THE GALLIC EMPIRE: PART 2 VICTORINUS
In his ongoing series on coins of the Gallic Empire, Dr Adrian Marsden, explores the currency issued during the third century highlighting notable items and charting the political posturing of what continued to be a tumultuous period
We ended the first article in this series with the assassination of Postumus, the first of the Gallic emperors, after his defeat of the usurper Laelian and his subsequent refusal to allow his troops to sack Laelian’s city of Mainz. AD269, exactly two centuries after the
Civil Wars that followed the death of Nero, was another Year of the Four Emperors. With Postumus and Laelian both gone, the reins of power might be grasped by anyone strong enough to keep hold of them. There were two contenders. One, an officer called Marcus Aurelius Marius, was clearly with the army when Postumus was killed. Legend describes him as of low birth, a man who had once been a blacksmith, but he must have held a senior command to have been selected emperor. The other, Marcus Piavvonius Victorinus, was evidently elsewhere; he had been Consul with Postumus the year before and when his emperor was assassinated was probably his Praetorian Prefect, his secondin-command. Had he been with Postumus at Mainz he would probably have shared the fate of his master.
Marius, being with the army, laid his hands on both mints, that of Postumus and that set up to strike coin in the name of the dead Laelian. Thus, at the outset of the Civil War, Marius had control of two mints. It is from this point that the two mint system comes to dominate studies of the coinages of the later Gallic Empire. There are many problems centring on how the mechanics of this system were structured; we will come across some of them as we continue this series. For now it is sufficient to call the two centres Mint I and Mint II.
Mint I was that formerly striking coin for Postumus. Significantly, it portrayed the emperor with a draped bust. Mint II had been Laelian’s; here the emperor was shown clad in a military cuirass. When Marius inherited these two mints, he evidently continued the different forms of portrait. Thus, Mint I showed him wearing drapery (figure 1) and Mint II wearing armour (figure 2). Some radiates at Mint II were
struck using reverse dies that had earlier been used by Laelian, evidencing how the mint must have fallen into Marius’ possession. Rather ironically, most of them advertise Victory, military success that Laelian never realised.
Marius may have had the mints but Victorinus, as Praetorian Prefect, had the authority and probably much greater backing. Victorinus had obviously progressed through various ranks and offices; a mosaic from what was clearly his house in Cologne before he became emperor describes him as a Tribune of Praetorians (figure 3).
Marius’ antoniniani, although often described as rare, survive in great numbers and attest that the emperor cannot have been swept away in a matter of days. He must have clung onto power for two or three months, probably until the late summer of 269. Like Postumus, Marius was murdered by his own troops. There is a story, almost certainly apocryphal, that he was killed by a sword of his own manufacture. With Marius’ death, Victorinus could assume control of his opponent’s two mints. Study of how they began striking coins for the new emperor reveals some interesting facts.
Mint I begins its Victorinus coinage with a series of radiates with lengthened obverse legends advertising the full form of the emperor’s tria nomina – his three names. These run IMP[erator] C[aesar] M[arcus] PIAVVONIVS VICTORINVS P[ius] F[elix] AVG[ustus]. The two reverses are PAX AVG[usti] (figure 4) and FIDES MILITVM (figure 5), the Emperor’s Peace and the
Loyalty of the Army. Victorinus issues from Mint I begin decisively with obverses proclaiming his full nomenclature and reverses making clear what might be called his manifesto. The portraits show, from the outset, a man with a longish beard and a nose on the hooked side. He looks nothing like Marius. Clearly, the emperor was with Mint I when it began striking coins for him – they knew what he looked like, what his full name was and the reverse types make a clear statement, that the army supports Victorinus faithfully and war is ended.
At Mint II the situation was obviously very different. There, Victorinus’ first coins show, not the new emperor, but a portrait of Marius. Slowly, this morphs into a likeness of Victorinus. The die-engravers clearly knew nothing about Victorinus’ appearance when they began striking coins in his name but, as they received more information, slowly their portraits began to resemble the emperor (figure 6). There are no coins with the complete extension of the emperor’s name as there are at Mint I – the earliest coins can manage no more than IMP[erator] C[aesar] PI[avvonius] VICTORINVS AVG[ustus]. The reverse types are different, almost striking a conciliatory note and emphasising the emperor’s fairness, AEQVITAS AVG[usti] and SALVS AVG[usti], Imperial Justice and Imperial Wellbeing. Plainly Victorinus was nowhere near Mint II when it began coining for him.
Where were these two mints located or, rather, where did they come to be based? Evidently, Victorinus was very near to Mint I when it began issuing coins for him but some distance from Mint II. That doesn’t really help us, however, since we have no knowledge of how the struggle between Marius and Victorinus unfolded or any details thereof. What we can say is that it appears to have been the case that Mint I came to be based at Trier and Mint
II at Cologne. At least that is nowadays the general consensus. At least, as well as the differentiation between draped and cuirassed obverse portraits, each mint used its own reverse types – each reverse design is distinct to one or the other.
The situation was not good for the Gallic Empire as Victorinus assumed power. The policy of Claudius II, ruler of the Central Empire, towards the Empire of the Gauls had changed. With Postumus dead, he probably feared trouble and despatched an expeditionary force. Troops of the Central Empire reached Grenoble where their general, Simplicianus, set up a base. Control of the passes over the Alps also seems to have passed from the Gallic to the Central Empire at around this time. Finally, Spain, hitherto an important part of the Gallic domains, switched its allegiance back to Claudius II. Fortunately, the Rhine frontier was quiet but trouble, when it came, was to erupt from an entirely unsuspected source.
The university city of Autun rebelled against Victorinus early in the year 270. Perhaps it had been in contact with Placidianus or perhaps the city simply wanted to secede from the Gallic Empire. Whatever the reasons this was something
Victorinus could not tolerate. He marched against Autun immediately; it was a walled city and the siege lasted for most of the year but the issue was never really in doubt. The death of Claudius II and a resulting instability in the Central Empire meant that if any help had been planned it was never sent. Eventually, Autun fell. Its leaders who survived were exiled and the city was sacked.
Victorinus’ coinage is in the main, extraordinarily common. The main issues of both mints were struck in huge numbers but, in this series, the devil is in the detail. Amongst the common types there lurk many rarities, either on account of the reverse type being very scarce or because of other factors. It is worth visiting some of these rarities and looking at what makes them rare.
Both mints issued coins that are now highly sought after by collectors. Among the very rare reverse types at Mint I are COMES AVG[usti] showing a Victory (figure 7) and LAETITIA AVG[usti] N[ostri] with a figure of Imperial Joyousness (figure 8). On both coins the obverse is the usual radiate and draped bust with the standard IMP[erator] C[aesar] VICTORINVS P[ius] F[elix] AVG[ustus] legend.
Sometimes a reverse might be very rare on account of something so minor as a missing symbol. The INVICTVS types of Victorinus showing Sol invariably have a star in the reverse field and are extremely common (figure 9). However, examples missing the star are extremely rare (figure 10). The Normanby hoard of some 48,000 coins had a total of 1,673 INVICTVS types with star and only three without.
Obverse legends that differ from the norm also occur and can be rare. A very few coins of Mint I read the variant IMP[erator] CAES[ar] VICTORINVS P[ius] F[elix] AVG[ustus], the usual C for Caesar being expanded to CAES (figure
11). One group of Victorinus’ Mint I radiates have, not a draped bust but a head and neck only with a flash of drapery at the far shoulder. Most of these face to the right (figure 12) and, whilst uncommon, cannot be called rare. However, where the head faces to the left we are dealing with a coin that is very scarce indeed (figure 13).
A tiny number of coins struck at Mint II at the outset of the reign have not cuirassed but draped busts (figure 14). The coins are, with their distinctive portraits and AEQVITAS AVG[usti] reverse type, clearly Mint II products but with the
emperor wearing the wrong attire. Like Mint I, several of Mint II’s reverse types are represented by only a handful of specimens. At Mint II these include the types MARS VICTOR, Victorious Mars (figure 15), and COMES AVG[usti], the Companion of the emperor (figure 16), featuring a personification of courage. Some coins are rare on account of the fact that they should not actually exist. One antoninianus has a reverse type that is found only on coins of Marius, VICTORIA AVG[usti] with a figure of Victory standing left (figure
17). Here an old reverse die has been brought out of retirement, paired with an obverse die of Victorinus and used to strike mismatched coins, known as mules.
As with Mint I, Mint II struck coins where the portrait faces left rather than right. In the Gallic Empire this is always a mark of rarity. Sometimes the coins simply have left-facing portraits but in every other way are the same as their common counterparts such as an AEQVITAS AVG[usti] (figure 18) type and one with a SALVS AVG[usti] reverse (figure 19). On other coins the left-facing bust carries a spear over his shoulder and has a shield on his shoulder (figure 20).
Occasionally, strange coins turn up. One odd example may represent an entirely new type for Victorinus. The piece is weakly struck on a small flan but does not appear to be one of the many irregular radiate imitations produced by private manufacturers to boost the currency supply (see Coin Collector 3) but looks to be an official product. The reverse shows the emperor riding on horseback, an ADVENTVS type struck to commemorate an Imperial entry into a city (figure 21). The type of bust, draped or cuirassed, is uncertain and no parallels are known thus far on the gold coinage. The jury remains out for the time being.
Victorinus was not to enjoy a long reign. Early in 271 he was assassinated in a conspiracy led by one Attitianus.
The stories surrounding the business cast Attitianus as one of many wronged husbands, avenging themselves on the emperor who had debauched their wives. But, as with all the meagre history from this period, we cannot say how reliable is that version of events.
What we can say, and that from the coins, is that Victorinus was Deified. Deification was the formal making of a dead emperor into a God. It had been usual in the earlier empire but, as a practice, had rather lapsed by the time of the Gallic Empire. The standard type of these coins shows, on the obverse, a radiate head with the legend DIVO VICTORINO
PIO and, on the reverse, the legend CONSACRATIO surrounding an eagle (figure 22). We know that Mint II was where these coins were struck since some have a cuirassed bust (figure 23), the mark of Mint II products, rather than only a head. Others mule a Deified obverse with the PROVIDENTIA AVG[usti] reverse, Imperial Providence (figure 24), the last lifetime type used for Victorinus at Mint II, or vice versa.
It is at this point, after Victorinus’ Deification, that the problem of the relationship between Mint I and Mint II returns to haunt us. During his reign, the mints formed distinct entities, their products marked – almost invariably – by different bust types and different reverse types. But, in the posthumous coinage, there are hints that some amalgamation of these two hitherto separate identities may have begun. This is provided by a tiny number of coins, all of exceptional rarity. They comprise two groups. One combines a draped lifetime obverse of Victorinus appropriate to Mint II with a CONSACRATIO eagle reverse used after his death at Mint II (figure 25), the other a Mint II DIVO VICTORINO PIO obverse with a SALVS AVG[usti] reverse from Mint I (figure 26).
What do these coins mean? They certainly show that dies from one so-called mint had moved to the premises of the other. It is unlikely that this would have happened if the mints were not very close to one another. In the power vacuum following Victorinus death had the two mints of the Gallic Empire been brought together lest a pretender get his hands on one of them? We will return to this question of Mints I and II in the next episode and meet the shadowy Victoria, mother of Victorinus, credited by the sparse sources of the period as the mastermind behind the elevation of the last Gallic emperor, Gaius Pius Esuvius Tetricus.