In conversaton with Keith the other day the name of Carausius came up and Keith happened to mention that there was a silver coin of Carausius in the Manchester Museum Numismatics Collection. Like the coin issued in memory of Antinoos that I posted recently, it too was part of the collection of Harold Raby, a former Keeper of Coins at the Museum, who bequeathed his coins to the Museum. Raby acquired it as part of the Nathan Heywood collection, which he bought en bloc in February 1919. All I can say is that if Heywood’s collection included the coins of Antinoos and Carausius it must have been one humdinger of a collection.
Carausius was emperor in Britain and in parts of the northern Gaul in the late 3rd century AD. He originally held a command in the Roman fleet and was responsible for intercepting Saxon raiders who attacked the Roman province of Britannia. He appears to have come under suspicion of mis-appropriating loot that he captured from the enemy. Rather than face arrest and possible execution Carausius had himself proclaimed emperor in AD 286. At this time the legitimate emperors were Diocletian and Maximianus. Maximianus’s attempt to retake Britain was unsuccessful and Carausius ruled as emperor in Britain until AD 293 when he was assassinated, it is said by Allectus. This event seems to have followed the recapture of Boulogne by the junior emperor Constantius. Allectus ruled as emperor in Britain for three years before Constantius retook the province. The Arras or Beaurains hoard (France) contains important gold commemorative issues depicting Constantius’ entry into London. Constantius’s son Constantine would later become sole emperor of the Roman world. He was acclaimed at York.
Carausius’ history and coinage probably represent one of the most fascinating chapters in the story of Roman Britain. Although a Menapian from the Low Countries his coinage seems to reflect a remarkable aspiration towards Roman literary culture. Guy de la Bedoyere cracked the puzzle of the letters I.N.P.C.D.A. that appear on one of Carausius’ issues. I.N.P.C.D.A. appears to be an abbreviation for ‘Iam Nova Progenies Caelo Demittitur Alto’ , or, ‘now a new generation is let down from heaven above’ from Virgil’s Eclogues. This is discussed in Guy de la Bedoyere’s article ‘Carausius and the marks RSR and I.N.P.C.D.A.’ in The Numismatic Chronicle 158 (1998), pp.79-88. Another coin bears the legend ‘Veni Expectate’ which appears to be a reference to a line from the Virgil’s Aeneid: quibus Hector ab oris exspectate venis? Or, ‘From what shores do you come Hector, the long-awaited one?’ But see Guy de la Bedoyere’s article for a discussion of the attribution.
Most remarkable of all is an issue acknowledging his brother emperors on the continent – Diocletian and Maximianus – bearing the inscription ‘Et Fratres Sui’, implying that Carausius was a (third) brother and an emperor of equal status. The gesture was not reciprocated. Carausius also issued good silver issues for the first time in many years, of which the silver coin shown here is a very rare example. In fact the silver content of the coin was a throwback to the reign of Nero over 200 years earlier. Typically it shows the Wolf and Twins, an archetypal Roman iconic scene if ever there was. So Carausius, through his coinage, was presenting himself as traditional Roman emperor, not the leader of an independent breakaway empire.
I am grateful to Sam Moorhead and Philippa Walton for kindly agreeing to allow reproduction of the distribution map of Carausian and Allectan coins as part of this blog-post. Copyright remains with Philippa Walton.