with great military skill, but hard-hearted and cruel. When he was a captain of the guard, a group of his soldiers threatened to murder him; Constans threw his paludamentum over him as a protection and saved his life. Constans made Magnentius commander of the Herculians and Jovians, the Imperial guard units.

When the army grew dissatisfied with the Emperor Constans the soldiers elevated Magnentius to the purple at Augustodunum (Autun) on 18 January 350. Constans was hunting near the Pyrenees away from his forces when he heard the news, he took sanctuary in a temple at
Castrum Helenae in Hispania. Magnentius sent a few of his men who tracked him down, breached the temple, and murdered him. Magnentius quickly attracted the loyalty of the provinces in Britannia, Gaul, and Hispania, in part because he proved to be far more tolerant towards Pagans. His control of Italia and Africa was secured through the election of his men to the most important offices.

There were some that resisted Magnentius. Nepotian, a member of the Constantinian dynasty, rebelled and ruled the city of Rome for twenty-eight days. Vetranio, commander of the Pannonian army, was elected Augustus by his troops in Mursa on 1 March 350. Unlike Magnentius, Constantius II recognized Vetranio, sending him the imperial diadem. This resistance strained Magnentius ' resources while Constantius ' army approached.

Constantius II had been thousands of miles away embroiled in a difficult war with the Parthians in Syria and it took several months to hear of what happened out west. He had the difficult choice of following through with this war or deal with the dangerous usurpation of Magnentius. He decided to sign a hasty peace treaty with the Parthians which ceded vast sections of territory and marched west with 60,000 men to deal with Magnentius.

Magnentius tried in vain to seek a diplomatic solution to the problem with Constantius as he wanted to avoid an open armed conflict with his army at all costs. After electing his brother Decentius as Caesar and gathering as many troops as possible, Magnentius advanced his armies to meet those of Constantius. In the Battle of Mursa Major in 351, Magnentius led his troops into battle, while Constantius spent the day of battle praying in a nearby church. Despite Magnentius ' heroism, his troops were defeated and forced to retreat back to Gaul. Magnentius made a final stand in 353 at the Battle of Mons Seleucus. Defeated again, he fled to Lugdunum (Lyons) where he committed suicide by falling on his sword.  

Following the suppression of Magnentius ' rebellion, Constantius began to root out his followers. The most notorious agent he employed in this search was the primicerius notariorum Paulus Catena ("Paul the Chain"). Magnentius ' wife, Justina, later married Valentinian I.

Also see: ERIC - Magnentius


Bastien, P. Le Monnayage de Magnence (350-353). (Wetteren, 1983).
Carson, R., P. Hill & J. Kent. Late Roman Bronze Coinage, Part II: Bronze Roman Imperial Coinage of the Later Empire, A.D. 346-498. (London, 1960).
Carson, R., H. Sutherland & J. Kent. The Roman Imperial Coinage, Vol. VIII, The Family of Constantine I, A.D. 337 - 364. (London, 1981).
Cohen, H. Description historique des monnaies frappées sous l 'Empire Romain, Vol. 8: Carausius to Constantine & sons. (Paris, 1888).
Depeyrot, G. Les monnaies d 'or de Constantin II à Zenon (337-491). Moneta 5. (Wetteren, 1996).
Failmezger, V. Roman Bronze Coins From Paganism to Christianity, 294 - 364 A.D. (Washington D.C., 2002).
King, C. & D. Sear. Roman Silver Coins, Volume V, Carausius to Romulus Augustus. (London, 1987).
Paolucci, R. & A. Zub. La monetazione di Aquileia Romana. (Padova, 2000).
Robinson, A. Roman Imperial Coins in the Hunter Coin Cabinet, University of Glasgow, Vol. V. Diocletian (Reform) to Zeno. (Oxford, 1982).
Sear, D. Roman Coins and Their Values, Vol. V: The Christian Empire: The Later Constantinian Dynasty...Constantine II to Zeno, AD 337 - 491. (London, 2014).
Vagi, D. Coinage and History of the Roman Empire. (Sidney, 1999).
Voetter, O. Die Münzen der romischen Kaiser, Kaiserinnen und Caesaren von Diocletianus bis Romulus: Katalog der Sammlung Paul Gerin. (Vienna, 1921).

Obverse Legends




Dictionary of Roman Coins

Please add updates or make corrections to the NumisWiki text version as appropriate.

MAGNENTIVS (FL. Magnus), born in Gaul, of obscure British or German parents, about A.D. 303 was brought up by Constans, with whom he was so great a favorite, on account of his skill in military affairs, that in a tumult when the soldiers were on te point of putting him as captain of the guard to death, his imperial master threw his paludamentum as a protection over him, and thus saved his life.  This kindness Magnentius most ungratefully requited with treachery, and the basest machinations, through which the Emperor fell a victim, and this usurper obtained the empire, after having assumed the purple at Autun (Augustodunum), A.D. 350.  He was a man of studious habits, powerful in conversation, but hard-hearted and cruel.  He named as Caesar his brother Decentius whom he sent with the army to defend Gaul beyond the Alps; and he himself marched against Constantius, brother of Constans, whose terms of peace he had rashly rejected, and by whom he was defeated in two engagements, one in Italy, the other in Gaul.  Fleeing to Lyons, and unable to retrieve his affairs, he then slew himself A.D. 353, at 50 years of age. 

The bronze coins of Magnentius are very common; his gold are rare; his silver rarer. 

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