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Carausius and Allectus — Rulers in Gaul?

  • P. J. Casey (a1)

The episode of the usurpation of Carausius and Allectus has long attracted scholarly attention, not least because it is a light at the end of the long dark tunnel which comprises the history of Britain in the third century. The literary evidence for the period is comparatively abundant though it is of a tendentious nature. The extensive passage in the panegyric addressed to Maximian in 289 indicates the main events in the early part of the revolt whilst the panegyric presented to Constantius in 297, after his reconquest of the island, contains graphic details of the final defeat of Allectus. There is also a brief resumé of the reconquest in the panegyric composed in 310 for Constantius's son Constantine. Perhaps as important as these contemporary references to events is the silence of the panegyric of 291, addressed to Maximian, about affairs in Britain. These entirely laudatory sources are supplemented by the historians Aurelius Victor and Eutropius, both of whom wrote in the middle of the fourth century, and by Orosius who wrote in the early fifth. Medieval sources, which appear to add details of events not recorded in the ancient sources, are best ignored. In addition to these literary sources there is a body of archaeological data which is, at best, ambiguous as to significance and date. There is also a considerable body of numismatic material.

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1 Mynors, R. A. B. (ed.), XII panegyrici latini (Oxford, 1964), Pan. X (II).

2 Pan. VIII (V).

3 Pan. VI (VII).

4 Pan. XI (III).

5 Victor, Aurelius, De caesaribus (ed. Pichmayr, Fr.), 39, 20, 39.

6 Eutropius, , Historia (ed. Zangmeister, C.), No. 25, 2, 4, 6.

7 Orosius, , Historia contra paganos (ed. Ruehl, F.), lx, 21.

8 Carson, R. A. G., ‘The mints and coinage of Carausius and Allectus’, JBAA xxii (1959), 33 ff. idem, ‘The sequence-marks on the coinage of Carausius and Allectus’, in Carson, R. A. G. (ed.), Mints, dies and currency: essays in memory of Albert Baldwin (1971).

9 Stukeley, W., The medallic history of Carausius (1757–9).

10 The attribution of the coins marked c has been the centre of considerable numismatic controversy. A particular ground for rejecting the location of this mint at Colchester is that so close to the mint at London it would be superfluous; but this ignores the proximity of the mints of Ostia and Rome in the early fourth century. Alternative sites have been proposed, with opinion divided between Calleva and Clausentum. An examination of the material from Clausentum in the Southampton Museum does nothing to reinforce the identification with that site though the recent discovery of an aureus of Carausius at Southampton emphasises the importance of the area then. (Shiel, N., Numismatic Circular lxxxiv, 7/8 (1976). It is a particular pity that this coin has been given an erroneous provenance: the author has ascertained the correct one from the present owners and the British Museum.)

Calleva has produced a hoard of Carausian coins (Boon, G., Num. Chron. xx (1960), 241–52). The hoard consists of seventeen coins of which 65 per cent are London issues and 35 per cent of the c mint. This is a high proportion of c coins though it does not match the proportions exhibited by. the Colchester Museum site-collection or of the Colchester Hoard (see TABLE 11, p. 288). Nor does it bear comparison with another find near Colchester in the fort at Bradwellon-Sea. From a collection of eighteen coins in the Colchester Museum picked up on the site, comprising issues of Carausius and Allectus, the ten identifiable specimens consists of 40 per cent London and 60 per cent c mint issues.

11 Shiel, N., Revue numismatique, 6 sér. xvi (1974), 163–6.

12 Carson, 1959.

13 Pan. VIII (V). 12.

14 Pan. X(II). 11/24.

15 Carson, 1959. Stated more firmly in Carson, 1971.

16 Site-collection and unpublished material by courtesy of J. Wacher.

17 Author's site catalogue.

18 Corder, P., The defences of the Roman fort at Malton (Leeds, 1930).

19 Unpublished material by courtesy of C. Mahaney.

20 Num. Chron. 1949, 259.

21 Jack, G. H.Excavations at Magna (Kenchester),’ Woolhope Nat. Field Club 1912–13 (1916), 157240; Jack, G. H. and Hayter, A. G. K.The Romano-British town of Magna: supplemental report’, Woolhope Nat. Field Club 1918–20, 97122; Jack, G. H. and Hayter, A. G. K. ‘Excavations on the site of the Romano-British town of Magna’, Woolhope Nat. Field Club 1924–25.

22 Kenyon, K., Excavations at the Jewry Wall site, Leicester (1948).

23 Bushe-Fox, J. P., Excavations on the site of the Roman town of Wroxeter (1912–14); Atkinson, D., Report on excavations at Wroxeter, 1923–27 (1942); and unpublished material by courtesy of P. Barker and G. Webster.

24 Num. Chron. 1888, 163.

25 Num. Chron. 1956, 205–46.

26 Bathurst, W. H. and King, C. W., Roman antiquities at Lydney Park (1879); Wheeler, R. E. M., Report on the excavations… in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire (1932).

27 Num. Chron. 1930, 165.

28 Boon, G., Bull. Board of Celtic Studies xxii, Pt 3 (1967), 291310.

29 Site collection and author's excavations.

30 Unpublished material by courtesy of R. Reece.

31 Colchester Museum collection.

32 Num. Chron. 1930, 173–95.

33 P. J. Casey, forthcoming.

34 Num. Chron. 1925, 173.

35 Bushe-Fox, J. P., Excavation of the Roman fort at Richborough, Kent, i–iv (1926–49); Cunliffe, B. W. (ed.), Fifth report on the excavation of the Roman fort at Richborough, Kent (1968).

36 Wheeler, R. E. M., Verulamium, a Belgic and two Roman cities (1943); St. Albans and Herts. Archit. and Arch. Soc, 1953, 1397.

37 Unpublished material by courtesy of R. Reece.

38 Giard, J.-B., ‘La monnaie locale en Gaule à la fin du IIIe siècle’, Jnl. des Savants, 1969, 534. It may be said that it is the author's opinion that the unmarked mint is located at London. This will be fully discussed in the publication of the Croydon Hoard.

39 Shiel, N., op. cit. (note II), demonstrates a die-linkage between an aureus bearing the mintmark RSR and an unmarked billon coin in the Little Orme's Head Hoard. On the grounds that all but one class of Carausian gold is struck at London it would seem, then, that the unmarked coins in base metal are produced in the same atelier.

40 Revue archéologique iii (1847), 532.

41 Aurelius Victor, xxxix, 39 and Eutropius, ix, 22.

42 Num. Chron. 1956, 205–46.

43 Boon, G.op. cit. (note 28).

44 Shiel, N., op. cit. (note 10), cites the very close die-linkages between the surviving continental-style gold coins. This would seem to indicate a small issue of coins in a short period and may reinforce the argument that the gold represents a donative on the capture of Boulogne.

45 Num. Chron. 1907.

46 Frere, S. S., Britannia (2nd ed. (1974)), 381.

47 Num. Chron. 1907, 31.

48 RGK Num. Chron. 1890, 167.

49 RGK. Die Fundmünzen der romischen Zeit in Deutschland. Abt. iv. 36A. 127; RIC 101/303. The Allectan coin is identified as being RIC 66.

50 Bull archéologique 1928–29, 391.

51 Pan. VIII, 21.

52 RIC VI, Trier Nos. 87–89. I owe this point to the kindness of Dr. J. P. C. Kent.

53 General discussion in RIC VI. The date of 296 formerly accepted for this reform, coinciding as it does with the establishment of the diocesan system of mints, is still not entirely ruled out.

54 Metrology established by averaging the weight of eleven London quinarii and twelve Colchester quinarii and twelve London ‘antoniniani’ and thirteen Colchester ‘antoniniani’ in the British Museum collection. It is normal for fractions of the billon coinage to weigh somewhat more than the units.

55 Callu, J.-P., Bull. Soc. française de numismatique 27/8 (1972), 290–92; Sperber, D., Roman Palestine 200–400: money and prices (Tel Aviv, 1974); Erim, K., Reynolds, J. and Crawford, M., ‘Diocletian's reform: a new inscription’, JRS, lxi, 171–7.

56 Mattingly, H., in Studies in Roman social and economic history in honour of A. C. Johnson (Princeton, 1951).

57 A new hoard has come to light which includes a single specimen of the reformed coinage in an assemblage otherwise terminating with Allectus. The Chalcott (Wilts) Hoard includes a Trier issue, RIC 187a, which has been dated to 296. The rest of the hoard coins of continental origin date not later than 294, and there are no quinarii; so there may be a case for the revision of the date of the terminal coin. Information in advance of publication kindly furnished by K. Elkes.

58 Rev. Beige numismatique cii (1956), 68, No. 64.

59 Bastien, R. and Vasselle, F., Les trésors de Fresnoy-les-Roye (Somme), (Amiens, 1971).

60 Rev. numismatique, 5th sér., vi (1954), 187–90: Allectus, RIC 105. Blanchet, A., Les trésors de monnaies romaines et les invasions germaniques en Gaule (Paris, 1900).

61 Rev. des études anciennes, lxix (1967), 228–54.

62 Evans, , loc. cit. (note 48).

63 Pan VIII (V) 7/23.

64 Pan. X (II) 12.

65 Caesar, BG, V.1, V.2. The assumption that Maximian built his fleet only on the Moselle and the Rhine depends on the belief that Carausius already controlled the coast of Gaul. If, as this paper postulates, Carausius was still restricted to Britain at the time of the expedition of 290 there is no reason to limit the activities of the central empire to the northern rivers.

66 Julian, , Letter to the Athenians (ed. Wright, W. C.), 280 A.

67 Pan. VHI(V) 7/25.

68 Pan. VIII (V) 14/10.

69 Giard, J.-B., loc. cit. (note 38), No. 10.

70 Carson (1959), loc. cit. (note 8).

* For constant advice and encouragement though not necessarily agreement with the views expressed in this paper, I wish to thank R. A. G. Carson, J. P. C. Kent, J. C. Mann and R. S. O. Tomlin.

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