ROMAN IMPERIAL COINAGE
BRITANNIC COINAGE OF THE FIRST TETRARCHY
AD 296-305

Overview of the First Tetrarchy

Last updated: 10 July 2016

Included on this page are coin portraits, brief Biographies, notes and a chronology of events relating to the Roman coinage produced in Britain during this period.

Roman Tetrarchic coin photoRoman Tetrarchic coin photoRoman Tetrarchic coin photoRoman Tetrarchic coin photo
The first Tetrarchs: Diocletian and Galerius - Maximian and Constantius

In 293 Diocletian (Caius Aurelius Verus Diocletianus) Augustus of the East, in conjunction with Maximian Herculius (Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus) Augustus of the West, 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. Diocletian emphasized his status as Senior Augustus by adopting Jovius as his Protector-God and assigning Herculius to Maximian. 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: Galerius Maximian, was chosen by Diocletian to be his Caesar of the East and Flavius Valerius Constantius: Constantius, was chosen by Maximian to be his Caesar of the West. Inasmuch as Constantius was instituted as Caesar at an earlier date than Galerius, he was designated senior in the Imperial hierarchy. The Empire was divided into four geographical areas of governance: Diocletian and Galerius maintained their eastern headquarters at Nicomedia and Thessalonica respectively, while Maximian and Constantius maintained their western headquarters at Milan and Trier respectively.

Coin Portraits, Notes and Biographical Information

RIC VI, Londinium, Group I, Coin Portraits with the earliest Legend/Titulature Inscriptions - accompanied by Notes and brief Biographical Information. Following is a key for Titulature abbreviations of this period:


DIOCLETIAN - Augustus of the East

[Diocletian coin photo]
IMP C DIOCLETIANVS PF AVG

Cuirassed, laureate bust - small head on a tall neck - RIC VI, Londinium, No. 6a. Other Legend/Titulature Inscriptions include:

Diocletian was born in Dalmatia c. 245 AD as Diocles. He was proclaimed Augustus by the army in 284 after the death of Carus and his son, Numerian, during a campaign against the Persians. The second son of Carus, Carinus, was killed by a faction of the army leaving Diocletian the undisputed Augustus. After their abdication, both Diocletian and Maximian were accorded the titles of Seniores Augusti -- to serve as elder statesmen when called upon. While that titulature afforded them reverence and stature, the serving Augusti wielded supreme power. Diocletian was sixty-eight, living in retired seclusion, when he died in 313 AD. RIC (Roman Imperial Coinage, Volume VI) and just about all reference authors, collectors and coin dealers use the appellation Diocletian.


GALERIUS - Caesar of the East

[Galerius coin photo]
C VAL MAXIMIANVS NOB C

Laureate head with truncated bare neck - London, Intermediate Group, Bastien (a) - not in RIC. Other Legend/Titulature Inscriptions include:

Galerius was the son-in-law of Diocletian having married his daughter, Valeria, prior to his own appontment to Caesar. Although these Tetrarchic familial alliances prevailed, Rees (Diocletian and The Tetrarchy) points out that family bonds were not a prerequisite for elevation to the Tetrarchic college (although such alliances certainly helped). Like all of the Tetrarchs, Galerius was an army field General of notable skill and ability from the region of Dalmatia/Illyrium. RIC (Roman Imperial Coinage, Volume VI) uses the appellation Galerius Maximian while most reference authors, collectors and coin dealers use the appellation Galerius. Note: Caution should be exercised when attributing the coins of Galerius & Maximian due to the similarity of the name forms. Actually, the differentiation is quite easy: Coins bearing the titulature IMP and MAXIMIANVS can only be those of Maximian Herculius, while those bearing the titulature MAXIMIANVS and NOBIL CAES, NOB CAES, NOBIL C, et al can only be those of Galerius Maximian - Maximian was only Augustus during this period and Galerius was only Caesar.


MAXIMIAN - Augustus of the West

[Maximianus coin photo]
IMP C MAXIMIANVS PF AVG

Cuirassed, Laureate bust - London, Intermediate Group, Bastien (b) - problematical in RIC as No. 17. Other Legend/Titulature Inscriptions include:

Maximian did not pursue a quiet retirement in the manner of Diocletian after their abdication in 305 - he could not relinquish power easily. He emerged from retirement to ally himself as co-Augustus with his son, Maxentius, who had proclaimed himself Augustus in Rome (not recognized by Galerius, the then reigning Augustus); then he allied himself with Constantine (son and heir of Constantius) and colluded with him to declare him Augustus (again not recognized by Galerius). He finally died by his own hand (310) after a failed plot (which was exposed by his own daughter, Fausta) to depose Constantine. RIC (Roman Imperial Coinage, Volume VI) uses the appellation Maximian Herculius while many reference authors use Maximian and most collectors and coin dealers use Maximianus. Note: Caution should be exercised when attributing the coins of Galerius & Maximian due to the similarity of the name forms - refer to the note for Galerius.


CONSTANTIUS - Caesar of the West

[Constantius coin photo]
FL VAL CONSTANTIVS NOB C

Cuirassed, Laureate bust - London, Intermediate Group, Bastien (b) - problematical in RIC as No. 20. Other Legend/Titulature Inscriptions include:

Also known as Constantius Chlorus ("the pale"). Constantius married Theodora, the step-daughter of Maximian, after divorcing his first wife, Helena who had borne him a son - Constantinus (the future "Constantine the Great") - in order to strengthen Tetrarchic bonds. In the complex hierarchal system of the time, Constantius was senior to Galerius having been invested as Caesar at an earlier date. Constantius was the first Tetrarch (Augustus) to die - of an unknown illness during a campaign against the Picts in Northern Britain (307 AD). RIC (Roman Imperial Coinage, Volume VI) uses the appellation Constantius as do most reference authors. Most collectors and coin dealers use the appellation Constantius I to distinguish him from his grandson.


In 303 the two Augusti announced their intention to simultaneously abdicate and retire (Maximian somewhat reluctently), their titles and authority to be assumed by the Caesars, who in turn would appoint new Caesars thus perpetuating the system. Diocletian and Maximian did in fact abdicate and retire together in 305.


Chronology of Events:

293 AD
* Diocletian institutes Tetrarchy -- two Augusti assisted by two Caesars selected by them.
* Diocletian adopts Jovius (senior) as his Protector-God.
* Maximian adopts Herculius as his Protector-God.
* Galerius Maximian is selected by Diocletian to be his Caesar of the East.
* Constantius is selected by Maximian to be his Caesar of the West.

296 AD
* Constantius, Caesar of the West, invades Britain (April).
* Constantius defeats the Usurper Augustus, Allectus and restores Britain to the Empire.
* Constantius re-opens the London Mint (of Carausius/Allectus).

297 AD
* Initial follis weight range is 11 to 9 grams which prevails until mid 307.
* Silver content is approx. 4% to 3%.
* Mint mark is LON in the exergue of the coin reverse.

300 AD
No Mint mark in exergue of coin reverse.

303 AD
* Diocletian and Maximian announce their intention to abdicate and retire.

305 AD
* Joint abdication and retirement of Diocletian and Maximian (1 May).

Note relating to the second and third Tetrarchies

In May of 305 Constantius succeeded Maximian as Augustus of the West and Galerius succeeded Diocletian as Augustus of the East, as planned. Flavius Valerius Severus ( Severus) was appointed Caesar of the West and Galerius Valerius Maximinus Daia (Maximinus) was appointed Caesar of the East. The second Tetrarchy was thus created.

Constantius died at York in Britain during a campaign against the warlike tribes of the North in 306. Before he died, Constantius conferred Imperium on his son, Flavius Valerius Constantinus (Constantine). Before he died in July of 306, Constantius had conferred Imperium on his son, Constantine. Although his army wanted to proclaim Constantine Augustus, Galerius, the now de-facto senior Augustus, proclaimed him Caesar of the West and elevated Severus to Augustus of the West (in accordance with the rules for succession) thereby creating the Third Tetrarchy.

On 28 October 306, the Citizens of Rome revolted against oppressive taxation and petitioned Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius (Maxentius), son of retired Augustus Maximian, to assume Imperium. This he did, initially adopting the appellation of Princeps. The army at Rome subsequently proclaimed him Augustus and Maxentius persuaded Maximian to come out of retirement in order to serve as his "colleague Augustus". Galerius, the senior active Augustus, rejected these actions as illegal and instructed Severus (because Rome was in his sphere of authority) to engage Maxentius and depose him. 307 was a tumultuous year indeed. Early in the year Severus commanded an army that marched south into Italy to engage Maxentius as instructed by Galerius. Severus was not well served by this army that maintained loyalties to its previous commander, Maximian, and indeed many soldiers deserted Severus. The forces of Maxentius quickly defeated those of Severus who was captured and subsequently executed in Rome. Later Galerius himself led an army against Maxentius but he was no more successful than Severus had been and eventually withdrew leaving Maxentius in control of most of Italy, North Africa and Spain. In April Maximian travelled to Gaul seeking an alliance with Constantine.

The alliance was duly consummated and cemented when Constantine married the daughter of Maximian, Fausta (Fausta Flavia Maxima). Constantine assumed the title and powers of Augustus later in the year (not recognized by Galerius) after affirmation by Maximian and the Diocletian Tetrarchic System of Government by two Augusti and two selected Caesars effectively came to an end in AD 307.

The London Mint continued to operate until AD 325.

References and Resources


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