275: Imp. Caes. L. Domitius. Aurelianus Aug. III (Iulius) Marcellinus coss.

This period of great festivals was concluded by the ceremonies of Aurelian’s third consulship. The 11th issue of the Roman mint was that of the third consulship (January 275); Rome was the only mint in the Empire at that time - and the 11th issue was the only series – where all the denominations planned by Aurelian’s reform were struck.

The campaign in Raetia and the departure for the Gothic War (spring - autumn 275)

The emperor left the capital in the spring of 275 and crossed the Alps into Raetia. The Historia Augusta tells us that the region of Augusta Vindelicum (Augsburg) was exposed to the ravages of the barbarians, probably again the Alamanni and the Juthungi. Other sources (Zonaras, George Syncellus) tell of disturbances in Gaul at the end of Aurelian’s reign. Their testimony does not allow us to determine whether the disturbances in Gaul were due to external or internal causes. They could have been due to the return of the barbarians to a territory which was no longer being protected by the Gallic emperors, or to the discontent of the civil population faced by some of the consequences of Aurelian’s reconquest, such as political retaliation, economic and fiscal sanctions. The Historia Augusta alludes to the suppression of a revolt in Lyon itself.
The activity of the mint of Lyon, which was striking regularly but on a reduced scale, does not provide any evidence of troubles in the town, as there is no apparent disruption in its operation. However, other indicators show continuing difficulties, both military and civil, between the Alps and the Rhone slightly later, towards the start of 276, under the reign of Tacitus. The transfer of the mint from Lyon to Arles seems to have been planned - if not realized - as shown by the change of mint-mark from L(ugduni) to A(relate) in the exergue on the reverse of the coins. At the same time, a group of moneyers from Lyon must have been transferred to the mint at Ticinum in northern Italy as the work of a engraver from Lyon can be identified there.

The new régime’s economic retaliation on the territory of the former Gallic Empire was real enough. Other parts of the Empire were benefitting from the influx of reformed aureliani replacing the poor billon coinage of Gallienus and Claudius, which had been recalled after the monetary reform of spring 274. However, throughout the last quarter of the 3rd century and the first third of the 4th century the western provinces had to content themselves with the poor quality unreformed antoniniani. The minting authorities provoked a shortage by striking the aurelianus in reduced quantities: hoards show that the essential currency in circulation was then comprised of unreformed radiates of the Gallic emperors Victorinus and Tetricus and their numerous copies. The official recall of the coinage of Gallic emperors finally took place at the end of Probus’s reign (ca 282-3), but even after that the western provinces did not have enough good quality new coins: the poor quality antoniniani of Gallienus and Claudius II which had been recalled and taken out of circulation elsewhere in the Empire were put back into the market and enjoyed a widespread re-circulation.
Alarming news from Asia Minor forced Aurelian to leave the theatre of operations in Raetia and Gaul before the campaign against the Germans was completed. To protect the Alps and the access to Gallia Lugdunensis and northern Italy from the barbarians he left some of his army commanders, or vicarii, in the western provinces, among them the future emperor Tacitus, who was to receive the title of Germanicus Maximus shortly after his accession. During the summer of 275, Aurelian reconstituted an army in Illyricum and went eastwards along the great military road of the Balkans. He did not take part in a campaign against the Persians, as recorded in the Historia Augusta, but in an expedition against the Pontic Goths who, the Greek sources indicate, had invaded Asia Minor. Following the assassination of Aurelian, his successors did not need to lead campaigns against the Sasanians, but both Tacitus, then Florian and finally Probus even before his accession, all had to fight the bands of Goths who had crossed Asia Minor from Pontus in the north-west as far as Cilicia.

The assassination of Aurelian and the interregnum of Severina (September - November 275)

Aurelian fell victim to a military coup while still in Europe, at Caenophrurium near Perinthus. His assassins were junior officers: only the name of their chief, a certain Mucapor, is known to us; the most detailed sources tell of a plot involving tribunes or praetorians. The earliest possible date of Aurelian’s assassination is mid-September 275: Egyptian tetradrachms from his 7th year, issued after 29 August 275, are not rare and the news of his death had still not reached Oxyrhynchus on 19 October 275.
Unlike the assassination of Gallienus, which involved almost all the senior army commanders, the unexpected murder of Aurelian by junior officers left the State in difficulties as to how to find a successor. The papyri show that the empress Severina ruled as regent for about two months until Tacitus received the badges of office in mid November 275.
The literary sources are silent on the role of Severina during this transition period: instead they prefer to develop the myth of the ‘election’ of Tacitus by the Roman Senate, a theme which is treated at length in the Historia Augusta. However the six or seven months of interregnum mentioned by Latin sources result from a confusion between a real period when there was a power vacuum and the brief reigns of Tacitus and of Florian ‘quasi quidam interreges inter Aurelianum et Probum’ (HA, Tac. 14, 5). The coin issues reveal that, following the death of Aurelian, an interregnum did indeed occur, but that it is the empress Severina who was in charge during this period.
From the end of 274, when Aurelian celebrated his triumph over the West and East, the Augusta Severina received an exceptional status. She appears systematically next to Aurelian on the coinage. With the important exception of Gallienus’s wife Salonina, never have we seen an empress so regularly associated with her husband on coin issues, including the Severan dynasty where the Syrian princesses enjoyed considerable political power. The traditional reverses for empresses which celebrate their fertility were kept to a bare minimum in Severina’s case: Venus Felix on denarii, Iuno Regina on the bronze, coins rarely struck and therefore not widespread. But, on the main currency issues, the aureliani and the prestigious gold coins, Severina was transformed into the incarnation of Concordia, and in particular the Concordia of the soldiers (Concordia Militum).
As far as the organisation of coin production was concerned, we see that from the end of 274, certain officinae in some of the mints struck coins exclusively for Severina: this is the case with issues 2-4 at Lyon, issues 10-11 at Rome and issue 4 at Ticinum. After the death of Aurelian, the officinae are no longer shared between Aurelian and Severina: at Lyon, there is a 5th issue attested by coins in the name of Severina only, and the same applies to the 12th issue at Rome where the empress monopolizes the six active équipes, and the 5th issue at Ticinum, where all six officinae struck coins just for Severina. It is clear that the Empress as regent was exercising alone power and right to coin.
In fact the evidence shows that all eight mints that were active in the autumn of 275 across the Empire were producing issues in the name of Severina alone. The mint at Serdica struck coins for Severina with the legend Severina Augusta.The mint at Antioch exceptionally gave the Empress the titles P(ia) F(elix), normally reserved for emperors; on the reverse, the legend is changed from the plural form Concordia Augg (Augustorum) to the singular Concordia Aug, which may be expanded as Concordia Augustae. The type no longer shows the standard reverse, Aurelian shaking the hand of Concordia, but an anonymous male figure, now without laurel-wreath and sceptre, shaking the hand of Severina, who is easily recognizable by her characteristic hairdress and is shown in a larger size. At Alexandria, coins in the name of Severina continued to be struck as the mint received the news of Aurelian’s assassination, and stopped issuing his coins: the hoards from Karanis have 5 tetradrachms of the 7th year of Aurelian (that is after 29 August 275), but 25 of Severina.
The coin types also highlight the exceptional political role played by Severina, as these are charged with military connotations. Even before the death of Aurelian, the empress was already shown in coinage as a military Concordia. After Aurelian’s assassination, Severina as sole regent adopted the reverse Concordia Militum as her principal coin type. Epigraphic evidence confirms that the Empress had a military role. On an inscription from Thrace (AE 1927, 81), Severina is honoured as ‘Divine Victory’; on an inscription from Pola (CIL V, 29), she is designated as mater castrorum (‘mother of the camps’). In an inscription from Tarragona (AE 1930, 150), she combines the qualities of mater castrorum et senatus et patriae (‘mother of the camps and of the Senate and of the homeland’), that is that she receives titles normally reserved for emperors. These titles had been assumed by the Severan princesses before her, Julia Domna, Julia Maesa, Aquilia Severa and Julia Mamaea (CIL II, 3413: mater domini n. […] et castrorum et senatus et patriae et universi generis humani), all women who played a leading political role in the life of the Severan dynasty. The epithets P(ia) F(elix) that Severina bore when she assumed sole regency suggest the same: they are normally reserved for the emperor and we never see them in the titles of empresses except for Julia Domna, Salonina and Severina.

Apart from normal base silver coinage, the interregnum of Severina is also clearly shown from the production of a gold donative at the mints of Rome, Ticinum, Siscia and Cyzicus. In both East and West, payments were made to the army after the assassination of Aurelian, and they were made in the name of the Empress as mater castrorum with the appeal to the Concordia of the soldiers (Concordiae Militum), the sole reverse type. These donatives in gold demonstrate that the decision about Aurelian’s successor was in abeyance and that far from the senatorial circles of Rome: in the headquarters of the various provincial armies. The patronage of the Empress and the appeal to the loyalty of the soldiers, paid in gold, revealed that tough negotiations took place to find a successor to Aurelian from the military caste from which he himself came. Tacitus’s accession of power is thereby shown in a totally different light. The fact that Severina finally stepped back to favour Tacitus and that the armies did nothing to contest his candidature strengthens the hypothesis that Tacitus was closer to the military entourage of Aurelian than to senatorial circles and the evidence of the coinage supports this.

Historical sources and the origins of Tacitus

Apart from the campaign against the Goths we know almost nothing about the reign of Tacitus from written sources. Aurelius Victor recycles information that he found in the now lost Kaisergeschichte: an interregnum of six months took place after the death of Aurelian during which the Senate and the army sought a successor. The Senate finally selected Tacitus, who was of consular rank. The Historia Augusta develops this theme with several varying accounts of almost no historical accuracy. Amongst the other Latin sources, Eutropius is silent on this point. Neither do the Greek sources mention the interregnum, nor the fact that Tacitus belonged to the senatorial class, nor the revival of the Senate’s traditional role in choosing a prince.
Modern historians have tried to gather evidence for a ‘senatorial restoration’ in the appointment of Tacitus, following the narrative of the Historia Augusta. Yet, on this point, our evidence, which is mainly based on coinage, is very limited. As far as the epigraphic evidence is concerned we cannot rely on the milestone from Ardèche (CIL XII, 5563) which gives Tacitus the title of verae libertatis auctor (‘the creator of true freedom’). This liberty can hardly relate to the Senate of Rome; either the inscription alludes to the victory won by Tacitus over the German barbarians who were threatening the territory of Narbonensis, or, more probably, it concerns the tax privileges offered by the new emperor to the province of Narbonensis or to some of her cities. Inscriptions show that in the 3rd century AD, the libertas of a city covered various privileges, particularly tax immunities. Moreover, the monetary legends Libertas, Liberalitas and Ubertas (‘Abundance’) cover rather vague concepts; these terms appear to be interchangeable on the reverse of coins. The coinage of Tacitus with the reverse Libertas Aug (Cohen 54; RIC V.1, 335/91), sometimes cited in support of the hypothesis of a revival of the privileges of the Senate, has never existed: it is a coin of Rome, with the legend Ubertas Aug misread.
The title Pacator Orbis given to Tacitus (CIL VIII, 10072) refers to imperial victories: Tacitus is reusing a title which had previously been held by Aurelian and which appeared on the reverse of coins from Trier and Lyon. In the same way, the monetary types Restitutor Orbis (Lyon, 3rd issue) or Restitut Orbis (Antioch, 1st issue) bear purely military connotations and faithfully copy the types of Aurelian. The legend Securitas•P•R that we find on very rare coins of the 1st issue of Ticinum has been without doubt incorrectly developed as Securitas P(opuli) R(omani): it is an engraver’s error on a few dies, as the other incorrect spelling Securit•Per•P, for the very common Securit Perp type.
The medallion with the legend Restitut•Rei•Publicae, struck at Rome, is often used to support the theory of a return to the powers of the senatus populusque Romanus. In fact, it displays on the reverse a standard design of restitutio orbis showing the emperor in military dress raising the kneeling personification of Oikoumene (‘the inhabited world’). It must be stressed that this medallion shares its obverse die with medallions with the reverse Soli Invicto, Sol in his chariot, and with others showing purely military types as Virtus Augusti, Hercules crowning a trophy, and Adlocutio Augusti, the emperor addressing the soldiers.
Finally, it was not the mint of Rome but the Balkan and eastern mints that included on their gold coins the letters S(enatus) C(onsulto), which are too often interpreted as denoting the revival of the right of the Senate to issue coins. That right, which since the start of the Empire was purely theoretical, was limited to bronze, and to bronze issued at Rome.
In general, Tacitus’s coin types, particularly the incantatory invocation to the eternity of Rome, Romae Aeternae, may mark the return to a certain religious orthodoxy which deviates from the solar theocracy of Aurelian, but they do not break with the main themes of the second half of the 3rd century. At his accession Tacitus was of consular rank but had come from the equestrian class and was in no way a champion of the senatorial cause.

Tacitus’s accession and travels. The issues of Lyon, Rome and Ticinum

The first coins in the name of Tacitus were issued at Lyon for an important gold donative. This was intended to reinforce the legitimacy of the new emperor with the troops and was distributed in the presence of Tacitus. Unlike the Italian mints whose first issues showed a juvenile and out of date image of Tacitus, the coins of Lyon have from the first series the true and definitive portrait of Aurelian’s successor. The existence in this issue of cuirassed busts with ‘sleeve raised’ - a shortcut showing the imperial gesture of greeting associated with an imperial arrival (adventus) - also indicates that the emperor was present at Lyon. In addition, the gold issue and the parallel series of aureliani clearly show a warlike imagery: these have military portraits with Tacitus holding a spear and shield, exalting the imperial Virtus (‘valour’) as a fighting emperor and not as a senator restricted to civilian duties.
The coinage from Lyon shows that, on the death of Aurelian, Tacitus was chosen as successor from among the former emperor’s staff. Out of the many possible candidates, the consular status that Tacitus had held since 273, when he held the consulship with Julius Placidianus, had probably weighed in his favour. Zonaras does not contradict this, since he states that on Aurelian’s death, it was the army that proclaimed Tacitus in his absence: this is a much more normal procedure, in the context of the succession of soldier emperors, than the improbable meeting of the Senate described by the Historia Augusta. Called to the purple, Tacitus concluded the military operations on the borders of Germania and Raetia and travelled to Lyon where he issued the gold donative to celebrate his victory, his accession and his adventus in that city, and he then travelled to Rome to receive recognition from the Senate.
The style of the imperial portrait of the earliest coin issues of Tacitus from the mints of Rome and of Ticinum show that they, unlike Lyon, were prepared in the absence of the new emperor. The man who appears on these coins is wearing a paludamentum (cloak), as is normal for an accession issue, and looks young.

By contrast, a spectacular correction to the portrait occurs in the 3rd issue from Rome and the 2nd from Ticinum: it is certainly the same person who is shown, now mostly wearing a cuirass or shown in heroic nudity, but the effigy is heavier and the features are thicker. This rapid evolution of the portrait shows that at Rome the die-engravers had never seen Tacitus before his proclamation and his arrival in the city, in contrast to what is claimed by the Historia Augusta.
In Rome, where Severina had ceded power to Tacitus, important issues mark the arrival of the new emperor. His adventus took place in December 275, as is shown by denarii struck from aureus dies with the dated reverse P M Tr P II Cos P P: Tacitus’s second tribunician power began on 10 December 275 and he assumed his second consulship on 1 January 276. Importantly, the reverse of these denarii have an image of the emperor as a conquering imperator: he is shown wearing military dress, a cuirass and paludamentum, and standing between two military standards. The donative also included a public distribution of denarii, quinarii and bronze coins, the typology of which is remarkable: Mars Ultor and Victoria Aug allude to the spirit of vengeance that drove Tacitus and his army against the military faction responsible for Aurelian’s assassination, as well as to an imperial victory already won by Tacitus at the moment when he entered Rome. The reference to a military victory by Tacitus before his arrival in Rome and the celebration of his adventus in the capital after his proclamation as emperor, disproves the theory that Tacitus was the old princeps senatus present at Rome when he was elected by his peers, or else a senator who had retired from affairs of state and who was brought back from his countryside retreat and entered Rome as a private citizen. The coinage demonstrates unambiguously that when Tacitus arrived in Rome he was already emperor and, what is more, he came as a victorious general.

The celebration of the German victory and Tacitus’s second consulship (January 276)

In order to obtain his recognition in Rome Tacitus had delayed his departure for Asia Minor where he needed to pursue the Gothic war. He had left his generals to lead the campaign against the Goths: his praetorian prefect Florian was already in Anatolia. Rapid successes had followed because the reverse Victoria Gotthi(ca) was already struck at the end of the first issue of aureliani from Ticinum, that is at the end of 275.

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