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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 September 2006

Brasenose College, Oxford


The historicity of the ‘Gallic Emperor' Domitianus has long been disputed, but two quite separate events in 2003 have now provided incontrovertible confirmation of his existence. The first was the rediscovery in the collections of the Musée Dobrée in Nantes of what had been for a century the only known coin carrying the obverse legend IMP(ERATOR) C DOMITIANUS P(IUS) F(ELIX) AUG(USTUS), discovered in a coin hoard at the villa of Cléons at Haute-Goulaine near Nantes in 1900, but mislaid at some point after its arrival in the museum in 1929. Its reappearance in turn allowed Sylviane Estiot to disprove conclusively the aspersions cast on its authenticity by various influential scholars during the twentieth century. In addition, however, and with a serendipity which for most scholars is the stuff of dreams, a coin hoard containing a second coin of Domitianus, minted from the same dies as the first, was discovered in farmland at Chalgrove near Oxford. This numismatic evidence, combined with the failure of Domitianus' regime to show up in the historical record—aside from Zosimus' brief notice (1.49.2) of three rebellions against Aurelian early in his reign, by ‘Septiminus, Urbanus and Domitianus', the latter presumably referring to the same man—suggests that this usurper occupied a position of power very briefly indeed, but did occupy a position of power. Not only was Domitianus capable of issuing official coinage, albeit in extremely small quantities (his absence from all but two of the numerous coin hoards from this turbulent period is telling), but also, as Estiot's research reveals, he would appear to have combined the two hitherto separate mints that produced the coinage of the Gallic Empire—the feat of a man who exerted real control over significant elements of the Gallo-Roman state machinery, however momentarily.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2006

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