Coining in Roman Britain Part 4: Carausius and his mints
Carausius is one of the most interesting of the Roman pretenders, mainly because we know so little about him. We do know he usurped power from the emperors Diocletian and Maximian in Gaul in AD 286, and that he fled to Britain where he was subsequently proclaimed emperor. The rest of the evidence stems from his extensive coinage, most of which were struck in his newly established mint at London and mostly communicate messages of peace (with reverse legends such as PAX AVG). Carausius also made the bold move of striking a rare series of coins in almost pure silver. These so-called denarii would have been an unprecedented sight in the third century, a time when a horrendous debasement of the coinage had resulted in the vast majority of circulating coins being reduced from silver to bronze, with virtually no face value. These denarii featured the inscription RSR, interpreted by Guy de la Bedoyere as an abbreviation of Redeunt Saturnia Regna, essentially hailing a new golden age.
Silver denarius of Carausius, struck at London.
The reverse type depicts the she-wolf and twins, Romulus and Remus. This coin fits with Carausius’ propaganda campaign of promoting a new golden age. Note the RSR in exergue. Image: Portable Antiquities Scheme, Unique ID: DUR-EA5A65
Coins of Carausius bear the mint-mark ML, for London, but some bear the initial ‘C’. Coins such as these have commonly been attributed to a mint at Colchester, though distributions of single finds, and the historical record do not support this. The ‘C’ mint remains an enigma. Carausius’ reign didn’t last long. He was murdered by his finance minister Allectus in AD 293. Allectus continued to mint coins in London and the enigmatic ‘C’ mint until AD 296, when he was killed in the invasion led by Constantius Chlorus, which saw the end of Carausius’ ‘Britannic Empire’. The idea of the first mint in Roman Britain being opened by usurper isn’t particularly surprising. What’s remarkable is that the mint was not abolished, but continued running for another thirty years after the usurper’s overthrow.
This month's coin series on Roman Britain is written by Dom Chorney, a young numismatist from Glastonbury, Somerset. He studied for his undergraduate degree at Cardiff (in archaeology), and achieved a 2:1. Dom is currently studying for an MA in Ancient Visual and Material Culture at the University of Warwick, and intends to undertake a doctorate in 2015. His main areas of interest are coin use in later Roman Britain, counterfeiting in antiquity, coins as site-finds, and the coinage of the Gallic Empire.