THE BRITANNIC COINAGE OF THE TETRARCHY

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW

Last updated: 01 November 2017

Diocletian, the reforming Augustus

[Diocletian coin photo]
The Dyarchy: Diocletian & Maximian Herculius

Coin obverses used here to illustrate typical follis portraiture: laureate and cuirrased bust.


Diocletian - Caius Aurelius Verus Diocletianus - has come down in history as an astute politician, accomplished administrator and a stalwart leader. He assumed Imperium with Auctoritas as Augustus on 20 November 284. Diocletian determined to bring an end to the social and political chaos that had pervaded the Roman Empire for over fifty years by instituting several radical reforms. He was the driving force in reorganizing the Imperial Governmental System and reforming the coinage.

In 285 he appointed Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus, a close friend and a renowned General like himself, as his Caesar elevating him to co-Augustus a year later. Diocletian subsequently divided the Empire geographically with himself as Augustus of the East and Maximian as Augustus of the West (thereby instituting a Dyarchy).

Carausius - usurper Augustus of secessionist Britain

RIC V (2), London, Carausius, Antoninianus, No. 475


IMP C CARAVSIVS PF AVG ......................................... PAX AVG | S .....P


The political and military turmoil of the third century spawned numerous external assaults on the Roman Empire. One of these was the incessant seafaring piracy in the waters surrounding the Roman occupied island outpost of Britain. In 286 Maximian Herculius, in his capacity as Dyarch Augustus of the West, designated a highly regarded military commander named Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Carausius, of Flemish descent, to head a fleet of ships who's mission was to eliminate, or at least severely curtail, this piracy. Carausius had distinguished himself by outstanding leadership and military prowess, especially as a naval "Admiral", in the Gallic campaigns.

Carausius established his operational base at the coastal city of Boulogne (Gesoriacum) in Roman occupied northern Gaul. Carausius did indeed accomplish his mission, but reports of corruption and extortion led Maximian Herculius to dispatch a fleet of ships in order to remove Carausius from command. However, Carausius proved too strong and he repulsed the attack. Carausius subsequently used his continental base to launch an invasion force to occupy and subjugate Britain. Landing in the north, Carausius secured the support of the native Picts and, advancing south, confronted and defeated the forces of the Roman Governor. Having thus conquered the Island, he proclaimed himself Augustus of a Secessionist Britain, becoming an effective and efficient Administrator using the Roman Imperial governmental framework as a model. He maintained control of Boulogne and coastal northern Gaul.


Carausius established his own mints at London (Londinium) and Colchester (Camulodunum - Clausentum) -- "C" Mint -- and across the Channel in Gaul which began to produce coins of distinctive style in gold, silver and bronze.


RIC V (2), London, Carausius, Antoninianus, No. 335


IMP C CARAVSIVS P AVG ......................................... PAX AVGGG | S .....P |
C
in reverse exergue

Coin reverse legend ends in AVGGG - an attempt by Carausius to indicate that he, Diocletian and Maximian Heculius were a fraternity of co-equal Roman Emperors. Not accepted by Diocletian..

Institution of the Tetrarchy

In 293 Diocletian finalized the Institution of a Tetrarchy -- government of the Empire by four interacting rulers -- two Augusti assisted by two subordinate Caesars, which each Augustus would personally select. The two Caesars, chosen because of their proven leadership abilities, assisted the Augusti with civil administration and command of the armies. Caius Galerius Valerius Maximianus was chosen by Diocletian to be his Caesar of the East and Flavius Valerius Constantius was chosen by Maximian Herculius be his Caesar of the West. Both of these men were former military generals. The Empire was divided into four geographical areas of governance: Diocletian and Galerius Maximian maintained their eastern headquarters at Nicomedia and Thessalonica respectively, while Maximian Herculius and Constantius maintained their western headquarters at Milan and Trier respectively.


RIC VI, Londinium, No. 6a, Diocletian as Augustus of the East:

[Diocletian coin photo][Diocletian coin photo]
IMP C DIOCLETIANVS PF AVG .............................. GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI

RIC VI, Londinium, No. 21, Galerius Maximian as Caesar of the East:

[Galerius coin photo][Galerius coin photo]
MAXIMIANVS NOB CAES .............................. GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI


RIC VI, Londinium, No.6b, Maximian Herculius as Augustus of the West:


IMP C MAXIMIANVS PF AVG ................. GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI

RIC VI, Londinium, No. 22, Constantius as Caesar of the West:

[Condtantius coin photo][Constantius coin photo]
CONSTANTIVS NOB C ................................. GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI

The Britannic Invasion Coinage of Constantius

The first assignment given Constantius by Maximian Herculius was to remove Carausius, the usurper Augustus of secessionist Britain, and restore that former possession to the Empire. Constantius thereupon besieged and captured Boulogne and then wrested coastal Gaul from Carausius. Constantius now set about planning the invasion, occupation and restoration of secessionist Britain to the Empire. One of the first orders of business for Constantius in 294 was to insure that a supply of reformed aes coinage (folles) - now the commonplace legal tender of the Roman Empire - was available for use not only by his occupying force, but also by the British civilian populace. To that end Constantius established a Mint in Gaul (exact location usually listed as unknown, although some French sources list it as Boulogne), manned by Lugdunese workers, to produce this invasion coinage - unmarked (i.e. without a mint mark) issued in the names of Diocletian & Maximian Herculius as Augusti and Constantius & Galerius Maximian as Caesars:


RIC Volume VI, Lugdunum, No. 17a (Invasion Coinage), Constantius as Caesar:

[Constantius coin photo][Constantius coin photo]
FL VAL CONSTANTIVS NOB C .............................. GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI

Coin obverses of this series featured truncated bare neck busts and laureate heads with the long ribbon tie lying on the neck

Allectus - successor usurper Augustus of secessionist Britain

After an uneasy interregnum Allectus, the chief Minister and associate of Carausius, conspired to assassinate him and thereupon declared himself Augustus of Secessionist Britain.


RIC V (2), London, Allectus, Antoninianus, No. 33


IMP C ALLECTUS P F AVG ............................. PAX AVG ..... S (Pax standing left) A
M L in reverse exergue.

Allectus continued operation of the London and Colchester/Camulodunum/Clausentum (uncertain) mints and coins were issued in his name and bearing his portrait. In addition to the silver washed copper Antoninianus of Carausius, Allectus issued a copper coin of reduced size bearing the letter Q in the exergue which has been interpreted to mean Quinarius

Restoration of secessionist Britain to the Roman Empire by Constantius

In 296 Constantius launched a powerful naval invasion force against Britain in two divisions: one led by himself, which sailed from Boulogne and the other led by the Praetorian Prefect of Maximian Herculius, Asclepiodotus, which sailed from the mouth of the river Seine. The mission of Constantius was to remove Allectus from power and restore Britain to the Empire. This mission was accomplished and although Constantius was in overall command of the operation, some historical sources assert it was the force under Asclepiodotus that did most of the fighting on land and in fact it was they who defeated and killed Allectus during the decisive battle. Constantius subsequently entered the city of London to proclaim his conquest as restorer of the eternal light of the Roman Empire: Redditor Lucis Aeternae.

The following photograph of a bronze copy of the famous ten aurei multiple (RIC VOLUME VI, TREVERI, No. 34), the original of which presently resides in the museum at Arras, commemorates the restoration of Britain to the Roman Empire by Constantius in 296. It depicts the personification of Londinium (LON) kneeling and supplicating to Constantius (on horseback) outside of the City Fortification while a galley with Roman soldiers waits on the river Thames. The inscription REDDITOR LVCIS AETERNAE proclaims Constantius as the restorer of the eternal light (of Rome). The Treveri (Trier) mint mark (PTR) is in the exergue.

[Constantius medallion photo][Constantius medallion photo]
FL VAL CONSTANTIVS NOBIL CAES ............. REDDITOR LVCIS AETERNAE
LON (reverse right) PTR (reverse exergue)

Bastien records the original (unique) coin as No. 218 in his book on the Arras Hoard and mentions that galvano copies were made and sold by the Paris coin dealer Bourgey. At a weight of 23.0 grams I think the copy depicted here was cast in bronze from one of those galvano copies. There appears to be numerous other copies in circulation in a variety of metals - brass/bronze, silver, gold, gilded copper, etc.

Initial series of coins produced at the re-opened London Mint

Constantius re-opened the Carausius/Allectus London mint with one officina. Production was limited to reformed aes coinage (folles) throughout its lifetime. The mint continued somewhat sporadic output until it was closed by Constantine in 325. The initial folles c. 297 (RIC Volume VI, Londinium, No. 1-5), again issued in the names of Diocletian & Maximian Herculius as Augustus and Constantius & Galerius Maximian as Caesar, closely followed the design, size and weight of the unknown Continental Mint "Invasion" coinage except they now bore a LON mint mark in the reverse exergue.


RIC Volume VI, Londinium, No.1a, Diocletian:

[Diocletian coin photo][Diocletian coin photo]
IMP C DIOCLETIANVS PF AVG .................... GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI
LON
in reverse exergue

Laureate with truncated bare neck bust
As depicted in RIC Volume VI, Plate 1.
Subsequent coinage produced at the London Mint was unmarked (i.e. no LON mint mark in the reverse exergue) until the issue of reduced size/weight folles after the death of Constantius in 306.

Intermediate series coins (Bastien) - not in RIC

Intermediate Group folles (Bastien) c. 297 that feature Lugdunum style laureate heads and London style lettering. Sometimes with laureate busts in fine style with elaborate consular cuirasses (Stewartby).


Exemplar coin: Galerius Maximian as Caesar, laureate truncated bare bust with long ribbon tie lying on neck -- London style lettering:

[Galerius coin photo][Galerius coin photo]
C VAL MAXIMIANVS NOB C ........................... GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI

Exemplar coin: Constantius as Caesar, laureate and cuirassed bust with long ribbon tie lying on neck -- London style lettering:

[Galerius coin photo][Galerius coin photo]
FL VAL CONSTANTIVS NOB C ........................... GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI

These intermediate style folles were issued immediately following the LON marked coins. Subsequent folles mostly featured laureate and cuirassed busts and were without Mint marks in the reverse exergue.

Diocletian plans his Abdication - and includes a reluctant Maximian Herculius

It seems Diocletian had always envisioned that there would come a time when he (along with his co-Augustus) would have to relinquish the reins of supreme power and retire (for whatever reason). He chose the occasion of his Vicennalia -- the twentieth anniversary of his assumption of power as Augustus and coincidentally the tenth anniversary (Decinnelia) of his institution of the Tetrarchy -- to Abdicate and retire and persuaded (compelled?) Maximian Herculius to do the same in concert with him. And so, in 303 the two Augusti announced their intention to simultaneously abdicate and retire (Maximian Herculius somewhat reluctantly) in 304, their titles and authority to be assumed by the Caesars, who in turn would appoint new Caesars thus perpetuating the system. This was, of course, the only instance of an Abdication during the Tetrarchy -- it didn't survive as an institution long enough to witness another one. Although Diocletian had provided a model for perpetuation of the system attending an Abdication, he didn't provide one to follow in the event of the sudden death of one, or both, of the reigning Augusti, and that had dire consequences for the Tetrarchy when Constantius (Augustus of the West) died suddenly in 306.

Severe illness of Diocletian

In 304 Diocletian became very ill (unknown cause - possibly a stroke) that resulted in a lengthy convalescense and withdrawal from public life.

Abdication of Diocletian and Maximian Herculius

On 1 May 305, Diocletian and Maximian Herculius abdicated to become Seniore (retired) Augusti as planned. Constantius succeeded Maximian Herculius as Augustus of the West and Galerius Maximian succeeded Diocletian as Augustus of the East. Flavius Valerius Severus (Severus), a close friend of Galerius Maximian, was appointed Caesar of the West by Constantius and Galerius Valerius Maximinus Daia (Maximinus Daza) was appointed Caesar of the East by Galerius Maximian.


RIC VI, Londinium, No. 77a, Diocletian (Abdication commemorative):

[Abdication coin photo][Abdication coin photo]
DN DIOCLETIANO FELICISSIMO SEN AVG
PROVIDENTIA DEORVM QVIES AVGG

Obverse: Laureate bust of Diocletian in Imperial mantle holding mappa in right hand and olive branch in left hand.
Reverse: Personification of Providentia, standing left, and extending hand to personification of Quies, standing right, holding olive branch and leaning on scepter.


RIC VI, Londinium, No. 76b, Maximian Herculius (Abdication commemorative):

[Abdication coin photo][Abdication coin photo]
DN MAXIMIANO BEATISSIMO SEN AVG
PROVIDENTIA DEORVM QVIES AVGG

Obverse: Laureate bust of Maximian Herculius in Imperial mantle holding mappa in right hand and olive branch in left hand.
Reverse: Personification of Providentia, standing left, and extending hand to personification of Quies, standing right, holding olive branch and leaning on scepter.

Elevation of Galerius Maximian and Constantius to Augustus

RIC VI, Londinium, No. 42, Galerius Maximian as Augustus of the East:

[Galerius coin photo][Galerius coin photo]
IMP C MAXIMIANVS P F AVG ......................... GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI

Identical obverse inscription (2C) to the primary one of Maximian Herculius.


RIC VI, Londinium, No. 47, Constantius as Augustus of the West:

[Constantius coin photo][Constantius coin photo]
IMP CONSTANTIVS PIVS FEL AVG ....................... GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI

Earliest obverse legend style.

Selection of Maximinus (Daia) and Severus as Caesars

RIC VI, Londinium, No. 65, Maximinus as Caesar of the East:

[Maximinus coin photo][Maximinus coin photo]
MAXIMINVS NOBILI CAES ......................... GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI

Draped bust.


RIC VI, Londinium, No. 59a, Severus as Caesar of the West:

[Severus coin photo][Severus coin photo]
SEVERVS NOBILISSIMVS CAES ......................... GENIO POPV -- LI ROMANI

Earliest obverse legend style.
Draped bust.

Death of Constantius

Constantius died at Eboracum (York) in Britain during a campaign against the warlike tribes of the North on 25 July 306. Just before he died, Constantius conferred Imperium on his son, Flavius Valerius Constantinus (later Constantine the Great). The army commanded by Constantius wanted Constantine proclaimed Augustus, however, Galerius Maximian, the now de-facto senior Augustus elevated Severus to Augustus of the West in accordance with the rules for succession, and proclaimed Constantine Caesar of the West.

Elevation of Severus to Augustus

RIC VI, Londinium, No. 46 (variant), Severus as Augustus of the West:


IMP SEVERVS PIVS FEL AVG ........................... GENIO POPVLI ROMANI

Draped laureate bust.
Obverse legend variation: PIVS FEL instead of PIVS FELIX
.

See the article by Lord Stewartby (Ian Stewart, Baron Stewartby) in the Review Numismatique (Persee): Some rare and unpublished roman coins of the London Mint in the Paris collection (188 - 12) for information relating to a similar inscription variant for RIC, Volume VI, Londinium No. 40.

Affirmation of Constantinus (Constantine) as Caesar

RIC VI, Londinium, No. 89b, Constantine as Caesar of the West:

[Constantine coin photo][Constantine coin photo]
FL VAL CONSTANTINIVS NOB C ........................... GENIO POP ROM
PLN
in reverse exergue

Draped laureate bust, Genius with head towered and loins draped.
Issued shortly after the death of Constantius following recognition as Caesar by Galerius.
.

The Tetrarchic structure begins to crumble

On 28 October 306, the Citizens of Rome revolted against oppressive taxation and petitioned Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius (Maxentius), son of retired Augustus Maximian Herculius, to assume Imperium. This he did, initially adopting the appellation of Princeps although his army proclaimed him Augustus. Maxentius persuaded his father, Maximian Herculius, to come out of retirement in order to serve as his "colleague Augustus". Galerius Maximian, the de-facto legitimate Augustus, rejected these actions as illegal and instructed Severus (because Rome was in his sphere of authority) to engage Maxentius and depose him.


RIC VI, Londinium, No. 85/90, Maximian Herculius as Augustus emerged from retirement:

[Licinius coin photo][Licinius coin photo]
DN MAXIMINIANO PFS AVG ................................... GENIO POP ROM
PLN
in reverse exergue

The only differention in RIC Volume VI between No. 85 and No.90 is that the personification of Genius on the reverse wears a modius on his head in No. 85 and a towered headdress on No. 90 (his loins are draped on both). I have always found it difficult to discern the difference on worn reverses. I believe Genius is wearing a modius on his head here..


Early in 307 Severus commanded an army that marched south into Italy to engage Maxentius as instructed by Galerius Maximian. Severus was not well served by this army that maintained loyalties to its previous commander, Maximian Herculius, and indeed many soldiers deserted Severus. The forces of Maxentius quickly defeated those of Severus who was captured and subsequently executed in Rome. Maximian Herculius thereupon set about organizing the defense of Rome against an anticipated attack by Galerius Maximian and in April traveled to Gaul seeking an alliance with Constantine, Caesar of the West, in order to strengthen his position. The alliance was duly consummated and cemented when Constantine married the daughter of Maximian Herculius, Fausta Flavia Maxima (Fausta). Constantine assumed the title and powers of Augustus later in the year (not recognized by Galerius Maximian) after personal affirmation(?) by Maximian Herculius. There was now a legitimately appointed Augustus - Galerius Maximian, one dubiously assumptive Augustus - Maximian Herculius, and two very questionably appointed Augusti - Constantine and Maxentius. The structure of the Tetrarchy was now in shambles.


RIC VI, Ostia, No. 35, Maxentius as Augustus:

[Maxentius coin photo][Maxentius coin photo]
IMP C MAXENTIVS PF AVG .................................. AETERNITAS AVG N
MOSTT
in reverse exergue

Ostia Mint.
Rev: Castor & Pollux facing each other leaning on staff and holding horse (Dioscuri)
No coins in the name of Maxentius were produced by the London Mint
.

Carnuntum and the end of the Tetrarchy

In the spring of 308 Maximian Herculius had a falling out with his son, Maxentius, and left to join his now son-in-law, Constantine, in Gaul. In the autumn of 308 Galerius Maximian organized and convened a conference at Carnuntum consisting of himself, Diocletian and Maximian Herculius (as retired seniore Augusti) to discuss and resolve the "Augusti problem". Diocletian was but a shadow of his former self, both mentally and physically, due to the severe illness that befell him in 304 and consequently Galerius Maximian "ran the show" -- he was now the dominant force in the Tetrarchy. Galerius Maximian did not recognize either Constantine or Maxentius as Augustus, proposing instead that his old friend and military comrade Flavius Valerius Licinianus Licinius (Licinius), be appointed Augustus of the West to replace the deceased Severus and he obtained the concurrence of Diocletian and Maximian Herculius in this maneuver. Maxentius was declared an enemy of the state by the conferees and Maximian Herculius once more went into retirement. Galerius Maximian proposed that Constantine be recognized as Caesar of the West, although Constantine did not acquiesce.

Constantine was incensed at his proposed "demotion" to Caesar subservient to Licinius as was Maximinus at the elevation of Licinius to Augustus over him, and so Galerius Maximian designated both of them Filius Augustorum: "son of the Augustus" -- a somewhat empty title of convenience and compromise -- in an attempt to mollify them.


RIC VI, Thessalonica, No. 32a, Maximinus Daia as Filius Augustorum:

[Licinius coin photo][Licinius coin photo]
MAXIMINVS FIL AVGG ................................... GENIO CAESARIS
SMTS
in reverse exergue

Coins with this designation were struck in the names of Constantine and Maximinvs Daia after the Conference of Carnuntum.
None were produced at the London Mint by Constantine
.

Imperial claimants - death of Maximian Herculius & Galerius Maximian

There now followed a struggle between the Imperial Claimants: Maximian Herculius, who had again emerged from retirement as a self-proclaimed Augustus, and evidently with intentions to usurp Constantine, was defeated in battle by Constantine in 309 and committed suicide in 310 after betrayal by his daughter, Fausta, (wife of Constantine). Maximinus was proclaimed Augustus by the troops of his army in the same year.

Galerius Maximian, the last surviving original Tetrarch and reigning senior Augustus, was afflicted with a fatal urinary/reproductive tract disease in 308 and died a painful, lingering, death on 5 May 311.

Maximinus and Maxentius formed a Military Compact early in 312 but Maxentius was defeated and killed by the forces of Constantine during a famous battle at Milvian bridge outside Rome later that year. The forces of Maximinus were defeated by those of Licinius in 313, Maximinus committing suicide later that year. Constantine and Licinius were subsequently proclaimed co-Augusti, bringing down the curtain on this Historical Period.

Reduced folles of Imperial claimants as Augustus (RIC VI, Londinium)

RIC VI, Londinium, No. 209b, Maximinus (Daia) as Augustus:

[Constantine coin photo][Constantine coin photo]
IMP MAXIMINVS PF AVG ......................... GENIO POP ROM
PLN
in reverse exergue


RIC VI, Londinium, No. 209c, Licinius as Augustus:

[Licinius coin photo][Licinius coin photo]
IMP LICINIVS PF AVG ................................... GENIO -- POP ROM
PLN
in reverse exergue


RIC VI, Londinium, No. 234, Constantine as Augustus:

[Licinius coin photo][Licinius coin photo]
CONSTANTINVS PF AVG ................................... SOLI INVICTO COMITI
PLN
in reverse exergue


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