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  • 8

    Roman British Emperor Revealed on Coins
    History; Posted on: 2008-01-26 00:32:26 [ Printer friendly / Instant flyer ]
    The discovery of two gold coins sheds light on a little known 'British' Emperor.

    Two gold coins of the emperor Carausius have just been found on a construction site in the Midlands. They were reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and archaeologists are investigating the find further. Gold coins of Carausius are extremely rare, until now only 23 being in existence. The last example found was in 1975 in Hampshire and it is quite possible that we will have to wait for over 30 years before another one sees the light of day.

    Carausius was a Menapian (from modern Belgium). In the AD 280s he was the commander of the Roman Fleet ("Classis Britannica") that patrolled the English Channel and North Sea. The fleet was commanded from Boulogne and one of its major functions was to defend Britain and Gaul (France) from Saxon raiders. Carausius fell foul of the Roman emperors Diocletian and Maximian, supposedly because he allowed the Saxons to raid and only intercepted them afterwards, keeping the stolen loot for himself! Rather than hand himself over, Carausius declared himself emperor of Northern Gaul and Britain and set up his own mini-empire.

    Part of a speech given in honour of Constantius I, the emperor who finally retook Britain: "In this outrageous act of brigandage the escaping pirate [Carausius] first of all seized the fleet which had previously been protecting Gaul, and added a large number of ships which he built to the Roman pattern. He took over a legion, intercepted some detachments of provincial troops, press-ganged Gallic tradesmen into service, lured over with spoils from the provinces themselves numerous foreign forces, and trained them all under the direction of the ringleaders of this conspiracy for naval duties…"

    The first gold coin comes from Carausius’ mint at Rouen. Carausius only managed to maintain control of Northern Gaul for a few years and coins from Rouen are very rare. This is only the tenth gold coin recorded for the mint, but is from the same striking as three other known specimens. It shows the emperor shaking hands with Concordia with the inscription "in harmony with the army." The second coin comes from the mint of London which struck many coins throughout Carausius’ reign. However, this is only the fifteenth gold coin recorded from London and it is a unique type. It shows Carausius wearing a helmet decorated with an animal design. The reverse trumpets 'Imperial Peace.'

    Carausius successfully defended Britain against the central empire, and even struck coins in the names of Diocletian and Maximianus to curry favour with them; however, he did not survive a coup d’état by his finance minister, Allectus, who was to rule Britain from 293 to 296. The Roman emperor Constantius I finally retook Britain in 296.

    Why these coins were buried we will never know. A Roman soldier might expect to earn twelve gold coins a year before deductions were made for his expenses. The wheat he needed to make bread for a year would have cost almost 2 gold coins. For one gold coin, someone could have bought almost 100 bottles of wine or about 50 litres of olive oil. However, ten gold coins would have been needed to buy a pound of white silk.


    Carausius was a member of the Menapii, a warlike tribe of the Celtic speaking Belgae people, who gave their name to modern Belgium. Known as the "Old Belgians," the Belgae are the foreparents of the French speaking Walloons of today. Interestingly, later Germanic speaking conquerors of part of Belgium, who are today's Flemings, were closely related to the Saxonic peoples who settled in what is now England, displacing the "Welsh," a Germanic word for "foreigner," as is "Walloon." A number of Belgae, fleeing Caesar, had also settled ealier in what is now southwest England, with their capital at what is now called Winchester. All of these and later invasions had little genetic impact on the population of the British Isles, which DNA analysis has shown remains largely Stone Age stock. But they did have enormous cultural and political significance.
    News Source: finds.org.uk


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