So I'm sitting here photographing and cataloging some of my coins - mainly third century Roman Imperial coins, but heavily dominated by the breakaway Gallic Empire of Postumus, Victorinus, Tetricus I and Tetricus II (260-274AD).

I have collected them for over 25 years, but even now I am learning from them as I handle them, turn them and weight them in my hand. Every Emperor is different, but each coin and indeed each strike, mint, style and type tells you something - whether what we learn is fixed and firm varies, but there is much than can be garnered and relied upon. Let me start with the Emperor Postumus.

The portrait quality of the coins of Postumus are superb. In declaring himself an independent Emperor, locating himself and his Court around the Rhine, in the cities of Cologne, Mainz, Trier he was himself based exactly where the coins were struck. I have always assumed that coin moneyers, coin engravers worked from busts, from pictures and paintings - yet the coins of Postumus are of such distinctive style and quality then it makes you wonder if he himself didn't sit or model for the coins. The portraits, facing left and facing right and unusually facing forwards, are so good that this was more than a copyists skill. Was Postumus not only using the moneyers and engravers he had inherited at the mint, but was he also celebrating the arts, employing the best engravers, and taking time to get his image right?  This also worked precisely to send a contrasting message to the farce that was perceived to be the capture and defeat of Emperor Valerian in the Far East of the empire and the economic debasement of the Emperor Gallienus that followed. Indeed the quality and style of Postumus's portraits is so high that his coins recall the Empire of the Severans and are of a quality not seen since the Gordiani Emperors or perhaps Emperor Trajan Decius. Indeed, I would assert that until the restoration of the currency under Diocletian, coins of Postumus are the 'stand out' currency of the Roman third century in terms of quality.

Further their style is such, that many have sought to attribute the mints to the three disctinctive styles that can be ascertained. The three attributed mints are thought to be Cologne, Trier and Milan (the latter probably struck by the General Aureolus in support of Postumus). I would go further and give them style tags.

  1. Cologne - "formal" style (with a tidy hair fringe, a beard that straggles away and an impassive look)
  2. Trier - "friendly" style (a more tussled hair style, a trimmed almost Hadrianic beard, pronounced rising nose and a hint of a smile)
  3. Milan - "stylistic" (the hair is formal, the beard rounded to the face, the eyes impressive and the nose flattered - this does not look like Postumus per se, and is probably a stylised copied portrait from moneyers who had probably not seen him and were working from other coins or busts).

The reverses of the coins tell us more about the issues, priorities and themes of Postumus himself and his reign. The reverses are very standard to the range of antoninianus of many Third Century Emperors: depictions of the gods and goddesses Pax, Moneta, Felicitas, Serapis, Providence and of course Sol. But in addition there is a range that are bespoke to Postumus: galleys, The Rhine, Victory and the Emperor himself. Given that coins are - and always have been - propagandistic in their nature it is not unreasonable to read meaning into these. This was an Emperor who was hand on, present on the frontier and with his legions, who was winning military victories (or at least seeking them) who was based on The Rhine an pd who was master of a fleet.

Now, it would be possible to read too much into this but I think the following assumptions are fair: the Rhine was the frontier boundary of the Empire and indeed of The Empire of Postumus. Depictions of The Rhine God invoke a relgiousity, a respect and an appreciation of that river.  The river was regarded as a source of prosperity and trade, and also Postumus well understood the value of the Rhine as a defence against those external to the Empire who were seeking to invade. Our knowledge of the military situation on the Rhine goes further in that it was the basis of the Limes Germanicus - a militarised zone and border between Rome's Empire and the Almmanic tribes and others.

The Galley reverse is equally interesting. Everyone accepts that Britainnia was part of the Gallic Empire and that with this came the fleet and navy that was based in Germania, Gallic and Britainnia. But I believe that this also draws in the more interesting element about how Postumus so successfully held together his reign and his Empire. Much is made of Roman roads - largely because they have survived and are imprinted underneath our modern landscape - but I would also argue that the rivers and indeed dug canals of the Roman Empire were as significant in its infrastructure. The navy, probably a mix of merchant and military, was critical for the fast passage of trade, news, communications and crucially food. The transportation of wine, grain, oil and much much more besides is well known and understood but because the ships, the harbours and more have not survived in the way forts and amphitheatres have, I believe that they have been under-played by historians of Ancient Rome.  Indeed anyone exploring modern France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany understand the importance of rivers - many of which, even more minor tributaries, are broad, tidal and navigable.

The further element, which I will explore in another posting, is the notion that Britainnia was important to the Empire as a supplier of corn, grain and supplies. For Postumus this related crucially to the army whose need was significant on a daily basis. The hypothesis of this was made at a British Museum numismatics conference relating to Carausius. But more on this to follow.

in short, this but touches the coins analysis needed, but adds significant background and colour to our otherwise relatively sparse knowledge of the Gallic Empire.