Thursday, July 8, 2010

One Time Gallic Emperor Defeated by Aurelian depicted on coins in British Hoard

News of the discovery of over 52,000 Roman coins in southwest England near the town of Frome, many depicting Tetricus, really excited me.  There were even a few depicting Marcus Aurelius Carausius a military commander who seized power in the late third century and proclaimed himself emperor of Britain and northern Gaul. I had to do a little research since most of my study has focused on the Roman Republic and the early Empire so I was unfamiliar with Tetricus although Carausius appeared in  "The Silver Branch" one of my favorite novels by Rosemary Sutcliff .

Caius Pius Esuvius Tetricus is one of the so-called thirty tyrants listed in the Historia Augusta of the secessionist Gallic Empire, a breakaway realm founded by Postumus, a one-time governor of Germania, in 260 CE  after repeated barbarian invasions brought instability to the Roman Empire.  At its height the Gallic Empire encompassed the territories of Germania, Gaul, Britannia, and Hispania.

[Coin depicting Tetricus I.  Image from Rasiel's Roman Imperial Type Set courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.]  

Although Postumus was assassinated in 268 CE and the empire lost much of its territory, it continued under a succession of emperors including the last, Tetricus, until he was defeated by the  Roman Emperor Aurelian at the Battle of Châlons in 274 CE.

 Surprisingly, Aurelian did not execute Tetricus or his son, Tetricus II.after they were forced to march in Aurelian's triumph.  In fact Aurelian gave Tetricus the title of corrector Lucaniae et Bruttiorum, governor of a southern region of Italia.  Aurelian may have rewarded Tetricus because Tetricus fought off Germanic barbarians who had begun ravaging Gaul after the death of Victorinus, and retook Gallia Aquitania and western Gallia Narbonensis, thereby laying the groundwork for a complete restoration of these territories to the Roman Empire.

A slab dedicated to Sol Invictus and to the
Genius of the Emperors Chosen Horse Guards
- Equites Singulares.  Photographed at the
National Museum of Rome galleries in the remains
of the Baths of Diocletian, Rome, Italy by
Mary Harrsch.
Aurelian's act of clemency not only served the Empire but perhaps was an expression of his deeper spiritual beliefs  He also did not execute Queen Zenobia of Palmyra when he defeated her troops in the east following their rebellion.  It's too bad his own troops didn't harbor as much clemency for him as he was murdered by his own staff on his way to Persia.  Especially ironic considering that Aurelian laid the foundation for "one god, one empire",  proclaiming the god Sol Invictus as the central figure in the Roman Pantheon.  Constantine managed to garner all the glory for adopting one god for the Roman Empire but Aurelian was there first.  Religious scholars will argue that Constantine adopted Christianity not a pagan god but there were times when Constantine referred to Sol Invictus in his iconography and scholars still argue if Constantine was truly promoting Christianity or unification of the empire through the worship of a single god as Aurelian had tried to do.

" Statuettes of Sol Invictus, carried by the standard-bearers, appear in three places in reliefs on the Arch of Constantine. Constantine's official coinage continues to bear images of Sol until 325/6. A solidus of Constantine as well as a gold medallion from his reign depict the Emperor's bust in profile twinned ("jugate") with Sol Invictus, with the legend INVICTUS CONSTANTINUS[29]
Constantine decreed (March 7, 321) dies Solis—day of the sun, "Sunday"—as the Roman day of rest [CJ3.12.2]:
On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.[30]
Constantine's triumphal arch was carefully positioned to align with the colossal statue of Sol by the Colosseum, so that Sol formed the dominant backdrop when seen from the direction of the main approach towards the arch.[31]" - Wikipedia
 Back in October 2009, a couple of researchers argued in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science that large numbers of coin hoards are a good quantitative indicator of population decline. They also pointed out that in periods of social upheaval we are familiar with like the Second Punic War, the Social Wars, and the civil wars, hoarding behavior soared.[See Wired Science]

Although they were studying coin hoards from the second and first century BCE, their theory would indicate that there are a lot more hoards from the third century CE still waiting to be found, as we know from the historical record that the third century was a period of massive social upheaval. Maybe I'd better ship my husband and his metal detector off to England as an investment strategy!

Romano-British Coin Hoards (Shire Archaeology)   Handbook of Ancient Greek and Roman Coins: An Official Whitman Guidebook   Aurelian and the Third Century (Roman Imperial Biographies)   Restorer of the World: The Emperor Aurelian   The Religious Context of Early Christianity: A Guide to Graeco-Roman Religions   Carausius and Allectus: The British Usurpers   The Catastrophic Era:: Rome Versus Persia in the Third Century   Rome's Gothic Wars: From the Third Century to Alaric (Key Conflicts of Classical Antiquity)   The Silver Branch

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